Originally published May 11, 2011 at 10:30 a.m., updated May 11, 2011 at 5:49 p.m.
California State University trustees have selected, as the next president of San Diego State University, Elliot Hirshman, provost and senior vice president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Hirshman beat out two other finalists for the job to replace Stephen Weber.
SAN DIEGO San Diego State University has a new leader for the coming school year. Following the California State University trustees’ announcement Wednesday of who will replace the university’s long-time president Stephen Weber, it was business as usual for the regularly packed Starbucks on the school's campus and it's student patrons.
“I didn’t know he’d been officially replaced yet,” said David Kline.
“I don’t know too much,” Katie Chirinca said when asked about the new president.
The new president, Elliot Hirshman, has been a provost and senior vice president,the second-ranking administrative post, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County since 2008. He oversaw the university’s academic programs, enrollment and athletics. And just because SDSU students aren’t yet familiar with his name, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an agenda in mind for their new leader.
“We need a president that’s willing to keep tuition fees low,”said Marzhel Pinto.
“I think I’d like to see a school president take a firmer stance against higher tuition fees,” Kline said.
University tuition is set by the California State University Board of Trustees, but Hirshman is armed with some ideas about how to soften the blow California’s budget crunch has on students.
“We need to do everything possible to protect out students, our faculty, our staff, our programs -– educational research and services programs," he said. "Some of the strategies that institutions use, for example, are to make judicial uses of their reserve. Another strategy is to try to identify alternative revenue streams, philanthropic sources, support from other agencies, to try to support those programs.”
Over the last few years SDSU has been lauded for improving its academic reputation and also for attracting one of the country’s most ethnically diverse student bodies. Over the last decade the graduation rate for the university’s Hispanic students has more than doubled.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has also been cited for attracting and retaining a broad array of students.
“We have summer bridge programs, which help prepare students when they’re joining the university. We have extensive orientation programs and I know that San Diego State University has many, many similar programs,” Hirshman said.
The new president was chosen from three finalists. The other two, Steven Leath and Paul Zingg, are administrators for the University of North Carolina system and California State University Chico, respectively.
The fact that all three are white men over age 50 drew criticism from some who said a diverse campus like SDSU’s should have had a more diverse pool from which to choose.
Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for California State University, said the SDSU search for has to be considered in the context of all of the system’s presidents.
“We have an incredibly diverse group –- we have three African-Americans, four Latinos, we’ve got four women, one from Afghanistan and one from Iran. And, I don’t think that because the finalists were Caucasian males over a certain age is any indication that diversity isn’t very, very important. Sometimes the finalists just work out to be the finalists.”
As the successful candidate, Hirshman called it a "tremendous honor'' to be chosen to replace Weber, who will retire this summer after leading SDSU for 15 years. Hirshman said he is looking forward to hitting the ground running.
“The initial priority that I have is to meet as many people as possible, form relationships with them, learn as much about the institution as I can," he said. "Then, in the longer term, think about issues like inclusive excellence, like broad community engagement –- that are key to the university –- and how we can advance those areas further.”
Hirshman is also a full professor of psychology and studies the influence of various drugs on the cognitive process and explores models of memory, attention and vision.
He previously held positions at George Washington University, the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of North Carolina and Arizona State University.
"In the selection of Dr. Hirshman, San Diego State is getting a leader who brings both impressive academic credentials and strong administrative experience,'' said CSU Trustee William Hauck, who chaired the presidential search committee. "Those factors, along with his exciting vision for the future of San Diego State, make him an excellent choice to steward the university into the next decade.''
In a campus forum last week, Hirshman said he wants to maintain the university's core services during the tough economic times, and preferences for qualified local high school students for freshmen admissions, and indicated he was a strong supporter of athletics.
His salary will be set by the trustees in July. His exact starting date has not been set, according to SDSU officials.
Andres Barraza contributed to this story.