Interim chancellor visits Cal U.

California University faculty and students welcomed the interim leader of the State System of Higher Education to campus.

Interim chancellor Karen Whitney of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education talks with California University of Pennsylvania students and media members about her new role. Photo:Katie Anderson/Observer-Reporter

CALIFORNIA – California University of Pennsylvania faculty and students welcomed the new State System of Higher Education interim chancellor Karen Whitney to campus Thursday, during her monthlong tour of all 14 schools in the state system.

Whitney was appointed by the board of governors for SSHE to serve as interim chancellor beginning Sept. 12. She is expected to maintain the position until the board finds a permanent replacement for Frank Brogan, who retired earlier this year.

“You have a beautiful campus,” Whitney told Cal U. students Thursday. “And it enables students to be ready to learn.”

Whitney said Cal U. was the seventh school on her tour of all 14 in the system. She said she hopes to have visited them all by Oct. 17. She said her goal is for all of the schools to thrive and succeed.

“All 14 universities must continue,” she said. “All are important, and all are distinctive.”

According to SSHE’s website, the system has a total enrollment of about 112,000 students.

“We are one of the largest higher education systems in the nation,” Whitney said. “We’ve got game.”

Five of the 14 schools reported increased enrollment this year, Whitney said, and Cal U. was one of them, with a 3.1 percent increase. Christine Kindl, a public relations representative for the university, said enrollment increased from 7,553 students last year to 7,788 this year.

Whitney said any concerns about a decrease in enrollment at some schools are distracting from the universities’ greater purposes.

“The point isn’t whether a university’s enrollment is going up or down,” she said. “More isn’t necessarily better. Do I think enrollment matters? I think getting things done matters.”

Whitney also addressed state budget challenges, saying she “never takes for granted the state’s investment.” She said according to a 2014-15 alumni survey, 90 percent of the students in SSHE schools are from Pennsylvania, and 72 percent of the graduates find work in this state.

“I think that’s worth the state’s investment,” she said. “I think some universities don’t really have that kind of continued connection.”

Whitney said her main priority is student success.

“I’m asking a lot of students fundamental questions like, ‘What do you love about your university that can’t change?’ and ‘Because you love your university, what must change?’” Whitney said. “At Cal U., the students love the faculty and staff.”

While addressing Cal U. President Geraldine Jones, Whitney said, “Your students are ready to take on the world.”

Whitney said a search firm will be hired to find a permanent chancellor, who is expected to take over by next summer.