TURLOCK -- Like most people starting a new job, Joe Sheley has spent his first month at California State University, Stanislaus, getting to know people around campus and around town.
But Sheley, interim president at the university, doesn't have the luxury of a lot of time before some difficult decisions must be made, nor can he just guide the ship until someone takes the position permanently. The CSU system, which has lost millions in state funding, stands to take a hit of $250 million more if voters don't approve Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiatives in November.
"There's this hatchet hanging over our collective heads," Sheley said Monday. "The issue is, how do we deal with it."
Stanislaus' share of the loss would be $5 million to $6 million. That's much less than would be taken from larger campuses, but at smaller sites, there's less to cut.
"We don't have the margins that larger campuses have," Sheley said. Options range from further cutting classes to eliminating whole programs or implementing furloughs and layoffs.
Many of those tactics have been used to some extent, but Sheley said he hopes drastic measures are last resorts. "I'm not one who gives up on programs easily," he said. "Might it happen? We're hearing people talk that way. But we're not there yet."
Furloughs, which Stanislaus implemented in 2009, are "complicated," Sheley said. With class schedules varying widely, it's impossible to simply shut down the campus for a day here and there.
Chancellor Charles Reed appointed Sheley in May after Ham Shirvani announced he would leave Stanislaus to take a job leading the state college system in North Dakota. Some might consider an interim appointment to head a state university campus in this economic environment too risky, but Sheley said it didn't take him long to agree to Reed's request.
"It isn't rolling the dice in a huge way, like it might have been if I were 40 or 50," he said. "And I feel like it's a way for me to pay back for my college education."
Previously in Sacramento
Sheley, 64, a product of the CSU system he graduated from the Sacramento campus, where he served as provost before coming to Stanislaus is also one of its biggest fans.
"What I got from Sac State was a shot," he said. And that's what he wants to give students in the system now. He said he likes the size of the university and the opportunity to get to know just about everyone who works there.
"It's such a pretty campus," he said. "There has been a lot of action here."
He pointed to the new science building under construction as "something most campuses would be jealous of. It's very impressive."
He and his wife, Bernadette Halbrook, moved to Turlock a couple of weeks ago. Halbrook, a professor at Sacramento State, took a leave from her job while Sheley is in Turlock. So far, he said, they've been impressed by the friendliness of the people in the community. "And downtown is just delightful."
It's uncertain how long he'll stay at Stanislaus. Officials have said his appointment likely will last at least a year. No decision has been made on how a search for a permanent replacement for Shirvani will be conducted, CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said Monday.
"There hasn't really been any discussion as to a search process," Uhlen-kamp said.
It's not clear if Sheley would be considered for the position, but interim presidents have been given the job permanently at CSU campuses in the past. And he's not sure if he would apply for it. "TBD," he said with a smile.
For now, Sheley's focus is on working with faculty, staff and administration to prepare the campus for the future. "What I really want for this campus, short term and long term, is for us to be very well-positioned for when the (economic) uptick does begin."
That doesn't mean a return to the funding the university system had years ago " 'Restoration' is not in the vocabulary," Sheley said. "There will be new but fairly meager and much-competed funding."
His hope is that by working with all the stakeholders, Stanislaus will be in a position to get some of that money.
"We cannot be the 'hidden gem' of the university system any longer," he said. "My responsibility is to get the word out what a great job. We have such a strong and positive story to tell."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.