New California State University, Stanislaus, president making a good impression on Turlock

mrowland@modbee.comAugust 2, 2013 

— As excited as new California State University, Stanislaus, President Joseph Sheley is for the start of the school year, the campus and Turlock community may be even more excited to continue to work with him.

On Aug. 22, Sheley will begin his first academic year as the permanent head of the university after serving for more than a year as interim president. His position was made official in May.

"There's a vibrancy anytime you have new students, new staff, faculty and people returning to campus," Sheley said of the next few weeks leading up to the fall semester's start. "There's clearly some excitement, and always some anxiety. What you want is the transition of students, faculty and staff to go smoothly."

After some bumpy years with his predecessor highlighted by faculty and community conflict, Sheley's time has been going much more smoothly. Earlier this month, the Turlock City Council issued a proclamation at its regular meeting honoring Sheley's appointment and his connection with the community.

"I'm really delighted that he's the permanent president," said Turlock Mayor John Lazar. "He is a wonderful fit for Turlock. We have a great relationship with him and the university, and want to build on that."

Hadn't initially planned to stay

When Sheley took over as interim leader in June 2012, he said he was open to staying just the year of the search process or longer. He previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at CSU, Sacramento. But Sheley said he always approached the position as more than that of just a placeholder.

"I did really want to get to know the people and the campus. And I want them to know me so there aren't any surprises. I don't duck much," he said. "I wanted to push to the edge of the bounds of being interim. I would not have been happy with myself if I just signed papers. In many ways, this has been a year of appreciation. I came to like and admire the campus — its people and it, physically. And appreciate Turlock."

What he did was attend City Council meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, faculty gatherings, campus activities and more to get his bearings and introduce himself.

Mike Lynch, chairman of the government relations committee for the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, said he also was excited about Sheley's appointment. He said Sheley's down-to-earth nature has been refreshing.

"We don't think the state could have made a better choice," Lynch said. "He trumps both of his predecessors (Hamid Shirvani and Marvalene Hughes) on being down to earth. He has that knack, that ability to talk to people and share with people. Engage and listen to people of all kinds of backgrounds."

By showing up and listening, many on campus said, he has gone a long way to healing the rift created by Shirvani, who was given a no-confidence vote by faculty before he left in 2012 to become chancellor of the North Dakota University System. In June, trustees there bought Shirvani out of his three-year contract after a year of clashes with his leadership style and decision-making.

CSU, Stanislaus, Professor Mark Grobner, chairman of the biology department and Academic Senate speaker, said Sheley immediately presented himself as an open and genuine person.

"He has had the best for the university at heart, first and foremost, as opposed to padding a résumé," Grobner said. "He did a lot of good repairing of relationships with the community and the faculty, to some extent. There are some people who are wary of the administration, but it's being worked on."

Building strong faculty ties

Grobner said Sheley has met with faculty regularly — every two weeks during the school year. He said he met with Shirvani only three times the previous year.

"He's listening and making decisions with input," he said. "They may not be decisions we like, but at least he listens. Sheley is throwing a much wider net when he asks for input, asks for everyone to input on issues that effect the entire university. It is a tremendous, tremendous change, and morale has improved tremendously as a result."

Seeking input and being transparent in his decision-making have been areas on which Sheley said he's worked intently since he arrived on campus. He has made the budgeting process more public, and has posted full minutes and video of the University Budget Advisory Committee meetings online since June 2012.

"We want lots of discussion and consultation before decisions are made," he said. "With input, people have more confidence in the process we use. The goal is to make sure everyone feels he or she has had an opportunity to voice his or her opinion. You can't be a leader of a campus and not give people that opportunity."

Moving forward, Sheley said, he wants to focus on several key issues, including further integrating the campus into the region and staying connected with the university's 50,000 alumni.

The university's financial outlook has stabilized since passage of Proposition 30 in November. The subsequent "quiet," as Sheley calls its result, has allowed university officials time to take stock and plan for the next four years. That includes focusing on its budget priorities.

"Prop. 30 didn't give us new money, so we're not renewing or replacing anything that was lost previously," he said. "Instead, its approval says this is our basic budget and here is the money we will have. Now we have to maximize its uses."

The university has an approximately $92 million budget for 2013-14, up from $89 million the previous year. The increase was largely because of a 2.4 percent enrollment bump.

Sheley said he isn't interested in unearthing any of the university's past turmoil.

"History is history," he said. "I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to history. I'm paying attention to doing what I have to do to move this campus forward."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her at www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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