In summary

The decision leaves the leadership of both the state’s public university systems in flux after University of California President Janet Napolitano also said she will step down next year.

California State University Chancellor Timothy White has announced he will retire in 2020. The decision leaves the leadership of both the state’s public university systems in flux after University of California President Janet Napolitano also said she will step down next year.

White’s decision comes a week after the CSU celebrated record gains in its historically anemic graduation rates, and several months after a state audit accused the university of socking away a $1.5 billion surplus it had not fully disclosed to lawmakers and students. 

With more than 480,000 students and 23 campuses, CSU is the nation’s largest public university system. White, the former chancellor of UC Riverside, took the helm in 2012 and successfully lobbied state lawmakers to increase the university’s budget as California’s economy bounced back from the recession. 

A major focus of his tenure has been the university’s Graduation 2025 initiative, a decade-long push to raise the Cal State system’s four-year graduation rate to 40 percent. That number has risen to 27% from 19% in 2015, but racial and economic disparities remain, and some campuses’ graduation rates are far lower. 

White, who is 70, said in a statement that it had been a “great honor” to serve the university, which he said is “deeply woven into the fabric of California, having created opportunities for so many people who now play critical roles in our economic, social and political life.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in his own statement, acknowledged White’s “impact and tenacity.”

“Stewarding one of the nation’s largest and most diverse systems of higher education, Chancellor White built new pathways for historic numbers of students to walk across the stage at graduation,” Newsom noted. “His relentless focus on helping students graduate has not only changed lives but is transforming entire communities.”

The CSU’s board of trustees on Tuesday announced a search process led by a committee that will undertake a statewide listening tour in November and December. White will serve at least through June 2020, and possibly longer depending on how quickly a new chancellor is chosen, the university said.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: gary@calmatters.org, (916) 234-3081.

Felicia Mello edits CalMatters' College Journalism Network, a collaboration with student journalists across California to cover higher education from the ground up. Her reporting on affordability, equity...