Bob Suzuki, an aeronautics expert and vice president for academic affairs at Cal State Northridge since 1985, was named Wednesday to be the next president of Cal Poly Pomona, a sister school with strong traditions in engineering, science and agriculture.
After he assumes office this summer, Suzuki, 55, will face continuing pressure to use Cal Poly Pomona’s agricultural lands for new classrooms in other programs, faculty leaders said. Of the 19,470 students, only about 880 major in agricultural studies, down sharply from the past, while about 600 of the school’s 1,400 acres are devoted to farming and livestock.
In an interview shortly after his selection at a Cal State Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach, Suzuki said he wants to keep some agricultural programs. “My feeling is it will remain an important sector of our economy and probably should remain in the university,” he said. But all programs face review because of the tight state budget, he added.
Another goal, Suzuki said, will be to increase the number of Latino and black students, who now compose 12% and 3.5%, respectively, of the Cal Poly Pomona student body, compared to 30% for Asians and 45% for Anglos. At Northridge, Suzuki won praise for his emphasis on recruiting more minority students and faculty, but he also stirred controversy when he insisted on more research from a faculty primarily devoted to teaching.
At what is formally called California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, he will succeed Hugh O. La Bounty, who is retiring after serving as president since 1977. Suzuki beat out six other finalists, including Bruce Grube, Cal Poly Pomona’s current provost and academic vice president. Suzuki’s salary has not been set but he is expected to earn about $115,000 a year for presiding over the ninth largest of the 20 Cal State campuses.
When he takes over in his new post, Suzuki will become the only sitting president of Asian descent in the Cal State system. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent three years of his childhood, during World War II, in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans.
Suzuki earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley and a doctorate in aeronautics from Caltech. He taught engineering at USC, was an assistant dean in the School of Education at the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts and was dean of graduate studies and research at Cal State Los Angeles.
In announcing the selection, Cal State Trustees Chairman William D. Campbell stressed Suzuki’s experience in managing budgets, overseeing academic programs and improving minority enrollments. “He is just what Pomona needs as it moves into the next decade,” Campbell said.
Some Northridge professors complained that Suzuki was too authoritarian in his push for more faculty research. Suzuki said Wednesday that he hopes to increase research programs at Pomona, explaining: “I feel it’s not a dichotomy between teaching on the one hand, which should really be the prime mission, and research on other hand. I think a reasonable balance needs to be maintained.”
Michelle Cooper, student government president at Cal State Northridge, described Suzuki as a “very thorough, follow-through, very conscientious individual.” He’s open to student ideas and is well respected on campus, she said.