California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White has appointed Sally Roush the new interim president of San Diego State, marking the first time that women outnumber men as campus presidents in the nation's largest public university system.
Once Roush takes office in July, 12 of Cal State's 23 presidents will be women. She will replace Elliot Hirshman, who announced earlier this year that he would be leaving to lead Stevenson University in Maryland. Roush — who worked at San Diego State in various positions for three decades — will lead the campus until the Board of Trustees names a permanent president next summer.
Trustees on Wednesday, after some debate, agreed to give Hirshman's $428,645 salary — the highest of any Cal State president — to Roush.
In 2011, Cal State took heat for approving Hirshman's compensation — $100,000 more than his predecessor made — as it also raised tuition by 12%. The following year, Cal State adopted a policy that froze compensation paid with state funds while allowing a 10% increase paid with private donations. In November 2015, to quell criticism and controversy, the trustees voted to eliminate the use of private funds to supplement salaries.
Officials have long argued that restricting compensation makes it hard to attract the most qualified candidates.
As interim president, Roush has the tough job of keeping up Hirshman's momentum, officials said. During his tenure, San Diego State raised its profile as a major public research university and moved up 37 spots in U.S. News & World Report's college ranking. It made the top 10 for students studying abroad and for ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, officials said, and produced 85 Fulbright scholars in the last decade.
Hirshman also raised about $800 million for scholarships and created a new strategic plan for the university.
Roush retired in 2014 after 31 years at San Diego State — including 19 as a senior vice president. Her name came up when White started looking for someone with the skills and experiences that faculty, students and staff said they wanted in their interim leader.
"Familiarity with the campus and the CSU, interest in fulfilling the last year of their strategic plan, the ability to provide good leadership for some of the big decisions going on around San Diego State University," White said. "Sally Roush came up on the top of each one of those checklists."
Trustees on Wednesday unanimously supported the appointment, but some questioned giving her Hirshman's salary — which is much higher than those at the other 22 campuses and not far below the chancellor's $439,361.
"This comes at a time when every meeting we're focused on the lack of money, and the level of state support continues to go down," said trustee Douglas Faigin, who brought up the board's recent approval of a controversial tuition increase. "I think it's the wrong message for our students, who some are having to deal with homelessness, food insecurity. The difference of these salaries are not going to significantly affect that, but it's the sense of how we respect our students."
Other trustees argued that the salary, while high for Cal State, is comparable to what other universities across the nation now pay.
White said it wouldn't make sense to pay an interim president less, because "some would say the job is actually harder when you have to parachute in and are expected to keep the momentum of a very successful president like Hirshman."
Although more than 57% of students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities are women, they account for only about a quarter of college presidents, according to the American Council on Education.
Roush is the sixth female campus leader Cal State has named within two years. Ellen N. Junn was selected last May to lead Cal State Stanislaus. Gayle E. Hutchinson and Erika D. Beck were named in March 2016 to lead Chico State and Cal State Channel Islands respectively, and Mary A. Papazian and Judy K. Sakaki were selected in January 2016 to head the San Jose and Sonoma campuses.
Cal State previously had come under criticism for a gender imbalance in top leadership. White said that after he became chancellor in 2012, retirements gave him the opportunity to start to change that.
The search committee for the next San Diego State president, led by trustee Adam Day, will meet for the first time this week. The committee will be hosting an open forum on campus in the fall to hear from faculty, students and staff.