Timothy P. White, president of the University of California Riverside, is expected to start his new job at the end of December.
Timothy P. White, president of the University of California Riverside, is expected to start his new job at the end of December. (Photographer: Peter Phun)

LONG BEACH — California State University trustees have selected a new chancellor to lead the nation's largest public university system during challenging fiscal times.

Timothy P. White, chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, is expected to assume duties as the new chancellor at the end of December, replacing outgoing Chancellor Charles B. Reed. The 70-year-old Reed in May announced his plans to retire after 14 years as leader of the 23-campus system.

White, 63, became the eighth chancellor of UC Riverside in 2008 after serving as president of the University of Idaho.

In a news conference Thursday, CSU leaders said White has the skills and experience to lead the system in a tough time of admissions cuts, tuition hikes and unprecedented losses in state funding.

"Tim White's background and experience reflect the institutional values and mission of the CSU," said CSU Board Chair Bob Linscheid.

"His demonstrated leadership and commitment to student success are the right combination for the university's future."

Hit with a nearly $1 billion loss in state funding since 2007, the CSU is now facing an additional $250 million "trigger cut" in funding if Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax initiative fails. In that worst-case scenario, students will see a 5 percent tuition increase this spring and possible cuts to admissions and courses.

White said his job will be challenging, but he believes the system is on the right track.

"I'm enormously optimistic about this system and the state's future. We just have to find a way in a difficult economy," he said. "We have to make sure we provide a high-quality learning environment for our students."

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, White as a child immigrated with his family to Northern California. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay suburb of Pleasant Hill and was the first in his family to attend college. White said he sees his new position as a chance to give back to California.

"It's a very important day in my life personally. It's a day when I double down on my commitment to the state of California," he said. "I have a lot to learn in the specifics of the system, but I feel very humbled and honored and very prepared to go forward."

The CSU Board of Trustees unanimously approved White's appointment Wednesday following a nationwide search that began in May. He is expected to receive the same salary as Reed - $421,500, plus an annual $30,000 supplement from CSU Foundation sources.

White will also be moving into the chancellor's home owned by the university in Long Beach's upscale Belmont Heights neighborhood.

Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, said the union is looking forward to working with White in a new era for public higher education.

"Given Dr. White's background in public higher education, we are hopeful that he will understand the needs of the CSU and will establish a goal of unifying everyone behind our critical educational mission, particularly during these difficult times," Taiz said in a statement.

White received a bachelor's degree from Fresno State and a master's from Cal State East Bay. He received his doctorate from UC Berkeley and has more than three decades of experience in public research universities, officials said.

He served as a faculty member at the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Oregon State University. At Oregon State, White served as provost, executive vice president and as interim president before joining the University of Idaho as president in 2004.

His academic background is in physiology, kinesiology and human biodynamics.

He and his wife, Karen, have four sons. Karen is a part-time professor in the biomedical sciences program at UC Riverside.

Riverside record

News of White's appointment had trickled down by mid-day Thursday to students and administrators on campus at UC Riverside, where his departure was largely seen as a loss for the school but a gain for the state.

Professors said White was instrumental in expanding the campus at a time when other schools struggled to weather economic difficulties.

"I think he was crucial in getting the medical school, which is a huge step for the university," said Khaleel Razak, an assistant professor of psychology who has been at the university for five years, a year longer than White. "I think he was a great leader for us."

A full medical center for the school, which officials expect will ease a doctor shortage in the Inland Empire and improve public health, received approval Tuesday after a long battle.

White's tenure also brought a track facility that was completed partly because of input White received while on CBS' "Undercover Boss" in 2011, when he spent a week pretending to be an employee named Pete Weston, according to the school's website.

He worked to increase national and international attention on the university as well, including helping it earn ranking among the world's top 200 universities, officials there said.

Some students said they were happy with the school but lukewarm about its leader.

"He's good, but not the best or anything," said Ngozi Okanta, a fifth-year senior with a double major in political science and economics.

Okanta said she only saw White once, in response to an Occupy protest last school year. Protesters there focused on tuition hikes and a perceived lack of support from the regent's office, but they also hoped for more from White, according to their literature.

"He was there then, and I appreciate that," said Okanta, 22, noting that the chancellor sent out a weekly newsletter to keep students updated.

Many students are frustrated by increased tuition, but White did as much as he could, said third-year student Kimberly Juarez, 20.

"He's made the best of the situation, and it's too bad we're losing him," Juarez said. "If he's in charge of the CSUs, though, he'll help a lot more people, and I'm sure he'll be very good at that."

White often walks around campus to interact with students and employees, even giving out cookies on exam days, said Jose Aguilar, director of financial aid at UC Riverside.

"This chancellor is one of the best we've had," said Aguilar, who has been at the university for 19 years. "He's very student-oriented and has done a great job leading this university. ... He was very good for us, and I know he'll be very good in his new role."

kelly.puente@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2181, twitter.com/kellypuentept

ryan.hagen@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-386-3916, twitter.com/sbcitynow