SF State leaders remember president's long career
September 22, 2008 11:54 AM
When President Robert Corrigan took the reins at SF State in 1988, Ronald Reagan was still president of the United States, George Michael’s “Faith” was No.1 on the music charts, and "Just Say No" was plastered across San Francisco.
Over the next 20 years, the music changed, the slogans were replaced, and Corrigan became one of the longest-serving university presidents in the education system of the United States. Under his direction, SF State developed into a respected institution with the highest ranking in the nation for the number of international students at a comprehensive university.
Corrigan began his term after a string of presidents in the preceding years. Professor Eric Solomon, who has worn many hats at SF State, was acting provost when Corrigan was hired. Solomon began working at the university in 1964, and said that Corrigan was the fifth university president he had worked with at the school.
“This is a very, very difficult campus to govern,” Solomon said of SF State. “I stayed on as acting provost for one more year, and he has proved very able at more than holding his own.”
Solomon described Corrigan as being particularly good at balancing the business of SF State with the academics and other programs. He said Corrigan acts on his experience as a teacher to be a skilled president, and this combination has developed SF State from a quality college for undergraduates to “a first rate university. A place where the staff and faculty are attuned to the realities of a complete academic system."
“As a president, he has shown a good deal of teaching and interest in curriculum, like very few presidents can,” Solomon said. “He is a good listener for teachers, and he is good at making you feel you are not being judged.”
Assistant professor Ramon Castellblanch, who is the president of the faculty association and is often at odds with CSU administration, said he appreciated working with Corrigan because he is reliable.
“He has no difficulty getting the job done,” Castellblanch said. “There are some toothless administrators out there. If Corrigan tells you he will do something, it gets done.” Castellblanch paused and laughed, then said, “Sometimes he will get up in the middle of a meeting and get someone on it right then.”
Castellblanch said he thought Corrigan had a background working in the same factory as his father when he was younger. “He knows the mindset of the unionist. When he says he will do something, you can pretty much take it to the bank,” Castellblanch said.
Russell Kilday-Hicks, president of the CSU Employee Union, voiced a similar sentiment. Kilday-Hicks wrote in an e-mail that he had seen Corrigan from a number of perspectives for approximately 14 years. Kilday-Hicks said in his roles at SF State as a student, a teacher, and a union worker, Corrigan was a mythical figure that everyone on campus had heard of but rarely saw.
“I heard rumors that the university did have a president,” Kilday-Hicks wrote, “and a friend in journalism used to joke about doing a headline in the Golden Gator announcing a ‘Corrigan Sighting’ on campus.”
In recent months, however, since the Alliance for CSU has formed and begun lobbying state officials in attempts to appropriate funding for SF State, Kilday-Hicks said he has had more contact with Corrigan than the previous years combined. The close work has engendered an appreciation of Corrigan’s public appearances, according to Kilday-Hicks.
“His last two convocation speeches were very moving,” Kilday-Hicks said. “He spoke personally and passionately about his own experiences in academia and how the Civil Rights Movement shaped his life.”
But Kilday-Hicks said he noticed that most of the listeners were new faculty and administrators. “The rest of the campus has no idea who he is and what makes him tick.”
Corrigan himself said he hopes people will look at his time at SF State and see the basic, fundamental changes that have taken place at the school under his presidency. “Social justice and equity,” Corrigan said several times at a recent meeting. “I hope people see what a great university this is and see what an international and culturally diverse experience we provide.”
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