The sculptorFeatures, Special Edition: Celebrating a presidency — May 22, 2012
Like an artist with his material, Albert Karnig worked to refine the piece in progress that was Cal State San Bernardino.
by Koren Wetmore
When Albert Karnig took the helm as Cal State San Bernardino’s third president in 1997, he set his sights on the future and developed a strategic plan. A key component of that plan — to build the campus’s physical and intellectual environment — would establish the infrastructure needed for success.
Karnig approached his task with an entrepreneurial vision, that innate ability to assess the reality, dream the potential and achieve the impossible. And, under his leadership, CSUSB grew, despite the economic forces that challenged it.
“I liken the work of Dr. Karnig to that of a master sculptor. The academic stone put in place by his predecessors was of high quality, but rough hewn,” said San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris. “He had an unerring sense of how this stone must be shaped to meet the educational needs of a region whose population was exploding in numbers and diversity, but had little contact with higher education and the great opportunities that [one can] obtain with a college and post-graduate experience.”
In the past 15 years, Karnig’s academic sculpture gave rise to 13 new buildings, including construction of the satellite Palm Desert Campus, which was built entirely without state funds.
“Dr. Karnig was key in our building a permanent Palm Desert campus. He made regular trips to the desert for meetings to support the entitling and construction, provided clout and credibility to the finance campaign, and assisted in the closing of several major gifts,” said Richard Oliphant, former Indian Wells mayor and co-leader of the campaign that brought the satellite campus to the Coachella Valley. “It could not have been built without him.”
The campus’s construction was funded by more than $40 million raised during Karnig’s tenure. It broke ground on its first structure, the Mary Stuart Rogers Gateway Building, in 2000 and eventually grew to include the Indian Wells Theater, the Indian Wells Center for Educational Excellence and the Palm Desert Health Sciences Building.
“… Being able to get everybody to rally around a vision and get everyone on the campus to play their role and work toward it, that is really his strength.”
Lou Monville, CSU Trustee
About the same time, the San Bernardino campus experienced its own growth spurt.
The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Building opened in August 2002, consolidating the college’s nine departments into one five-story, 135,635-square-foot building. Funds for the $32.8 million project came from a 1998 voter-approved education bond issue. The university’s third residence hall opened that same month, expanding the number of on-campus student beds to more than 1,000.
More student housing followed after the acquisition in July 2004 of 11 acres, located across the street from the campus. The University Village apartment-style complex added another 480 student beds.
The Chemical Sciences Building, completed in the winter of 2006, added 37,500 square feet of lecture and lab space, along with a museum, to the College of Natural Sciences.
The 2008 opening of the $50 million College of Education Building gave a physical home not only to classrooms,
offices and a literacy center, but also to the university’s first doctoral program in education. Monies from Prop. 55, a statewide school-repair and construction bond passed in 2004, covered the building’s construction cost, but not its $4 million in furnishings and equipment. Those funds came from donations raised through the university’s Tools for Education campaign, a community-wide effort that included faculty, staff and private donors, and supported largely by Watson and Associates.
Like other projects that followed — such as the development of a student recreation and fitness center and the expansion of the Santos Manuel Student Union — fund-raising and community support proved vital. It was a concept that Karnig enthusiastically embraced.
“[President Karnig] would be the first to tell you that it is a very team-oriented environment at Cal State (San Bernardino). But being able to get everybody to rally around a vision and get everyone on the campus to play their role and work toward it, that is really his strength,” said 1994 CSUSB graduate and CSU Trustee Lou Monville.
The newest academic addition was to the Physical Sciences Building, which originally opened in 1967 but unveiled its renovated facilities in 2011.
The $27 million structure houses 21 classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices and a student services center. A few months later, the grand opening of the $2-million Murillo Family Observatory rounded out more than a decade of visible campus growth.
And, as the campus grew, so did the number of students.
Enrollment steadily rose from about 13,000 students in 1997 to more than 17,000 today. Further, the student population continues to reflect the cultural and economic diversity of the communities the university serves.
“CSUSB has grown from being merely a commuter school to a mélange of student backgrounds whose diversity brings out the best in one another,” said Stuart Sumida, professor of biology. “Dr. Karnig has helped to encourage and facilitate that diversity.”
He’s also opened access to higher education for a generation of students that otherwise may not have dreamed such opportunities were possible.
“I’m very pleased that we could more than double our freshman class, double our enrollment of historically underrepresented students, and graduate classes in which 70 percent of the students were the first in their families to graduate from college,” President Karnig said. “I was delighted to be president while so much building and student growth was taking place.”
What’s perhaps most amazing is that the campus’s growth — in enrollment and facilities — happened during one of the state’s most difficult economic times. As funding for education became a shrinking line item in the state’s budget, Karnig rallied the CSUSB community to make tough decisions. His success in doing so has been credited directly to his open communication style.
“He desires to bring folks around a table to tackle challenges head on and to give them an opportunity to give advice,” Monville said. “Universities are living, complex institutions. So having a team that thinks ahead and is willing to make tough decisions, while understanding the importance of putting the needs of students first, creates an environment that allows the institution to get through tough times.”
A combination of revenue bonds, federal funds, community support and tireless fundraising helped to meet many a budget gap. But CSUSB’s continued success was equally ensured by Karnig’s steadfast commitment to the university, its students and faculty, and the communities it serves.
“With the pressures on Dr. Karnig to cut services, he could have easily put a pencil line through the Palm Desert Campus, creating a huge savings,” said Oliphant. “Instead, he underlined it.”