Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – For years, one of the unmet needs voiced around Arcata and environs has been for a Humboldt State University president who is familiar to, part of and actively engaged with the Humboldt community.
Now, in the person of Dr. Tom Jackson, it has one. HSU’s personable but purposeful president has been all but ubiquitous in recent months, forging ties with individuals and institutions throughout NoHum.
The question now is, how will the community respond – with polite nods of the head or by acknowledging his concerns and goals, and drilling down on details?
In recent Arcata appearances, Jackson offered his fresh, outsider’s perspective on Humboldt’s direction and imaging as well as everyday issues affecting Arcata and its resident university.
State of the City
At the Arcata Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event at the Minor Theatre on Feb. 4, Jackson laid out his assessment of Humboldt State’s present position and direction in Humboldt.
He pointed out the “significant difference” HSU makes in Humboldt, one of just 23 California communities to host a CSU campus. With its $220 million budget, he said the university is responsible for 6,200 jobs and wealth creation estimated at $567 million.
Invigorating the local community is a priority, he said, because it will help make higher education accessible. “Our focus over the next few years is really to rejuvenate the local community in such a way that those high school graduates from this particular area choose Humboldt State University and choose to stay in the local region for all the right reasons,” he said.
Recruitment for the “destination university,” he said, is focused primarily – but not exclusively – on a Humboldt-San Francisco-Sacramento-Reno axis, “and all the way north to Alaska.”
Jackson efforts are guided, he said, by four words: positive meaningful educational experience. “It is about the entire region and what we do to help drive the university,” he said. “If [students] stay, that contributes to this economic engine that I just shared with you, and that’s important to the region.”
He said the state is supporting Humboldt State to an elevated degree, and local engagement is important to maintain that. Some $800,000 has been raised toward scholarships so far this year, with 430 $1,000 scholarships offered at regional high school campuses. “That may not sound like a lot,” he said, “but it’s a significant amount of dollars to some of those families who cannot cover that cost.”
Jackson asked local businesses to consider offering employees six credit hours for classes at College of the Redwoods or HSU, in order to help educate the workforce.
Public Safety Committee
While he steers the university’s policies toward community building and engagement, Jackson is also gearing up to upgrade conditions on the sometimes grungy ground. Last week, accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Sherie Cornish Gordon, he made an appearance at Arcata’s citizen-led Public Safety Committee, one of the many volunteer groups that help advise the City Council – a rarity, and possibly a first for an HSU president.
Jackson was introduced by Police Chief Brian Ahearn, another relatively recent arrival whose outreach campaign has earned praise and appreciation. Ahearn cast Jackson and his team as committed to serious action.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can maneuver into community to make a difference,” he told the committee. “We need you to help pull us in.”
Safety challenges for students, Jackson said, include homelessness, blocked pedestrian pathways, lighting, police presence, parking, narrow streets, Plaza problems and the city’s sometimes uninviting appearance. He called for increased collaboration between HSU Police and APD.
First on his list was improving the two main corridors between the campus and central Arcata – the pedestrian bridge and 14th Street bridge across U.S. Highway 101. Better connectivity, he said, will increase student access and reduce crime. He asked that the city pitch in with HSU to substantially increase lighting on bridges and through Northtown along L.K. Wood Boulevard and on Granite Avenue to the Westwood area. “There’s no secret,” he said, “it’s all about lighting.”
The shabby, deteriorating bridges are, like it or not, “a showplace for us and visitors” he said. “What causes them to stay on the other side of that bridge is what they see on that bridge.”
He said HSU wants not just a presence on the Plaza, but to make it a functioning extension of the university for student events. He’d like Northtown to be more walkable and amenity-rich, with sidewalk bistros and other attractions.
Synergy between the city and campus, Jackson said, will send a strong, positive message to visitors. “Let’s take advantage of our proximity and show our pride,” he said.