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Les Wong is named president of S.F. State

Les Wong is named president of S.F. State

San Francisco State University named Leslie E. Wong as its 13th president Thursday, its first new leader in nearly a quarter century.

The head of Northern Michigan University since 2004, Wong, 62, will replace Robert Corrigan on Aug. 1. Corrigan is retiring after 24 years as president of the campus of nearly 30,000 students that anchors the wind-blown southwest corner of the city.

“How can you fill Bob Corrigan’s shoes? We’ll never fill them – but Les is very close,” said John Gumas, chairman of the San Francisco State Foundation, which raises money for the cash-starved public university. “He was by far the best candidate.

“He’s a prolific fundraiser,” said Gumas, who served on the committee of faculty, staff and students that advised California State University trustees in their selection. “That has to be top of the agenda.”

Beyond that, the committee wanted someone who shared Corrigan’s sense of “social justice,” commitment to diversity and, like Corrigan, was kind.

“After I met him, I had a man-crush on him,” Gumas joshed about Wong. “He has that warmth, and that’s what San Francisco State needs. People are going to love him.”

They apparently did at Northern Michigan University.

“President Wong is probably one of the best presidents NMU has seen,” said Adelle Whitefoot, news editor of the campus paper, North Wind. “He’s very approachable.”

When students broke a record for the longest skateboard parade last year, Wong jumped on a board and joined in.

“We haven’t had any protests on campus,” she said. “And I’ve been there five years.”

In a December address to Northern Michigan students, Wong called the police who pepper-sprayed protesters at UC Davis “callous.” He said, “I do remind myself, loudly and often, that it is our fundamental right to peacefully gather to air our grievances.”

Wong also praised the Occupy movement and declared that “corporate greed remains unchecked.”

That sounded fine to Rebekah Phillips, who, like many San Francisco State students, has to work and take out costly loans for school.

“That’s very good for us – to have someone on our side who knows how hard it is,” she said.

Lorna Hill, an admissions supervisor at San Francisco State who helped choose Wong from three top candidates, said she “couldn’t be happier,” in part because Wong meets regularly with unions.

A Bay Area native, Wong grew up in East Oakland and graduated from Bishop O’Dowd Catholic school. His mother, of Mexican descent, came from a family of farmworkers. His father, a Chinese American, was an executive at the National Dollar Store.

Wong holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Washington State University. He taught psychology, history and health, and served as academic dean at colleges in Washington for 23 years before moving to the University of Southern Colorado in 1997. There he served briefly as interim president, then as provost and academic vice president. He moved to North Dakota and was vice president of academic affairs at Valley City State University before being hired in Michigan.

San Francisco State “is one of the most dynamic campuses in America,” he said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am.”

By the time Wong begins, the campus will have cut more than $13 million from its 2012-13 annual budget in preparation for a potential $200 million loss in state funding.

CSU officials said they won’t disclose Wong’s pay package until it is approved in July.

Corrigan receives $72,000 for housing and a car, and a base salary of $298,749. Under a policy approved Wednesday by the trustees, a new president may receive a 10 percent higher salary, with the raise coming from foundation funds – if the foundation agrees.

Nanette Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Twitter: @NanetteAsimov. nasimov@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page C Р2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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