In what’s become the university’s own State of the Union, California State University, Northridge President Dianne F. Harrison this week greeted hundreds of new faculty members and staff — and welcomed back thousands of those returning to campus — at her annual fall welcome address, which took place Aug. 20 at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center.
Harrison, one of just seven women presidents in the 23-campus CSU system, struck an optimistic and proud tone for the 2015–16 academic year that begins Aug. 23, naming a host of CSUN accomplishments and milestones during the past academic year.
“My vision for CSUN is to be a campus that is known nationally, statewide and regionally for being an outstanding educational institution with highly ranked and high-quality academic programs,” Harrison said, “and for having faculty who give students the opportunity to engage in research, internships, learning communities and cutting-edge technology. As a campus that reflects the demographics of California and the future demographics of the entire United States, we nurture and prepare this future potential for our state and our nation.”
Following on the heels of a record May 2015 graduating class of 10,658, Harrison noted the impending arrival and start of fall classes for the largest student body in the university’s history — and one of the largest in the nation — expected to top 42,000.
“Part of our increased enrollment is due to the attraction CSUN has become as a destination campus, and we should all be proud of that,” she continued. “Our students should be the central focus of why we arrive on campus each and every day, filled with enthusiasm for our teaching, our research and scholarship, and service in our offices, classrooms and out on the campus grounds.”
Harrison’s speech, titled 40,000+ Reasons to Excel at CSUN, outlined the university’s seven stated priorities — from student success listed No. 1 to No. 7: using athletics as a tool for student, community and regional engagement — and several recent accomplishments in each priority area.
“Having priorities and a campus-wide shared understanding of them makes all of our jobs easier because we are all working toward the same common good. We can move forward in significant ways if we act in concert.”
In just one of myriad examples, she cited plans for a new minor in entrepreneurship in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, as well as the development of an interdisciplinary master’s degree in innovation and “design thinking.”
“[The master’s degree] will give students the kinds of skills for creativity and innovation that is desired by employers and crucial to an advanced economy like ours,” Harrison said. “It represents the kind of entrepreneurship and innovation skills I hope we are putting into place in all of our majors, so that students can be competitive in a global marketplace.”
Harrison’s address also recognized CSUN’s long history of championing social justice and its importance in society today.
“There is a general unease and unrest that is going on in our country right now,” she said. “I am saddened that we have lived through the tragedies related to the discrimination and profiling of African-Americans in Charleston, Ferguson and right here in Los Angeles. Our students are still learning about themselves, about the world and how they fit into that world, and they expect social justice.
“We have an obligation to provide a welcoming environment that allows people to share their perspectives and teaches them to listen and hear others as well,” she continued. “It is imperative to model social discourse. We must ourselves be courageous and not tolerate those around us that discriminate against others.”
Harrison highlighted gains made around another institutional priority — increasing research activity and sponsored programs. The past academic year saw CSUN increase its research activity by 4.5 percent to $32.2 million in research awards.
“One of the most exciting and significant of these projects is the BUILD-PODER grant, a $22 million grant from the National Institutes of Health which is the biggest so far in CSUN’s history,” she said. “This grant not only advanced our goal to expand research, it also supports the priority for student success, our commitment to social justice and to inclusion.”
At the start of her address, Harrison welcomed new faculty members, staff and leadership, including new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Yi Li, who assumed his post in July. He previously served as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Wright State University, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Iowa, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Rochester, and instructor at the University of Chicago.
Philosophy professor Adam Swenson, acting president of the Faculty Senate, opened and concluded the program, and Jorge Reyes, president of Associated Students, provided greetings from CSUN’s students.
“You’re the spark that keeps us moving forward when we want to give up,” Reyes said. “I always return feeling fortunate to be surrounded by our campus diversity. On behalf of the 42,000 students and Associated Students, I thank you for the memorable year we are about to begin — and the knowledge you are about to give us.”
For the full text or to watch a video of President Harrison’s address, go to http://www.csun.edu/president/2015-annual-fall-welcome .