California State University, Northridge academic and administrative leaders convened Monday to prepare for the 2015–16 academic year — and to equip themselves to welcome the largest student body in the university’s history. More than 100 leaders, including department chairs, deans of CSUN’s nine colleges and library, and administrators, met in the Noski Auditorium and Juniper Hall for their annual retreat.
“Welcome back, and welcome to those of you who are new,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, kicking off the Aug. 17 retreat. “We have a number of opportunities this year. One has to do with our enrollment. We’re looking at approximately 42,000 students this fall.
“You may be thinking, as I was, what happened to impaction?” the president told the audience, referring to the CSU-mandated restrictions limiting applications from students outside of CSUN’s service area and in certain crowded majors. Those rules, for the most part, do not take effect until the 2016–17 academic year.
“We had no tool available regarding transfer students,” she said. “We also have improved our freshman retention. That’s a great thing. Our persistence increased our [numbers of students matriculating from] freshman to sophomore years by over 1,000 students. We thank you for that.”
Harrison reiterated that CSUN is “entering the impaction world very reluctantly. We will keep you alerted and involved along the way.”
Preparing schedules, faculty staffing and classes for the fall semester (which begins Aug. 23), department chairs were urged by the president to consider scheduling classes more than once per day or during more than one time slot. Doing otherwise “blocks students from making progress when they can’t get a class,” she said. “To the extent that you can, please offer choices.”
The retreat’s sessions included breakout groups focusing on academic coaching, counseling, scholarship and research. Faculty members from across the university also had the opportunity to meet new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Yi Li, interim deans from the College of Health and Human Development (Tami Abourezk) and the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication (Dan Hosken), as well as a number of new department chairs.
“New this year, we hope to schedule a series of workshops covering topics of concern to chairs,” said Jon Stahl, chair of CSUN’s Council of Chairs and chair of the Department of Cinema and Television Arts. “These are meant to be free and open sessions — a chance for you to, perhaps, bring issues that you’ve grappled with in the past year, and hear how others have dealt with it.”
Planned sessions may include topics such as wellness for faculty, academic dishonesty from students, behavioral problems and other student issues, Stahl said.
Chief Anne Glavin of CSUN’s Department of Police Services helped prepare participants for emergencies by bursting in during Stahl’s welcoming remarks, along with a K-9 dog and K-9 officer, who discovered a “suspicious object” under the seat of Michael Spagna, dean of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
“Do you know when it’s a 911 moment, or do you know when it’s bad behavior?” Glavin asked the crowd. “Do you know what to do? Do you know what not to do? How to present a calmness for your staff so they don’t overreact? They will turn to you.”
While Glavin spoke, CSUN officers staged an active-shooter situation with false weapons, and an actor portrayed a CSUN student threatening Spagna over a bad grade.
“We have a host of training resources for emergency preparedness,” Glavin said. “We do see faculty members at our trainings. I encourage you to set an example for your colleagues.”
In the late afternoon, Provost Li, who assumed his new post in July, wrapped up the all-day retreat with a brief, informal discussion with the faculty members and leadership. He punctuated the meeting of minds with a fitting note about the value of a liberal arts university education.
“I believe we owe our students, as a public good, a liberal arts education,” said Li, who came to CSUN from Wright State University, where he had served as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics since 2011. He previously served as 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.
“I am a mathematician. If all you needed in life were math, life would be so simple!” said Li, eliciting laughter from his audience. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from Xi’an Jiaotong University in China. “I think a liberal arts education is key.”