California State University, Northridge academic and administrative leaders gathered Aug. 20 to prepare for the 2018-19 academic year — focused clearly on student success and continuing the push to improve graduation rates. More than 100 leaders, including department chairs, deans of CSUN’s nine colleges and library, and administrators, met in the Noski Auditorium and Bookstein Hall for their annual retreat.
“Believe in your hearts and in your actions that every student has the ability to succeed and needs our support,” CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison told faculty in her opening remarks. “I read recently, students respond much more positively when educators say, ‘let me collaborate with you’ — as opposed to ‘let me help you.’ Words matter. Think of our students as our partners, and we’re going to collaborate with them.”
In her address, the president shared updates and re-emphasized graduation goals for the year 2025 — set forth by the California State University (CSU) chancellor’s office and the CSU board of trustees (at CSUN, the initiative is called “Matadors Rising”).
“Our retention rate for freshmen from fall 2016 (the most recent data available) was 81 percent,” Harrison said. “That’s a three-point gain over fall 2015 — that’s tremendous progress. It’s the first time we’ve been in the 80s in many years, and the first time in the 80s with this large a student population.
“Our graduation rates look good. We’ve made particular gains with our transfer student population,” she said. “In the two-year transfer graduation rate, we have eliminated achievement gaps among that group. That’s huge for our students.”
As they prepared schedules, faculty staffing and classes for the fall semester (which began Aug. 25), department chairs were urged by the president to continue working with faculty to close achievement gaps for underrepresented minority students. “We cannot rest easy as long as there are any gaps among our students’ achievement,” Harrison said. “We need to really dissect what those differences are, address them, fix them — we know we can do it.”
The retreat’s sessions included breakout groups focusing on undergraduate and graduate policies, scheduling and budgeting in changing times, supporting student success and leadership training. Faculty members from across the university also had the opportunity to hear from new Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stella Theodoulou — a very familiar face, as the former dean of CSUN’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) — as well as new David Nazarian College of Business and Economics Dean Chandra Subramaniam, new SBS Dean Yan Searcy, and a number of new department chairs.
In the morning, Natalie Mason-Kinsey, the campus’ newly appointed chief diversity officer, spoke to the group about her role at CSUN and goals for the new academic year, including increased outreach for hiring, and diversity training for staff and faculty.
Later in the program, William Watkins, dean of students and vice president for student affairs, noted that this fall semester, CSUN is welcoming 4,500 first-time freshmen and 5,600 transfer students — all of whom are invited to celebrate the start of their Matador journey at the annual New Student Convocation on Sept. 13.
“We’re going to give our very best to our students,” Harrison said as she concluded her address. “It’s incredibly rewarding work. It’s not always the easiest work, but what we leave with makes it worthwhile. Our last gathering was at commencement. For those who attend, you know — that’s what makes it all worthwhile: those smiles, the pride, the families. That’s what we’re in our field to do.”