California State University, Northridge President Dianne F. Harrison last week greeted new faculty members and staff — and welcomed back thousands of those returning to campus — at her annual fall welcome address, the university’s own version of the State of the Union, which took place Aug. 25 at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center.
Harrison struck a proud and determined tone for the 2016-17 academic year that began Aug. 27, sharing a wide variety of the hundreds of CSUN accomplishments and milestones that occurred during the past academic year, linking these initiatives and programs to student success.
“Universities like CSUN are the key to giving students and the greater community the educational and the intellectual resources needed to shape a society that is educated, that is tolerant and well-equipped to thrive in a world that seems increasingly fast-paced and changing,” Harrison told the faculty, staff and leadership. “So I thank you in advance for working with me to raise the bar for the university, so that we can give our students the high-quality education they need to succeed.”
With the start of fall classes, the university welcomed approximately 40,100 students for the new academic year, one of the nation’s largest student bodies. This follows a May 2016 graduating class of 11,120, the biggest in CSUN’s history.
Harrison’s speech, titled Raising the Bar Higher to Lift Our Students, outlined the university’s seven priorities — from student success to using athletics as a tool for student, community and regional engagement — with particular focus throughout on student success and boosting graduation rates.
In one of many campus highlights and examples of academic success, Harrison praised CSUN’s accelerated embrace of diversity and inclusion to provide students with a 21st-century education. This includes cultivating the first two cohorts of students in the university’s BUILD PODER undergraduate research training program, supported by a $22-million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health — the largest grant in CSUN history. The program aims to increase diversity in biomedical research fields.
The president noted that diversity and inclusion will be added as a university planning priority, and she welcomed the campus’ first chief diversity officer, Raji Rhys, who started her post in April.
“While other campuses may be, unintentionally, willing to overlook the catalytic power of their student diversity, at CSUN, we will intentionally and systematically put it to use as a positive force for change in every aspect of what we do,” Harrison said. “In fact, there are colleagues all over campus already doing so.
“The will to live our values of collaboration, inclusion and diversity is widespread,” she said. “What other campuses may lack, we have in abundance — leaders for change, who are intrinsically motivated to leverage our collective diversity as a tool to achieve what we all care about most: empowering students to thrive in an interconnected, rapidly changing, culturally complex landscape.”
The president shared graduation goals for the year 2025, set forth by the California State University (CSU) chancellor’s office and the CSU board of trustees. For example, CSUN aims to increase the four-year graduation rate for students who start as freshmen to 30 percent and the two-year graduation rate for transfer students to 43 percent by 2025.
“We know that many of our students of opportunity are challenged to complete their education in what is considered the ‘traditional’ amount of time it takes to graduate,” Harrison said. “Two-thirds of our students need to work to support themselves and, in many cases, their families. But we should not assume that at least a third and more of our students cannot rise to achieve these goals.
“Until and unless the state reinvests in the CSU, the burden will fall on students and we need to do all we can to help students graduate, graduate sooner and in larger numbers,” she said. “And not by lessening quality or lowering standards.”
Of the many challenges facing today’s students, the president also called attention to hunger and homelessness, which afflict approximately one in 10 CSU students system-wide, according to recent studies.
“CSUN is not standing still on this issue,” Harrison said. “This fall, we’re opening an expanded food pantry on campus,” and the university will work with Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office and other city and county resources to refer homeless students for temporary housing, she noted.
Throughout her remarks and in conclusion, Harrison highlighted and acknowledged the dedication of faculty and staff to CSUN’s students.
“Thank you for the work that you have done, and the important work that you will do for our students,” Harrison said. “The time is now to test our assumptions through data based on outcomes, to challenge ourselves, to innovate and to raise the bar. Our students are counting on us, and I know that together — we can do this.”
Philosophy professor Adam Swenson, president of the Faculty Senate, opened and concluded the program by welcoming new faculty members, staff and leadership, including Farrell Webb, the new dean of the College of Health and Human Development. Sevag Alexanian, president of Associated Students, also gave greetings on behalf of CSUN’s students.
“Serving all of us students is no easy task,” Alexanian said. “The faculty and staff serve as the oil to the machine, making sure that we as students are succeeding. It always makes me feel proud to know that CSUN is not like other CSU campuses. Here at CSUN, we have a unique system where students’ voices are truly heard and taken into account.”
For the full text or to watch a video of President Harrison’s address, go to http://www.csun.edu/president/2016-fifth-annual-welcome-address