“The Fiercest Advocate” for CSUN: Community Reflects on President Harrison’s Impact

CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison stands in front of CSUN's Matador statue.

CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. Photo by Lee Choo.

CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison plans to advance an “ambitious agenda” through June 30, 2020, a fitting end to an eight-year tenure that has seen the university reach extraordinary heights.

Each year, more CSUN students graduate on time. A record 11,627 were eligible to graduate last year, aided by a concerted effort across CSUN and the CSU system to help Matadors complete degrees and certificates. These graduates are prepared to compete for meaningful jobs, with 21st-century skills and cross-cultural competency recognized by community groups and businesses throughout Los Angeles — and the world. Record-shattering philanthropic donations to CSUN also reflect the university’s sterling reputation, as investments in CSUN students and faculty pay off in countless ways.

Seeing student and institutional success on the rise, Harrison said, she felt comfortable announcing last week that she would step down as president, effective June 30, 2020.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead our great institution, and I take pride in what we have accomplished together,” Harrison said. “CSUN students receive a life-changing education that prepares them to be valuable citizens of the world, and the university is in great shape to carry on this important mission for years to come.”

Harrison, the fifth CSUN president and third consecutive woman to lead the university, joined CSUN in 2012 and leaves with a string of accomplishments that have transformed the campus and the lives of students and employees. The changes reflect her passions, including student success, sustainability, and equity, diversity and inclusion. Nearly 60,000 students earned degrees during her tenure, and nearly 2,000 more students graduate from CSUN every year than before 2012.

Before CSUN, Harrison served as president of Cal State Monterey Bay — the first woman to hold that post — for six years. Prior to that she served as a dean and as vice president for Academic Quality and External Programs at Florida State University.

“Over the past 15 years, there are few, if any, who have had a more profound impact on Californians pursuing public higher education than President Harrison, and I am thankful for her service to the university,” CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement.

As news of Harrison’s upcoming departure spread, students, faculty, staff and community leaders praised Harrison’s leadership.

“From the moment she set foot on CSUN’s campus, Dianne Harrison has been a trailblazer in every sense of the word — opening doors to not only a great education, but job training and professional possibilities for every member of the Matador community,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Our city’s future rests in the hands of our next generation — and their future depends on the strength of outstanding schools like CSUN. I could not be more grateful for everything President Harrison has done to build a world-class campus in the heart of the San Fernando Valley and strengthen all of Los Angeles.”

CSUN Associated Students President Diana Vicente said she appreciated the effort Harrison made to be available to listen to student concerns and to fight for student needs, such as when the president made the case to L.A. Metro for the Bus Rapid Transit line and other increased transportation options in the North San Fernando Valley.

“There was never a moment where I wanted to reach her and I couldn’t,” Vicente said. “She always had an open line of communication with Associated Students, and we’re really appreciative of that. That allowed us to accomplish a lot.”

Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who in March honored Harrison as Woman of the Year for the state’s 18th Senate District, praised her impact.

“President Harrison is the fiercest advocate CSUN could ask for, and has achieved so much to solidify the school’s place as a cornerstone in our community,” he said. “It has been a pleasure to work in partnership with her and her office.”

In 2018, CSUN was recognized by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University, for its efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, leadership in talent and workforce development, and strong government-university-industry partnerships.

During Harrison’s tenure, philanthropic support for CSUN as well as the number of alumni donors set new records nearly every year, more than doubling previous highs. One of the university’s biggest champions and supporters is business and community leader David Nazarian ’82 (Business Administration), founder and CEO of Nimes Capital.

“Dianne was a big reason I got involved at CSUN,” David Nazarian said. “The strength of her leadership gave me the confidence that the university was ascending. Her leadership has firmly placed CSUN in the very top tier of universities in California, and its national reputation has never been stronger.”

CSUN’s impact on the region during Harrison’s tenure was significant. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation bestowed their prestigious Eddy Award; at the time CSUN was the fourth university in the region to receive this distinction after Caltech, UCLA and USC. The university’s radio station, 88.5 FM, negotiated a groundbreaking partnership that was the largest expansion of non-commercial signal in U.S. history. CSUN also led the way in securing $180 million for mass transit enhancements to the campus and surrounding area. CSUN is also preparing to break ground for construction of a 149-room, on-campus Hilton Garden Inn hotel, which will serve campus visitors and the surrounding community.

During her tenure, Harrison appointed CSUN’s first chief diversity officer and created the university’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives composed of faculty, staff, students, administrators and community leaders. As the university has hired more tenure-track faculty, it has been more intentional about being inclusive in the search processes. Although CSUN is still working to ensure its faculty represents the diversity of its student body, 40 percent of its tenure-track faculty were non-white in 2018, compared to a student body that was more than 62 percent from traditionally underrepresented communities or multi-race. Nationally, fewer than 25 percent of faculty are non-white, compared to 45 percent of students.

“Dianne has provided strong leadership and has enabled CSUN to become a name brand across the Valley and beyond,” said Mary-Pat Stein, professor of biology and president of the CSUN Faculty Senate. “She has continued to strive for equity in access for all CSUN students. Dr. Harrison has enabled CSUN faculty, staff and students to find success in their careers and along their academic pathways.”

CSUN cinema and television arts (CTVA) professor and film production option head Nate Thomas commended Harrison’s efforts to attend CTVA events and other events on campus, and for her work to raise CSUN’s reputation in the community. He specifically cited recent billboard campaigns across the region that highlight prominent alumni.

“Your degree is only worth as much as what the public thinks it’s worth, and I like what she’s done with the branding of this university,” said Thomas, who also serves as the president of the CSUN California Faculty Association chapter. “We’ve got some great people that have graduated from the university, top notch in their respective fields. They’re pioneers, they’re motion picture executives and directors, and computer science innovators. Highlighting them has helped the community at large, including employers, understand our work in Southern California, and nationally as well. I really applaud her for that.”

Harrison also led the way in addressing climate change, both on campus and in the larger community. In November 2017, she participated in the United Nations annual climate conference in Bonn, Germany, part of a delegation of leaders who gathered to voice their support for the Paris Agreement on climate change. On campus, CSUN opened the first-ever Sustainability Center in the CSU system. CSUN also enlisted students and faculty for a Zero Waste campaign to drastically reduce the amount of campus waste sent to landfills.

Recognized for her leadership and service in higher education and other fields, Harrison has served on more than 80 boards and committees of national, state and local organizations. She currently serves on the board of American Council on Education (ACE), American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and Second Nature. She is the board vice chair for the coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) and the chair of the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) advisory board at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU).

Harrison is also listed among the top leaders in the region by the Los Angeles Business Journal. Her service on the boards of the region’s most influential organizations and as the current chair of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, the first university president to serve in that role, has helped strengthen the important bonds between industry, government and education, while also accelerating regional readiness for the workforce needs of tomorrow.

Harrison plans to continue her characteristic leadership of CSUN for the remainder of her tenure with an unrelenting pursuit to advance the university’s priorities and a particular emphasis on student success.

“It’s been extremely fulfilling to watch so many CSUN students achieve their dreams of graduating, and then go on to make their communities a better place,” Harrison said. “I will continue to work to put our students in the best possible position to succeed, and I look forward to the great things our students and alumni will accomplish in the future.”

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