Prepared Remarks for
President's Second Annual Convocation

Jolene Koester
President, California State University, Northridge

Friday, August 24, 2001
Performing Arts Center, CSUN

Last year I came before this opening convocation having not yet completed 60 days of service here as the fourth president of California State University, Northridge. My purpose in that first convocation address was to describe the values I was bringing to this role and to explain the priorities that I had set for the university and myself as we work together on behalf of our students and our community. My purpose, as well, was to establish a tradition in which members of the university community would gather annually to consider the health of the university -- a consideration that might include any or all of the following: the accomplishments of the previous year; priorities for the coming year; issues affecting higher education in general; and those affecting CSUN in particular.

A year ago I knew relatively little about the university but had already begun to discover, in every college, academic programs and faculty that dazzled me with their excellence. I already understood that the community may not recognize the indispensability of the university and I was beginning to be surprised by the realization that many within the university also didn't realize how important CSUN is to the region we serve. I also understood that we faced significant current and future challenges.

Today I stand before you knowing a great deal more about our strengths and, yes, about at least some of the issues that will challenge us this year and in the future.

In this convocation address, I speak directly out of that increased knowledge and understanding of CSUN. I have organized my remarks this morning to include three major sections: first, some reflections on the past year and the university's achievements; next, the priorities and specific initiatives that will be undertaken during this year; and finally, I'd like to place Cal State Northridge within the larger context of the system, state, and national arenas with respect to the role of higher education.

Most obvious to all who work here or attend the university was that in the 2000-2001 academic year, the 7 years of toiling in the earthquake reconstruction are coming to an end. CSUN staff, faculty, and students saw the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and, in fact, as the year progressed the light grew brighter and brighter. New and reconstructed buildings opened; people whose work lives took place within an environment of temporary Mylar domes moved into buildings; many trailers were moved off the campus; and we had the music lawn back.

I have said previously in public presentations, and privately to many of you as I have conversed with you on campus, that there is a debt of gratitude owed to all of you who worked, studied, and taught in terrible conditions, which cannot be repaid. I have attempted, on behalf of our current and future students, to say thank you. Let me say that once again: thank you for making CSUN a university that worked and focused on student achievement despite suffering the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit a U.S. university.

This is a year in which the achievements of our faculty and staff, if chronicled thoroughly, would fill pages. From biology, to athletics, to music, to journalism, to the library, to economics, to civil engineering, to special education, to kinesiology, to cinema, to the English department, to extended learning, to communication studies, to geography, to anthropology, and throughout the rest of the university, our students and faculty racked up awards, stellar finishes in competitions, accolades, and acknowledgments of scholarship well done.

This was also a year in which CSUN continued to play what I have come to understand as an indispensable role in the region -- we are the intellectual, cultural, and economic engine that allows the region to thrive.

Last year in the convocation address I identified four priorities to guide our work and the work of others throughout my service as president. These basic priorities not only set the direction for our shared efforts but also and most importantly, incorporated the priorities embedded within the university's strategic plan, which was approved prior to my arrival. These four priorities reflect critical goals for an indispensable and ever great university. They are:

  • to strengthen connections both internally and externally;
  • to make the campus more user-friendly;
  • to improve the graduation rates of our students; and
  • to increase private support for the university

These priorities are not small goals, easily achievable with one year. I am satisfied that we did focus on these priorities and that in each area we made observable and substantial progress.

The first priority of strengthening connections was used to guide me as I structured my learning about the campus. My goal was to meet as many of you as possible, to visit your offices, to meet with you in your units, to invite you to meet with me in informal coffees. My goal, as well, was to represent CSUN in the community and to spread the word about what this university does so well as it affects the lives of individual students and the larger community.

My office staff tells me that I had 25-30 meetings with members of the community per month with a best guess of about 1500 community people that I met over the last year. It's also important to remember that our college deans place a great value on having community advisory boards to our various academic programs, with about 750 community members giving of their time and expertise to assist us in our work.

The second priority was to make the campus more user friendly, both for our students and for each other in our daily work. Notable and obvious as an accomplishment here are the "way finding" signs that now are on the campus telling us how to find particular buildings and facilities. Less obvious, perhaps, to those of us working here was the initiation of a web-based registration system used by 25% of our students during this fall registration.

The third priority I set last year was to improve graduation rates. You will recall that I indicated that, while CSUN does a good job of retaining students -- in fact, better than national comparative sample -- our graduation rate is lower than the national averages and lower than our sister campuses in the L.A. basin. The 2000-2001 year focused on gaining an understanding of the nature of the problem. The provost appointed a faculty group to obtain and analyze preliminary data about such issues as graduation rates and the time it takes to complete a degree at CSUN. The report was presented at the faculty retreat in January 2001. The provost and the president of the faculty then appointed a Graduation Rates Task Force, which met throughout the spring. Their preliminary report is available on the web.

While this study was underway Academic Affairs did directly work to reduce the time to graduation by working with departments to implement the new Trustee policy that allows students to graduate with a bachelor's degree after earning 120 units. Thirty-five departments now offer 76 different degree programs that can lead to graduation within 120 units.

Finally, last year I committed myself and this university to focus on increasing the contributions from private sources to help us sustain excellence and quality in the university. I am pleased and proud to tell you that this past year CSUN raised more than $12 million dollars in private support, the highest amount in the history of the university, and for the first time we have met the Board of Trustees' guideline for raising money at a level equivalent to 10% of our state dollars. Most importantly, we have learned that the story of this university is a compelling one when told to others.

Despite these significant and important achievements, the four "president's priorities" I set for last year will require additional work and focus during this coming year and, frankly, into subsequent years before we will be able to declare them "accomplished."

As I went around meeting with faculty and staff at the beginning of the last academic year, I was often asked about the status of the strategic plan that had been developed and approved during the administration of President Wilson. How did the priorities I had identified fit with those of the University's strategic plan? Similarly, last year the university received directives from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in our accreditation reaffirmation. Additionally, the CSU Board of Trustees committed all of the campuses to a series of outcomes for which we must submit accountability reports on a biannual basis. How do all of these "priorities," initiatives, and strategic goals relate to each other? Or do they? The confusion in response to all of these "requests" is genuine and real.

In order to create a common set of goals and objectives to guide the campus work for the next years that derive from this important work already done, a working group of faculty and administrators met to take the strategic plan, the president's priorities, the CSU accountability process and the WASC directives and meld these into a commonly-agreed-upon set of goals for CSUN. These strategic goals and priorities were disseminated to the campus community in the spring via From the President's Desk (a publication that we have now replaced with @csun Extra). An additional copy will be available for you as you leave today. These university initiatives commit us to work on objectives related to student achievement; the improvement of the campus environment; support for research, scholarship and creative achievement; efforts to build resources and institutional effectiveness; and service to the external community.

Most importantly, we have replaced the University Budget Advisory Board and the Strategic Planning Governance Group with the University Planning and Budget Group whose charge includes looking at both the strategic priorities and the allocation of resources on the campus. It is to this group that I will look for advice and consultation on the budget and allocation of other campus resources and the strategic directions of the university.

Specifically, during this coming academic year, we will set out to do the following as we work to achieve the excellence envisioned within these strategic initiatives:

1. Within the initiative of student achievement, we will continue to work to improve the "time to degree" of our students. By February 15 the Graduation Rate Task Force will have a preliminary report distributed to the campus that will have specific recommendations. As we await the specific recommendations, I am pleased to tell you that Academic Affairs and Student Affairs are collaborating to design and implement a new first-year experience program that will help new students to understand the nature of the university experience, the role and responsibility of students, and the expectations of a college student. An important part of the program will acquaint students with the support services available to them and promote the use of these services. In addition, Student Affairs is planning a Transfer Center to assist community college students in their academic planning and preparation, so they will be prepared to meet the academic expectations of the university.

2. Efforts to improve the campus environment, particularly efforts to address the user-friendly character of our services, will continue. Specifically, during this academic year, the following objectives will be achieved:

The earthquake reconstruction will be completed with all earthquake-related temporaries removed, parking lots restored, landscaping projects completed, and faculty, staff, and students in their new homes.

For example, the fence around the Sierra Quad is hard to miss -- that landscaping project, which will protect the old growth trees, will also bring additional green space to the campus.

Construction will begin during this academic year on a new parking structure to ameliorate at least some of the difficulties our students, staff, and faculty have about parking. The plans for this structure were developed at the request of numerous members of this campus community. Let me acknowledge that the need to build this structure did require us to raise parking fees for some and to request an increase through the collective bargaining process for others.

We will introduce this year a security-conscious network directory services and authentication program and a web browser e-mail system that will improve access and ease of use.

Work is underway to improve the "user-friendly" character of the services provided in the Student Services Building. The first floor will soon become a more inviting and functional environment for students. New wall paint, lighting, and artwork will contribute to the aesthetics of the environment and complement the additional seating that is greatly needed to accommodate visitors to the building. Computer terminals will be installed to provide students with access to electronic services, thus reducing the need to stand in line at the service counter. New signage will guide students and visitors to the appropriate offices and the help desk will be reconfigured to serve as a general Information Center. You may have also noticed set up in four parking lots, satellite service centers, where members of the university community can get parking decals without the need to go to the Student Services Building.

Within the division of Administration and Finance, the Office of Human Resources will install new recruiting software, allowing departments to access their pool of applications for an open position as applications are submitted to speed up and simplify the process of filling vacancies. The processing of travel reimbursements will be "reengineered" to shorten the time between when a travel claim is filed and the payment received. We will also increase the use of the ProCard, which allows individual to procure most of their purchasing needs directly without going through the regular requisition process. Also by utilizing the new web-based software, faculty and staff will be able to reconcile their accounts online with greater ease.

3. Private fund-raising will remain a high priority for deans, the development officers, and all members of the university administrative team. It will also remain a dominant feature of my personal work. While we made the 10% goal last year, this year we start counting anew, and an increase in our state-based campus funding means that our fundraising targets have increased as well. While achieving the 10% goal is critical, even more important to our future excellence -- to our ability to continue to engage our students in the scholarship and community-based learning that we value -- is our success in building a solid infrastructure for contributed fund development.

4. Finally, we will continue to tackle the difficult issue of the ways in which the university is understood within the community. We need to help shape perceptions, expectations, and experiences that create a clear, accurate, and comprehensive image of this great university. We must increase public awareness of CSUN's stature and value. In order to establish partnerships and increase private support, we must:

  • position CSUN as the cultural, social, educational, and economic focal point for the region;
  • enhance visibility and name recognition regionally and nationally;
  • communicate our excellence and indispensability;
  • create a strong culture of giving and caring;
  • establish community and business partnerships; and
  • increase alumni support and involvement.

To this end, we are about to launch a major effort to enhance the visibility, to increase the recognition level, and to build clarity and consistency in our various publics' understanding of CSUN. I encourage you to get involved and participate as our University Advancement Division takes the leadership for this important step in positioning the university and strengthening our image through graphics, messages, and venues.

It remains critical to us to understand that the national, state, and system context of higher education always has an important impact on California State University, Northridge.

Many of you probably followed the development of this year's state budget, with energy issues overshadowing not only the media coverage but the actual workings of the state legislative and executive branches. Clearly there was an impact on our budget from the degradation of the state's economic picture and the expenditure of state reserves on energy. The greater impact, however, may be in future years. If any of you read last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, you learned of major budget cuts in many states across the country, including cuts to higher education. Decreased revenues to this state due to reductions in capital gains tax revenues, coupled with increased costs for energy and basic services, means that California will not be immune to the set of forces affecting other states.

The state's economic picture should only serve to reinforce our own internal emphasis on increasing the funds contributed to this university. Similarly, the potential of a less than healthy state economy serves to underscore the importance of our efforts to establish awareness and understanding of who we are and what we do here at the Valley's university.

Within the system, the CSU is still negotiating with two of our major unions -- the California Faculty Association and the California State Employees Association. In the case of CFA, impasse has been declared, and the two parties are working with a mediator. Both parties have agreed that the previous contract continues to be in effect to guide our interactions while the bargaining process continues to unfold. With CSEA, impasse has not been formally declared, and the parties are still bargaining. At this point, I would hope that all of us would continue to have faith in the bargaining process and continue to have faith in the good will of all of us as we work to fulfill the university's mission by teaching our students and supporting our academic programs. In addition, throughout the process, I believe we at CSUN can depend on a tradition that values civility in our interactions with each other on the campus even when disagreements occur at the bargaining table.

Relevant to any discussion of resources is a broader, more foundational issue related to the various publics' expectations of us as a university. We in higher education have done an excellent job of persuading people that education is critical for individual success. Certainly, the technological innovations of the last two decades have cemented attitudes about the importance of knowledge and using information. We have convinced people of the private benefit of higher education. That is one of the reasons that the public expects us to be service-oriented in the way we provide education, and they expect us to be accountable for the state tax resources they give to us. While that funding never seems sufficient for everything we wish to do, it is given to us with an expectation of honesty and integrity in terms of how we spend it. I ask each of you, as individual members of the university community, in your own work, to recognize the importance of that trust given to us as stewards of this institution.

While we have been successful in convincing people of the private benefit of public education, we should be more successful in convincing them of the public good, particularly the public good for regional, comprehensive universities like ours.

Throughout this speech I have talked about what I have learned about CSUN: its accomplishments, achievements, excellence, indispensability to the region, its enormous consequence to the San Fernando Valley and those living nearby. I say this because I firmly believe it after studying the university, talking with the community, and looking at the data. The public good derived from California State University, Northridge is legion and it time for all of us to make this declaration, unabashedly and with pride.

Stepping back and observing our university from the standpoint of the national scene, as well as relative to other institutions of higher education in California, this is what can be seen:

  • We are a large university -- this year, in fact, we will be over 30,000 students, with one of the largest FTES and headcount enrollments in the campus' history;
  • Our budget is substantial -- a $200 million "general fund" budget -- comprised of what the state provides to us, along with what our students pay in fees;
  • Last year the total financial activity the campus was responsible for, including construction, financial aid, and our auxiliaries was almost $600 million;
  • Reviewers for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges described us as "a model public urban university";
  • CSUN is on the forefront of work in areas described as key by national higher education organizations, including the assessment of student learning outcomes, service learning, information technology as tool in our educational programs; in demonstrating accountability to our community.

Now is the time to tell those in this community and region about this "great" university. The current images that come to mind when people refer to a "great university" are usually those of the great research universities, where pure research dominates the public's understanding of what contributions the university makes. Second, perhaps, to the research mission of universities in the public's sense of greatness are division I-A athletic programs (though we did demonstrate in last year's basketball game with UCLA that greatness in athletics does come from universities like this one!)

CSUN is a great university, and it is time for us to redefine the term "great university" to include those universities that educate the people of a region well, that use their intellectual expertise in service to the community, that provide ongoing educational opportunities to a large number of people, and whose focus is not just on those who have either great financial resources or are in the very top of their high school graduating classes. A great university includes one of the size and scope and commitment to its urban setting that the WASC reviewers have said CSUN is. Each of us must take pride in understanding and accepting the "greatness" of what is accomplished here for our individual students and for our community.

The public is going to continue to demand much of us. I believe that we are ready to respond, affirmatively and with pride, about the quality and character of what and who we are here at California State University, Northridge.


Attachment: University Goals and Initiatives 2001-02

University Goals and Initiatives

I. Student Achievement

1. Increase graduation rates (including undergraduate, graduate, credential students).
2. Enhance quality of the baccalaureate degree (including review of GE and advisement).
3. Enhance quality of the graduate degree and credential (including review of advisement).
4. Increase the level of student preparedness/decrease the need for remediation.
5. Focus student learning/assessment criteria in curricular and co-curricular arenas.

II. Campus Environment

1. Develop user-friendly academic, business, and personnel processes for students, staff, and visitors.
2. Enhance internal communications.
3. Enhance physical environment (including safety issues, buildings, parking, signage).
4. Develop a campus culture that promotes personal engagement in communities, thereby fostering excellence in all faculty, staff, and student endeavors
5. Develop greater pride in the University.
6. Enhance support for diversity in all areas of campus life.

III. Research, Scholarship, and Creative Achievement

1. Provide support for research, scholarship, and creative achievement for all within the campus community.
2. Focus on and promote outcomes: instructional innovations, publications, presentations, creative work.
3. Enhance faculty, administrative, and staff development.
4. Honor professional recognition and distinction.

IV. Resources/Institutional Effectiveness

1. Establish budget priorities to support excellence in educational programs.
2. Increase external funding (including grants and scholarships).
3. Increase sources and levels of financial aid.
4. Enhance information technology and technology in general.
5. Maximize effectiveness of facilities utilization.

V. Serving External Community

1. Serve as intellectual, cultural, and artistic resource for the community.
2. Develop and enhance partnerships in service to the community.
3. Enhance external communications to promote knowledge of the University's contributions to the community.
4. Attend to areas of special state need.

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August 2001