Inaugural Address

Jolene Koester
President, California State University, Northridge

Thursday, April 19, 2001
Oviatt Library

It is with profound feelings of honor, humility, privilege, and joy that I stand before you today as the fourth president of California State University, Northridge. I also, however, must acknowledge that on this day of celebration I experience a deep and compelling sense of commitment, obligation, and stewardship for this institution.

Whatever I have done in my professional life has been made possible by the strong tentacles of support from family and friends, beginning with parents in a small rural midwest town whose fierce love provided me with the values and beliefs that still guide, motivate and, yes, prod me today. A large extended family a brother and three sisters - now complemented by in-laws, step- mother, nieces and nephews - comprise my family of origin. I love you all.

My created family includes two step-daughters and begins and ends with Ron, who makes it possible for me to do what I do. His love, humor, and intellectual engagement balances, energizes, and refreshes me. My family also includes good friends, many with a Minnesota or a communication connection. Many of them are here today and, oh my, the stories they could tell all of my new colleagues here at Northridge. My colleagues from Sacramento, who helped me grow up professionally, who taught me what it was to lead and to work in the California State University, are also here, and I am so grateful. And, now all of you, my new friends from California State University, Northridge and from the San Fernando Valley are here. To see all of you today here, to celebrate this transition in leadership for this great university leaves me almost speechless. Anyone who knows me knows that that's very rare.

I ask everyone here today to participate in this event and to celebrate the extraordinary qualities of this university - a university that is indispensable to this region and to the greater Los Angeles area because of the high quality educational programs and services we provide. Even our initials - CSUN - remind us of our mission to connect, serve, unite, and nurture. It is axiomatic that the present is shaped and influenced by our past. Previous administrations, and the faculty and staff working with them, have created taken-for-granted treasured characteristics of our university.

During the years of the service of the first president, Dr. Ralph Prator, a fundamental value still with us, emerged about the critical importance of faculty and student interaction, and it led to the design of a physical facility that encouraged small classes.

Under the leadership of President James Cleary, the physical plant of the campus was built, and the demographics of the campus began to reflect the increasing cultural, ethnic, and racial heterogeneity of the greater Los Angeles area.

Dr. Blenda Wilson, the university's third president, brought an explicit recognition of the responsibility of the university to use our intellectual power in support of community needs. During President Wilson's years here, the number of programs that linked this campus to the community literally multiplied in number. During the Wilson years as well, under the guidance of Provost Louanne Kennedy, who was our interim president last year, this campus explicitly focused the efforts of faculty and staff on the achievement of our students.

President Wilson's years at CSUN, however, will always be remembered by the events that occurred on and after January 17, 1994 - the "devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake" - words indelibly inscribed in the minds of everyone from this university and this region. Despite the reality that this campus was brought to its knees; that virtually every building was damaged; that aftershocks continued for weeks following the initial 6.7 temblor; and that the easiest course of action might well have been simply to shut down the university for a semester or more, President Wilson, her leadership team, the faculty and staff and, yes, the students accomplished the impossible, and the university opened only two weeks late for the spring semester.

Marked by a natural disaster, the scope of which is greater than any that has affected any other U.S. institution of higher education, the last seven years of CSUN's history have been shaped by that 1994 earthquake. Like sand that creeps into every crevice and crack in a home in the desert, ever present and yet almost invisible because of its pervasive character, this earthquake has been a part of the world of our faculty, our staff, and our students, even for those of us who came here long, long after the last temblor stopped.

All 107 buildings on campus were damaged, and the work of the campus shifted to 350 trailers and 10 mylar domes. Contractors have spent more than 1 million hours to restore these buildings. Offices of the university administrative officers and departments of the university were juggled among these temporary facilities, with most departments averaging three different moves for a total of 250 moves on this campus in the last seven years. All of those moves required the planning, the coordinating, the packing, the unpacking, the rearranging, and the settling-in that all moves demand. This summer, the final set of moves will take place.

Several graduating classes of our students attended the university and were taught almost completely in temporary facilities. This spring semester is the last semester that students will go to classes in trailers. Two hundred twenty-five staff members worked in mylar domes for seven years, working a total of 3.7 million person hours in what were meant to be temporary structures. The last group of those staff working in those mylar domes moved into a building two weeks ago. This has all been made possible by a partnership and close cooperation between the university, the Chancellor's Office, the DMJM Company, and the FEMA offices in Pasadena and Washington.

Now what has this meant in human terms? It's meant hard work; it's certainly meant adaptability; but most of all for me, it has meant courage. Courage is more than extraordinary action in the face of life-threatening events. It's also about being yourself as you face the challenge of everyday living, about maintaining your values and your principles over the long term. It's about the persistence that our faculty and staff demonstrated as they endured two-hour commutes the first year following the earthquake, simply to come to work in a trailer, teach a class on the lawn, or have to eat lunch in a car. How our faculty and staff responded during the last seven years has made a significant difference in the lives of students, and it has made a difference to the community we serve.

Today's event takes place on a site that symbolizes the courage, spirit, and commitment to student learning that characterize CSUN as we rebuilt from that earthquake in 1994. Look around you. The evidence is everywhere. Here in front of us is the new and improved Oviatt Library. To the west, across the palm trees is University Hall and a reshaped and rebuilt building that we now call the Student Services Center. To the east is a seismically upgraded science building - a symbol that was often seen and presented by the media of loss and destruction. To the far south is Manzanita Hall, the last building that will complete the reconstruction from the 1994 earthquake.

We owe an incredible, immeasurable debt of gratitude to all who were here during those years. Those of you here with all of those earthquake stories, who worked in those tents, who slogged through the mud from place to place, who couldn't find your classes because you didn't know where the trailers were, those people who worked in the mylar domes and packed and repacked, those of you who taught without your scholarly materials because they were lost in that earthquake. I say to you: Thank you; thank you; thank you.

Members of the Cal State Northridge community, let's use this occasion to celebrate the end of the earthquake reconstruction.

During the last nine months, I've had the opportunity to collect a lot of the university's stories. The picture that has emerged for me is one of a university focused on student achievement, and on high quality degree programs that serve the economic, intellectual, cultural, and human needs of our communities. We are the Valley's only public university. We are indispensable to the communities that surround us.

Let me try to mirror back to you some of what it is I've learned about the quality of this university. There are lots of ways to measure quality, and I'm going to touch on only a few of those.

But let me begin with the high quality of our degree programs as measured by what our students learn, by the national and state reputations of these programs, even by the formal competitions that our students participate in.

Let me start with our marine biology program. (I think there are some faculty and students from the marine biology program here. Can they please stand? The marine biologists. Where are you? There they are, back there.) This degree program annually sends the faculty, undergraduates and graduate students to a national conference in marine biology. Our faculty and students just returned from that conference, and this is what their colleagues in marine biology said about these Cal State Northridge students:


"I'm always impressed with the quality and number of bright and enthusiastic students you bring."

"I was very impressed by the quality of all of the talks given by your students. Not only were they the best student talks I heard, they were the best talks, period. You deserve a lot of credit for having such an excellent program."

"Your students are great. How do you continue to find such talented students year after year?"

This kind of programmatic excellence abounds at this university. We have an undergraduate philosophy program that is included in a recent ranking with such prestigious institutions as Amherst, Bernard, Brandeis, Colgate, Oberlin, and Bates. The programs in accounting and the other programs in our College of Business Administration and Economics regularly receive accolades from business firms throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The students in our journalism program recently swept nearly every category in the regional competition of the Society of Professional Journalists, winning the sweepstakes trophy for overall excellence. And, I might mention, out-classing that small university across the hill in Westwood.

We have strong, varied, and nationally recognized ethnically and culturally focused academic programs ranked fifth in the nation in the number of baccalaureate degrees granted in our combined Chicano/Chicana, Pan African, and Asian American degree programs. Our Chicano/Chicana Studies program was the first such program in the nation and is the largest such program in the United States. Similarly, our Pan African Studies program was one of the first in the country and has the distinguished DuBois-Hamer Institute to ensure student success. We have strong programs in Native American, Asian American, Armenian, Jewish, Korean, and Central American Studies, all of which reflect the commitment of this university to represent the cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity of this region. I might also add we have an excellent Women's Studies program.

Quality can also be looked at and measured by what a university and its faculty do to help students link theory and practice. And, again, this university excels. Students in our engineering and physics programs regularly engage and work and publish with their faculty in our distinctive engineering materials program. Our History Department works on the Natchez Project - a project in Mississippi that allows our students every summer to do archival, historical work on eighteenth century Natchez, Mississippi. Our engineering students build concrete canoes, cars, and micro-mouses for national competitions on an annual basis.

We also could look at excellence and quality as defined by faculty and staff who work with students to take and harness the intellectual expertise of our faculty and students, and use it in service to the San Fernando Valley. This university participates in a number of programs designed to "gear up" students in our community and schools so that they are ready for college. (Where are our GEAR UP faculty and staff? There they are. Would you please stand?) I'd like you to know that 60,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District were tutored by students from this university. We have some 50 new or modified service learning courses in which 1,100 of our students every semester give an estimated 150,000 hours of related community service. The faculty working with the students in our College of Business Administration and Economics every year through a program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program complete income tax returns for 16,000 low income families in this Valley. We have a speech pathology and audiology program that offers a clinic where some 12,000 community members receive low-cost speech and hearing assistance. Those graduate students in that program, I might add, pass the national licensure exam with a 95 percent pass rate, and the national average is 68 percent. We have a Center of Achievement for the Physically Disabled, which has now served over 5,000 individuals and now serves 600 people every year. It gives hope to people with mobility impairments by offering them the chance to be independent. We have the outstanding Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition, and Dietetics that provides nutrition and food science information to the larger community.

This is a university, as well, that can measure quality by our commitment to preparing the new teachers that will teach the future population of this valley. (Where are our College of Education faculty? Will you stand up, please?) This faculty every year prepares 1,500 new teachers who will work in our schools.

Quality also at this institution could be measured by the faculty and staff who invest in the visual and performing arts. We have heard today, for example, the Northridge Singers. This choir, from this university, recently performed as one of six choruses selected nationwide to perform at the American Choral Directors' Association annual meeting. All six of those choirs gave three performances. CSUN's choir was the only choir that received a standing ovation at every single performance. Are you impressed? I am, and I've given you but a sampling of the strong academic programs that exist at this university.

Now all of these strong academic programs are supported by a large number of programs designed to assist our students from the time they first express an interest in the campus until they graduate. We have a wonderful educational opportunity program. (Where are the EOP counselors and advisors? Please stand up. There they are.) These individuals work with 3,700 students, many of who are the first in their family to go to college and who come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, they help some 9,000 non-EOP students every year. They are joined by workers in Outreach, Advisement, Admissions and Records, the Learning Resource Center, the Counseling Center, the Career Center, and the Financial Aid Office. Where is our Financial Aid staff? (Please stand.) These folks make a real difference in this university, because 16,000 of the students of this university need and receive financial aid. These folks make it possible for us to distribute 90 million dollars in financial aid.

We also have faculty and staff who make it possible for students with disabilities to attend this university, for students to participate in co-curricular activities. We have 20 intercollegiate sports, not just basketball. We have 250 chartered student organizations on the campus.

All of these people are helped and supported by a large number of additional staff - the administrative support staff of the university. Where are you? (Please stand, those of you who work in department offices, who work in dean's offices and in other administrative offices of the university.) They work with students; they work with faculty; they work with administrators; and they're an integral part of this university. We have Public Safety staff. (I'm getting carried away here!) We have Information Technology Resources staff, whose work this year will mean that by the fall of 2001 our students will be able to complete their registration on the World Wide Web. We have people who work in the auxiliary organizations of the university - in the University Corporation, in Associated Students, in the University Student Union, in the CSUN Foundation. Last summer, the bookstore staff in the Corporation in two months did a complete renovation of our university bookstore.

Now, a perfect example of the dedication of the staff of this institution is the people who planned this inaugural ceremony. Marcella Tyler, where are you? All of the members of the inaugural committee, please stand up.

I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the many people from the community who make this university possible. We have an Alumni Association; we have a Community Advisory Board; we have individuals who give of their time and financial resources to this university. All of you are critical to our excellence, and we will continue to need your support to assure that excellence in the future.

This is a university that serves 29,000 students; next year we will serve 30,000 students. We have 160,000 alums, and we will graduate 5,000 more in this very spot in six weeks time.

What, then, of the future of California State University, Northridge? We face challenges from without and, yes, we do face challenges from within. The larger context within which higher education takes place in the future brings to us numerous external challenges - access as larger numbers of people want and frankly deserve higher education; competition from other institutions and from private industry; the intellectual, pedagogical, and financial challenges of information technology; changes in expectations about what resources are necessary.

But important aspects of our future also depend on our internal commitment to enhance the quality and character of what we already are. This includes assuring our quality educational programs and a curriculum that commits us to assuring that students learn and apply what th+¿Ä-@world around+G m, and also our continuing to use our knowledge to enhance the intellectual, cultural, and human fabric of our community.

There are also challenges for us internally that require us to change the way we understand our university and community. In these fast-paced times, we need to be strong, flexible, and sensitive to our environment. We must work to create a more user-friendly campus. We need to strengthen our internal connections and find ways to create personal and organizational bonds. Gone, frankly, are the days when it is acceptable for faculty, staff, and administrators to set themselves up independently or when administrative offices of the university can respond to issues and problems with control and territoriality as their primary motivation.

Just as we must develop and expand the ways we serve our communities, so too must our communities renew their commitments to us. For although the nearby communities are vital to this university, this university is essential to our local region.

Make no mistake about our contribution to this region. Cal State Northridge is the intellectual, cultural, and economic engine that allows this region to thrive.

Finally, we must celebrate who we are. To become what we are capable of becoming, to be recognized for the vital contributions we make, we must believe that what we do as individuals and as a university is critical, is crucial, is imperative, and is essential. This university is all that and more.

Chancellor Reed, last year you gave a speech in which you said that the CSU is the best teaching university with the strongest combination of access, quality, and faculty scholarship in the world. Chancellor Reed, Chair Gould, other members of the Board of Trustees, I am proud to stand before you to tell you that this university, indispensable to the future of this region, to the California State University system, to this state and this nation, represents the essence of what you describe as the best. I stand here today and pledge to protect the excellence already accomplished and to find new ways to fulfill our mission of educating students, and through that educational process to serve the community.

All of you, please join with me in that pledge. Join with me in helping to sustain our growing legacy and to assure that our best days still lie before us; and please join with me for a day of celebration and festivity as we acknowledge and celebrate the vibrancy that is California State University, Northridge.

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Posted May 2001
If you have any comments, please contact Randy Reynaldo in the Office of the President.