President's Office

2019 Welcome Address

United in Our Commitment to Student Success

Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D.

Thursday, August 22, 2019
Soraya Performing Arts Center

Video of address • Download the President's address


  • Opening remarks and guest acknowledgments by Faculty President Mary-Pat Stein
  • Brief welcome by A.S. President Diana Vicente
  • Introduction of the President by Faculty President Stein


  • Thank you, Mary-Pat and Diana, and welcome back everyone!
  • Before we continue, let’s take a few moments to remember our ten colleagues who passed away this last year, who are listed in the slide on screen. Please join me in a moment of silence to honor their memories and contributions to the university.

Larry Baresi, Biology
Dennis Brandon, Philosophy 
Esmeralda Hernandez Human Resources
Jung Hong, Art
Frederick Kuretski, Art
Jerry Luedders, Music
James Sefton, History
Sally Spencer, Special Education 
Mary Jacqueline Stemm, Art
Gholam-Ali Zakeri, Mathematics


I welcome all of our faculty, staff, administrators and guests to the start of our academic year — another year of opportunity and another year filled with promise.

12,047 new students are expected this fall, and 26,381 are returning, all looking for the inspiration, for the support to help them achieve their education goals. It is important work that we do together, and I am grateful to all of you for the tremendous work that you do for our students and their success. You provide life changing opportunity to them and to their families and the entire region.

I know how committed each of you is to this university and to our students. Whether you are a tenured professor, a lecturer, a member of our Physical Plant Management staff or an analyst in an office, I know you are motivated to come to work every day for something greater – you are motivated to see our students succeed. That is why I want to begin today by talking about our common purpose – our students.

Students are the reason we exist. The passion, intelligence and drive of our students never ceases to inspire and amaze me. I know you feel that way, too. It is what unifies us and provides the mission we pursue each and every day. I see the commitment to our students in every corner of this campus. Put simply, we all have an important role in student success and the future of this university.

The important work being done around Matadors Rising and GI2025 is vital. We are working across the university to increase the number of first-time freshmen who graduate in four – and not more than six – years. Also, the number of transfer students who graduate in two – and not more than four years. Our efforts are working! The first-time freshman 6-year graduation rate has increased to 54% for the fall 2012 cohort, up from 46.8% for the fall 2008 cohort. Among transfer students, the 4-year graduation rate increased to 76.1% with the fall 2014 cohort, up from 73.9% for the fall 2010 cohort. We have more work to do, but if we can keep those trends going, we will graduate more students from CSUN.

Student success initiatives are not “one size fits all,” but we’ve undertaken a number of initiatives that are showing positive results. In Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, we targeted a number of lower division high DFU rate (basically failure rate classes) classes for an early alert program through our online advising platform. Faculty from Political Science, Economics, Anthropology, Chemistry, and Math all used the system to communicate with their students very early in the semester (at week 2), in the middle of the term, and toward the end of the term.

All students got an update on their status in the class. If a student was showing signs of disengagement or had worrying grades in assignments, the graduation and retention specialist in their college was notified and that advisor, in turn, reached out to the student to see if they could help get things back on track. The student was also invited by the faculty member to check in. The early intervention made a big difference. In several of the classes, the overall GPA of the course went up, the DFU rate went down, and the equity gap in grades was reduced or eliminated.

Most notably, students who received early alerts in week 2 received significantly higher average course grades than students who received alerts later: a 2.8 average course grade for those who received alerts in the first few weeks compared to a 1.14 average course grade for students who received alerts in the third month.

For some students, academic achievement is made nearly impossible by hunger and homelessness. I am grateful for the work of Student Affairs and the “CSUN With a Heart” initiative, an online hub with valuable resources to strengthen the welfare of all students.

The CSUN Food Pantry, just one aspect of the initiative, donated more than 23 thousand pounds of food last year – a huge 38 percent increase over the previous year! Be sure to pick up information about “CSUN With a Heart” during the reception this morning.

We’ve made progress in closing the graduation equity gaps with our transfer students especially. The most recent 4-year graduation rate for transfers has a less than 2 percentage point gap between better served and traditionally underserved students. We can close that gap by graduating 37 more students from traditionally underserved backgrounds within 4 years.  For our 2-year rate for transfer students, we do not have a gap. In fact, we have a small reverse gap (-2.4 percentage points). Our freshman equity gap numbers still need attention, though. We had a 12.8 percentage point gap in our six-year freshman graduation rate and a 7.6 percentage point gap in our 4-year freshman graduation rate. We have to remedy this!

In our focus on freshmen, CSUN made major changes in the approach to GE Math. New pre-GE credit courses were developed to prepare students in most majors, replacing non-credit remedial courses.

Passage rates for the new pre-GE math courses in Fall 2018 were slightly higher than old non-credit developmental math courses they replaced. Importantly, these students now earn 5 units applicable toward the degree, whereas units from the old courses were not applicable.

We also launched a direct to GE math pilot for students in non-STEM/non-statistics pathways and majors in Fall 2018. Some students in the colleges of Arts, Media, and Communications and Humanities were offered a GE math concepts course option (Math 131: Mathematical Ideas) with a supplemental instruction course. These students who would have otherwise been placed in non-GE Math 196QR. The passage rate for those students was about the same as for GE Ready students and importantly, much better than outcomes in the non-GE Math course that they were originally assigned to take. As of Fall 2019, any student coming into a non-STEM/non-statistics pathway will be placed in MATH 131 (with or without supplemental instruction).

This summer we opened the Matador Advising Hub to serve most of our incoming freshmen (EOP freshmen continue to go to the EOP satellites).

This team is providing comprehensive centralized advisement. The advisors in the Hub come from across the campus and have been working closely with the college advisors to get our new students on the right path. Centralized advising is a best practice at peer institutions that has been successful in increasing retention, reducing equity gaps, and improving time to graduation.

The campus implemented other initiatives to build engagement, increase retention, and reduce time to graduation. Students are increasing their average unit loads, and our campus data mirrors the national data on the effects of unit load and student outcomes. Now listen closely! Our first generation students who enrolled in 30 or more units in their first year actually had stronger academic outcomes than those first generation students who took less than 30 units and equivalent to that of continuing generation students who took more than 30 units. Both groups achieved a boost in first-year GPA of about .4 grade points. Both groups saw retention into third semester rise by about 11 percentage points. And perhaps most exciting, both groups experienced a 6-year graduation boost of between 13 and 15 percentage points. Our students, even those academically at risk, have done better taking taking more units.

While we have made progress, there is more work to be done. Our retention rates for first time freshmen seem to have plateaued in the low 80% range. We will not make our goal of a 66% six-year graduation rate if we cannot retain more students. The incoming freshman class is the first class in the six-year class for GI2025. Every one of our students matters, of course, but every freshman we can retain from this year’s class is critical. We have been ramping up for this moment.

Our new Provost and Vice President for academic Affairs, Mary Beth Walker, has a wealth of experience implementing high-impact practices and diminishing opportunity gaps. She will bring vital leadership to these efforts.

We – Dr. Walker, I or the CSU – are not asking that we push students through at an accelerated pace. We are asking that all of us come together with a common purpose, to accelerate our activity to remove barriers, eliminate opportunity gaps, and provide opportunity for those who want to graduate, who want the opportunity to move on. All students need to understand their path to graduation and the benefits of completing 15 credits a semester or 30 credits a year – and they should make decisions armed with that knowledge.

We have students who are yearning to participate in high impact practices, to get involved in community service and volunteerism, to work in internships, to study abroad, to get the classes they need to graduate, to engage in modern teaching styles, but for some, it is not happening. Let me frame it this way: right now, out of every five students we admit, we are leaving one behind, and that is unacceptable to us!

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We need to focus on what is working and prioritize and align our efforts to push harder in these areas. We need to STOP doing what isn’t working. We all share in CSUN’s destiny, and it will be through our mutual efforts that the university moves forward.

Last year was a challenging year on many fronts, and I recognize that for some, significant uncertainty remains. The executive orders created pockets of disquiet on campus, putting strain on each of us and on our relationships.   But to be successful – that is, to serve the best interest of our students – we must now move forward with trust in each other, transparency, and inclusion.

We must not allow ourselves to be divided as a campus. We are part of the CSU mission and part of the system. Much, including executive orders, is beyond our control. Our relationships, however, are within our control. United in our belief in the transformative power of education, let us each be mindful of how we treat one another and especially how we treat our students. Our students deserve our focus and attention on the classroom, on removing barriers, and on helping them receive an excellent education and graduating. We all care deeply about our students and their success. We all play a vital role and working together in the best interest of our students, we can and must be successful. We have done it before and will continue to find the CSUN way and the CSUN path. And we will do it together.

The values that make CSUN unique will always be the foundation of what we do, our commitment to ethnic studies programs is core to what we do. And be assured that no one is dismantling or decimating our ethnic studies programs. In fact, I am happy to report that registration to-date for the Fall term (the first official start of the revised GE curriculum) shows no difference in enrollments in ethnic studies courses from the past. No difference!

Tensions on our campus partly reflect the country’s deepening and widening political and social divides, but the mistake is to assume that our campus, faculty, students and administration are divided. This is not the case. We can disagree over curricular or legislative matters, but we do not turn that into hatred and personal attacks. In the words of Michelle Obama, when the real enemies of our students and higher education go low, we go high.

This past June, Chancellor Timothy White issued a statement on a recent report from the California State Auditor on CSU outside accounts and parking programs at four individual campuses.

The primary focus of the report was the CSU’s $1.5B operating reserve, $72M of which is attributed to CSUN. The report mischaracterized these funds as “surplus” revenues. In fact, these are one-time funds designated for specific purposes, as had been reported previously by the Chancellor’s Office. CSUN’s $72M operating reserve will cover contractual obligations, student financial aid reserves, campus quality fee balances, deferred maintenance reserves, Graduation Initiative 2025 funds allocated toward CSUN’s multi-year student success plan, and reserves dedicated for economic uncertainties such as potential state or system budget impacts, unforeseen expenses and campus emergencies, and capital projects, including the Sierra Annex and renovation of Sierra Hall. All told, the $72M reserve equates to just 16% of CSUN’s 2018/19 general operating fund budget, representing less than two months of operating expenses. Such reserve funds are like a family savings account, built up gradually over time and used to cover one-time necessary expenses or to protect against uncertainties. Indeed, with 5 to 6 months as the ideal, versus our 2 months, our savings is not robust. As always, CSUN will continue to be an efficient steward of our financial resources and will continue to operate in a transparent manner, providing information about our financial operations in presentations and online.

Last year, we faced multiple threats of violence, specifically aimed at our African American and Jewish communities. Tragedies impacting innocent lives occur all too frequently across our nation, as we just witnessed in Dayton and El Paso and closer to home recently, as in Thousand Oaks. I am grateful that CSUN is fortunate to have extremely capable police services, now under the leadership of Chief Greg Murphy. Please be assured that the safety of all of you and all of our students is our top priority. At every turn and every small detail, Chief Murphy reviews all information again in totality to determine the best course of action. In both instances last year, federal authorities were consulted. To preserve the integrity of the investigation, it is often necessary to limit the disclosure of specific evidentiary aspects of an incident; however, through collaboration with local and federal experts in the field of threat and behavior analysis, rest assured that if at any point during an investigation the analysis suggests that your safety is at risk, the appropriate steps will be taken, and you will be provided the information for your awareness.

Putting aside the criminal aspects of these situations, we must unite and not tolerate words of hate or threats against any of our colleagues.

Under the leadership of our Chief Diversity Officer, Natalie Mason-Kinsey, and the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, we are launching the “Stop Hate Together” campaign this fall. Awareness and a commitment from everyone to report any threats to CSUN Police immediately will help us mitigate and eliminate these truly despicable and cowardly acts. Watch for it and participate!

While we all hope for a year that is smooth and successful, there are potential challenges ahead of us. Let me remind you that CSUN is one of the most diverse universities in the nation, and has been recognized for its diverse learning environment by the Wall Street Journal. We are committed to serving the needs of students from all over the world. We take pride in our vibrant, inclusive and international campus, and we must preserve this environment and support all of our students.

All 23 CSU campuses, Chancellor White and the Board of Trustees have joined together to defend our undocumented students, undocumented employees, and their families by standing in opposition to all efforts of intimidation, unfair investigation, or deportation without due process.

Please remember, any and all inquiries from federal, state or local officials received on campus regarding immigration status should be immediately referred to CSUN's Department of Police Services. They will liaise with the on-site officials and will coordinate with the CSU Office of General Counsel to provide guidance, references and resources as available. All resources are available for your reference online and through our Dream Center.

On the topic of inclusion, I’d also like to share that the Students of Color Coalition has brought concerns to my attention relative to Delmar Oviatt. The students are concerned that he was not supportive of the importance of diversity and inclusion on this campus, and therefore question the appropriateness of his name on our library. These are important questions, so I will be convening an advisory committee under Vice President Watkins’ leadership and will include students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and members of the community this fall to review this issue further. You will be hearing more about this, but ask for your openness to learn more about our history and what is the best course of action in 2019-2020.

Despite our challenges last year, there were plenty of achievements. CSUN is at its best when we all pull together for the good of the students and university. I’d like to thank Stella Theodoulou for her strong leadership as Interim Provost this past year.

  • In 2018 CSUN was named by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) as an Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University. Institutions that earn this designation are recognized for their efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, excellence in technology transfer, leadership in talent and workforce development, and establishing strong government-university-industry partnerships. It was announced two months ago that we are again a finalist for another APLU designation. 
  • This past February, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Africana Studies with a black-tie reception honoring black culture and the department’s deep history. The reception capped a month of campus events led by Department Chair Theresa White and others that brought guest speakers and performances to campus during Black History Month. It is exciting to note that EOP, Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies celebrations are all in front of us!
  • Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Austin Eriksson, Erica Wohldmann and many others, CSUN continues to be one of the leaders in sustainability in the CSU system and nationally. And we expect this trend to continue with the addition of Dr. Natale Zappia, the new Director of the Institute for Sustainability. In the Spring, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) awarded CSUN its third gold rating in its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), with the first earned in 2016. AASHE also named CSUN a top performer in diversity and affordability. 
  • The Soraya announced it will feature the Violins of Hope concert series to educate audiences about the Holocaust through music and culture using a collection of violins, violas, and cellos rescued from the Holocaust. Leading up to the Violins of Hope program, The Soraya will host world-renowned violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Truly, our university has become a center of diverse, world-class culture in the San Fernando Valley, and we are very proud to host these performances.
  • Alumni and friends are investing in CSUN like never before. We set another new record with 18,000 donors last year and total contributions topped $20 million. The momentum has led us to proceed with plans for CSUN’s first ever comprehensive campaign. Even though we are in the early stages of planning, we already have nearly $100 million in commitments to support student success, faculty and programs across campus.
  • Campus spirit and support of our student activities also broke records. The Big Show sold more than 8,000 tickets and had one of the smoothest shows in history. Students also turned out in record numbers for athletics, as the campaign to “Pack the Matadome” resulted in 500 more tickets sold for the first men’s game than the previous year.

We should all take pride in and celebrate the successes of our colleagues. For example,

  • BUILD PODER will be receiving $19 million over the next 5 years in renewed grants from the NIH to continue work towards diversifying the biomedical research workforce of the future. Overall, this amounts to $41 million of support over 10 years, with more than 500 students receiving intense research training and mentoring from over 100 faculty at CSUN. Congratulations to Dr. Crist Khachikian, Dr. Carrie Saetermoe, Dr. Gaby Chavira, Dr. Patty Kwan and everyone associated with this tremendous work.
  • Dr. Maosheng Miao, Chemistry, received an NSF CAREER award. These are five-year grants awarded “in support of early-career faculty who have potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of the organization.” It is a great honor for both Dr. Miao and CSUN.
  • Dr. Stevie Ruiz, Chicana/o Studies, received a grant from California Humanities, a partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to develop and lead a series of workshops for young people across Los Angeles on the topic of environmental justice.
  • Dr. Virginia Huynh, Department of Child and Adolescent Development, determined that discrimination has impacts on health and substance abuse within families. Her research was covered in US News & World Report and published in Journal of Health Psychology.
  • Kristina de la Vega, Associate Vice President of Human Resources, received the “HR Professional of the Year” award from the San Fernando Valley Business Journal at the annual Chief Financial Officer and Human Resources Awards ceremony in June.
  • Dr. Nhut Tan Ho, Department of Mechanical Engineering, announced that NASA and the Department of Defense have awarded grants to establish at CSUN the NASA Autonomy Research Center for STEM. This will be a multidisciplinary center with participation from 6 colleges: Engineering and Computer Science; Social and Behavioral Sciences; Business and Economics; Arts, Media, and Communication; Science and Math; and Humanities.

Let us rally around our colleagues’ achievements. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed and benefit. These accomplishments can include grants, awards, publications, or any other recognition. The recognition – or grant –or publication – ultimately supports our students.

With so much to celebrate, now is the time to look to each other and to ourselves to build a stronger community. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We are the links, and we each need to be strong, to be our best selves for our students. Take care of your health. Take advantage of our SRC, take walks on our beautiful campus or attend the meditation sessions offered by the Institute for Community Health & Wellbeing. I also strongly encourage everyone to participate in learning, that includes understanding our data or classroom results, or participating in professional development nationally or in your discipline or offered by CSUN Human Resources. Faculty: Explore the CSU dashboards for incredibly helpful data about CSUN! Consider attending a conference on student success. Read the higher ed literature about what works. There is always more to learn.

Participating also reinforces a community of learners – as well as educators – and reinforces and reminds us of what we already know and need to integrate into our work.

And I am pleased to add that our CSUN mobile app will now offer employee resources that you previously accessed only through the CSUN portal, such as mobile links to enter your time worked, to apply for a fee waiver, or to engage in training. Ask Matty is also now available on the mobile app as well. Adapting these technologies – like everything else – to reach their audiences is critically important work. Thank you for these efforts!

Let me add that making the university accessible is of primary concern. The Accessible Technology Initiative is a campus-wide effort, and the responsibility for its success goes well beyond IT. The urgent need for accessibility is unfortunately invisible to some of us, until you or someone you know needs accessible resources. We cannot overlook these needs!

Speaking of the campus and our facilities, I am pleased to say that the Hotel and Restaurant and Conference Center projects are on track. We anticipate the groundbreaking fora four-story Hilton Garden Inn to take place in June 2020. Expected to open in fall 2021, this exciting hotel project will feature 150 rooms, conference meeting space and select food and beverage offerings.

We also anticipate breaking ground this November on the Restaurant and Conference Center. Sited at the old Bookstore Annex within the Campus Store Complex, the Restaurant and Conference Center will open fall 2020 and will include both a multi-purpose room that can seat 250 guests, and a restaurant that will serve lunch and dinner.

Neither of these projects will use campus state operating funds or student fees, and we expect the projects will strengthen our Recreation and Tourism Management program.

As we build on our strengths, let us keep scanning our horizon. We must be future ready for students, and for our communities.

This past April, CSUN held its first eProcess+ Showcase to highlight a new campus-wide initiative to digitally transform processes for our students, faculty and staff. The initiative leverages applications such as OnBase, myCSUNbox, Adobe Sign, SOLAR, and others to create user friendly, efficient online processes. Our campus is truly stepping into the digital age!

There are many proverbial plates spinning for each of us, but as I shared when I began my remarks, we provide life changing opportunity to our students and to their families. Human knowledge is evolving daily – or probably hourly – and we need to equip our students to learn and contribute to our futures. Technology is expected to advance as far in the next 10 years as it had in the last 30, according to some experts. Surely, this will prove a challenge to our status quos as individuals and it will necessitate that our programs evolve, too. We must teach our students to be learners in an age when an infinite array of information is available. They must become innovators and entrepreneurs, and it is our job to help them acquire the necessary skills to advance in this ever-changing world and world of work.  Indeed, CSUN students will create new ways to work and to solve problems, to be contributing global citizens.

And as humanity becomes increasingly technologically-dependent, universities will lead the way in nurturing all that is uniquely human – teaching students to value our similarities and differences as humans, to show empathy to others, to be creative, and perhaps even to communicate more effectively than we as a society do today. No pressure, right? I hope you are energized by what lies ahead – I know I am!  Every moment is an opportunity to come together as a community, united by our mission of student success. Together, we can do all of this and more.

Before I end, I’d like to share our “year in review” video with you. Let’s celebrate the good of last year and lean in to 2019-2020 with all of our might. Thanks, again!

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