President's Office

First Address to the Campus Community

March 27, 2012

Dr. Dianne F. Harrison
Valley Performing Arts Center Courtyard
California State University, Northridge

Click here to download a PDF version of this address

(The following is the prepared text for the delivered address)

President Harrison speaking at podiumI want to thank each and every one of you for taking time out of your day to be here this afternoon to meet me. I want to personally acknowledge the campus members of the Search Advisory Committee for all of their efforts – Amanda Flavin, Steven Stepanek, Veda Ward, William Watkins, Veronica Grant, Michael Neubauer – and also Irene Tovar and Trustee Debra Farar who are here today.

This was quite the process for all of us. While most of us are meeting each other for the first time, I want you to know that as I learn more and more about this campus I will look for your help in my learning.

Today I can say that I am genuinely honored, humbled and excited to be here.

I want to salute Emeritus President Jolene Koester (yes, her emeritus status is now official) for the great shape she left the university in when she retired. The campus culture of collaboration and problem-solving, the student success initiatives which are underway and making a difference, the outstanding faculty, staff and administrators, and the reason we are all here, the great students we serve. I know you join me in appreciating the magnificent new facilities, including the Valley Performing Arts Center and the Student Recreation Center. And 10 years of WASC reaffirmation of accreditation. Thank you Dr. Neubauer and Dean Elizabeth Say for your leadership with the WASC efforts.

I also want to recognize and thank Interim President Harry Hellenbrand, who was committed enough to take on this role during an incredibly difficult period for the campus, the CSU, and I suspect, for him personally. Harry's reputation as one of the strongest provosts in the CSU system is well deserved and I look forward to his able leadership in Academic Affairs continuing with me.

So, let me tell you something about myself and my background. I am a traditional academic and have spent my entire career on a university campus as a faculty member, researcher, and later as an administrator in public higher education. Now, contrary to what some of our elected officials and some members of the public believe, I know that what faculty, staff, and yes, administrators do in public higher education constitutes honorable and very hard work in which we strive to make a difference.

You may know that my academic discipline is social work which is a people oriented profession that uses persuasion, problem-solving, communication skills, collaboration, advocacy, and community engagement to get the job done. We value diversity, inclusion, and social justice. And yes, I freely admit I have a bleeding heart but I also have the history to know and apply fiscal reality and evidence in the decision-making process.

Photo of Dianne HarrisonMost of you know I will come here having served six years as president of CSU Monterey Bay, the third smallest campus in our system, where I have been fortunate enough to have overseen significant and positive improvements for students, faculty and staff.

I also spent 30 years – the overwhelming majority of my career – at Florida State University, a large, public research institution with more than 40,000 students, 12 academic colleges, and 15 deans, two branch campuses in Florida and four international campuses. I served as Chair of the Athletic Board, and as Faculty Athletics Representative and Title IX Coordinator at this NCAA Division I member institution. I tell you this so you can understand my excitement at the prospect of returning to a large campus.

And not just any large campus – a campus that President Koester described as a "place of abundance." An array of academic programs, excellent facilities, an alumni base of over 200,000, student retention and completion rates that are headed in the right direction, a collaborative campus culture, diversity, and a legacy of strong leadership. The San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles region are exciting and present all kinds of opportunities to explore potential new partnerships and prospects. The achievements of the faculty and students have been very impressive and are music to a new president's ears. Likewise, the commitment and involvement of your alumni and volunteers is enviable and a great base upon which to grow deeper and greater connections.

Permit me to outline my strengths as I did for the Search Committee and the Trustees. I am and will be for CSUN a strong advocate for this institution while also being a team player in the CSU system. I appreciate and will do the necessary work in external relations, whether related to governmental affairs (local, state, and federal), non-profits, K-12 partners, the business communities, alumni, and whoever else we need to advance our purposes and mission.

Photo of Dianne Harrison at eventJust as your campus culture has been described to me as a transparent and collaborative one, those are characteristics that I also value and enact. I appreciate talent, hard work, and strong campus leaders and identify and mentor future leaders as well. I believe data based decisions can lead to greater efficiencies and effectiveness and doing more with less doesn't always mean doing the same and more. I also enjoy a good sense of humor and think we all need one.

I follow an engaged and entrepreneurial model of development. I know a lot about athletics and I also appreciate its value to a campus. I am sincerely student centered. I am experienced in reputation building and what is now called establishing a positioning platform. (The old word was branding.) I am committed to the CSU mission of access and excellence.

I have a strong work ethic. You will find me direct and open in communication and a competitive leader in tough times. I value integrity and try to model leadership with those values in mind. For those of you who have been around since the 1994 earthquake or during the rebuilding of this campus, I find your history of resiliency and your "can do" attitude something that is both remarkable and enviable.

Photo of Dianne HarrisonSo, how will I be spending my time once I arrive full time on June 11?

My first 90 day priorities are as follows:

1. Continue the path that President Koester and others established with your student success initiatives for both full-time and part-time students. What do we need to do to ease the path to graduation and completion in our current environment?

2. Drill down on the budget and enrollment management.

3. Engage in necessary external relations with alumni, local communities, K-12 partners, and elected officials, friends and supporters.

4. Explore alternative revenue sources.

5. Initiate positioning platform.

6. Conduct my own assessment through extensive meeting and greeting with students, faculty, staff and campus leadership. My role is to listen and learn.

7. Familiarize myself with the campus emergency operations center and emergency preparedness plans.

8. Assess the campus sustainability efforts.

I want to know from you, what is your advice to me? Where are our challenges? Obviously budget and enrollment; are there others?

By the end of the summer I would hope to appoint an Ad Hoc Transition Advisory group – one that will sunset in six months. This group is not to supersede any existing committee or governance structure but rather to suggest, discuss, give feedback and "gently advise" me on the formal and informal ways, ins and outs, and traditions of the campus and how my style and signature can be integrated into this great university.

On a personal note, my husband, John Wujack, is one of my greatest assets and he looks forward to meeting you as well. He and I were boyfriend and girlfriend in junior high school and we reunited 10 years ago after 40 years apart. It is totally good. We celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary next weekend on April 1. I also have two wonderful kids, my daughter Melissa who is 30, played soccer for the University of Alabama while she earned a degree in finance, and earned her MBA degree from FSU. She works at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. My son is still in school and will stay at Monterey Bay until he graduates. He has taken a slower route on his degree pathway so I am totally empathetic to student challenges from a parent's perspective as well.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about the necklace I am wearing. There were formerly four women presidents in the CSU – Jolene, Karen Haynes, Millie Garcia and myself. (Just a side note – now, of course, there are only three of us women presidents and we do need more.) A couple of years ago we began getting together during the holidays for a nice dinner and small exchange of gifts. A few years before Jolene said to me at one of our meetings I was wearing Northridge colors. I often wore black and red and liked the look. So this past December as Jolene was retiring she gave each of us a small memento from her trip to Africa and this was mine. Only today can I bring this out and wear it with true Matador pride.

Thank you for being here and I look forward to meeting you all and working with you as we move forward together.