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Q&A: Diversity, access and success will be priorities for incoming Provost Yi Li

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Incoming CSUN provost Yi Li officially begins his tenure next month as the college’s vice president for academic affairs.

The Sundial had a chance to meet with Li during a brief, two-day visit to CSUN and asked him a few questions on what brought him to Northridge and his plans for promoting diversity and student success as provost.

S: Why did you choose to come to CSUN?

Li: For me, when I read material about CSUN, I already recognized the tremendous recognition–both domestically and internationally–about its academic programs [and] its service…everything about the university. I felt that I would be honored to be able to join the faculty and to actually help our students and make their dream come true. That’s why I made that decision.

I came out of the era of the so-called Cultural Revolution in China and [because of] that, I was able to actually go to university. That experience changed my life.

Most of my peers back in China [are] retired and I’m still kind of going strong. So for me, it is very important that I am able to bring that experience and also that life-changing opportunity to our students, that’s what always drives me.

Another unique feature about CSUN is the environment of inclusion and diversity. Just looking at the student population–the diverse student, staff and faculty–I think that attracted me as well. Again, my experience as an international student resonates very well with our students here and I think I will be able to lead the campus as the provost.

Q: Could you expand on how your personal and professional background will help address the diverse needs here at CSUN?

Li: CSUN has already been an exemplary campus for that kind of experience by supporting that diversity and inclusion in all areas.

I was an international student many years ago and I had been in places where I was able to help, create, develop and actually sell the success of bringing students from diverse backgrounds–mostly underrepresented minorities–to Iowa and Wright state, to become successful and this is the key.

To me, it’s not just [about] bringing students in but making sure they become successful, so this is very important and I would like to see that experience and how that will help to enhance what is already been great here. It is very close to my heart that I’m able to do that and it’s very important to me as a provost to be part of this entire strategy of closing achievement gaps among different populations and make sure that every student–it doesn’t matter from which walk of life–[can] enjoy the same opportunities and success.

Q: You come from a STEM-research background. How will that influence your role as provost here at CSUN?

Li: It definitely will enable me to help in areas of STEM, but I came from a family [where] my father was an educated Confucian scholar so my deep appreciation of higher education is [related to] the liberal arts education.

We have to cater to the needs of students. Again, it is very essential for this nation to recognize, going forward, there will be substantial opportunities for students in STEM, however we have students from all walks of life who have their own interests and passions.

A liberal arts education is critical because we’re not going to see new students choosing one career and staying there, so the key for them is to be able to adapt, to be able to change. I think, as the provost, in addition to being somewhat experienced with STEM but also [having] an appreciation for critical thinking and a historical ability to adapt–[that’s how] I’ll be able to help students and faculty in all disciplines, not just in STEM.

Q: Impaction and budget funding are issues affecting CSUN now. Before, you’ve talked about ways of increasing access to education, can you talk about how you plan to address them?

Li: Well, the California state system is all about access but to me, what’s important is also access and success.

Impaction is something mandated by the state so we have to do it, but we should be doing that and I’m very happy to see that the university has already gone through the pain-staking process to make sure we implement that but with minimized impact on the mission of the university–access and student success. I think we’re doing that in the right way and as a provost, I will be working with the president, the administration and the faculty senate to make sure that we’ll provide the same level of student access.

[However] this impaction would force us to think about new ways of increasing student success and I’m very hopeful, by the end of this, that we’ll actually be able to graduate more students in the majors they want, which is really the ultimate goal of CSUN.

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