Q & A with Jolene Koester


CSUN president Jolene Koester addresses faculty, staff and students at her 12th annual, and final, President’s Convocation. Dr. Koester talked of accomplishments and future goals as she begins her final semester as president and the search for a new one continues. Photo Credit: Ken Scarboro / Editor in Chief

Ashley Soley-Cerro

Daily sundial: What is your proudest moment at CSUN?

CSUN president Jolene Koester addresses faculty, staff and students at her 12th annual, and final, President's Convocation. Dr. Koester talked of accomplishments and future goals as she begins her final semester as president and the search for a new one continues. Photo Credit: Ken Scarboro / Editor in Chief

Jolene Koester: There are lots of them though. I feel really proud when I walk across campus, particularly at a class change – I love that. Just do that sometime and look around you. First of all, we are as multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic diversity of lifestyles and hairstyles and clothing and body shape and size, people in groups and people individually and it is a pretty amazing feeling. You’ve got to stop and look, because most of the time we’re headed somewhere, we’re not paying attention, but it’s an affirmation of what California’s future can be.

DS: What could you have done better or different?

JK: Oh, there’s a long list of those as well. It’s impossible to be perfect, so not every decision I made was, in retrospect, the best decision. There are some disappointments. I’ve had to do things like tell people they’re going to have furloughs. Now that wasn’t my decision, per se, but as an administrator officer of the university it was my responsibility to tell people that was going to happen. I haven’t always made the best choices in personnel. I’ve made pretty good choices, but there are some imperfections there as well. The university had a major academic infraction in men’s basketball when I was president – that was not fun. I didn’t do that, but it’s on my watch, I’m responsible.

DS: Many students have been feeling angry, stressed, overworked, underpaid. What would you say to those students?

JK: I’d say I understand, and I am so sorry that life is so hard at such an early age or at such an important stage in your life. I think our society right now is filled with people who are feeling that kind of stress – unemployment rate is high, the underemployment rate is high, navigating to try to manage the personal, professional, financial responsibilities is difficult, and in California it’s been made very difficult by increased tuition. So, I would acknowledge the reality of those feelings, and then I would also say it’s worth it. That sticking with higher education, even in the face of these difficulties is worth it. That it’s not going to be magic, that just getting a degree doesn’t mean that your professional and financial and personal life is better, you have to invest yourself in it, you have to take responsibility for translating that education into something that’s meaningful for you, but that struggle to get the education is worth it if you’re willing to struggle to make use of it.

DS: Do you see a direction that public higher education can take to get itself balanced again?

JK: I think public higher education still works. I think we’ve really been challenged between budgets and overall economic climate and the out-of-sync character with which the state makes its decisions, with how we make decisions, when we are expected to make decisions here. I think it’s a mistake to assume that the state of California is ever going to step in and fund public higher education the way it did in the past. I think it’s a mistake to move forward without some different kind of planning.

DS: Who do you think activists and students that are frustrated with rising tuition should be angry with or focus their discussion on?

JK: I’m not going to say who they need to focus their anger or frustration or discussion with, that’s for them to decide. I’ll just make a commentary here: those of us that are in positions of responsibility in the university – administrators, faculty, staff – should not be telling students what to think. Students are smart, they’re people, they can figure out what their point of view is on their own. It is disrespectful for an administrator or a faculty or staff member to tell a student what they should think. It’s colonialist, it’s what the colonialists did. I find it unsettling that there are responsible people who tell students what they should think. Let students individually and collectively figure it out themselves.

DS: Where do you see CSUN in 10 years?

JK: I think this university is sort of riding the crest of a wave. I think our reputation in the L.A. basin and Southern California, even nationally, has grown exponentially in the last decade, and I would like to see the university be on that wave still, with increased reputation. I would like to see the university maintain its regional focus, I think it gives us such an advantage over other institutions who want to do everything.

DS: What’s next for you?

JK: Well, I jokingly say that I’m going to sleep. But it really means I want to recharge my emotional and physical and intellectual batteries. For over 12 years now, this campus has been my professional and personal obsession. I jokingly, as well, say that the job is 28-8-400, not 24-7-365, and it’s 360 degrees. It just totally encompasses you. So, it will take a bit of time for me to get my own moorings as a human being, not the human being who’s the president of Cal State Northridge. I don’t intend to stop working and having a purpose in life. I think I will probably do some other kind of work related to public higher education, but I don’t know what that is.

DS: What advice would you give your successor?

JK: Listen, learn about Cal State Northridge, learn to respect what’s really wonderful about the university before making declarations about what needs to be changed. Learn how things get done here in the best possible way, take some time to understand and learn to celebrate the place. Don’t feel compelled to act decisively like a president on day one. Learn and respect is really the best advice.