Dianne F. Harrison, current president of CSU Monterey Bay, has been named the fifth president of CSUN.
“For any new president, (what is) front and center is to listen and learn. To have an agenda wouldn’t be good – I need to find out what your campus needs,” Harrison said. “My priority is to ensure that students are first, front and center. Which I see is the case at CSUN. I want students to be able to graduate and see that graduating seniors are accommodated.”
Harrison, who will begin her new position in June, began her career in education as an assistant professor at Florida State University in 1976, according to the CSU website. She continued her work at FSU for 30 years, gradually moving up from professor to dean and on to vice president.
After serving as vice president for one year at FSU, Harrison became president at CSU Monterey Bay in 2006, according to her profile page on CSUMB.
“I’m very fortunate and humbled by the opportunity, it’s very exciting and I’m just looking forward to it and meeting people in person on Tuesday,” she said.
Plans are underway for Harrison’s first official campus visit, next Tuesday, March 27, said Interim President Harry Hellenbrand in an email to the campus community.
“You are invited to welcome and meet our new president at a reception from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. at the Valley Performing Arts Center courtyard. She will also meet with student, faculty and administrative leaders on that day,” Hellenbrand wrote in the email.
Harrison came to CSUN with her husband in January, when she was still considering whether or not to apply, but kept her visit under the radar.
During her visit, Harrison was not able to go into many of the buildings on campus, but was able to go into the Oviatt Library, which she found impressive. She also said the beauty of other buildings also impressed her, including the Valley Performing Art Center and Student Recreation Center. She also visited the Orange Grove and the Earthquake Sculpture Garden.
“I came back with a totally different perspective on what this campus came from, and came to appreciate the resilience and stick-to-it-ness the faculty and staff have, many of which are still here,” Harrison said.
Harrison said one of the things she looks forward to most is meeting CSUN students. In the past, she typically met with the student government heads monthly, something she hopes to continue.
She added that she will respond to student invitations when her schedule permits, and her husband and her traditionally host events for small groups of students in order to get to know them on a personal level.
“I must have been wearing rose colored glasses,” she said when asked if there was anything she saw on campus she wanted to change.
Harrison said she was excited when she read about all the wonderful things the campus has done, including research, community engagement, and competition – like the engineering department and their robotics program.
“Hearing that CSUN is a regional university with a national reputation is music to my ears,” she said. “I’m a strong advocate for the individual campus”
Although CSUN is in the midst of budget cuts, Harrison believes the campus is doing well.
“Koester made such a great foundation. When I started at Monterey Bay there were facility and enrollment issues, lots of complex problems to address, and that’s not the case at Northridge.”
Budget cuts are difficult for everybody, she added. The board of trustees were recently left with the decision to raise tuition or enroll less students, and they decided to go with the latter.
“These are difficult times for everyone, and we must pick the best among bad choices,” Harrison said. “We must decide what our primary core values are — quality education and graduating are ours. One of my priorities is to take a deep look into the enrollment situation.”
Harrison received both her bachelor’s in American studies and her master’s in social work from the University of Alabama. She also holds a doctorate in social work from Washington University in St. Louis.
Because of her academic research, Harrison has become an expert in higher education issues related to social work and university leadership as well as in the areas of HIV prevention among women and minority populations, according to the CSU. Her research has allowed her to publish dozens of article and two books.
Harrison has served on the boards and committees for more than 60 national, state and local organizations and community projects. Currently, she serves as a board member for the United Way of Monterey County, which is an organization that works to improve the lives of those living in Monterey.
“Dr. Harrison comes to us with considerable experience in higher education. Her proven leadership, impressive record of scholarship and applied research, and strong commitment to student success make her an excellent choice for our campus. I am confident that Dr. Harrison will provide outstanding leadership for California State University, Northridge,” Hellenbrand wrote in the email.
Katy Castagna, chief operating officer for United Way, said Harrison naturally came up as a choice because she is a great example of the leadership that they look for in the governance of their organization.
“Dianne Harrison is an exemplary community leader and a great thinker,” Castagna said. ”She has been a real asset to the community and is an advocate for quality education.”
One of the first things Harrison did, according to Castagna, was to chair their 2-1-1 program, which is an information clearing house that takes all non-emergency calls and directs the caller to the right person. Harrison did similar work during her time in Florida.
Harrison has also been awarded “A Tree of Life Award” from the Parent Institute for Quality Education because of her work. She was inducted into the Monterey Business Hall of Fame by the Junior Achievement of Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay, according to her biography.
“Dianne Harrison was a very deserving laureate, also known as honoree, that was inducted before my time,” said Taran Barca-Hall, district manager for Monterey Bay. “She has continued to be involved and come back to support the new laureates and contribute to Junior Achievement.”
Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Harrison to serve on the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
“I’m totally committed to the CSU and its mission,” Harrison said. “I see a lot of retirement and people leaving, it’s important that people that really care stay.”