New President Dianne Harrison makes first official campus visit

Ashley Soley-Cerro

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Clarification: President Jolene Koester’s salary in 2011 was $295,000, not $361,387. The  $361,387 salary, as reported by sacbee.com, is gross pay. Gross pay includes overtime, bonuses, housing allowances, sick leave payout, vacation payout and multiple other forms of cash compensation, according to the website.

Dianne Harrison met students, faculty and staff during her first official campus visit Tuesday and announced that she will begin her role as CSUN’s fifth president June 11.

“I am humbled and totally thrilled to be here,” Harrison told the crowd at a reception at the Valley Performing Arts Center courtyard. “While I am meeting you for the first time, I will look to you for my learning.”

Harrison said she will continue the tradition of transparency and being a collaborative campus, and she hopes to identify and mentor future campus leaders.

She also identified her goals, which include figuring out how to ease the path to graduation for students, finding alternative revenue sources, learning the campus emergency operating system and assessing sustainability efforts.

“I’m committed to the CSU mission, there are opportunities to go out of the state of California, but I think if so many of our leaders began to bail and exit that we’re going to really be in trouble in these times,” Harrison said. “We need strong leaders now more than ever, and those who are committed to our values and particularly access and excellence.”

Similar to a group she started at CSU Monterey Bay, where she is currently president, Harrison hopes to establish an ad hoc advisory group, meant to help her learn about CSUN and its campus values.

“As a person steps onto a campus new to them they really need to be familiar, understanding and sensitive to what that existing campus culture is and that’s what a transition group helps you do,” she said. “It’s also important for a new president to establish his or her own signature style, yet without violating any tradition or well loved formal or informal system that already operates.”

No one has been chosen for the advisory group yet. There was a student member on the CSU Monterey Bay group, and Harrison said she is open to suggestions for who the CSUN student may be.

Although Harrison is transitioning from the third smallest campus in the CSU to the second largest, she highlighted that she spent 30 years before that working at Florida State University, which has a larger campus with more colleges and about 40,000 students.

Harrison also said her son is currently a student at CSU Monterey Bay, and she has personally observed students’ struggles in the current state of the CSU.
“I admit I have a bleeding heart, but can apply fiscal reality and evidence to a situation,” she said. “I am and will be a strong advocate and team player.”

Overall reception of Harrison’s visit and speech were positive.

“I felt really compelled by her speech,” said Ashley Luke, member of Students for Quality Education and journalism and Central American studies major. “I feel fortunate that she wants to collaborate with students, and hopefully she can help alleviate some of the pressures on students.”

Luke presented a letter to the president on behalf of SQE during a meet and greet after Harrison’s speech. The letter reiterated what students are going through, stated what they expect from her and expressed their desire to work together.

“We need administrators to step up and speak for us because our voice is limited,” Luke said.

Samuel Chang, kinesiology major, met Harrison as she toured the campus before the reception and said his first impression of her was that she was nice and astute.

“It was interesting to actually see her walking around, she seemed really excited and that was cool to see,” Chang said.

Professor Steven Stepanek, department chair of computer science and member of the Advisory Committee for the Selection of the President, said he believes she will maintain a consultative attitude, especially when entering a possibly worse economic situation and will keep the students informed about why decisions are being made now rather than later.

“She has experience with the CSU and an excellent track record with Monterey Bay,” he added.

Harrison’s salary will be decided at the next board of trustees meeting, which meet May 8 and 9. The board of trustees adopted a policy Jan. 25 of capping new presidents salary at 10 percent more than their predecessors, but it cannot exceed $325,000. President Emeritus Jolene Koester’s 2011 salary was $361,387. Harrison’s 2011 salary as president of CSU Monterey Bay was $283,904.