The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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CSU Board of Trustees member re-appointed

California State University Board of Trustees member Debra Farar was the first of her family to attend college, and like many here at CSUN, took her time doing so. From simple beginnings, she has risen to help govern the largest public university system in the United States.

During her time on the board, Farar has been both chair and vice chair. She was chair from 2002 to 2004, when California was being hit with the budget crisis that has inflated our tuition. Clara Potes-Fellow, director of media relations for the CSU public affairs office, describes the time as “some of the most difficult years in CSU history.

“The CSU received a cut of $330 million during the time she was chair, the largest single cut in CSU history,” Potes-Fellow said. That meant making some difficult and unpopular decisions, such as raising student fees and letting people go.

“She did a very fine job moving the agenda and helping the trustees work on issues that are not the easiest. She was a true consensus builder,” Potes-Fellow added.

Jolene Koester, CSUN president, said that Farar handled the budget crisis “with deliberation.”

“She focused on what was best for the long-term good of the system,” Koester added.

Farar said she was incredibly honored when she was selected to serve first as vice chair, and then chair. The position isn’t something that anyone lobbies for; someone is elected by the other members of the board.

She described the experience as “bittersweet. I loved being the chair. But you’re always happy that the whole system didn’t fall apart on your watch.”

Farar started out in education by working as a teacher at a private elementary school in Chatsworth, and then started her own educational consultation office before she became a senior adviser to the office of the lieutenant governor. Gray Davis held the title at the time.

While working for Davis, she was assigned to attend the trustee meetings.

“Up till then, I didn’t think of it at all,” Farar said. But once the idea hit, it stuck. When an opening presented itself, she put in her application. On such applications, it’s customary to put down several boards or committees that you’d like to serve on. Farar only listed one, despite reassurances that if selected, she would get her first choice.

“I refused; I only put down the California State University,” Farar said.

Farar is especially dedicated to the CSU because she is one of our own, and in fact received a B.A. in English and her M.A. in education at CSUN.

Farar had to wait about a year to find out if she would receive the appointment to the board. During that time, she moved to New York. Her husband, Sim, was appointed to a general assembly to the United Nations by then-President Bill Clinton. Farar received her appointment in November 1999, and they moved back to California in December.

Farar was recently appointed to a second eight-year term on the board, a rare honor. “My husband likes to point out how old I’ll be when I’m done,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m really honored,” Farar said. Both her and her husband are very active in Democratic politics, which makes her second appointment by Gov. Schwarzenegger that much more significant.

“She has been recognized for a stellar level of commitment for her first term, which transcends political points of view,” Koester said. “It’s a rare situation to be appointed by both a Republican and a Democrat leader.”

“Gov. Schwarzenegger was very fair about that. (He was) non-partisan,” Farar said.

Farar said she never dreamed her life would take this path. She was raised by a single mother, and while she was growing up women became secretaries or teachers. She was the first of her family to go to college when she made her way to the CSU. She brings that with her to the Board of Trustees.

“I bring the perspective and empathy of a first-generation college student,” Farar said. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choices, and that system was there for me. I want every student in California to have that same opportunity I did.”

“She’s very interested in the well-being of students, in making sure that the students have a direct path to graduation,” said Potes-Fellow, who pointed to Farar’s second appointment as a sign of her dedication.

“Sixteen years – that shows a tremendous commitment to the CSU, that she wants to spend so many years of her life dedicated to the cause of higher education in California,” Potes-Fellow said. “I don’t know of any other trustee that has been serving for so long.”

She also noted that Farar could have chosen to be a member on many other boards.

“She’s dedicated, committed and interested in the CSU and the type of students that the CSU is educating.”

“The fact that she graduated here gives her a personal understanding of the importance of this system to the people of this state,” Koester said.

Potes-Fellow agreed that Farar’s personal experience with the CSU has shaped her as a trustee. “She knows firsthand the system, not just as a citizen but as someone who walked through and lived the life that she’s presiding over,” she said. “Definitely, that is a plus.”

One of Farar’s projects is supporting the Facilitating Graduation initiative, trying to get students to graduate in closer to four years, rather than six. That initiative started at CSUN.

“Many of the official recommendations really were drawn from CSUN’s work on this effort,” Koester said.

“I owe almost everything to the CSU,” Farar said. Her goals are to keep the CSU accessible and affordable for all of California.

“I think it’s possible,” she said. “We hit some hard times, but we’re very passionate. We have a tremendous amount of success stories.”

As for CSUN, she has fond memories of her time here.

“When I’m there, I can smell the nostalgia,” she said. “It’s like, ‘look at me now!’ Walking on that campus, I felt that I could do a lot with my life.”

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