By Tomo Hirai
Nichi Bei Weekly
HAYWARD, Calif. — Shortly after noon on Oct. 12, Chancellor Charles Reed of the California State University system officially installed Leroy M. Morishita as the president of the California State University, East Bay (CSUEB).
Morishita, who had been serving as interim president since July of last year, was officially appointed as the fifth president of the university in January of this year. He is now one of the highest-ranking Nikkei educators in the nation.
The investiture, which combined with the faculty honors ceremony, took place as the fall quarter for the school was starting. An estimated 750 people attended the investiture.
Students, faculty, alumni, friends and family members of both Morishita and the university’s faculty attended, including Consul General of Japan in San Francisco Hiroshi Inomata, Bishop Kodo Umezu of the Buddhist Churches of America, Bishop J.W. Macklin of Glad Tidings Church of God in Christ in Hayward, former Fukuoka Prefecture Governor Wataru Aso, and Fukuoka Institute of Technology Chairman Yoji Unoki.
Morishita takes on the presidency at a tumultuous time for the university.
“During the past decade we have seen a devastating economic disinvestment by the state in public higher education,” said Morishita in his investiture address. “Even as the economy recovers, we do not expect support from the state to reach former funding levels. Our challenge is that we need competitive resources to attract and retain quality faculty and staff, and provide the support needed to educate our students.”
With additional funding unlikely, Morishita said the university must find its own resources “for the flexibility required to advance our mission to be a model institution for regionally-engaged learning in the 21st century.”
Morishita said people have asked him why he wants to be a university president in such trying times.
He was initially asked that question while applying for presidency of San Jose State University, a job the previous CSUEB president, Mohammad Qayoumi took last year.
“It is easy to be a president when times are good. It’s when times are difficult that people need to step forward. I have chosen to step forward,” he said in response. “Growing up on our family’s farm, I learned to focus on what you can control — my father had no control over the weather, the water or the market,” said Morishita. “We must focus on what we have control over as we face challenges both internal and external to the university. In these difficult times … we must remain committed to providing effective stewardship of our resources.”
The university welcomed Morishita’s positive outlook on the university. James Rosser, president of California State University, Los Angeles, representing all the presidents of the CSU system, commended Morishita for taking the position “at uncertain times, but with a potent amalgam of candor.” He credited Morishita for quickly launching an “ambitious but prudent” set of decisions for the university.
“He was chosen because he is guided by his pursuit of social justice and his own belief in the public university,” said Derek Jackson Kimball, representing the CSUEB faculty. “Our public university will emerge from adversity.”
“Investing a president is the most important decision for the trustees and the chancellor to make,” said Reed. “That is why we chose Leroy. … He is the right person at the right time for the CSUEB and the whole state.”
Farm boy to Harvard Graduate
Morishita had never necessarily set out to become a university administrator. As a young boy, Morishita grew up in Del Rey, California, near Fresno in the Central Valley. His father quit school in the ninth grade to work in the fields, and his parents spent their first wedding anniversary on a train to the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona in 1942.
Morishita said his parents didn’t tell him to become a doctor or a lawyer, but he was told: “Just don’t become a farmer.” He and his siblings would all go on to become first-generation college graduates.
Morishita emphasized that he “was a product of the system.” He was accepted into University of California, Berkeley for his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He went on to San Francisco State University (SFSU) for his master’s degree in counseling. The public universities he had attended and worked at throughout his life eventually led to his doctorate in education in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Initially, however, he pursued his career to help minorities gain access to higher education. “Growing up in the Central Valley, I saw a lot of the Latinos getting blocked from going on to college,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly after the investiture. “I wanted to make a difference for them.” After receiving his master’s, Morishita worked as a counseling coordinator and counselor for the Educational Opportunity Program at SFSU from 1978 to 1981.He left for Harvard with his newly-wed wife, Barbara Hedani-Morishita, and returned in 1984 to SFSU, where he worked in Admissions and Records. He stayed at SFSU to serve various positions throughout the school’s administration, except for a year to serve as an administrative fellow to the provost at CSUEB (then Cal State Hayward) in 1987.
He most recently served as SFSU’s executive vice president from 2009 before leaving for CSUEB. He has also been a commissioner of the Western Association for Senior Colleges and Universities since 2007 and is a trustee and former chair of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley.
Priorities as a Regional University
While he is no longer a counselor for students, he has kept in touch with members of the school. Jerry Chang, representing the school’s students, said in his address, “you have consistently extended opportunities to bring in the student voice. We’ve seen you attending sporting events, lectures, you were even working with other volunteers earlier this week (to beautify Harder Elementary School in Hayward).”
The students were Morishita’s first priority in his address. He spoke of CSUEB’s legacy over the past six decades since the school’s founding, and its potential as future leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay.
“One of the most distinctive features of Cal State East Bay is our primary service region,” he said. “This region is broadly defined by two counties, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which include 33 cities and a combined population of 2.5 million residents.”
According to the university, the school has a campus in Hayward and Concord as well as a continuing education center in Oakland. The school also offers 11 completely online degrees. A total of 13,160 students are enrolled at the school, andsupports more than 3,200 regional jobs. Morishita added that a third of those students take at least one online course.
“If we are to be an innovative and creative leader in public higher education, we must provide our students with an educational experience that responds to the needs of our communities and prepares our students for a globally competitive world,” Morishita said. “While not all students desire online classes, these programs provide critical access for those who (are) unable to participate in traditional programs.
What is clear is that demand for online instruction and hybrid instruction continues to grow, and CSUEB will meet this demand.”
A Proud Family
Morishita said his family core values guided him throughout his life. He was raised among his parents, grandparents, and many more members of his extended family. Many of them attended the investiture.
Hedani-Morishita said after the investiture that everyone is proud of her husband’s new position. She said more than 30 family members attended, including their two sons, Morishita’s mother, and their inlaws. She hopes to help her husband as the new first lady. Previously, Hedani-Morishita worked as a social worker. She served as their main source of income while Morishita attended Harvard. Both she and Morishita have faith in public education and wish to support it.
“If I can help, I’d like to,” she said.
Morishita said his wife is his “strongest supporter and critic” who offers “balance to my professional and personal life, along with our sons.”
Hedani-Morishita said she and her husband have donated three cherry blossom trees to the school to commemorate Morishita’s investment.
“The courtyard (in the Arts & Education building) here was kind of neglected, but the campus gardening staff took the trees and made a rock garden.” Hedani-Morishita added that she is currently working to add a stone lantern from Fukuoka, similar to one presented to its sister city of Oakland.