Norma Rees at the 2012 Investiture ceremony for President Leroy M. Morishita. (Photo: Stephanie Secrest)
Norma Rees, who was president of California State University, East Bay from 1990 until 2006, passed away Thursday (June 6), announced CSUEB President Leroy M. Morishita.
Rees, 83, presided over the construction of approximately $70 million in buildings and improvements to existing facilities on the university’s flagship campus in Hayward during her 16 years as its leader. She also expanded CSUEB’s Concord satellite campus and opened a professional development center in downtown Oakland.
“Her influence during her tenure as president was substantive,” Morishita said in a special message Friday (June 6) morning to the university campus community. “Under Dr. Rees, the university added the first new buildings on the Hayward campus since 1971. We are fortunate to have benefited from Dr. Rees’ leadership and the legacy she has left for Cal State East Bay.”
One of the first women to become president of a CSU campus, she took over what was then known as Cal State Hayward in 1990. Previously, she had been a high-ranking administrator with the Massachusetts Board of Regents of Higher Education from 1987 to 1990. Rees earlier had held top management positions in the higher education systems of Wisconsin and New York City.
From fall 2004 to early 2005, Rees led a successful effort to change the institution’s name to Cal State East Bay to better reflect the Bay Area region it serves. The CSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of her proposal in late January 2005 after considering the viewpoints of students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community.
The name change was part of her campaign to better link the university with the 2.5 million residents of two counties (Alameda and Contra Costa) and 33 cities in the East Bay, reflecting the fact that CSUEB had grown to be “the regional state university for the entire East Bay.”
Rees had already become a regional leader, serving on the boards of directors of the Hayward and Oakland chambers of commerce, the Bay Area World Trade Center, the Economic Development Alliance for Business, the California Film Commission and the Leadership California Advisory Council, among other organizations.
“It became a major priority for me to get out into the community,” Rees said. “Our outreach extended throughout the entire region.”
She expanded academic offerings for CSUEB students soon after becoming president, her first being the development of the university’s inaugural courses of study in engineering and biotechnology, as well as master’s degree programs in social work and team-based multimedia.
Under her leadership, CSUEB’s influence extended beyond the region, expanding internationally. In 1992 President Rees led a delegation to Moscow, where she signed protocols leading to the university’s establishment of an American-style executive MBA program that ranks among the top-rated business higher education programs in Russia. In addition, she encouraged the creation of CSUEB faculty-led online educational programs that have served students throughout the world.
Cal State East Bay’s international reputation, which grew during her tenure, has helped it attract students from 144 countries.
During her tenure, she was proud to be known as an advocate for student leadership and participation, encouraging them to get involved in campus committees and hosting student leaders at her home.
From her ninth floor office in the Warren Hall administration building, Rees kept tabs on construction activity for major new facilities to serve students. They included a new home for the College of Business and Economics – the 67,000-square-foot Valley Business and Technology Center in 2004 – as well as the 28,800-square-foot New University Union in 2006. In addition, three new student residential structures at Pioneer Heights were completed on the southern tip of the Hayward Campus at different intervals during her presidency.
Norma Rees earned her bachelor’s degree from Queens College and a master’s degree from Brooklyn College. Both were in speech pathology and audiology. She received her doctorate in speech from New York University.
Rees taught speech pathology courses in the City University of New York system and was a tenured professor in CSUEB’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.
She is survived by two sons, Raymond A. Rees and Evan L. Rees. Her husband, Raymond, died in 2001.