Rees Interview with Tri-City Voice
- April 26, 2006
The Tri-City Voice recently interviewed Norma Rees, president of California State University East Bay.
TCV: What is your background and what led you to CSUEB?
Rees: I have been in public higher education all my professional life. I was a faculty member, administrator and chief academic officer in more than one place, in New York at the City University of New York system and in Wisconsin as Chief Academic Officer for the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. I went to Boston with a very similar title but worked for the State, then the Board of Regents for Public and Private Education. I kept moving into other administrative duties and looked into a presidency and here I am.
TCV: Is there something unique to the CSU system?
Rees: Every system is different. Each has its own history; you have to learn the traditions of the system and where they come from. Sometimes it is a matter of history and sometimes recent changes in local laws and demography can cause a system to reset itself - to think about where it has been and where it can make the best contributions for its mission. It is always different, even in one place. Wisconsin was a very good example. I attended every Board of Regents meeting, as I do now in California. I began to see the board change as certain issues grabbed the attention of board members and legislators.
There is a big difference in the CSU. In my 16 years, while I have seen a lot of turnover on the Board of Trustees, it has been uniformly supportive of the CSU. I have never had the sense of jockeying for committee chairs, etc. If it happens, it doesn't show in the way they do their work on behalf of the CSU and the people employed to serve the students and communities we work with. That has been a real joy. Board members have been appointed by different administrations, but all to serve the CSU. I have to give very high marks to my boss, [CSU Chancellor] Charlie Reed who works closely with Board members. All Presidents know the board members well. All of them visit the campuses. We have a very good working relationship.
TCV: How does CSU integrate with community colleges?
Rees: A number of things happen on a system-wide basis. We are near the end of a two year project to develop lower division transfer requirements tailored for specific programs and specific needs or opportunities at each institution. Locally, we recently met with the presidents or chancellors or their representatives of local community colleges. There are seven community colleges in Alameda County closest to us, three in Contra Costa County where we have another campus and since we are increasingly seeing students from the peninsula, peninsula community colleges. These meetings are held twice a year and in advance of the meeting ask for additions to the agenda. We spent the morning talking about what the CSU and CSUEB are doing that relate to the work of the community colleges.
In addition to that, we have a community college faculty coordinator who sets up faculty to faculty meetings focusing on specific areas of instruction. The next meeting will be at Laney College on the social sciences. Faculties sit down with each other to talk about how and what they teach as well as what is expected when students come to CSU.
TCV: Are more students choosing to attend community college for the first two years of undergraduate studies?
Rees: Under the state master plan, there was an expectation that statewide 60% of high school graduates would start at community colleges. As a system, we probably meet those numbers pretty well. What we have seen at many community colleges is dropping enrollment. It may be true for a particular college; for instance Las Positas College has enrollment growth.
TCV: Has the CSUEB strategic plan shifted?
Rees: That is always happening. There was a time when you couldn't put on enough computer science classes and that changed. That seems to be turning around again. Some things we do because of industry, for instance the biotech industry has moved into Fremont and Oakland. This has given us impetus to strengthen our biotech course work and programs. CSUEB is one of three CSU campuses (of 23), two in the south - San Diego and Los Angeles - and our campus in the north as hubs of biotechnology for industry relations and appropriate academic programming.
Another example is when Bill Clinton was president and signed changes in welfare laws. We heard first from Human Services of Contra Costa County whose case workers had been trained to treat welfare clients in a certain way and now needed retraining for a different law. Although our campus didn't have a social worker program at the time, we put together a Master of Social Work program that is marvelous. It was not accredited immediately since you cannot be accredited when a program is new. The National Council on Social Work Accreditation will not even talk to you until a certain number of students have graduated from the school. We are being accredited at the earliest moment we could be accredited.
There is always waxing and waning of what students are interested in and where they can get jobs. Currently, there is tremendous interest in nurses and our program at the Hayward campus is impacted. We saw opportunities to expand bachelor level nursing education at the Contra Costa campus in cooperation with community colleges and local hospitals.
In the sense that students are driven by what they want to do and where they can find work, we try to be as responsive as possible. Otherwise we are not serving our students well.
TCV: What do you see as the strength of the university in postgraduate work?
Rees: We have a strong MBA (Master of Business Administration) program. We are well regarded by industry. Industry leaders love our graduates because they know what they are doing on the first day and don't expect to be the CEO on the second day.
The MSW (Master of Social Work) is another example of an area where we get high marks. Our programs are developed to meet the needs and aspirations of students and the opportunities and needs of the larger community. We developed an online Masters program to teach teachers how to teach online. The whole program is taught online and is very popular.
Some years ago, we put together a multimedia masters program that is very popular; there is more demand than we can fill. It is an equipment and labor intensive course in which students spend two years in teams producing a multimedia product for advertising or education. Students work in teams including someone with a background in English who can write, another with a background in art who can design and someone with a background in computer science to "plug it in." These various interests and skills combine to turn out a product.
TCV: Do you see more online education evolving?
Rees: It is inevitable. What we have now is a lot of online instruction but not an entire course or program. We are seeing that in individual classes, because of student interest, demand and faculty skills, more and more instructional materials are online.
TCV: Is there a close connection between CSU and UC?
Rees: There was a lot of pressure a few years ago for CSU campuses to work jointly with local UC campuses on doctoral programs and educational leadership. We participate with San Francisco State, San Jose State and Berkeley but it is a small program. The law has changed and now CSU has the authority to offer an Ed.D. We will be starting ours in 2008.
TCV: Will CSU campuses become more involved in postgraduate education?
Rees: We will always do both. The bulk of enrollment at CSU will always be baccalaureate. CSUEB may have a higher postgraduate enrollment than others partly because of the strength and reputation of our graduate business program. Now we have the Ed.D program. Who knows what will happen in the future. Time will tell. If we do more work in the doctoral area, it needs to be in the applied area, this is what we do best and where we best serve our communities.
TCV: How does CSUEB reach out to the community?
Rees: This happens on many different levels. There is a system-wide initiative to reach out to underserved communities. We are heavily involved with the Latino and African-American communities. This is ongoing and has been going on for a long time. I have encouraged all of our programs to develop community advisory boards. For those related to specific industry or agency needs, the opportunities are obvious. About seven or eight years ago, we started the first new engineering program in California in 30 years. On day one, they had a community advisory board. That was new to this campus. We are out there with the community because they are here with us.
We are also reaching out to the community by bringing others to campus and taking them for site visits. I have been involved for years with Economic Development Alliance of Businesses (EDAB). I am also a board member of the Bay Area World Trade Center.
About seven years ago, our College of Education and allied studies received the fourth largest federal GEARUP grant in the country to get colleges and universities to work in the schools. The grant was three times larger than any other in the state. This six year project follows kids in Oakland schools and tracks students, parents and teachers from the seventh grade until they graduate from high school. We just started on the next six year grant of about the same size and are involved with 18 middle schools in Oakland.
When I came to this campus, some of the philosophy was that we are a great university and if people don't come here, that is their problem. I have a very different attitude and orientation. My first year here, I spoke with then Mayor Elihu Harris of Oakland, a CSUH graduate. I told him I needed space in downtown Oakland. We had a tiny hole-in- the-wall in the city center. The culmination of this initiative is that we now have our own professional education development center in Oakland. We are all over the community but we need to do more.
This fall, we are bringing on new student housing. Although there has always been student housing here, now we will have, including existing housing at Pioneer Heights and a private dorm called International House, 1,000 beds. This is a good proportion of our student population. We are ramping up "Student Life" to include more of our student activities beyond the classroom. Enrollment at CSUEB is approximately 12,000 although we have another campus in Concord that has about 1,700 students.
TCV: What is unique about CSUEB?
Rees: This is an extremely beautiful campus. It is a little smaller than some campuses, about mid-size in the system. Students tell us that one of the things particularly satisfying is direct contact with faculty. At UC Berkeley, for instance many undergraduate courses are taught by teaching assistants or graduate students. Some of them are very large, 700-800 students. For some who are well-prepared or self-starters, that may work out well, but for some it doesn't. Here the classes are smaller and students have direct access to core faculty.
Some of our courses are taught by lecturers, but students still have faculty access. The range of programs on our campus is very good and we are adding more as the opportunity and need arises. I tell students that they will be comfortable here and get an outstanding education working with faculty who will understand their needs. We want everyone to succeed. Mentoring is going on from one end of the campus to the other. Our campus is also easily accessible for those who take BART. We run a free shuttle from the Hayward station to the campus all day.
TCV: Is CSUEB marketing aggressively?
Rees: We are marketing ourselves more, actively recruiting in various parts of California and on the East Coast. Our Director of Marketing Communications has put together a comprehensive program, putting ourselves in the public eye. When we went through the name change [from CSU Hayward to CSU East Bay], I promised the university community that I would not be spending state money. Last fall, we had a number of mobile billboards around the region supported by various firms and have a huge new banner in Terminal 2 at the Oakland Airport. These are supported by private industry. That helps us to relate to the local business community and get our name out. I have been around a long time and have found that sometimes a college's reputation has a tendency to be out of sync with reality. We have been a very good university for as long as I have been here and more people are beginning to find that out.
TCV: Any other comments?
Rees: We have an excellent administrative staff both academic and non-academic areas. This is my last year as president and will be stepping down as soon as my successor is appointed. I have no involvement in that process. The plan is to announce a new president at the May board meeting but that depends on whether the process is complete at that point. I am not sure when my last day will be. I will still be doing some work for the Chancellor after that.