President Dianne Harrison’s Annual Convocation
August 21, 2014
A Critical View of Corporate America
Rodolfo F. Acuña
I really don’t need controversy at this stage in my life, but I could never keep my mouth shut. If something was stupid, I called it stupid. This has happened in all phases of my life, something that has not ingratiated me. Essentially people don’t like controversy so I have gotten used to people avoiding me.
One such moment came when I listened to the CSUN Presidential Convocation address earlier this month. Generally the only ones who go to this event are those with a vested interest. The convocation reminds me of the CSUN football games that were only attended by the Greeks and administrators whose presence was commanded.
This year because my son alerted me I went on the CSUN webpage. I made the mistake last year of not knowing what she said. This was stupid because President Dianne Harrison has earned a reputation of being imperious and ruling by edicts. She has told people that she never wants to hear the word “no.” http://www.csun.edu/president/presidents-2014-convocation-and-welcome-back-address. At last year’s convocation she announced the UNAM deal as a fait accompli.
I am stupid but not a pendejo! So I wasted two hours listening to her cheerleading. I must admit Harrison was probably the head cheerleader in high school.
The event was opened by the faculty president who was trotted out to show faculty solidarity, and he was followed by the student body president. The faculty president is no John Stafford or a faculty president who shows independence; the student president appeared as if she is auditioning for a job.
I hate to say it but Harrison’s address lacked substance; she avoided controversy even in addressing the death of Armando Villa who died of heat prostration and dehydration allegedly the result of fraternity hazing.
The rest of the speech praised California State University at Northridge as the most impressive university by far and the celebrated the leadership: faculty, staff and students. According to President Harrison, she consults with students and faculty regularly – they are a team. I have seen past presidents visit the ethnic studies departments and at least wave to students – but I have never seen Harrison visit Latino/Mexican American students in three years.
For a moment I paused and listened intently: she said she plans to increase entrepreneurship and initiate new centers. She did not offer specifics or talk about consultation with the departments – something that caused an ongoing breach between Chicana/o studies and administration last year. Unfortunately, the majority of faculty don’t seem to give a damn.
Harrison then suddenly came to life and gave it a good old CSUN college try as she said that student success depended on staff and encouraged all of us to help increase graduation rates. Place this in context that the attendance at the event was limited. As I mentioned, only those commanded or who benefitted from a selfie attended. She asked her team to stand up as she introduced them. I only counted two Latinos — one a flunky staff member and the other a dean who has never become part of the community.
The performance hall seats 1700 but only had couple of hundred attendees. There were few students present out of almost 40,000 registered.
Harrison announced faculty members promoted to tenure but failed to break down their race or ethnicity. She did mention a lack of diversity but apparently has no concrete plan to address the problem. The truth be told, that if you take Chicana/o studies out of the equation less than three percent of the faculty is of Mexican extraction.
Harrison sprinkled her speech with commercial bites. This is “A YEAR OF GREAT PROMISE!” The past year was “CSUN Shine!” A power point presentation celebrated these milestones: graduation, degrees, sports, the honoring of President Brenda Wilson who was a fiasco as president. She trumpeted that Money Magazine ranked CSUN as one of bargains in higher ed not mentioning that one of the principle reasons that students do not graduate is that they cannot afford the tuition. Moreover, although students pay for the construction of the dorms –the majority cannot afford them.
Despite these contradictions Harrison boasted that CSUN broke ground for more student housing; no mention was made that this construction comes out of student fees and that students pay for most of the construction costs. But giving it the good old school cheer, Harrison said there were signs of construction everywhere.
According to Harrison, CSUN is not a commuter school but a regional university. The nation and the world are recognizing its excellence. The power point featured images of buildings, the performing arts, library etc. It reminded me of the university web page that resembles a Republican presidential nominating Convention.
Amidst the tale of student success Harrison said that CSUN was moving toward impaction. That means that a cap will be put on registration and quotas for admission will be based on GPA, class standing, and other criteria, which Harrison lamented but she said there may be no choice. This is important.
The only somber note was that the continuation rate of CSUN that was 78 percent versus 85 percent system wide. According to her there has been progress in remediation, but that the grad rate has plummeted from 48 to 45. Again she offered no solutions other than involving alumni as leaders and providing internships. She did not say who is going to pay for them.
According to Harrison, being a global university means CSUN has to provide cultural competencies as well as leaders in cross disciplines – something Chicana/o studies has been doing for 45 years. Her solution is the creation of centers that in reality serve a small fraction of the students and are managed by white faculty.
Harrison said that entrepreneurship was not a dirty word and necessary in a competing global economy. According to Harrison, CSUN had to adopt business practices, provide mobile apps for students. She mentioned extended learning specifically as a funding source – which of course increases the privatization of the university. Philanthropy and research, according to Harrison, is good because it supports university funding,
She praised partnerships such as the one with LA Trade Tech and cooperative ventures with five local CSU campuses. Collaboration was the magic word, and according to Harrison, people were listening to CSUN that was educating future global citizens.
Finally, Harrison mentioned the Northridge Dreamers Scholarship, which is always an easy fix for administrators who lack a plan. Recently Enrique Peña Nieto announced scholarships as if it will make us forget about his privatization of the oil and other natural resources. Harrison did not mention that students for the last year have been promised a Dreamer Center and received atole con el dedo. After over a year, Dreamers have negotiated and still do not have a center.
In talking about employee success, she said nothing about contract workers. Instead focused on a smoke free campus that was coming about, according to her, through faculty and worker collaboration.
CSUN Shine challenges, according to Harrison, faculty to reflect campus diversity and study the problem, which is an insult to all of our intelligence. We have been fighting this battle for 45 years with white faculty resisting diversity. Psychology, for example, out of 50 faculty members only has one Latina faculty member and over three-quarters of the departments do not have one Latino or Mexican America American faculty member.
Harrison again insulted our intelligence by calling for civility and an end to bullying not mentioning power relations. The truth be told, Harrison has tried to silence Chicana/o studies and cut channels of communication for it to voice its opposition to the UNAM deal. Moreover, the bullying charge is ridiculous — raised by the Dean of Social and Behavioral Science who has more grievances against her than any other administrator, according to the California Faculty Association, and a department chair that has driven four tenure track professors out of her department and abetted sexual harassment.
In all I wasted two hours. Yet, I could not afford not to listen. Not to listen puts reform in jeopardy. The devil never sleeps so we should listen to those in power, their words have meaning, for if we want CSUN to truly shine it must also listen.