California State University, Long Beach
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Conoley Honored, Thrilled To Be President

Published: August 18, 2014

When Jane Close Conoley officially took office on July 15 as the newest president of CSULB, she described the campus as a place of opportunity, hope, resilience and caring.

Conoley wants the CSULB community to know that she is honored and thrilled to serve as its next president.

“I have experienced enormous warmth and welcome from the university community as well as the community at large,” said Conoley, who on Jan. 29 became the first woman to be appointed president and the seventh president overall in the 65-year history of the campus. “People stop me on the street or speak to me in restaurants. That tells me this university is an important part of the Long Beach community. This community is enthusiastic about excellence in and access to education. It is easy to provide access and it is easy to provide excellence but almost nobody provides access AND excellence. That is our primary goal.”

Conoley got a taste of heading up a large institution in 2013 during her tenure as interim Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside.

“During that nine months, I fell in love with the notion of how a university can become a transforming experience especially for first-generation university students from low-income families. I reflected on my own life and realized I’d been so blessed.” she said. “Serendipitously, I took CSU Chancellor Timothy White’s position at UC Riverside and, when the Cal State Long Beach presidency became open, he was kind enough to call me and say, ‘look at this.’ I threw my hat in the ring and I’m glad I did.”

Conoley’s rejects any suggestion of there being any added pressure on her as the first woman president of CSULB.

“I have been the first or only woman in several professional positions,” she said. “When people try to put that pressure on me, I reject it because I don’t represent all women. I have met many women in the community who say how glad they are that there is a woman at the helm. I don’t worry about disappointing them as a woman but I am highly motivated to wow them as president.”

Conoley has short- and long-term goals, noting there is a lot to learn, but she is trying not to rush that process. She has met with alums, parents of alums, the Chamber of Commerce president, student leadership, faculty and many staff members, the Mayor of Long Beach and others.

“My short-term goal is to make sure I listen to lots of perspectives,” she said. “I go out of my way to find out if there is an elephant in the room that I ought to know about. I want to emphasize to alums, parents and faculty that what happens when the students are here is the most important thing I prioritize. I prize faculty creativity in teaching and research that benefits students’ education. I also urge our alums to tell us their stories as a way to inspire current students and honor the faculty. Finally, I want parents to feel deeply connected to their students’ educational experience. They can be enormously helpful in supporting their students’ success.”

Her long-term goal is to focus on the richness of the experiences available to students at The Beach, seeing those experiences as what will motivate them in the future.

“We have a unique constituency,” she said. “Eighty-five percent of our graduates are still in California and the majority of those live within 100 miles of the campus. A lot of universities don’t have that. If students who earned their undergraduate degrees here return for their graduate degrees or certificates, if they see us as a lifelong resource, I’d be very happy.”

Looking ahead, Conoley realizes there will be financial issues to be dealt with by the CSU system and, in turn, CSULB. Still, the new campus leader prefers to take a glass-half-full outlook.

“The state is divesting itself of our debt,” she said. “That is scary but there is an opportunity as well to be more creative in our financing. We want to stay a public university that offers access and excellence. Voters seem to have forgotten that education is a public good. It is an investment in the future and not a private privilege. Getting a good education is still the best shot at joining the middle class. In the long term, investing in public education is enlightened self-interest. It is insurance for their health care, their Social Security and the safety of our state. Those who care about their communities ought to care about education. It is the best Homeland Security.”

Conoley also has her eye on the international scene and wants to help students here to become more globally aware.

“ASI (Associated Students, Inc.) has raised money to offer $1,000 scholarships to support students who study abroad,” she said. “I think that’s great, even life-changing. Plus, we have an interest in international students coming here. I’m hard-pressed to think of any profession that would not benefit from having that international perspective. I look forward to learning how faculty are internationalizing the curriculum to meet 21st century opportunities.”

By the time Conoley reaches her 100th day in office come late October, she has a bucket list of things she wants to have accomplished.

“By then, I want to know the targets I can aim for that will add value to the university,” she said. “Of course, I also want to know the names of all the buildings and all the acronyms, too. By my 101st day, I want to have met all of the most important city stakeholders plus lots of our faculty, staff, students and alums. I want to meet with our professional partners in industry and education. Our success depends on creating a future that captures the aspirations of our entire Beach community.”