The campus community was formally introduced to California State University, Dominguez Hills Interim President Willie Hagan on Wednesday, September 5 as he presented the annual university fall convocation address and welcomed back campus faculty, staff, and – for the first time ever at convocation – students.
Reflecting on the short three months since his presidency began, Hagan told the audience of more than 450 people, “I have been walking and breathing this campus, meeting faculty, students, staff, administrators, donors, and community members. And as I got a closer look it became clear to me that this is not a place where people come just to get an education, people come to Cal State Dominguez Hills to be transformed. The dedication and the commitment of Dominguez Hills faculty and the staff under daunting financial and operational circumstances is incredible.”
Hagan touched on the numerous accomplishments that the university, its faculty and students have achieved in recent years—illustrative of the strong academic work being done on the campus—from millions of dollars in research and program grants to representation at the CSU system level of student research, from national scholarship awards for students to the university being recognized nationally in conferring degrees to minority students. Even with all the university has achieved, Hagan said he knows CSU Dominguez Hills can reach greater heights.
“What can be achieved for our students is boundless if we are all working together, sharing, communicating, focused; controlling what we can control and dealing as best we can with everything else,” he said. “We need bold, innovative, and aggressive thinking on how best to improve and advance this university. We need this from our vice presidents, managers, faculty, staff, and students.”
Hagan said, in the interest of collaboration and engagement, he plans to initiate a series of town hall meetings to “discuss timely issues of importance to the future of our campus,” and in a more intimate setting, connect with faculty, staff, and students through lunch meetings to gather ideas and feedback.
Opportunities are still ahead, but so are challenges. Hagan said the university’s budget is in limbo waiting for the November election and outcome of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Prop 30 tax initiative. The University Budget Committee has made recommendations to the president to cover a mid-year cut with one-time funds, he said, adding “but we will need to address the long-term potential impact of an additional $5.8 million baseline budget reduction should the proposition fail.”
He said the first campus town hall will take place in October and focus on the budget. Vice President Mary Ann Rodriguez and he will go into detail in an open dialogue and discussion. A second town hall in November will update the campus on the status of the campus budget in light of the election results.
Another challenge the university faces is its graduation rates, which lag behind the CSU average. Hagan said increasing graduation rates is imperative and toward that end Hagan wants to expand student success initiatives.
“Becoming a national model for student success will be one of my key goals and a topic you will hear more about in the weeks ahead. And I am convinced we will be successful,” Hagan said. “Pilot programs have been implemented on this campus which demonstrated great success in increasing retention year to year. But they have been limited in scope. If we know what works to improve retention and graduation rates, either by our own efforts or based on research and programs nationally, then we owe it to our students and to ourselves to implement those ideas on this campus.”
Hagan’s own experience may be the reason that student success is such a priority for him.
“I was transformed from a poor boy born in Mt. Megis, Alabama … to the president of an institution that has been transforming lives in the same way my life has been transformed, by great teachers and mentors and the power of education,” he said. “I went to college because a high school guidance counselor saw promise in me and contacted a local two-year school on my behalf. I received my Ph.D. because a professor invited me to work on a research project that sparked an interest that led me to decide to go to graduate school.”
Just as CSU Dominguez Hills enriches and shapes the lives of so many students, Hagan said he is proof of the “transformative power of higher education.”
Hagan has worked in higher education his entire career. Prior to coming to CSU Dominguez Hills in July, he served at CSU Fullerton for 16 years in several positions including vice president for administration, chief financial officer, vice president of University Advancement, and lastly, in early 2012 as the interim president there. Previously he served as associate vice president for administration at the University of Connecticut, and as a lobbyist for the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Board of Governors for Higher Education at the state and federal level. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA.
Since becoming interim president at CSU Dominguez Hills, Hagan has not only become engaged, but has made an impression. Vice president of University Advancement Greg Saks said it was quickly apparent that the new president is passionately student centered.
“Every conversation starts with ‘What are we going to do that helps our students?’” said Saks. “That is number one on his agenda and number one on making sure this campus moves forward.”
In making decisions for the university, Hagan said all faculty and staff should be guided by two questions, “What’s in the best interests of our students? And, what’s in the best interests of our university?”
With optimism and a call to university faculty, staff and students to work collaboratively, Hagan said, “As we look forward to the future of this institution, let’s build something awesome.”
Hagan’s full remarks are online here.
The full convocation, featuring the three addresses from Hagan, Hill and Coulibaly, can be viewed in the video below, which is also on the university’s YouTube site here.