Setting the standard

President James M. Rosser's uncompromising vision has shaped Cal State L.A. for 33 years

If success were measured by experience alone, then President James M. Rosser’s 33 years of service to Cal State L.A. together with the people and communities the University has served, defines him as a leader in academia across the nation.

But the breadth of Rosser’s accomplishments extends beyond the decades that have passed since he first walked onto campus. They are the cornerstone of his legacy, engrained in CSULA’s history, and woven into the University’s fabric.

His pending retirement now provides the opportunity to reflect on Rosser’s countless achievements, not only for CSULA, but for the whole of education-from pre-school to college-as well as the sciences, arts, diversity, and the careers of many who have followed in his footsteps.

Rosser became the sixth president of CSULA in 1979, and is currently the longest-serving four-year public university president in the nation.

A STEM to Success

Over the decades, Rosser has sought to galvanize the synergies among science, research, technology and industry. His efforts have helped bring CSULA consistent recognition for high quality in the STEM fields-science, technology, engineering and math.

Robert Vellanoweth ’82, chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry department at CSULA, says that under Rosser’s guidance, Cal State L.A. has an enviable record in graduating STEM students ready to participate in their scientific disciplines, either in the workforce or in graduate schools.

“When I was a student here in the early 1980s, I realized President Rosser’s commitment to science on campus while attending the annual Rosser-Rivera Science Lecture Series. This event brought together scientists from Cal State L.A. and UC Riverside to explore common interests in science and provide opportunities for Cal State L.A. students to further their education,” said Vellanoweth. “Early in his tenure, President Rosser showed his dedication to scientific inquiry as a means of educating the next generation of scientists, something he has continued to do in supporting the MORE (Minority Opportunities in Research) Programs on campus.”

In 2006, Rosser was instrumental in the establishment of the Alliance Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School (MASS), serving students from the surrounding communities. It is now one of the top 12 highest performing open enrollment high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Arts

CSULA’s rich history in the arts and arts education has helped launch the careers of acclaimed artists from nearly every genre.

Rosser expanded CSULA’s arts reputation, both on and off campus. In the 1980s, he spearheaded the establishment of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), recognized as one of the premier public arts high schools in the U.S.

He is also renowned nationally as a great advocate for arts education, and has served on boards, councils and committees for such organizations as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Music Center, and public television, such as KCET. His deep commitment to bringing the city together through the arts has resulted in high profile residencies at CSULA, including the Joffrey Ballet and the Anderson Quartet. As a result, today the acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra draws large crowds to the campus.

Serving the Underserved

Dedicated to increasing access to higher education for underserved communities, Rosser has been honored and regularly sought after for his pioneering leadership in developing diversity-focused education policy.

Diversity hand-in-hand with excellence across all fields of study has produced significant achievement among staff and faculty, as well as CSULA alumni.

“The Chemistry and Biochemistry department at CSULA has one of the most diverse faculties of any such department in the nation,” said Vellanoweth. “The support of President Rosser … has enabled our department to compete for highly sought-after faculty of color.”

Recently, a report by the National Science Foundation entitled Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering 2011, ranked CSULA among the top 50 baccalaureate institutions out of more than 2,000 universities of origin that produce Hispanic science and engineering doctorate recipients.

“Jim has been the voice and advocate for all students for the past three decades. In particular, his unwavering commitment to access and achievement of students of color and focus on helping them to realize their dream of a college degree is a hallmark of his tenure,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed. “He has effectively partnered with K-12 and community colleges, established Cal State Los Angeles’ nursing program as one of the best nationally, and has elevated the state of biotechnology and STEM education and research. Jim’s laser focus on students first, diversity, retention and graduation rates will endure as a remarkable legacy of his service to this University and to California.”

Launching the Brightest, with ‘Honors’

From student scholars navigating the path to their futures, to the countless staff, administrators and faculty members who have moved on to the highest ranks of their prospective fields, Rosser’s impact on those who have called CSULA home is felt far beyond campus.

A great source of pride that will continue the Rosser legacy into the future is the Honors College, which welcomed its inaugural class in fall 2011. The College provides another mechanism to help CSULA close the achievement gap, while reflecting the diversity of the University through an academically enriched and socially supportive environment that inspires students to become creative and critical thinkers and leaders. With core learning goals focused on knowledge creation, social innovation, and global citizenship, the College prepares students to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

The Honors College includes the well-recognized Early Entrance Program (EEP)-one of only a few such programs nationwide-that since 1982 has accepted highly gifted students as young as 11 who can excel at a university level.

Reflecting his commitment to both academics and athletics, Rosser established the James M. Rosser Student Athlete Scholarship at the Honors College, and helped endow a scholarship at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in honor of Donald N. “Doc” Boydston, one of his early and enduring mentors.

This year’s Rosser Student Athlete Scholarship recipient is mathematics major Alyssa Hanson, who plays basketball for the Golden Eagles and says the scholarship helps her excel by providing “additional motivation to succeed” as she represents women’s basketball in competition and the Honors College in her daily life.

“Honors College is special because it fosters its own community, in addition to the CSULA community. As Honors College students, we are all together and on the same team in our pursuit of undergraduate degrees, and want to help and see each other succeed,” said Hanson, who is also in a blended single-subject teaching credential program in the Charter College of Education. “It also gives us an opportunity to meet students outside our individual majors or athletic departments who excel academically, and we bond over our common dedication to academics.”

A Leader for Leaders

CSU Monterey Bay Interim President Eduardo Ochoa, the former U.S. assistant secretary for postsecondary education in the Obama Administration, began teaching economics at CSULA in 1984, and achieved full-professor status in 1997. He served as chair of the Department of Economics, and acting dean of the former School of Business and Economics. He credits CSULA as a place where he “matured as a faculty member and academic administrator.”

“My relationship with Dr. Rosser, somewhat ironically, really got going during my last year at Cal State L.A. when I was acting dean,” said Ochoa. “I was aware of Dr. Rosser’s deserved reputation as an educational leader who was committed to being a supportive mentor to developing leaders, and I have sought his valued advice and counsel at critical points in my career since leaving Cal State L.A.; that advice has been unfailingly gracious, wise, and insightful. I consider myself fortunate for his support and our friendship.”

Changing landscape of Cal State L.A.

The University has been transformed under Dr. Rosser’s leadership. CSULA has welcomed the addition of more than 1,000,000 square feet of building space on the 175-acre campus, transforming it into a modern and aesthetically beautiful University. The projects include the state-of-the-art Wallis Annenberg Integrated Sciences Complex, with La Kretz Hall, featuring contemporary science laboratories and equipment and tools, providing an environment to match the excellence of the University’s academic programs.

In 2009, a new $31 million University-Student Union provided an expanded computer lab, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a 200-seat theater and increased meeting and lounge space. The Golden Eagle opened in 2003, with a student bookstore, conference center and food court. In the early 1990s, Rosser led efforts to build the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex, comprised of the Luckman Gallery and the 1,152-seat Luckman Theatre. Additional campus growth includes the Golden Eagle Apartments, Corporation Yard, the Public Safety/University Police facility, Television, Film, and Media Studies Center, and the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.

For more on the President’s legacy, including a full biography, list of accomplishments, and a photo book, visit /univ/president/.