SPRING 2015 / MAKING INTRODUCTIONS
New provost Lynn Mahoney speaks up about
her vision for Cal State L.A.
BY KATE KEALEY
Lynn Mahoney doesn’t have a lot of patience for problems that can easily be fixed.
“I became an administrator because I was the loudest faculty voice at meetings about the things that weren’t working … and she who complains gets to lead in fixing [them],” she says.
The new provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Cal State L.A. knows a lot about how change transpires.
A social historian, Mahoney loves stories about human agency—how people work together to accomplish change. She counts the American Revolution, the Civil War, abolitionism and the women’s rights movement among her favorite subjects.
Now, she will play a major role in the continuing transformation of Cal State L.A.
“We are at a moment of amazing opportunity,” Mahoney says. “But with great growth comes some pain. We will have more students than we’ve ever had before. We will be transitioning to semesters. We will be looking for new opportunities to engage with the community. But, three to five years from now, we’ll look back over our shoulders and we’ll be a stronger institution.”
Mahoney began her work at Cal State L.A. in February. She has a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Stanford University and a Doctor of Philosophy in history from Rutgers University.
She previously served as the interim vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Studies at Cal State Long Beach, where she oversaw enrollment planning, institutional research and initiatives to improve graduation rates.
Prior to Long Beach, Mahoney was associate provost for Integrative Learning and vice president for Student Affairs at Purchase College, State University of New York. She also taught courses in U.S. women’s history and feminism, and race and ethnicity.
As the provost, Mahoney is responsible for driving the academic mission of the university, including oversight of the eight colleges, the library, undergraduate studies, general education, teaching, student academic support and advisement.
For now, the focus is on creating an exceptional learning experience for students. To do this Mahoney says that Academic Affairs will make improvements to already strong academic programs. These improvements will increase the rates of degree completion and attract and support high-caliber faculty.
“One of the things I learned from Cal State Long Beach is you can improve the outcomes for students without changing your admissions standards and despite budgetary challenges,” she says. “It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
Some of the effective changes Mahoney implemented at Cal State Long Beach include improving the schedule of classes, expanding academic advising, hiring more tenure-track faculty, supporting faculty development activities, and increasing student engagement.
The ideal learning experience, Mahoney says, involves deeply engaged faculty teaching a mix of small and large classes that are bustling with activity, such as problem solving, group work, and writing to learn, rather than the old style of passive lecturing.
Incorporating service learning and more hands-on learning experiences in the form of undergraduate research, internships, part-time jobs and clubs and organizations will also be priorities.
Mahoney and her husband Charles Ponce de Leon, a professor of history and American studies at Cal State Long Beach, witnessed the benefits of hands-on learning while watching their own children—Caroline, 22, and Christopher, 19—navigate through college.
“I think the best thing a student can walk away from college [with] is feeling absolutely empowered in his or her own ability to learn and do things. Because after college, they’re still going to have another, hopefully, 60 or 70 years to do stuff,” she says.
Cal State L.A. will experience some challenges during this transition, Mahoney says, but the potential for growth is tremendous.
“One of the things I’m most impressed with at Cal State L.A. is that you have a new president and two new vice presidents. This would be cause for anxiety on many campuses—and I’m sure there’s anxiety out there—but the enthusiasm with which faculty and staff on this campus are embracing change is really impressive,” she says. “I think it’s driven by the fact that students really are at the center of what we do here and it’s apparent from every conversation I’ve had.”