When California State University president Joseph Castro resigned last month over his failure to properly address sexual harassment allegations at his former institution, Fresno State University, the system’s Board of Trustees sought to quickly gain stability behind an unquestioned leader. They found it in someone who had been retired for more than a decade.
Jolene Koester, the former President at Cal State Northridge from 2000-2011 and a stalwart on the boards of organizations affiliated with higher education, was named as interim leader of the system and its 23 institutions. She will start on May 1 and serve for one year while the Board searches for a permanent replacement.
“With her institutional knowledge of the university and long-standing history of service to higher education, Dr. Koester is the perfect person to lead the CSU during this time,” said Lillian Kimbell, chair of the CSU Board of Trustees. “CSU’s graduation and retention rates have reached all-time highs, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. We appreciate Dr. Koester’s passion and commitment to rejoin the university.”
Cal State, the largest four-year system in the country, is taking a number of steps to try to improve its image after being battered by both the Castro scandal and another involving the San Jose State University athletics department, where millions in payouts have already been awarded to victims and where there could be much more coming from a newer class-action lawsuit involving potentially 1,000 individuals.
Kimbell said the system was making a big effort to be a leader on Title IX, having assessments done of each campus and the Chancellor’s Office to see that they are all in compliance. It is also enacting a policy where administrators who have engaged in “significant misconduct” will not have the ability to come back as faculty members. That likely would affect former San Jose State President Mary Papazian, who resigned after a lack of oversight on those sexual assault allegations. She reportedly wants to return as a paid instructor, according to the San Jose Mercury-News. Any administrator wanting to make such a move would first have to gain approval through the Chancellor’s Office and Koester, according to Kimbell.
CSU is also hoping to boost graduation rates by 7% in 2025 among first-year students. On Tuesday, it announced it was eliminating standardized test scores, following the lead of so many other institutions, including the University of California.
The choice of Koester, who had been working as a consultant for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), should aid CSU as it makes the transition on the latter endeavor. She helped boost enrollment, retention and graduation rates at Northridge while forging a number of infrastructure improvements.
“I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to serve as their interim chancellor,” Koester said in a statement. “The commitment of our world-class faculty, staff, administrators, executives, and trustees deeply align with my values to provide life-changing educational opportunities for our students.”
Koester will lead a system that has been transformational in its recent top-level hirings. Nearly half of its presidents are women, all of whom have been installed in the past eight years. Five of them have taken over positions in the past three years, including Erica Beck at Northridge, Adela de la Torre at San Diego State, Lynn Mahoney at San Francisco State, Ellen Neufeldt at San Marcos and Cathy Sandeen at East Bay.
More presidents named
CSU is not alone in giving women opportunities a chance to lead like never before in higher education. More than three dozen have been named to president posts in the past few months. This week, there were four more named to new positions – Rhea Law at the University of South Florida, Sandra Cassady at Rockhurst University in Missouri, Rebecca Neiduski at Wartburg College and Rachelle Keck at Grand View University in Iowa.
“Having been born, raised and educated in our great state, I am thrilled to be named President of Grand View University and honored to serve as its first female leader,” Keck said. “Grand View University shines as a visionary leader in the field, dedicated to the holistic education of graduates prepared to lead and serve in our diverse and changing world.”
Speaking of visionaries, Clarkson University named former Southern Methodist University engineering dean Marc Christensen as its latest president. He is a leader in photonics research and technology development and holds 10 patents. “Marc’s passion for innovative teaching, collaborative multidisciplinary research, proven entrepreneurship, successful fundraising and community outreach is an excellent fit for Clarkson,” said Thomas L. Kassouf, Chair of the Board of Trustees.