Not quite one week into the job, San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman sat down with The Daily Aztec to talk about some of the issues he has been working with thus far.
The Daily Aztec: You have been the university president for less than a full week, but our campus is in the middle of a construction overhaul. Were you expecting this much commotion? Have you been affected by the changes currently underway?
Elliot Hirshman: I knew there was going to be renovation of the new center, and that’s a great opportunity, I know students are very supportive of it. There’s always a little bit of a challenge with construction, but we’re looking forward to it. I met with the LGBT student groups, who were excited because Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. James Kitchen has worked with them to plan new space for students in the center.
DA: Have there been any unexpected revelations on the job?
EH: I think the first priority is getting out and meeting people, getting to know the campus. What I have seen, that maybe I wasn’t fully expecting, is just how powerful the SDSU network is. I can’t go anywhere without someone saying “I’m an alumni.”
DA: What are some of the priorities you are focusing on right now?
EH: One of the major issues we are looking at is the budget, so we know there are going to be some reductions in state appropriations. We are working, through our governance structure, to be sure that we respond appropriately and protect our programs. That’s the challenge we’re working on right now. I do feel prospects are getting better. California’s bond rating went up, which gives a reason for optimism in the economy.
DA: With your extensive experience in higher education, what about this position is similar or different?
EH: If you look at everything we measure: student achievement, research and creativity activity, engaging the community — SDSU is very strong in those all of those. And now it is my privilege to help move it to the next level. What I am about is working with people to help them improve the university, to help them do the things they want to do.
DA: Former SDSU President Stephen L. Weber formed a close bond with the local community during his 15-year tenure at SDSU. What type of reception have you received so far?
EH: There has been great response from the community. It ties back to this Aztec family notion – everywhere I go, people wave, tell me they’re an alumni and shake my hand. It’s a great thing, the local community is really supportive.
DA: Did you ever see yourself becoming a university president when you were taking college courses?
EH: I’ve spent my whole life in universities; my father was on a university’s staff. It’s a natural culmination. Sometimes people ask how you come into a job like this, and it really does take a lot of steps, moving up through the ranks.
DA: Besides living in San Diego, what are some of the perks to becoming SDSU’s president?
EH: People ask, “What’s your vision of this university? What do you see it doing?” I have a very simple vision – that this is a diverse community that transforms lives. So the perk is you get to participate in helping students develop, in fostering the research and creative endeavors that affect the community, you get to participate in the community engagement … getting to do all of these really important things. The downside is the hours are long, though.
DA: Has former president Weber had an affect on you?
EH: Stephen Weber was a great university president, did great things here, and the excitement there is to build on that platform. He and I spent a lot of time together and got to become good friends. They actually brought me in for a three-day period where I met with him and he took me through his perspective on different things. He was very, very supportive of me.
DA: Overall, how was your first week? What were some of the highlights?
EH: It was a good week. I think the best part was learning about all the great things at the university. I also went to the Shirley BioSciences Center – they’re working there on the problem of cardiovascular disease and they are very much focused on solving and addressing that problem. I visited with our EOP students – we are helping students who face significant challenges to succeed. I visited with Jim Stark who is the athletics director. Part of the excitement about a place like SDSU is there is so much strength across so many areas, so it’s been a good (first) week.