larry adamson
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CSU Trustee Spotlight: Larry Adamson

Alisia Ruble

Fifty years after graduating from Cal State LA, Alumni Trustee Larry Adamson is more connected than ever to the university.

larry adamson

It's day two of the May 2024 meeting of the California State University Board of Trustees, and the roll is being called for the umpteenth time following a brief recess.

“Trustee Adamson," Rachel Corell, deputy chief of staff and director of board operations, calls out.

“Still here," CSU Alumni Trustee Larry L. Adamson responds with a smile, eliciting a chuckle from those present.

His friendly, engaging attitude makes him popular with CSU board members, students and employees alike, though it's his humility that this writer finds most endearing.

“It's an incredible honor to be asked to help provide the governance of this institution," he says. “I think I bring some value to the board—with whatever limited opportunity I have—and that drives me in what I do."

All jokes aside, Adamson is deeply committed to his work on the board, and he brings valuable insight from his decades-long careers in both the private and nonprofit sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Cal State LA in 1974, Adamson spent 24 years with the Automobile Club of Southern California, eventually becoming the organization's vice president of administration.

Along the way he found himself involved in community service—encouraged by then-president of the Auto Club Tom McKernan—which led him to become president and CEO of The Midnight Mission, Los Angeles's premier social service agency. He also served for 13 years as commissioner for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, including two terms as its chairperson.

During his tenure with The Midnight Mission, Adamson was successful in growing its total assets to over $46 million, an increase of $20 million. He also oversaw the relocation of The Midnight Mission's 138,000-square-foot facility in 2005 and led efforts to secure one of the largest AmeriCorps grants in the nation for outreach services.

Adamson was reelected to the CSU Board of Trustees in March 2024 by the CSU Alumni Council to serve his third full term as alumni trustee. He also served partial terms in 2005 and 2020.

The alumni trustee position is unique in that it is the only elected position and only serves a two-year term—all other trustees are appointed by the state governor and serve eight-year terms. The alumni trustee not only goes through a robust selection process but also an evaluation mid-term that includes feedback from the alumni council, the board chair and co-chair, the chairs of the committees the alumni trustee sits on, the Academic Senate of the CSU chair and the California State Student Association president and chair.

Suffice to say that Adamson's repeated reelection is a testament to his service to the students, faculty and staff of the CSU, as well as its 4.2 million alumni. In fact, the alumni council's vote for Adamson's most recent reelection was unanimous among its 50 members.

In addition to his service to the board as the alumni trustee, Adamson is past president of Cal State LA's Alumni Association and of the CSU Alumni Council, and he currently sits on the board of the Cal State LA Foundation. He is also continually tapped for important work of the Board of Trustees and has been appointed to serve as chair of several committees, including the Assessment Committee for the Selection of the Chancellor twice.

We sat down with Adamson to learn more about his work on the board and discover how his time at Cal State LA influenced his personal and professional pursuits.

Tell me about your experience at Cal State LA. What are your fondest memories?

Cal State LA was largely a commuter school when I attended in the 1970s. Today, our campuses have evolved to include a vibrant student life, though I didn't get to experience much of that. I was working, as many of our students are today, to help support going to the university, so I wasn't hanging out on campus much. I did very much enjoy the subject matters I studied and the friendships I formed within the classrooms. I made some great friends there.

Cal State LA also had an incredibly competitive basketball team, and I would go to the gym between classes to watch them practice and work out.

How did attending the CSU prepare you for your various careers?

Unquestionably, my CSU degree opened the doors that allowed my career to develop. Being able to show I earned a bachelor's degree from Cal State LA as I interviewed for corporate positions helped me receive some of my first jobs.

I spent 24 years with the Automobile Club of Southern California, the major member of the Automobile Association of America (AAA), and its president [during my time], Tom McKernan, is also an alumnus of the CSU. There came a time when he was seeking a new assistant to the president and being a graduate of Cal State LA opened the door for me. I'm not sure it would have opened, considering the thousands of employees of the Auto Club, had it not been that he had an affinity to the university as well.

And, frankly, the reason that I'm engaged with the CSU today is because Tom was involved with the Cal State LA Alumni Association, and he asked me to get involved with it, as well. So, truly, I don't believe the doors in my career would've opened had it not been for that degree and the preparation that it provided for me to move into executive-level kinds of positions.​

Why have you chosen to serve the CSU through your work with the Cal State LA Alumni Association, the​ CSU Alumni Council and the CSU Board of Trustees? 

I'll be honest, part of is selfish. I feel strongly that the value of a CSU degree is vitally important to the success of the institution. And, as an alumnus, I don't want to see the institution do anything that would devalue that degree. And I'm proud to say that we are upholding its value. We owe it to the 4.2 million CSU alumni to ensure that degree, when they walk in the door [for an interview], is looked at with favor. And that people understand when you're dealing with a CSU grad, you're dealing with someone of quality.

The CSU is an absolutely critical entity in the wellbeing of California and, frankly, the nation and the world. It's an incredible honor to be asked to help provide the governance of this institution, and it's​ a massive responsibility.

I've learned a lot from being on this board. I, frankly, think the governor's done a good job of bringing in people from a variety of backgrounds to be on this board. As a result, I sit in amazement at the thought processes of the different people and how they evaluate issues, and it makes you open your own mind to these issues far beyond perhaps your first look at a particular question that is being brought before us. ​

What are your priorities as a CSU trustee and what is the board focused on that will further improve the student experience?

My personal goal as a trustee is to make sure that the decisions we make [as a board] today support the CSU's long-term responsibility to educate the people of the state of California. And that seems like a simple statement, but it's incredibly complex. It deals with the financial viability of our institution. It deals with the overall impact of our educational processes and ensures that they are going to meet the needs of our society in the future.

Are we offering the degrees that we should be offering? Are we quick enough? How do we more rapidly move the institution to make timely decisions for issues that confront us? Setting the overall vision for the institution is absolutely the responsibility of the board, and I think we're getting even better at it.

Our obligation is to get students to that degree. But, beyond that degree, it's our obligation to make sure that we are there to help them be successful after they graduate from our university. So, that's where the various alumni associations come in. They can provide networking, professional development and mentoring.

As the president and CEO emeritus of The Midnight Mission, you have a unique perspective about students' basic needs. What are your thoughts on the progress the CSU has made with regard to that? 

During my time with The Midnight Mission, we were successful in repositioning our services to address the whole person, rather than just giving them a meal and a place to stay. We asked, “How do we surround you with everything you need to move your life from where you are today to becoming self-sufficient?" I think we were the only institution at that time who had a definition that success was self-sufficiency.

And that's how the CSU is looking at our students today, providing holistic support and addressing whatever their particular needs are. That includes addressing basic needs and mental health and even having cultural awareness and sensitivity to a first-generation student from an immigrant background, for example, and how their needs differ from other students' needs.

When you look back at just the last decade of basic needs in higher education, food pantries, mental health counseling, et cetera, was not as ingrained in a university's DNA. But our campuses have repositioned themselves to provide the support that is necessary for the students we serve.

If you look across the nation, I believe the CSU leads in that area. I don't think there's any other institution as dedicated as we are to ensuring that the needs of a student are fulfilled so that they can be successful in their learning outcomes.


The CSU Board of Trustees is made up of 25 members and is responsible for the governance of the university. Meet these members and learn more about their work.​​


​Fun fact: Both of CSU Alumni Trustee Larry Adamson's children graduated from the university, as well. Daughter Melissa holds a bachelor's degree from Cal State LA and a teaching credential from CSU Bakersfield, and daughter​ Diana holds a bachelor's degree from Chico State, a teaching credential from CSU Bakersfield and a master's degree from CSUN.