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Story Leadership

Chancellor Koester: Aligning the CSU’s Mission and Actions

Hazel Kelly

Learn more about Dr. Jolene Koester and her goals for the California State University during this transformational time.

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  • Restore trust in the university
  • Improve structures and processes
  • Lay groundwork for next regularly appointed chancellor
  • Collectively advocate for necessary resources

While she is the second woman in California State University history to lead the 23-university system, Jolene Koester, Ph.D., is no newcomer to the CSU. Her long and distinguished career at the university has spanned decades—from her 17 years at Sacramento St​ate University to her 11 years as president of California State University, Northridge, and more.

“The CSU has been my professional home since 1983," Dr. Koester wrote in an introductory message to the CSU community in May 2022. “I am thrilled to return to the university system I love. The CSU's core values—inclusive excellence, equity, access and transforming lives through the power of higher education—perfectly reflect my own professional values."

Dr. Koester began her role as the California State University's interim chancellor on May 1, 2022. Her appointment is expected to last at least 12 months, as the CSU Board of Trustees conducts a national search for the university's next regularly appointed chancellor.

Throughout her career, Dr. Koester has developed a well-earned reputation as an ethical and purpose-driven leader, a champion of student success and inclusive excellence, and an unwavering supporter of innovation in teaching and learning.

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​​​​Dr. Koester looks on while attending the CSU's inaugural biennial Juneteenth Symposium in June 2022 to celebrate African American history and ac​​hieve​ment and promote and sustain the anti-racism work underway across the CSU's 23 campuses.​​​​

​Purpose-Driven Leadership​

The convergence of Koester's own values with those of the CSU include a belief in the individual and societal transformations that public higher education allows. During her first report to the CSU Board of Trustees on May 24, 2022, Koester said, “The CSU has always allowed me to work and thrive through my fundamental values and need to be purpose-driven, to lead with respect, communication, inclusion, compassion, and yes, in these times and circumstances, trust."

Those values also include the recognition that all people deserve access to higher education and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

She added, “For me, the wonderful thing about the CSU is that those values don't gather dust, but rather, they're reflected in inspired work that changes lives on a daily basis in our universities across the state."

But Koester explained that she has come into her role understanding that “change is necessary and that we must do better" to carry out the CSU's work in a manner that is true to its core values.  

In her May board report, and again in her July board report, Koester outlined her four key goals for the CSU during her tenure as chancellor:

  1. Restore trust in the system—with and among the board, campus presidents, as well as students, faculty and staff.  
  2. Collaboratively assess and make appropriate improvements to structures and processes within the Chancellor's Office as we highlight and support the transformative work that takes place across the CSU's 23 campuses.
  3. Lay the groundwork for the next regularly appointed chancellor by responding to and preparing the CSU regarding the most critical operational and strategic challenges that the system faces.
  4. To collectively come together and powerfully advocate for the resources necessary to advance the CSU's academic mission.

Koester added, “In the May meeting I asked you to join with me and the board in this work. I asked you to set aside that which divides us and to be inspired by that which unites us, which is our commitment to our mission and to our students."

During the July board meeting, Chair Wenda Fong also shared her own goals for the CSU, which aligned very closely with the four priorities shared by the chancellor.


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Dr. Koester stands with CSU Board of Trustee Chair Wenda Fong at an anniversary celebration for CSUN's ​​​Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts.​ Photo courtesy of CSUN

​​​An Inflection Point

On June 23, Koester shared a message with the CSU community on the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, to address the external systemwide assessment of Title IX practices being conducted by the firm Cozen O'Connor.

“We have been called to action—and we will answer that call. Our students, faculty and staff—all our constituents—demand it. And our mission and core values require it."

“The CSU is at an inflection point, with a unique opportunity to fundamentally change the way we treat people: our diverse and talented students, our world-class faculty and staff, our partners and friends."

Her message called for action to simultaneously strengthen both a culture of compliance and a culture of care across the CSU. 

“As we immerse California's future leaders in an authentic culture of care, our graduates will carry the impact of our work far beyond our campus borders—into every business sector and community in our great state."

And the next day, on June 24, Koester shared another message following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:

"Freedom—at its foundation— is about the removal of barriers. The CSU exists to remove barriers to knowledge, understanding, prosperity and the fulfillment of one's potential. Today's decision is indeed antithetical to the CSU's ideals. Our mission is to empower students from all backgrounds to freely pursue their personal and professional dreams as part of a fair and just society. The California State University community remains steadfast to that mission, and will strengthen our collective commitment to our core values."


Authentic Communicator

A mission- and values-driven approach is a hallmark of Dr. Koester's leadership, as her colleagues affirm:

“She leads with her values, and she is uniquely thoughtful, clear and direct about her vision. Her authenticity makes her exceptionally effective at assembling and motivating a united team to advance progress," said Dr. Sylvia Alva, executive vice chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs at the CSU Chancellor's Office.

Dr. Alva added, “I first met Dr. Koester more than a decade ago when she was a featured speaker at a higher education conference I was attending. Sitting in the audience and hearing this engaging speaker and brilliant communicator, I hoped to one day have the opportunity to work with her—and to learn from her. I was fortunate soon after to become a dean of the College of Health and Human Development at CSUN, where she was president."

Dr. Tomás D. Morales, president of Cal State San Bernardino also commented on Dr. Koester's integrity:

“I can't think of a better, more qualified or compassionate person to take the helm of the CSU as we negotiate through these difficult times. She has the expertise and familiarity not only to lead our university system, but also to benefit our students, faculty and staff—and ultimately our state and the nation—through her integrity coupled with an in-depth working knowledge of the CSU."

Morales added: “Her guidance and mentorship were quite helpful when I became president of Cal State San Bernardino. Later, when she served as a consultant to our campus while we developed our strategic plan, Jolene offered sage advice and direction to help us determine what the plan's priorities should be and how to attain them."

​Learn more about the CSU's ninth chan​cellor, Dr. Jolene Koester.

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Dr. Koester with Dr. Tomás D. Morales, president of Cal State San Bernardino. Photo courtesy of CSUSB​