KQED Interview with President Mo Qayoumi

  • July 24, 2006

New Cal State East Bay President Mo Qayoumi was interviewed July 12 by KQED and NPR reporter Cy Musiker. It aired multiple times on the public broadcast station on July 14. What follows is a transcript of the interview.

Cy Musiker:
There is a new President at California State University, East Bay. His name is Mohammad Qayoumi, and he's taken over at a good time. The campus is a experiencing a boom in new construction begun by his predecessor, Norma Rees.

Mo Qayoumi:
We're in the front of the new student housing that hopefully will be completed in about a month from today.

Musiker:
More than 400 students will live in these apartment style residence halls. The campus is also getting a new $28 million business and science center and a large addition to the student union. All good news, Qayoumi says, for students.

Mo:
What we hope is that they'll notice that there is a change and that the university is on the move, and we're striving for new heights.

Musiker:
Qayoumi is showing me around the Cal State East Bay campus above Hayward. The sweeping views above San Francisco Bay, and the East Bay hills. The projects are part of a plan to make the campus more of a destination university, and less a commuter college.

Mo:
They can interact with their colleagues, there's good wireless access, wherever they hangout around the university, and they can still do their work. They'll be around the campus for a longer period of time, because universities are not just intellectual centers, but they're entertainment centers, they're social centers, and they're art centers, and in a university all of those elements are part of a well rounded education.

Musiker:
Qayoumi and his wife are living here in student housing. As he walks to work each day, Qayoumi says he sees a reflection of himself in the faces of his students. Qayoumi was born in Afghanistan.

Mo:
We have a lot of students who are first generation immigrants, a lot of students who are working students having already a family and they are trying to juggle several things, raising a family, trying to earn a living, as well as going to school. I can relate with all of them, because when I was going to college, basically I was juggling all of those littles pieces together as well.

Musiker:
You're from Afghanistan. Your father was not a college graduate, but he wanted to attend college.

Mo:
Ah yes. My father, he only had elementary school education, and my mother never had an opportunity to go to school at all. But he had an insatiable appetite for education, and he made sure that all of his children would have an opportunity to go to college. When I look at the difference between me being a university president today versus being a carpenter at a construction site, is the opportunity for higher education. That basically is what made the difference.

Musiker:
We're in Qayoumi's office now. The book shelves and walls are nearly bare. Qayoumi took over just two weeks ago. He's an engineer and just finished six years as a vice president at Cal State Northridge. That campus is a success story. A cultural center for the San Fernando Valley, with a fast growing student enrollment. That's in contrast to Cal State East Bay, where the student population is down the past few years, below 12,500, cutting the campus' share of state funding. So Qayoumi says his first mission is to reconnect with Bay Area high schools that feed Cal State East Bay.

Mo:
But also when students get here, how we can make sure they have all the courses they need. Now there is a campus lab that would be very enriching, and we have really fostered a strong learning community because even after students graduate we'd like them to see how they can remain connected to the campus as successful alums.

Musiker:
A few thousand future alumni are attending summer semester on the campus. Yesterday a dozen or so studied in the library, a handful bought snacks at a food truck near the old student union. A student from Thailand has heard good things about the president, but he complains about the high tuition foreign students have to pay.

Student:
The great challenge is to improve the campus and make it more beautiful. I know that this is a commuter school. But you can still make it more beautiful, because there are still international students and still other students who come here and stay on the campus.

Musiker:
Other students say they have noticed the shortage of faculty. Cal State East Bay has more part-time than full-time or tenure-tracked teachers. Wanda Tomas commutes to campus each day from San Leandro.

Tomas:
Some of my classes have over 50 students because they are offered only once a quarter or only at night or in the morning.

Musiker:
And those are classes you need to graduate?

Tomas:
Yah, exactly, so that is a little hard.

Musiker:
In fact, President Mo Qayoumi says he's hired 40 new tenure track faculty for the fall semester. He said he's also hoping to return the campus to a very classical ideal of a university education, not training for jobs, he says, but for careers.

Mo:
Because, let's face it, with the pace of change that we have, except for fundaments, whatever somebody learns in school, is going to be out of date in a relatively short period of time. So the idea is to how they really can become lifetime learners, how they can develop their information competency, their critical thinking abilities, their communication skills, their civic duty responsibilities; those are the kinds of skill sets that we like to make sure the students develop, so that even after they leave the university, their path for education is something that will continue for the rest of their life. So education today is becoming a journey rather than a destination.

Musiker:
Qayoumi says he also has a personal goal. He wants to teach an engineering class, as he has in years past while working as an administrator. Just something to squeeze in while running a state university.

I'm Cy Musiker, KQED public radio.


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