In an affair filled with promise and hope, California State University, Dominguez Hills celebrated the investiture of President Willie J. Hagan on May 2.
Standing in front of an audience of 450 attendees which included faculty, staff, students, political figures and notable community members, Hagan delivered his inaugural address during the ceremony on the campus’ North Lawn.
“I cannot help but be humbled by the small role I have been given the privilege to play,” Hagan said. “I promise to do everything in my power to live up to the responsibilities of this position and to work collaboratively with the great faculty, staff and students at this university and in this outstanding community to advance our mission and to make this institution even stronger.”
Reflective in the inauguration theme, “America Happens Here,” Hagan emphasized during his speech that the university is “a place where ‘circumstances of birth or position’ are set aside and where education, the great equalizer, does its magic.” Hagan added that “this campus, like all campuses, but more so than many, is a place where people come, not just to pursue a dream, but to discover dreams they didn’t know were possible.”
During a standing ovation, Hagan was formally installed as president by Timothy P. White, chancellor of The California State University, after a stately processional from the CSU Dominguez Hills Chamber Singers accompanied by the Eastside Brass Quintet, a presentation of colors from the university’s ROTC Color Guard, a musical prelude of Langston Hughes’ “I Dream A World,” and an invocation by Tongva spiritual leader Jimi Castillo, who blessed Hagan with a sacred 175-year-old eagle feather.
Jerry Moore, chair of the Academic Senate and professor of anthropology at CSUDH, welcomed Hagan, citing the president’s understanding of how critical education is to upward mobility.
“Willie Hagan knows the transformative role that higher education plays in America, as his life has been transformed by having that opportunity,” Moore said. “That bedrock understanding shapes his leadership as the president of CSU Dominguez Hills, and we all benefit from this. So today is a great day, a day to honor a president, to celebrate our university, and to reaffirm our shared commitment to help our students seize their dreams.”
Representatives on behalf of the CSU Board of Trustees, students, faculty, staff, the community and alumni welcomed Hagan to the stage as he was officially declared president of CSU Dominguez Hills. Investiture speaker Martha Kanter, a visiting professor of Higher Education and senior fellow at the Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy at New York University and former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, spoke about Hagan’s duty to the university.
“I know firsthand that president Hagan hit the ground running from the minute he arrived on campus,” Kanter said. “Immediately, he met with students, faculty, staff and alumni, began putting his leadership team in place with attention to the needs of everyone and every part of this institution, and has ambitious plans ahead to advance the legacy of the California State University, Dominguez Hills.”
According to Kanter, Hagan “knows that our quest to achieve excellence and equity in American higher education is a civic and moral imperative, as well as a social and an economic necessity.”
The ceremony provided an opportunity to reflect on the university’s proud history of manifesting its mission of serving a community in need. Many of CSU Dominguez Hills’ students are often the first in their families to attend college, and the investiture was a time to reflect on how major issues facing today’s America, such as income inequality, security versus privacy, peace-building and critical and sometimes controversial scientific advances unfold at the university and how they impact the larger community. Hagan spoke of many of these topics during his inaugural address, in which he said the university helps to “fulfill America’s promise.”
“Walk into any classroom or laboratory on this campus or the campuses of any of our sister institutions,” said Hagan. “What are the issues and realities that we deal with on a daily basis? One is immigration reform, but we’re not just talking about the Dream Act. America happens here because we’re educating Dream Students.
“America happens here when we engage face-to-face with the reality of income inequality,” he added. “We live with it, and see it reflected in our students and in our communities.”
Hagan also spoke about the unity of the CSUDH Toro family and how many give back to their communities. In fact, the university has over 87,000 alumni, 57% of whom live and work within 25 miles from campus, establishing a strong CSUDH presence throughout the South Bay.
For criminal justice student Jennifer Lopez, the ceremony was inspirational because it gave an overview of how the university has evolved after more than five decades.
“I believe it brought our university and community together, especially just learning more about our history,” she said.
According to her, Hagan has shown exemplary leadership so far and the students have taken notice.
“He’s a president who’s really there for the students, who reaches out, asks them questions and finds out what they need,” Lopez said.
Following the investiture, the University Library held a ceremony to honor former CSUDH president (1976-1984) Donald R. Gerth and his wife. In recognition of the Gerth’s generosity and service to CSUDH, the library’s archives department was named the Donald R. and Beverly J. Gerth Archives and Special Collections. A short program followed the naming ceremony, including a guided tour of the archives.
“While the inauguration activities have been focused on celebrating our excellent programs, faculty, staff and students with an eye toward future opportunities and growth, the celebration of our historical accomplishments is an important part of who we are as a community,” said Carrie E. Stewart, vice president for University Advancement. “The naming ceremony was just one opportunity to recognize the investments of leaders of the past who have helped us become the institution that we are today.”
Hagan was installed as interim president of CSU Dominguez Hills in 2012 and was named permanent president in 2013. During his time here, he has refocused and reinvigorated campus-wide efforts to improve student academic success. Additionally, Hagan identified and reallocated university resources to support strategic university priorities, including faculty and staff hiring, technology and academic equipment, and student support services.
IT technical project coordinator and Academic Senate Staff appointee Nathlyn Hirohama spoke during the investiture about how she and the university took Hagan “for a test drive” as he jumped into his position and used determination and leadership skills to guide CSU Dominguez Hills toward a brighter future.
“The campus immediately found that Dr. Hagan has excellent acceleration, quick handling and sharp cornering, the power to climb hills and go over bumps without a hitch, and keeps great traction on the slippery roads of the CSU,” Hirohama said to laughter from the audience. “He saw despite the recent rough roads we traversed, that Dominguez Hills is a solid vehicle more than able to deliver quality education to the community we serve.”
She said that they decided together to “always be able to bring our students safely to their destination – a future lit with opportunities based on the Toro roadmap of learning and achievement.”
Previously, Hagan served as interim president at CSU Fullerton, effectively moving the campus forward during a time of significant transition. He joined CSU Fullerton in 1996, serving initially as vice president for administration and later as interim vice president for university advancement and subsequently as vice president for administration and finance and chief financial officer responsible for CSU Fullerton’s $380-million enterprise. His many accomplishments at CSU Fullerton include developing and executing financial strategies to purchase commercial and other real estate adjacent to the land-locked campus, successfully positioning CSU Fullerton to accommodate unprecedented levels of enrollment growth over a multi-year period.
Before joining CSU Fullerton, Hagan served as associate vice president for administration at the University of Connecticut, and as a lobbyist for the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Board of Governors for Higher Education at the state and federal level. He also led U.S. political delegations to London and Taiwan as a member of the American Council of Young Political Leaders, a bipartisan, nonprofit educational exchange organization dedicated to fostering relations between the next generation of political leaders in the United States and their international counterparts. Dr. Hagan holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA.
The L.A. Galaxy were presenting sponsors for the presidential inauguration week, which included kickoff events such as the CSUDH Day of Service, the Community Engagement Symposium, an inauguration lecture series, the President’s Student Leadership and Service Awards, the Women in STEM conference and a university-wide community brunch. For a list of all other sponsors, click here.