Cal State L.A. names building for ex-president

LOS ANGELES — Cal State Los Angeles dedicated James M. Rosser Hall at a moving ceremony where hundreds of people paid tribute to the university’s former president.

Rosser led Cal State L.A. for 34 years, longer than any other president in the university’s history. He was selected as the sixth president of the school in 1979 and retired in 2013.

The April 10 dedication, one of a number of events during Cal State’s 70th anniversary year, was held on a warm spring afternoon in front of Rosser Hall, formerly Wing B of the Wallis Annenberg Integrated Sciences Complex. The complex opened during Rosser’s tenure and features state-of-the-art science laboratories and equipment.

Rosser spoke fondly of his decades at Cal State L.A., thanking family, friends and colleagues who helped him along the way. He credited the university with having some of the best faculty members in the nation and lauded their dedication to the mission of quality with diversity.

“I remained here because the people here really believed in the mission,” Rosser said. “The greatest asset that any university has is the quality of its faculty and students.”

Cal State L.A. President William A. Covino presented Rosser with a proclamation in recognition of his decades of service to the university. Then, as streamer cannons fired, music played and the crowd cheered, the signage on the newly named hall was unveiled.

“Buildings on our campus carry the names of individuals who have done great things: John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall, and Ruben F. Salazar Hall,” Covino told the gathering. “The building that we name today, James M. Rosser Hall, is a permanent hallmark to President Rosser’s innumerable contributions. Great minds will study in this hall, wonderful discoveries will be made here, and President Rosser’s legacy will continue for generations to come.”

California State University Chancellor Emeritus Barry Munitz, who has known Rosser for six decades, noted that Cal State L.A. is ranked number one in the nation for upward student mobility. He credited that ranking to Rosser’s leadership and vision.

“All of you stand in honor of that extraordinary accomplishment,” Munitz told the crowd.

Among those who attended the dedication were Cal State L.A. alumna and former U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, President and CEO of PBS Southern California Andrew Russell, Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya Coley and Cal State Channel Islands President Emeritus Richard Rush. The emcee for the event was Cal State L.A. Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez.

“Rosser was a scientist, educator and philanthropist who transformed Cal State L.A. and helped shape the city of Los Angeles into a model for diversity and inclusiveness,” Gomez said.

Rosser was a pioneering administrator in higher education. He was the first African American to lead Cal State L.A. and only the second black person appointed to serve as president in the California State University system, which is the largest public university system in the United States.

Pamela Scott-Johnson, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences, home to the new Rosser building, praised the longtime former president’s commitment to diversity and academic distinction.

“From this wonderful sciences complex, to our long history of graduating students of color who go on to earn the Ph.D. in STEM fields, President Rosser’s commitment to excellence and diversity and his love for science are clear,” Scott-Johnson said.

With Rosser at the helm, Cal State L.A. added more than a million square feet of building space. Projects championed by the former president include: the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Anna Bing Arnold Children’s Center, Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, University-Student Union, Television, Film and Media Center, along with the Metrolink Station, Golden Eagle building and student housing.

Prior to accepting the presidency at Cal State L.A., Rosser served as deputy chancellor of the State of New Jersey Department of Higher Education. He had previously been an associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, and faculty member in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Rosser earned academic degrees in health education and microbiology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where he also served as a faculty member, assistant to the chancellor and founding director of the Black American Studies Program.

In 2003, his alma mater conferred upon him an honorary doctor of humane letters, citing his pioneering efforts to advance opportunities for African Americans in science and health care.

“The best years of my life were here,” Rosser said as the dedication drew to a close.

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