Right place, right time

By Nadra Kareem, San Fernando Valley Business Journal

President: CLU's Chris Kimball, Ph.D., finds his background as a professor provides benefits as an administrator.

Photo: James Kaufman/San Fernando Valley Business Journal

California Lutheran University President Chris Kimball never expected to serve as administrator of an academic institution. Instead Kimball, a history buff who majored in the subject as an undergraduate and went on to earn a doctorate in history, thought he’d be teaching the subject for life. However, when an administrative position opened at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where Kimball was employed before moving to CLU, Kimball decided to take a risk and apply for the position. Taking a chance paid off, for Kimball ultimately served in a number of administrative positions at the school, including dean and provost.

When the then-president of Augsburg resigned, though, Kimball was advised to seek employment elsewhere, which led him to apply to be CLU’s provost. As fortune would have it, after accepting the position, the president of CLU stepped down and Kimball took the second major risk of his career: He applied for the position and won it. 

Now CLU’s seventh president, Kimball’s aim is to implement the Thousand Oaks institution’s seven strategic goals: recruit and retain, recruit and graduate, enhance learning, invest in facilities, generate resources, articulate the university’s identity and develop leadership at the institution. 

Along those lines, Kimball plans to prioritize fundraising for the school and solidifying CLU’s reputation in the San Fernando Valley, among other areas.

Question: You came to CLU to serve as provost but ended up being president. How did that happen?
When I was asked to come as provost the then-president announced he was leaving. A couple of months later, they hired a new president, but he announced he was leaving. They did another search, but I thought, ‘I really like the place here. Perhaps I’m ready to be a candidate for president.’ Back in March, I was fortunate enough to be hired as president. 

Q: Discuss your background as a professor. Does it better enable you to relate with faculty?
A: I certainly hope so. I don’t think you can fully understand what a classroom is like unless you’ve been a teacher. For me, it’s an important experience to have had. 

Q: The strategic plan will be your major plan as president. Discuss the details involved in its implementation.
A: The Board of Regents of the university approved that plan. It was four years in the making. The plan in essence is designed to take CLU to the next level. One part of the plan is to continue raising the quality of the undergraduate liberal arts college, and then we have a growing number of graduates and professional programs—business and education. There, the focus is to help people work in business, work as teachers, principals, superintendents. There are some very practical steps to get us there—philanthropic support, particularly in the sciences and creative arts.

Q: Investing in facilities is another component of the strategic plan. You have an $8.5 million social and behavioral sciences building—the Swenson Center for Academic Excellence—scheduled to come online.
The plan is for fall of 2010. It will be the first fully green LEED-certified building in the City of Thousand Oaks. We also have a big residence hall that’s started construction—Trinity Hall. Those two are kind of in process. We’re not yet 50 years old. Classes weren’t taught until 1961, so we’re still finishing the building phase. 

Q: You’ve said that as president you’ll mostly be fundraising.
A: It’s true for college and university presidents across the country. You have to raise funds for the institution. It’s an ongoing challenge. You do that in service of the strategic plan. It’s not raising money for the sake of raising money. The president’s job is to get resources so the faculty and staff can do work they do well on behalf of students. 

Q: What difficulties do you see fundraising during these rocky economic times?
A: To some extent, those changes are beyond our control. The value of stocks declining, the value of houses. One thing is for certain: Americans are affluent, and they give money to causes they believe in. The economy may be a little bit slower than it is in boom time, but, when people decide they want to step up and help CLU, they will. 

Q: Is anything of note happening at CLU’s School of Business?
A: The School of Business develops hundreds of undergraduate students and MBA students to promote business development in the region. One thing that’s going to be a priority is doing more in the San Fernando Valley. We have a branch campus there in Woodland Hills. We’ve been working with the Economic Alliance. 

Q: What will you be doing with the Alliance?
A: Our economic research center is a resource. We’re hoping to increase that presence in the Valley. We’ve reached out to them about partnering with them. We’d like to work with them on education programs and workforce development if we could provide research help. We’d love to be of service in that way. A lot of our students come from the Valley. In addition to that, we’d like to grow out. We do believe in outreach and developing our presence in Woodland Hills. We sit on the edge of two regions that are linked. Doing work to support economic support in the region is also part of our mission.

--- Published in the San Fernando Valley Business Journal on Sept. 15, 2008