By Sergio Mercado
On Jan. 11, 2021, Dr. Richard Yao will begin his 18 month appointment as Interim President, following the departure of CI’s current president, President Erika D. Beck. His position will last through June 2022, as the CSU Board of Trustees conducts a search for a new president for CI.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White announced Yao’s new appointment in a campus global email on Thursday, Nov.12. This was exactly two weeks after President Beck announced her upcoming departure from CI. White’s decision to appoint Yao was swift, but it came after consultation with the CI community and Chancellor-select Joe Castro.
For many students at CI, Yao is a familiar figure. He currently serves as CI’s Vice President of Student Affairs, a position he has held since June 2018. “We’ve been through a lot in these two and a half years,” Yao said. This includes the current pandemic, several wildfires and the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting. “We’ll continue to navigate some of these challenges, but also I think we’ve celebrated some victories along the way as well.”
In his time as Vice President of Student Affairs, Yao has led great efforts to improve the ways CI serves its students. In particular, Yao has a reputation for using student engagement data to target his department’s efforts.
Before he came to CI, Yao was a clinical psychologist by trade in Las Vegas, Nevada. He also spent many years serving Nevada State College, starting as a psychology lecturer, and eventually becoming the Director of Student Development and finally the Dean of Students. In his time at Las Vegas college, Yao defended the values that the college was founded on.
“At Nevada state…I was the one saying ‘No, we have to hold on to our values,’ and now I’m the new guy at the University. So to me, I think that helps bridge these two worlds.” Yao said. Yao hopes to support CI’s mission pillars as Interim President, but bring about organic change and improvement. “I hope I can help honor these things but also help the institution evolve like we have to, if we’re going to be successful.”
As Interim President, Yao’s main goals will be to support and uphold the University’s core values, continue to work on antiracism and support student success to reach CSU’s GI 2025 goals. Yao said, “It’s good to identify where our priorities are…I think a lot of those have been clearly outlined in our strategic initiatives, our GI 2025 goals and closing our equity gaps.”
“The most pressing things in front of us right now is continued work on antiracism and continuing our 7-point framework for racial justice and continuing the work of our president’s advisory council on inclusive excellence,” Yao continued.
Yao also hopes to help the University tackle possible financial uncertainty in the future. “We just navigated a permanent $5.1 million cut,” Yao said. “I anticipate that with our budget planning for 2021-2022 happening in the spring, those are going to be some challenging discussions, and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, transparency and communication in all of the divisions.”
Despite his new role as Interim President only lasting 18 months, Yao does not intend to let this impede his hopes on reaching large goals. “I’m approaching this work the same way I would any other job,” Yao told The CI View. He will continue to listen to student voices for ways to improve, as well as use data to find the best avenues for change. “It gives us ample time to look at the data, and measure progress and provide accountability where we’ve made gains and where we still need to do work.”
Student success and the student experience will remain central to Yao’s actions as Interim President. Regarding what he learned during his time at CI so far, Yao said, “The one thing that stays with me is never losing sight of the student experience.” Maintaining open communication and clear connections with students will be vital in this process. Yao said he hopes to serve the interest of students by “working with our academic leadership, our student affairs and everyone across the campus to continue those efforts.”
Any effective efforts made by Yao will be the product of collaboration. Yao champions collaboration with students, faculty and other CSU leadership. He hopes to continue to use his connections with the student body and CI’s faculty that he has established as Vice President of Student affairs. “Leadership at CI is not just about one person, it’s about the collective leadership, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that,” Yao said.
Whatever challenges the position will bring, Yao has high hopes for his time as Interim President. “There’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be a steep learning curve, but the best thing about CI is that we’ve got great people here. We have people that are extremely intelligent, smart and committed to the campus community and students.”