Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bob Suzuki Interview
Narrator: Bob Suzuki
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Karen Umemoto (secondary)
Location: Alhambra, California
Date: December 1, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-452-15

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KU: It seems like you kept getting recruited to other positions, people recognized your good work. You were at Cal State LA for, what, four or five years?

BS: Four and a half years.

KU: And then it looks like you moved to Seaside?

BS: What?

KU: You moved to Cal State Northridge after that?

BS: Right.

KU: Can you talk about that transition?

BS: After I had been at Cal State LA for about four years, I decided maybe I would go on and actually apply for a position as a vice president. And so I sent out applications to three or four institutions and Cal State Northridge came up as one of the institutions that was quite interested in me. So I went there and interviewed, and I thought the interview went pretty well. I met with the acting vice president for academic affairs, and he looked at me and said, "You have an interesting background, but why would a laid back guy like you want a position like this?" I said, "Well, if you knew anything about my background you wouldn't ask me that." But he definitely had a favorite, he wanted one of his associate vice presidents to become the vice president. But the president overruled him and selected me as vice president.

But when I arrived on campus, one of the things I noticed was that they had this large counseling center with about thirty full-time counselors. And when I inquired, it turned out they didn't have a single Asian counselor. And I said to the center director, "How come you don't have any Asian counselors? You have a lot of Asian students on this campus." And he said, "Well, we've tried to recruit some Asian counselors but we can't find any. And besides," he said, "the Asian students seem to be pretty well adjusted on this campus." He rarely saw any Asian students coming for counseling. I said, "Oh, I don't know about that," and I continued to put pressure on him to hire an Asian counselor and they finally hired one after I had been there for about three or four years. And within six months, that single Asian counselor was overwhelmed with students, Asian students coming to see her. And so toward the end of the year, she went to the counseling center director and said, "You know, you're going to have to do something about my overload, because I'm staying 'til late hours of the evening in order to counsel these students. Either you're going to have to hire another counselor or have me cross train the other counselors. Well, they didn't have time to hire another one, so she cross trained the other counselors, a few of them, and had (her overload distributed) to them. And interestingly enough, they were able to counsel them as effectively as (herself), because she told them what to do and what to look for. And so with that small increase in diversity of that counseling staff, she was able to really increase the effectiveness of that entire counseling center. That's a story I tell often.

There were other things that we did there, we established the Hispanic business program, which, again, I had to put some pressure on the dean of the school to do something. So he said, "Okay, I'll see if the faculty wants (something) like this." Because it was based on the minority engineering program which had been very effective, both at Cal State LA and at Cal State Northridge. So he took a vote of the faculty and barely lost, so he wasn't able to implement the program, but I continued to put pressure on him and he finally got a faculty vote to mount this program. So after that I kind of lost track of the program. And then about three years later I got a call from one of the deans saying they were having a graduation ceremony for the first graduates of the program. So I went there and there were two faculty members there who had been strong opponents of this program. And I said to them, "How come you guys are here?" Said, "Well, we found out this program has been very successful." In fact, they found out the grade point average of these Hispanic students were higher than for the school as a whole, and so they became firm supporters of that program.

But there were various other programs we established. One was the Asian American Studies program. Couple of the faculty members, Warren Furumoto and Jorge Garcia came to me and said, "You know, we've been talking to Asian students, and they would really like to see an Asian American Studies program here." I said, "Okay, come up with a proposal." And so they did, and I approved it and took it to the president and he approved it, and so we started this program. But they wanted to hire the first... they approved it as a department, not just as a program. But we needed to find a department chair, and I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out who we can get, until I called Alan Nishio, I don't know if you know Alan. I said, "Do you know anyone that can serve as department chair?" He said, "Why don't you ask Kenyon Chan?" I said, "Why didn't I think of that?" [Laughs] Kenyon had left academia and was working as a full time psychologist, child psychologist. So I called him up and he immediately thought it was a good idea, and so he put his hat in the ring and he became the first chair, and the rest is history. Kenyon has kept in touch with me all these years as he became dean at Loyola Marymount and then acting president at Occidental and then became president at the University of Washington out in Bothell. So he's been a good friend.

KU: Both of you have helped so many people in the field. Was there already an African American studies, were there other ethnic studies?

BS: There were.

KU: But there just was an Asian American Studies.

BS: Right, there wasn't an Asian American (Studies Program). Now it's one of the bigger programs.

KU: And you said you also... so it makes a big difference when people in higher administration helped initiate it and support it. Did you feel that there was no resistance, really, at Cal State Northridge for Asian American Studies?

BS: There was no what?

KU: There was no real resistance from other parts of the campus?

BS: Well, not that I knew of. I'm sure there were, behind the scenes.

KU: So that's where leadership makes a difference.

BS: By the way, I didn't mention one program... well, I guess we'll get to that when we get to Cal Poly Pomona.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.