Cal State Long Beach’s outgoing Provost Brian Jersky does not see the impossible. He does not view obstacles as unachievable tasks but as lessons to be learned.
So, when the worldwide pandemic touched down in Long Beach last year, forcing the university to switch to remote learning and at-home offices, he viewed the change as a challenge. Afterall, education was at stake.
“In a way, it was hard because there was so much to do with switching (to remote learning),” he said. “My regular job didn’t go away but now there was all this new stuff to plan and develop.
“But in the end, it actually became easier because it was more important than ever to speak about the importance of education and especially for the people we serve,” Jersky said. “It made it easier for me to get up in the morning because I was doing something positive and good.”
But COVID-19 also gave him pause and a chance to evaluate where he was and where he wanted to go, which is why he is retiring this year. He and his spouse are looking forward to traveling (when it’s safe) and reconnecting with family and friends around the world (again, when it’s safe).
“Life is short, and we are ready to be healthy and well and go into a new phase,” he said. “It really was just the circumstances that led me to retire.”
Jersky, 63, took over as provost in 2016, after serving four years as dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Science. He has been working in higher education for nearly 20 years but rarely has encountered a problem he couldn’t successfully tackle.
“It has been an absolute joy and privilege to do this work,” he said. “I really have enjoyed every day of it, even the hard days and there have been a few of those. The institution is so important, and I believed and still believe that the mission is so crucial.”
Jersky said the best way to achieve goals in higher education is to communicate, collaborate and share ideas.
As the chief academic officer senior vice president of CSULB, Jersky has provided academic leadership and promoted all aspects of the university's academic mission, including international education, service learning, community engagement and faculty and academic staff development.
His soft-spoken approach to the Graduation Initiative 2025, Beach 2030 and emphasis on inclusion and diversity fostered enthusiasm among faculty campus wide. Through face-to-face meetings, podcasts and even Zoom calls, he shared those strategic initiatives with faculty and staff, which he considers his greatest accomplishment.
“I’ve always believed in shared governances,” Jersky said. “It’s unique to university life. It can be irritating but it can be beneficial because you learn of people’s diverse views and talents. I think a lot of people now support (the Graduation Initiative) and understand it. As you know, CSULB has achieved an enormous amount of success in that area, so I am very proud of that.”
What he said he will miss most when he leaves CSULB are the people – from his staff to President Jane Close Conoley to the students. He also will leave holding wonderful memories of Convocation, which kicks of the new academic year, the joy and celebration of Commencement and even the lengthy Senate meetings.
“There might be some eyebrows raised (over Senate meetings) but it’s an important part of academic life,” he said. “And now that I am retiring, I will miss it for sure.”
Jersky, who has agreed to stay on until a new provost is hired, said he has mixed emotions about leaving. He is happy to embark on his less-hectic life, but also will miss the academic promise that can be found in classrooms and labs across the school’s 23 acres.
“I’m not retiring because I’m unhappy,” he said. “I am very happy and could continue doing the job.
“But one of the problems in academia is when people stay on too long, especially in these leadership roles. You want to create space for new leaders and different ideas. I have very mixed emotions, but I am confident that the next stage of my life will be as enjoyable as the previous one.
“I look forward to seeing my achievements erased.”