Interim Provost Anil Puri reflects on his past 40 years at CSUF

In Features, Lifestyle, Top Stories
(Lauren Hofer / Daily Titan)

On a bookshelf in Anil Puri’s, Ph.D., office sits a framed transcript. However, it does not belong to Puri, the Cal State Fullerton interim provost and vice president of academic affairs. It belongs to a CSUF alumnus and a former student of his, Jeffrey S. Van Harte, who also happens to be a major donor to the university, currently serving as the chair of the philanthropic board.

“He always complained to me that his only B was in my class. He had all A’s, and I screwed up his record by giving him a B in my microeconomics class,” Puri said.

A few months ago, Van Harte decided to check his transcript and it turns out he had earned an A.

“He framed it and gave it to me,” Puri said with a laugh.

A note that Van Harte wrote in the margin of the transcript reads, “Proof positive! I wish it wasn’t so … a B would have made a better story.”

The long relationship on display  in this interaction is indicative of Puri’s legacy and influence at CSUF. Puri is serving as interim provost, however, he will not be taking a permanent provost position. Instead, he plans to step down at the end of summer 2018.

When he first arrived at CSUF in 1977 as a lecturer, he had just earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Minnesota.

“I remember my office was on the fourth floor of the library with no windows. I hated that, but it was a job,” Puri said.

The following year, he was offered a full-time position with a new office in Langsdorf Hall, and his long-term career at CSUF began.

Puri said it’s an adjustment for any first-time professor because professional teaching isn’t an 9-to-5  job, but rather a 24/7 profession that permeates every area of life.

“Your family life is very different too because you’re working at home. Your family has to understand the kind of work that you do,” Puri said, speaking of his wife and two children.

His next step at CSUF was to become the chair of the economics department, where he was presented with the responsibility of leading students and faculty, some of whom were his friends.

“I had to give and take, have people do things that they don’t want to do. I could not favor my friends over others. I had to treat them all the same. So those mental challenges and adjustments are the hardest ones,” Puri said.

Radha Bhattacharya, Ph.D., came to CSUF as an economics professor in 1990 when Puri was department chair.

“He was a very good mentor and very supportive of new faculty that just joined and a great colleague,” Bhattacharya said.

He took on the role of dean of the College of Business and Economics in 1999 and today, students in the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics experience his vision and dedication every day, whether they are aware of it or not.

“When I look at the legacy of Anil Puri, I see the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics,” said Robert Mead, Ph.D., economics professor at CSUF.

After becoming dean, Puri worked to advance the school of business and economics by building relationships with donors and hiring expert faculty. He noted some of his achievements such as fundraising, building the college’s reputation and hiring almost 60 percent of the current faculty during his tenure.

Over the years, Puri has conducted research on social, economic and political issues, which he is passionate about and believes make the most impact and provide solutions. Although he doesn’t feel he has enough time to do all the work that he wishes he could do, Puri now works with Mira Farka, Ph.D., to biannually present the local and national economic forecast.

As interim provost, a position Puri has held since July 2016, he has worked to better the student experience by providing better advising, limiting roadblocks for graduation and making sure CSUF’s quality of education is maintained.

Puri said that his job is to ask the question, “What are the things that we can do to improve students’ chances after they leave school, and how can we provide them help? Especially our disadvantaged or underserved students.”

Madison Grater has worked as Puri’s assistant for the past three years. She knows he can seem intimidating because of his reputation of success and professionalism, but she said that she has seen another side of the interim provost.

“As a person, I have known him to be compassionate and very friendly and personable,” Grater said.

She sees his value in the relationships he has developed with past and present donors, faculty and staff as well as the manner in which he leads.

“He trusts that we’re going to do our job and do it well. He’s always available for questions and feedback, but he really empowers people in their positions,” Grater said.

Being used to such a fast-paced environment, Puri said he has moments of anxiety about his coming shift, but he is looking forward to doing whatever it is people with time on their hands do, like golfing, traveling and spending more time with his family and new grandchild.

“My wife has always supported me, but I haven’t always given her the time that I wish I could have, so it’s time,” Puri said.

He remains immensely thankful for the journey CSUF has taken him on during his 40 years with the university.

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