Indian American lawyer Framroze Virjee has been appointed as president of California State University at Fullerton, the university’s board of trustees announced March 20.
Virjee, the son of an Indian father and Swedish mother, has served as campus president under a term appointment since December 2017 and will assume the permanent presidency immediately, the university said in a news release.
“Joining the Titan family has been the most rewarding professional experience of my career,” Virjee said in a statement.
Virjee will oversee a campus that enrolls almost 40,000 students and boasts of more than 274,500 alumni. Cal State Fullerton is among the top three percent of universities in the nation helping low-income students reach financial success, according to the Social Mobility Index developed by PayScale and CollegeNet, the university said.
“I am thrilled at the opportunity to continue working alongside the tremendously talented faculty, staff and administrators to further the great work enabling student achievement and degree completion that we’ve started, and to chart the path forward for CSUF,” he said.
Virjee succeeds Mildred García, who was appointed president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in November 2017.
Virjee was subsequently appointed by CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White to serve as president of CSUF until the next president was appointed by the board of trustees, and he has served in that capacity since García’s departure, the release said.
“We conducted a national search that included many exemplary candidates, and it became apparent that the best person to be the next president of CSUF was already serving the campus,” said CSU Trustee Silas Abrego, chair of the CSUF search committee.
“In his time leading CSUF, Fram has demonstrated unbridled energy and passion for the campus and students, and under his leadership CSUF will reach even greater heights,” the search committee chair added.
“It’s an amazing place here. Students make it so amazing,” Virjee told India-West in a phone interview. “If I ever lose sight of what I came here for, I just walk on campus and see transformative nature the education is giving students.”
Some accomplishments the university has achieved in 15 months under Virjee’s leadership include: Washington Monthly reporting in August 2018 that the campus was sixth in the nation for lowest net cost; admitting the first freshmen class that is more than 50 percent Hispanic and rising to No. 4 in the nation for bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented students; achieving a significant focus on opening or renovating centers grounded in student wellness, diversity, and/or academic excellence; initiating and leading the creation and opening of Club 57, an on-campus faculty and staff lounge, which has since become a significant harbinger of campus collaboration and improved morale; witnessing funding for student and faculty research, curriculum development, scholarships and fellowships, and public service activities hit a 10-year high of $27,248,395 in fiscal year 2018 – a more than a $1 million increase over the previous year; and achieving record-breaking numbers in every measurable category, including the highest dollars raised in one year, along with the highest number of alumni donors, the highest number of individual donors, the highest number of parent donors, the highest number of faculty/staff donors, and the highest number of senior gift donors, CSUF said.
Virjee noted in his interview with India-West that he has several goals – some concrete and others esoteric.
Among the concrete goals is to upgrade the campus with renovations to currently standing buildings while erecting new buildings as well. Meanwhile, with those plans in the conceptual phase, there are more immediate plans to build pathways linking different academic buildings to one another.
As for his esoteric plans, he said the hope is to boost the profile of CSUF, which some in the community are calling the best-kept secret.
“We are determined to boost profile in our community,” Virjee stressed. “CSUF is the only CSU in Orange County – the largest populated area in state. “We have the best spot to raise students and their families up,” he asserted to India-West.
Virjee spent the first six years of his life traveling around the world on a ship captained by his father.
“My parents read the international papers. As a result of who my parents were, I grew up believing very strongly in social justice, social mobility and civil rights. We knew about the world,” he said in an email to India-West.
He became the first person in his family to earn a college degree, graduating summa cum laude, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from U.C. Santa Barbara. He earned his law degree cum laude from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
Virjee and his wife, Julie, have three sons and one grandson. Julie is very active on campus as a volunteer dedicated to student success. He and Julie are founders of Yambi Rwanda, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the people of Rwanda through empowerment and collaboration in areas of education, financial sustainability and creating vibrant life experiences, the university bio said. More information about the nonprofit can be found by visiting https://www.yambirwanda.org.
Between his new permanent role as president and his nonprofit, Virjee says he is extremely blessed with both opportunities that are extremely rewarding.
He explained how he described to a lawyer who asked him how she would know if she was doing the right thing with her life.
“I love music. I love harmony. It puts me in my happy place. I also love pizza. And a good slice of pizza is amazing. My favorite thing to do is hold my grandson,” he told India-West of his conversation with the corporate lawyer. “For me this job is all three at the same time,” Virjee told her, adding that this position allows him to make a difference.
“It’s selfish. I love helping (the students through their education), but it makes me feel good (to help),” he noted.
Virjee said his advice to his students includes delivering a message to help them pave the way for their future.
“Find something you’re passionate about. Find the thing that makes you tick, that fulfills you,” he said. “If you can find that, you’re going to be successful.”
More than anything – making appropriate infrastructure upgrades; or building up the public profile he believes the university deserves – he believes that message is the most important thing to take away.
“We can build the best labs, we can get a great reputation, but more importantly, I want the students to have a transformative experience here,” Virjee said. “I want them to feel that, when they leave here, they are lifelong learners and engaged human beings in their communities and making a difference.”
From January 2014 through December 2017, Virjee served as executive vice chancellor, general counsel and secretary to the CSU Board of Trustees.
In that capacity, he led a staff of attorneys, paralegals and support personnel, and oversaw all legal services for the 23-campus CSU.
Virjee also served as chief legal officer to the board of trustees, advising them on all legal issues including open meeting laws, board rules and procedures and education code compliance, his bio noted.
Virjee said that the only thing missing in his general counsel role was that he missed interactions with students; he only felt an energy when he would walk on one of the 23 CSU campuses.
Prior to joining CSU, Virjee was a partner in private practice for almost 30 years at O’Melveny & Myers, one of the oldest law firms in Los Angeles and one of the largest in the nation.
At the firm, Virjee specialized in labor and employment law with an emphasis in representing educational institutions in the areas of collective bargaining, education code compliance and discrimination and employment litigation.
Virjee’s practice included representing employers in employment litigation, providing preventative advice through client counseling, policy and procedure review and drafting, and extensive in-house training and education on important labor and employment issues.
He also served in several leadership positions at O’Melveny, including secretary to the Management Committee, chair of the Employment Committee and the partner-in-charge of both Lateral Hiring and Diversity.
“I am a deep believer with deep commitment in public institutions. I had amazing career at the law firm. I loved the work I did. The courtroom is a wonderful place to be. I loved the competition,” he told India-West.
“I went to law school with grand thoughts to make world a better place – I believe in equity and social justice – and when I went to large corporate law firm, I lost that vision,” he added. “I wouldn’t trade the time with the law firm for the world, but I needed a change.”