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Chico State

Provost Debra Larson Announces Her Retirement

The sun sets behind an academic building
Photo courtesy of Debra Larson

After nearly 30 years in higher education, Debra Larson has resigned as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Chico State, effective immediately.

In sharing the news with Academic Senate today, Provost Larson emphasized that it was solely her decision and though it may seem unexpected, she has been looking to return to the Midwest for more than a year. As a two-time cancer survivor and caregiver for her family, she came to the realization during the fall break that her need to prioritize her health, her mother, and her daughter’s family meant she could not delay her decision to move back to Minnesota any longer.

“My goal when I was hired was to move Academic Affairs to a place where it was a well-functioning organization where faculty can enjoy productive careers and create conditions for student success and academic excellence,” she said. “While my care and affection for the division, our faculty, and students has not waned, the timing of my departure feels right and I can leave it in a place for continued stability and success.”

Chico States President Gayle Hutchinson called Provost’s Larson’s decision bittersweet, commending the leadership she has provided, sage countenance as a member of Cabinet, and her wit and passion for student success.

“I am deeply grateful for Provost Larson’s leadership and friendship for nearly six years,” said Hutchinson. “With her analytical, data-driven mindset, she’s been an invaluable thought-partner, a contrarian at times when it was needed, and a stalwart member of Cabinet. She has helped us not only weather numerous challenges, from the Camp Fire to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she has initiated growth and improvements to individual programs, structures, and processes that will benefit us for decades to come.”

Debra Larson

For the last six years, Provost Larson has pursued fiscal accountability, strategic restructuring, improved policies, and programmatic growth. She provided critical leadership during the adoption of virtual teaching and learning for the COVID-19 pandemic, and championed faculty’s pursuit of external funding for research and projects, which in 2021–22 generated more than $45.9 million in grants and contracts. She has also supported new programming, such as the launch of an online MBA program and BSBA, and innovative pedagogy, such as faculty-learning communities to integrate sustainability into the curriculum at multiple CSU campuses.

Among her many accomplishments:

  • Bringing stability to Academic Affairs through reorganization, updated policies and procedures, and ending its patterns of deficit spending to create a balanced budget
  • Leading the University through its reaccreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for a period of eight years in 2019.
  • Reorganizing the University’s approach to sustainability with a focus on meeting our carbon-neutral pledge, the hiring of a sustainability manager, reenergizing the Sustainability Committee, and enhancing This Way to Sustainability.
  • Establishing Chico State Enterprises as a new single organization and 501(c)(3) for research and sponsored programs, with a new governing board and CEO.
  • Facilitating the transfer of the Butte Creek Ecological Preserve to the Mechoopda Indian Tribe—the first agreement of its kind in the state.
  • Actively supporting University Advancement in the success of its $100 million campaign with a focus on fundraising for the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems, the Construction Industry Management program, Omron Mechatronics’ Co-Lab, and the Incentive Fund for College Deans.
  • Facilitating the offering of a robust set of workshops and programming through the Offices of Undergraduate Education and Faculty Development such as curricula and course redesign, inclusive pedagogy, topical podcasts, a series on racial and social justice.
  • Collaborating with the Division of Student Affairs to invigorate and focus Chico State’s Graduation Initiative 2025 activities, including the Chico 360 advising platform, specialized cohort advisors and expanded academic advisors, tutors, second-year retention and transfer support programs, the Tipping Point student success conference, and first-year programming.
  • Energizing Professional and Continuing Education and its efforts to increase self-support and online programming including a successful launch of an online MBA, a certificate in educational technology, and a MS in Interdisciplinary Studies-Wildland Management.
  • Establishing the EDXChico, Joy of Learning, and Inspired programs that highlight faculty excellence in teaching and scholarship.
  • Hiring transformative leadership, including a Vice Provost, six deans, two AVPs, the CEO of the CSE, and the director of the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.
  • Initiating the Enrollment Continuum that is now setting our campus on a growth trajectory.

“Through my nearly six years of serving as Provost, we have been through a lot. I have remained committed to my team, and it is that collaboration that has kept me here through the many moments of thick challenges,” Larson said. “I am proud of our collective efforts to respond and to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances for institutions like Chico State, a regional comprehensive university with a rapidly changing student population.”

Larson came to Chico State from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she served as dean of engineering since 2011. She previously served as chair, associate dean, and associate vice provost during her 17 years of service at Northern Arizona University, as well as working as a civil engineering professional for more than a decade.

Larson holds a PhD in civil engineering from Arizona State University, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University. She has received significant recognition during her career, most notably the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Leadership Award from the American Society of Civil Engineering, and was inducted this year into Michigan Tech’s Academy for Engineering Education Leadership for her outstanding academic and private sector careers, and for her passion for developing innovative and hands-on educational opportunities that prepare each generation of graduates for success.

President Hutchinson, who is retiring at the end of this academic year, said she will announce an interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and share plans for a recruitment to fill the vacancy when the University returns from winter break.