San Diego State University Oral Histories



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Sally Roush, the first woman to serve as SDSU President Sally Roush

On July 1, 2017, Sally Roush became ninth president of San Diego State University. She was appointed to a one-year interim term by California State University Chancellor Timothy White following the resignation of former president Elliot Hirshman.

Having previously held several positions at SDSU and retiring in 2013 as a senior vice-president, Sally Roush then served as interim vice chancellor/chief financial officer for the CSU Office of the Chancellor in 2014. Roush had also served as a special consultant at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Sonoma State campuses. She drew on all those experiences to lead SDSU through an extraordinary year of great opportunities and monumental challenges in 2017-18.

Roush, who was the first woman to serve as SDSU president, was the university’s senior vice president for Business and Financial Affairs for 19 years. She was the university’s chief financial officer and oversaw the budget, intercollegiate athletics, real estate development and capital planning, facilities, public safety, human resources and labor relations, legal affairs and information technology. As a member of the President’s Cabinet she advised three SDSU presidents and co-chaired the steering committee that guided the university community in developing its strategic plan “Building on Excellence.” The plan’s initiatives to promote student success, enhance research and creative endeavors, and strengthen community and communication have led to record-high graduation rates, nationally recognized areas of research excellence, 350 annual arts events, and engaged alumni and friends who gave over $100 million in one year to support the university. As San Diego State University President, Roush led the community in implementing the strategic plan in its final year – moving SDSU forward as a major public research university.

A graduate of the University of Denver, Roush spent seven years at the University of Colorado at Denver before joining SDSU in 1982 as director of personnel services. She held that position until 1994 when she was promoted to the position of senior vice president for business and financial affairs. Sally Roush’s service to San Diego State University has earned her recognition and honors that include SDSU’s Monty Award, the CSU’s Wang Family Excellence Award for administrators, the Albert C. Yates Distinguished Service Award from the Mountain West Conference and the CFO of the Year Award from the San Diego Business Journal. Roush is a past board member of the SDSU Research Foundation, Aztec Shops, the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Western Association of College and University Business Officers.

Sally Roush’s appointment as the ninth President of SDSU was the capstone to a higher-education career that included more than three decades of service to San Diego State University. She is still passionate about SDSU and its continuing development as a top-50 public research university and she remains an active participant in the SDSU community, advising on issues such as physical enhancements of the campus and more.

Oral History

Download the PDF transcript of the complete interview.

This oral history of Sally Roush, the ninth and first female president of San Diego State University, discusses her work in senior administrative positions for thirty-one years at SDSU. After a brief overview of her career by interviewer Jane Meyers, Sally reviews her childhood in Colorado and quickly turns to her college years and early professional life at the University of Colorado, Denver. Sally notes the difficulty in finding a position that fit her talents, in finding a balance between work and family life, and in growing unsettled in search for a new Chancellor at the University of Colorado Denver. She discusses her subsequent decision to come to SDSU as HR Director and the definitive experience for her “working for President Day” during the difficult budgetary times of the early 1990s, particularly 1992.

As senior vice-president for Business and Financial Affairs, she describes her role under President Steven Weber and the increased funding received from the state of California as well as the increased construction of buildings on campus. Sally discusses the various aspects of her role as President and the various relationships and hardships she was required to navigate during her time at SDSU. Sally also describes the Compact for Success, impaction enrollment management, in which the University made a budget principle that dedicated priority funding towards classes and class resources, and the CSU 2025 Graduation Initiative. Notably, Sally describes the traumatic budget crisis near President Weber’s final years – describing it as “probably the biggest budget reduction we’ve ever had.” In response, Sally notes the creation and influence of the Campanile Foundation, used as a philanthropic fundraising arm, which was used to raise over $800 million dollars.

Finally, Sally Roush discusses what in her opinion has made SDSU so successful. Sally speaks highly of the various individuals she worked with at the University, including, but not limited to, Connie Sadida, Jerry Ladeen, Ken Perry, Joe Vasquez, Tony Fulton, John Carpenter, Liz Brilliant, Bill Ericon, Linda Stewart, and notably, Elliot Hirschman, noting that their dedication to the campus, student body, and workplace was admirable. Sally also describes her appreciation for the student body and the various student organizations, noting the development of her relationships with organization leaders and growing admiration for their charity work. On San Diego State University, Sally answers that it is the University's achievements, affiliates, alumni, and general atmosphere of ambition that makes the University so successful and different from other CSU’s, adding that it has been, is, and will continue to be a great asset to the citizens of San Diego. 

Interview conducted and digitally recorded by Jane Meyers on February 27, 2019

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