Laura Bloomberg was named president of Cleveland State University in April and quickly showed her commitment to the school by purchasing a deep-green BMW electric car. “I don’t have it yet because of supply-chain issues, but I’m going to be driving around in CSU colors,” she says. “I’ve never in my life had a green car. I’m all in on CSU and Cleveland.” We checked in with Bloomberg to ask her about her big move and her goals for the university she now leads.
Her past: Born and raised in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Bloomberg built quite the career over multiple decades at the University of Minnesota, most recently as dean and associate dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Coming to Cleveland: In August 2021, Bloomberg moved to Cleveland to become Cleveland State University provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. The job of university president wasn’t on her radar — until CSU and former president Harlan Sands unexpectedly parted ways this spring because of philosophical differences.
Why CSU? “My heart always has been in urban communities, in places where people are striving to thrive. My bachelor’s degree is from a state university. Those kinds of institutions speak to me, and Cleveland State spoke to me. We create opportunities here, and we have excellent scholars. Cleveland State exemplifies that you can be inclusive and excellent.”
Finding their way: Bloomberg and her husband, Jon, had never been to Cleveland, so they arranged a visit in which they took in the Cleveland Metroparks, Playhouse Square and, of course, the CSU campus.
What they found: “My husband and I said: ‘Cleveland? Could we go to Cleveland?’ Truth is, we hadn’t spent any time in Cleveland. Well, Jon and I came out here and spent four days walking the city. At the end of the four days, we both said, ‘Yes, we could see ourselves living here.’”
Challenges ahead: “I think we leave a lot of raw intelligence and horsepower on the table if we think that low-income students, or students who don’t come from a college-going family, can’t be successful. So what we need to do is find students who are really capable of success but might come with barriers — and help make it happen for them.”
Best book she’s read: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Abraham Lincoln wasn’t afraid to surround himself with opponents and people who would openly disagree with him in service of a greater mission.”
Saturday morning favorite: Crepes at the West Side Market. “It’s fantastic. It’s the best.”
On Rascal House pizza: “One late night, when the fridge was bare and we lived down the street, we ordered Rascal House pizza. It was delicious.”
Her best teacher: Her sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Schamber. “She would talk about patterns in leaves, and how you can see the patterns in leaves and see a similar pattern in a mathematical equation or music or perhaps poetry. What Mrs. Schamber did was open my mind to the way math and science and art are integrated at a fundamental level.”
The lesson: “What we were exploring was the way we understand the world. It impacts me as a leader now, because I don’t think the world cares much about our departments or structures in higher ed. They care that we produce knowledge and graduate students who will help make the world a better place.“
An early start in academia: “In many ways, I’m an unlikely academic. I never set out to get a Ph.D. in that kind of traditional pathway. I forever have been passionate about education and the education system. That sounds a little wonky, but ever since I volunteered in a special-ed classroom when I was in the second grade, more than anything I’ve thought: I want to be in a place where people come together for the express purpose of learning and learning in community — and that’s school.”
Digging in: “We are going to grow our research and make it relevant to an urban-serving institution.”
The way forward: CSU 2.0, which sets a goal of 4,500 additional students and 200 new faculty members by 2025, was put in place before Bloomberg became president, but she’s totally on board with the aggressive plan for growth. “CSU 2.0 is an aspirational vision that is spot-on,“ she says. “Once I pored over the CSU 2.0 blueprint, it was a big part of my realizing that this is where I want to be. I have no intention of shifting gears. I am fully in support of CSU 2.0. We might approach things differently, but the core principles stand.”
The team: “Being the president of a university is as much a way of life as it is a job. I feel an incredible level of support from this community. I feel like people want me to be successful and are genuine with their contacts and connections and stories of the history of the institution. So, yes, it was a little abrupt, a little jarring to transition into the new role, but I have an army of people who are willing and eager to provide support.”
The ultimate goal: “To be an anchor and beacon institution. This part really resonates with me. So many people say that Cleveland State is essential to the city. We are right in the heart of things, an anchor in many ways. At the same time, we can be a beacon. We can draw people here ... great faculty from around the country; students from the region, around the country and, increasingly, internationally. We are known as being stable in the community as well as being an innovative presence in higher education.”
CSU in one word: “Aspirational. We’re aspiring, and we have students who aspire.”