As an accounting student at George Washington University, A. Rafik Mohamed considered a career in corporate or tax law.
But a Constitutional law class he took as an undergraduate redirected him to a different path, one that has led him to be provost and vice president of academic affairs at Cal State San Bernardino. Serving as the university’s interim provost since July, the former dean of CSUSB’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences formally assumed the permanent post on Jan. 1.
Inspired by what he learned in the Constitutional law class and how it helped him make sense of what was going on around him – it was during the height of the war on drugs in the early 1990s – Mohamed switched to studying sociology and criminal justice.
“So, this wasn’t my plan. Corporate law and accountancy was my plan. Thank God, that didn’t happen,” he said with a laugh in an interview nearly two years ago.
In announcing Mohamed’s appointment at the end of the fall 2022 semester, university President Tomás D. Morales said, “His service in the role of interim provost over these past several months has been outstanding. His knowledge and years at CSUSB, combined with his focus on the success of our students and our faculty as his first and foremost goals in all that he does is exemplary.
“He also has shown a keen understanding of how our staff work daily to support CSUSB’s mission,” Morales said. “And he wholly supports CSUSB’s role as an anchor institution or, as he describes it, a ‘steward of place’ here in the Inland Empire. In short, Rafik has repeatedly demonstrated that he is the right individual for this leadership position.”
As a faculty member early in his career, he saw his role as working directly with students to help them find their way. As he rose into the administrative ranks as a department chair and then dean, that grew to helping faculty members do the same, helping to create opportunities for them to be successful as teachers and scholars. And as the university’s chief academic officer, that has expanded to the campus’ entire teaching corps, with the overall goal of helping students define their own future.
When he interviewed for the dean’s position more than seven years ago, Mohamed said he saw the potential of the campus as well as its contribution to the region, the idea of a “steward of place.”
Of his time as part of the CSUSB community, he said, “I don’t think I could have made a better choice for me, because of, generally, what the California State University is about – access and opportunity. But really, we live that on this campus. And I feel fortunate that this opportunity was here when it was, and that it worked out the way that it did.”
After making the change in his major, Mohamed’s academic career went from George Washington University (sociology and criminal justice), University of California, Irvine (master’s in social ecology, Ph.D. in criminology, law and society), to teaching and chairing the sociology department at the University of San Diego, and teaching and chairing the social sciences department at Clayton State University in Georgia.
In 2015, he came to CSUSB to lead the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the home to the disciplines of anthropology, child development, criminal justice, economics, ethnic studies, geography and environmental studies, history, political science, psychology, social work and sociology. Remarking on the caliber of faculty in the college, Mohamed said many could join top-tier research institutions if they wanted to. Many of them have received recognition from the top professional organizations in their fields.
And from the perspective of his new post, that observation of faculty excellence extends throughout the university.
“They love working at CSUSB,” he said. “We have wonderful students on our campus. And the joy and fulfillment our faculty get from working with our students is also what keeps them here.”