Dr. Leroy Morishita has guided the Institute of Buddhist Studies as the Chair of its Board of Trustees since January 2021, following a distinguished career of leadership in higher education.
Leroy was born in Fresno and raised on a family farm in Del Rey, California. He received a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from San Francisco State University. He earned a doctorate in Administration, Planning & Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Leroy flourished during a 29-year career at San Francisco State, eventually serving as its Executive Vice President for Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer.
In 2011, he was selected to be the President of California State University, East Bay. As President, Leroy galvanized the students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and the surrounding community.
Leroy led many initiatives in the CSU system. He also served on numerous local and national organizations, furthering higher education, accreditation, and community development. He has long been active in the Asian American community, the Berkeley Buddhist Temple, and the JA Health Benefits Trust.
President Morishita retired in December 2020 after a remarkable career in higher education. He and his wife Barbara now enjoy spending more time with their two sons’ families, especially their four grandaughters.
Leroy and I talked about his first year as IBS Board Chair. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
Rev. Dr. Matsumoto: What did you learn, growing up as a Buddhist in Central California?
Dr. Morishita: I learned a lot from my parents. They took us to the temple every Sunday. They treated everyone equally. It instilled in me the belief that everyone is important, no matter who they are or what they do. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. And always treat everyone with respect. Everybody matters. My parents taught me about Buddhism through their actions and practices.
Rev. Dr. Matsumoto: How would you describe your style of leadership?
Dr. Morishita: When I arrived at CSUEB, my plan was to build pride in the university, student body, staff, and community. My view was that we would do everything within the context of highlighting pride in the university. I also wanted to exhibit integrity. I wanted people to trust in what I said and know that I would do what I said I would do.
Rev. Dr. Matsumoto: How did Buddhist values impact your leadership style?
Dr. Morishita: As a leader, I wanted people to run with me and then take over. I brought in people who were smart and demanded that they respect each other. I was most proud that my cabinet was very diverse in gender and ethnicity. That’s because I made sure that our candidate pools were very robust and I hired the best people.
I was open to learning and changing course. Not 180 degrees. But when I would change, I would always give the reasons why, based on information that I had received. With new information, it’s OK to alter your path. So, I was open to criticism and others’ ideas.
Rev. Dr. Matsumoto: What have you learned in your first year as the Chair of the IBS Board?
Dr. Morishita: Over the past year, I have better appreciated all of the people who have contributed to the growth of IBS. Dr. Jack Fujimoto and Jeff Folick passed away last year, and I could see their deep relationships with Buddhism and IBS. The retirement of Rev. Dr. Yamaoka reminded us that he did a lot of hard work to build our financial foundation.
I am grateful for the many people who laid the foundation for everything that we’ve been able to accomplish. And, at the same time, I have come to think about how we can continue to move forward.
Dharma Forward will enable us to raise funds to build an even more stable foundation. It makes me excited for the future. We can bring our professorial chair endowments to full funding and then maybe add more chairs. It’s exciting that our new faculty are bringing their teaching, research, and global perspectives on how to build IBS into a world-class institute of higher learning. They will play a great role in helping to bring Buddhism and Shin Buddhism to the fore.
I deeply appreciate everyone who learned new ways to work and teach in online formats during the pandemic. As we tap into the potential of broad, internet-based education, people from around the country and the world will be able to listen to lectures or take classes. This will allow us to spread the teachings further, even as we continue to educate our degree seekers in Berkeley.
We still face challenges, but we are willing to work hard in moving toward the future. To honor the legacy of those who have gone before us, we need to move forward, not rest on our laurels.