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Fall 2017 Convocation

September 18, 2017
LEROY M. MORISHITA

Thank you Provost Inch, and good morning Pioneers. I would like to thank Faculty Marshal Dr. Fadi Castronovo, Ms. Samantha Quiambao, Senate Chair Mark Karplus and Dr. Edward Inch, for joining me on the stage this morning. I appreciated hearing your goals and aspirations for the new academic year and I look forward to working with each of you.

Here at home, in America and abroad, we are facing turbulence on a social, political and cultural scale that is unprecedented. I hope that, by the end of my address, you will see, like I do, that we are prepared to face these challenges.

Today I welcome you, the Cal State East Bay community, back to campus. Today’s convocation is my seventh address to the University community, and also marks the official beginning of our 60th anniversary as an educational community dedicated to meeting the public higher education needs for the citizens of our region and state. It also marks our last as a quarter campus.

When people ask me what it is like to be president of a university, I tell them that it is without a doubt, the most important and rewarding job I have ever had in my career. I say that I feel fortunate to serve our wonderful students, especially those who are the first in their families to attend college, and that I have the opportunity to work alongside the most dedicated staff and faculty in the entire CSU system. I am so glad to be starting the school year, back with each of you, in welcoming our students back to campus. They will need us, now more than ever.

First, I want to start by thanking the faculty for all the great work you do for the Cal State East Bay community. Yours is an incredible responsibility — as a faculty member in 2017, your work involves mentoring, leadership and advocacy for your students,as well as conducting research, inquiry, and instruction geared to fully engage today’s student population. You are truly outstanding!

I want to extend a special welcome to the 27 new tenure track faculty members who are joining ourfamily. We have now hired 157 new tenure track faculty since I became your President. Each of you made a choice to pursue a career dedicated to improving the lives of the students at our university, which is now your university. I pledged to increase the number of tenured/tenure track faculty from 290 to 350 by 2018. As of today we have 337 tenured/tenure track faculty, however, as some of you have indicated, due to a significant number of anticipated retirements before semester conversion, we may finish just short next year. Importantly, I want to emphasize that the goal of 350 tenured/tenure track faculty was always intended to be a floor, not a ceiling. We will continue to hire the faculty we need to ensure our academic excellence and meet the growing demands of our University. This year, the Provost will conduct 30 additional tenure track searches, which is a lot of work. However, Provost Inch’s accomplishments this past year have shown me that he is the type of leader who will persist until this and other goals he has laid out are met.

I wish each of you success as you begin your professional journey as part of the Cal State East Bay community. We look forward to your contributions in advancing the University and the success of our students.  

I would like to acknowledge our academic and administrative leaders, as well as the members of the Academic Senate, for all the work they do, many times behind the scenes and unacknowledged, in support of the students of Cal State East Bay. I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such talented colleagues. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

I will now introduce to you the members of the President’s Cabinet. Would you please rise and remain standing as I call your name? 

  • Dr. Edward Inch, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs;
  • Ms. Debbie Chaw, Vice President for Administration & Finance/CFO;
  • Mr. Bill Johnson, Vice President for University Advancement;
  • Dr. Dianne Rush Woods, University Diversity Officer; and
  • Mr. Derek Aitken, Chief of Staff

Also on my cabinet, but not here with us today is Dr. Jo Volkert, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs.

Thank you — you may now be seated.

I would also like to recognize other members of our Cal State East Bay family who have assumed permanent or new administrative and staff roles. I would ask those administrators and staff who are here for the first time or have taken new roles over the past year to please stand, if able, or wave. Please help me welcome and congratulate these colleagues.

Our staff and administrators work tirelessly on behalf of the entire campus community in support of our wonderful students. Across all aspects of the university, from welcoming prospective students and their families to getting the grounds ready for Commencement, we have a terrific workforce at Cal State East Bay. Please join me in a round of applause to thank them for their valued contributions.

I would like to introduce my wife, Barbara Hedani-Morishita. She supports all the work and activities that I do — and she’s right there with me — and has become an advocate in her own right for the students, staff and faculty of the university. Barbara, would you please stand.

As is our tradition at Fall Convocation, we recognize individuals who have been honored by the University community over this past year.  

I would like to invite the following individuals to stand (and remain standing) and be recognized for their awards: 

  • Dr. Rita Liberti, Professor, Department of Kinesiology, recipient of the George and Miriam Phillips Outstanding Professor award;
  • Dr. Karina Garbesi, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, recipient of the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Contributor to Community Engagement;
  • Dr. Sara Smith Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Women’s Studies, recipient of the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Researcher—untenured;
  • Dr. Jean Moran, Professor and Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, recipient of the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Researcher—tenured;
  • Dr. Julia Olkin, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, recipient of the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Scholar on Issues of Diversity, Social Justice and Multiculturalism;
  • Dr. Shirley Yap, Professor, Department of Mathematics, recipient of the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Mentor of Students; and
  • Ms. Doris Szeto, College of Business and Economics, Staff member recipient of the Vivian Cunniffe award.

Please join me in congratulating our recipients. Thank you for your valued contributions and congratulations!  You may now be seated.

As I noted in the opening, this year marks our 60th Anniversary as a higher education institution serving the East Bay. Since its founding in 1957 as The State College for Alameda County to the change in 2005 to Cal State East Bay, the universities fifth name, our university has left an indelible mark on this region. Our students — then as now — primarily come from the greater Bay Area, reflecting, and sometimes outpacing, the diversity of the region. Our academic programs — then as now — are shaped in response to regional needs and interests. Our faculty scholarship and creative endeavors mirror the region’s social, cultural, political, scientific, and economic needs. Our faculty, staff and students work, learn and collaborate in partnerships that bridge the University with the communities we serve and the world. The excellence of our academic programs are our hallmark. Let me share with you a few stories about students whose lives have been impacted by our effective work.

My first story begins with a student who started his studies in the 1960’s. Having grown up in an economically-challenged neighborhood in Oakland, Jack Acosta was preparing himself for college before being sent off to the Vietnam War. After his safe return, he enrolled at Ohlone College and funded his education by joining the Fremont police force. For seven years, Jack worked as an officer by day and studied by night. Our university provided flexibility and convenience, and thanks to the encouragement of the faculty, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree on time. Jack then continued his studies at our university and the day he earned his MBA, he handed over his badge and walked through a new door — to a very successful career in business. Today, Jack credits his Cal State East Bay education for enabling him to get through that door, and recently as president of the Educational Foundation, works with the Board to open the door just a bit wider. Thanks to generous donations from him and his wife Susan, Jack continues to lead by example — a true Pioneer.

For Victor Rios, going to college was the last thing on his mind. A member of a violent gang in Oakland, Victor was close to dropping out of high school, with a 0.09 GPA. After a number of arrests and expulsions, the turning point came after witnessing the murder of a friend and fellow gang member. With the help of a high school counselor, Victor started turning his life around and received conditional admission to then Cal State Hayward. Victor began a transformational trajectory which after graduation and further education, led to a tenured professorship in Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. He calls Cal State East Bay his "intellectual birthplace" and his work with gang-associated and impoverished men of color has impacted hundreds of teens and young adults all over the country.

The importance of advocating for the individual was a critical lesson Nursing alumna Darcy Stanley learned at Cal State East Bay. Already trained as a Doula, Darcy began supporting pregnant women in San Francisco County Jail through childbirth. While completing her nursing degree, she was awarded a $194,000 grant to replicate the Birth Justice Project, a collaboration with UCSF, in the East Bay. Darcy credits receiving a scholarship for allowing her to complete her final quarters at Cal State East Bay. Today she is pursuing her midwife license, and the program at Santa Rita jail has produced enough formerly incarcerated women who are now doulas, to be self-sustaining — truly remarkable.

Lastly, I wanted to share a story about someone in our Pioneer community who is not just a recent graduate of Cal State East Bay, but a valued member of the staff. Lara is one of several employees at our university working under a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (otherwise known as DACA) permit. While Human Resources does not track or store this information, we have come to learn through other channels that several of our Cal State East Bay colleagues, co-workers, and friends share DACA status. Like so many, Lara’s parents brought her as a baby to the United States with hopes for a better life. After settling in the South Bay, they had more children, who by virtue of their birth in the U.S., are citizens. Lara excelled in high school but upon learning she was undocumented, had to postpone her dream of a college education. For over ten years, she worked at jobs I believe most of us understand to be common for people in that situation — being paid low wages with no security, hard, physical circumstances, and no room for advancement — all while taking classes at a community college. Once the DREAM act was passed, Lara quickly pursued and completed her degree from Cal State East Bay and was on track to pursue a graduate program which focused on the experiences of immigrants who shared a similar situation. Once DACA became a reality, she decided the chance to work legally, out of the shadows, was too important to pass up. Lara shared that working at Cal State East Bay is the first time she has felt that her work is valued and valuable. And now that opportunity may end on March 5, 2018. It is my belief that we as a university of more than 16,000 students and almost 2,000 faculty and staff, have the means to make a difference in the lives of all the future graduates such as Lara, Darcy, Victor, and Jack. 

Stories like these help explain why our enrollment has grown from 300 in the inaugural class of 1957 to over 16,000 today. In particular, I am very proud that we have reached record enrollment with nearly all students being regularly admissible. For example: the freshman class of 2011, the class we most recently measured as our current 6 year graduation rate, was nearly 25% special admits. Facing a large number of underprepared students, faculty had the overwhelming task of trying to remediate and prepare them for the academic rigors of the university. As such, these students and these faculty were set up for failure, with considerable disservice to both. In the last 6 years, it has been a priority to reduce the number of special admits, and I am proud to say that last year, less than 2% of the incoming class were special admits. These numbers provide strong evidence that Cal State East Bay is definitely a campus of first choice among prospective students.

As our enrollment continues to grow, I am proud that Cal State East Bay maintains a student diversity that reflects, if not outpaces, our region. Our student body maintains its diversity in part because students, staff and faculty have maintained a remarkable capacity to look after and take care of one another. Now, more than ever, this is a point of pride and quite honestly, a necessity in these changing times. The Chronicle of Higher Education for three years in a row has cited us as the 5th most diverse public university in the country. Only the four campuses of the University of Hawaii rank above us. So, in the continental U.S., we are number one!

Cal State East Bay is also recognized as both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) by the U.S. Department of Education. And we are a proud recipient of grants under each of these designations.

I am especially pleased to report that for the 4th straight year, California State University, East Bay has been awarded a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award from “INSIGHT Into Diversity” magazine. This national honor recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each year the requirements for this award have become more stringent and complex. The focus is beyond diversity alone and assesses how well we are making our campus an inclusive one. Receiving the award again acknowledges our exemplary efforts in serving our diverse student population.

Another way we assess our progress is through administering a “campus climate” survey. Conducted in 2016, the latest staff and faculty survey examined the campus environment and atmosphere, with results indicating areas of accomplishment as well as those needing some attention. The final report — including an executive summary, along with complete results and analyses has been posted on our website. 

Improvement was indicated in all ten campus climate factors that were assessed—and I hope each of you have found that to be true as well.  Of particular note was the finding that our faculty staff and administrators believe Cal State East Bay fosters a diverse learning community that benefits the development and success of our students; provides a supportive work and teaching environment for faculty and staff; and emphasizes an inclusive, respectful environment among peers for an overall desirable campus climate. I would add that while awards and surveys can show us data which supports what we hope to be true, after being on this campus for a number of years, working alongside so many of you, I know that our university “walks the talk” and does this important work every day. Thank you to Dianne Rush Woods, her staff, and everyone across the university who makes this true.

Over the past six years, several initiatives have been developed with the intent of strengthening our relationship with the surrounding communities, especially here in Hayward. Through our service learning program, the Hayward Promise Neighborhood Program, the Sustainable Cities project and others, we have worked more closely with the Hayward Unified School District, Chabot College, the City of Hayward, local churches and other agencies in the community. This past Spring, the Center for Community Engagement recorded over 1200 freshmen participating in over 4200 hours of service as a part of Freshman Day of Service. More opportunities for the entire campus will be announced during Make a Difference Week in late October. I believe that through all of these initiatives and your efforts we now have the strongest community partnerships and student engagement in our sixty-year history. Thank you to each and everyone of you.

Before I decided to become interim president at CSUEB, Barbara and I walked the campus. We saw that this was a hidden gem — with beautiful views of the Bay, walking paths, and the beginning of a re-landscaping of the campus. In the first year, I strongly supported the landscaping plan that was created for the campus and also had the Japanese rock garden in the Arts and Education courtyard spruced up with hopes to develop other areas of the campus to inspire our students and everyone here.

On your walk over this morning, you may have noticed two recent additions to our campus landscape. This spring, Associated Students Inc. gifted the University with the installation of our institutional letters spelling out EAST BAY. I was pleased to see so many graduates taking photos with their families/friends in front of the monument letters before, during and after Commencement, their pride in their accomplishments clearly evident. Also In honor of our first generation students and all Pioneers, a sculpture sponsored by private donations was installed over the summer near the Valley Business and Technology Building pathway. Titled Emergent Dimensions: We will Soar, this piece embodies the spirit of our Cal State East Bay students who are striving through higher education to soar to new heights to achieve their dreams and improve their lives and that of their families.

Continuing the theme of our comprehensive campaign — people, purpose and place — I am pleased to announce that this fall, Provost Inch will introduce an art competition specifically for students, to commemorate the 60th anniversary. To mark this milestone, the University will present a year-long series of programs and activities, beginning with Al Fresco on September 27th and the Distinguished Alumni Gala on October 21st. This anniversary year will also include a full program of events that characterize the lively intellectual, cultural, artistic, athletic and social exchanges here at Cal State East Bay.

As you have heard, work is progressing smoothly with the Semester Transformation — can you believe that next fall Cal State East Bay will be a semester campus? Last year, the Student Advising Subcommittee of Semester Conversion developed policies and workshops around student advising and helped departments revise and develop degree roadmaps. They also coordinated semester advisement processes among existing advising units and faculty advisors. In addition, the curriculum committee reviewed requests for course certifications for specific GE requirements, including the three overlay requirements for sustainability, diversity, and social justice. Today, 98% of all courses have been submitted for semester credit. That’s almost 2600 courses that have been reviewed and approved! Thanks to all your efforts, we are positioned well for Fall 2018. Give yourselves a round of applause.

The impact of semester conversion combined with the student success initiatives underway are designed to improve our retention and graduation rates, as well as the overall success of our students. Academic Affairs, in partnership with Student Affairs, has launched a mentoring program to support student progress and planning. An enrollment management blueprint has been developed, with a successful proposal for campus impaction and guaranteed admission to all qualified students in our region. Faculty will now have the ability to participate in a master advisor program, which will equip them with the tools and abilities necessary to intervene for students with significant needs related to their educational pathway. Given these improvements and a recently received $400K award to study effective interventions for at-risk students, I believe students will be ready for next year’s transition and truly prepared for success.

Last fall, we launched the public phase of our first ever comprehensive campaign, entitled Rising in the East: The Campaign for Cal State East Bay. With an ambitious goal of $60 million, the private support raised will fulfill our campaign goals focusing on People, Place and Purpose. 

At Convocation last year, many of you sitting here in the audience picked up a piggy bank designed to collect money to support Project HOPE, our student intervention program addressing food and housing insecurity. Since its inception, the program has received donations of over 1800 meals swipes, held food, clothing and toiletry drives, opened a second pantry at the Concord campus, and raised over half a million dollars in support funds. I am very proud that so many Pioneers stepped up to meet the needs of our student community.

Many of you have participated in the conceptual planning for the new CORE building or Knowledge Commons. The replacement of the library has involved a detailed planning process, with several forums and groups providing feedback. The “Knowledge Commons” will be a collaborative space uniquely designed for our campus, enhancing studying and research opportunities. Open, flexible rooms will allow student study groups, faculty meetings or staff workshops to use the same areas, for maximum efficiency. Over 400 study carrels will have provide additional individual spaces for students to study and learn.

I believe the entire campus will be inspired by the “maker space,” reflection areas and overall layout of the new building. Thanks to your input, we are scheduled to begin the design phase of what is certain to be a sustainable, attractive, learning space that facilitates creativity and engagement with the campus among our students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors. I am very excited about this project that I believe will quickly become the hub of our university – an exciting place where innovation, collaboration, dialogue and mentorship will blossom. 

As I have illustrated in today’s remarks, the success Cal State East Bay enjoys in 2017 can be directly attributed to the diversity that has shaped both our region and our state. Today, there are some who are intimidated and angered by that progress and wish to turn back the clock. California did not become the world’s sixth largest economy despite its diversity – it succeeds because it embraces its diversity.  Now, more than ever, our university is called upon to model how a tolerant, inclusive and just society can succeed and thrive.

I was appalled and angered by the rhetoric and brutality displayed in Charlottesville last month. The level of hatred, racism and aggression from white supremacists resulted in a senseless fatality and dozens of injuries. Let me be clear — there is no place for such violence on our campus and as your president, it will not be tolerated.

As I stated in the all campus communication earlier this month, I was also very dismayed by the decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). America has always been an idea as much as a country, and no group upheld the idea of the American Dream as much as those 800,000 Dreamers who registered with the government for the promise of a better future. The DACA program has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people like Lara to move out of the shadows and into productive lives. If moral arguments do not sway one’s decision to continue the program, and they should, let me appeal to one’s business sense:

  • DACA recipients seek a college education at a higher rate than their non-DACA peers.
  • They are employed at a rate higher than their non-DACA peers,  
  • And they create new businesses at twice the rate of all Americans.

DACA recipients make positive and significant contributions to the economy through higher wages and higher employment that translates into higher tax revenue and economic growth that benefits and impacts all Americans.

The research clearly shows that those individuals participating in DACA have been more productive when allowed the same rights as citizens. I stand with the Dreamers and I urge you to join me in demanding that Congress take action and allow Dreamers to stay permanently.

Various groups on campus have banded together and pooled resources to support our DACA students, providing financial help to renew DACA permits and partnering with immigrant rights organizations to provide much needed legal and mental health services. These groups are mobilizing to reinforce our vision of providing a safe and supportive environment for this vulnerable population.  I hope that you will assist them in any way that you can.

There are less than six months left and no time to waste. Cal State East Bay students and staff in this category are confronted with an impossible choice. Do they leave their parents, husbands, wives, children and siblings to return to a country they no longer know, or never knew? Or do they put their hope once more in us, as a society, to challenge our lawmakers to do the right thing?

As in years past, universities find themselves once more in the crosshairs of agitators. At Cal State East Bay, we must ensure our welcoming and inclusive environment balances with the First Amendment’s protection of Freedom of Speech. The law is clear – and the pillars of academic freedom uphold — that speech must be protected. Free speech is not absolute, however, and the safety and security of this campus will always be our first priority. But we cannot ban speech simply because it is offensive or provocative. Instead, we should encourage more speech, not less. We should offer more educational opportunities that explore what history has taught us about hate, racism and bigotry. We should support reasoned, thoughtful and passionate debate about divisive issues. The First Amendment should not only be used as a shield, but instead as a powerful mechanism to advance our democratic values. Today, I call upon each of us to reject all forms of hate, racism and bigotry, and to condemn those expressions resolutely. As we enter our 60th year, Cal State East Bay will continue, loudly and clearly, to exemplify what is best about the Bay Area, California and the nation.

I have asked you, at various points in time during my tenure here, to take personal action in order to assure our strong future as a university. Today, the action I ask from each of you — to strengthen our university’s mission, reputation and place in the East Bay and beyond — is a simple one. I am asking you to focus on our considerable achievements over the last 60 years and to celebrate them. I am asking you to tell others about us and what we as an educational community stand for. I am asking you to help share the stories about the excellence of the education and experience our students receive, about our commitment to student success and learning and social justice and equity, and about the indispensable ways that we serve the communities and people of the region. I am asking you to help — in asking others to join us in supporting our great university. 

I look forward to the coming academic year with confidence and the conviction that our hard work will be repaid with continued success in all of our endeavors. Again, I want to thank each of you for your valued contributions in making Cal State East Bay a great place to learn, live and work. This year presents many challenges and a lot of hard work ahead, but I know we will accomplish a great deal together. I wish for each of you a productive and successful year.

Thank you, and Go Pioneers!

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