President Leroy Morishita's 2013 Convocation Address drew a full house at the University Theatre Sept. 23.
In convocation remarks welcoming Cal State East Bay faculty and staff back for the 2013-14 academic year, President Leroy M. Morishita Monday, Sept. 23, called for an amplified university wide commitment to fostering an inclusive environment that provides an unparalleled student-centered educational experience. The annual gathering in the University Theatre also was an occasion for welcoming new leaders, staff members and tenure-track faculty to CSUEB.
A floor-to-ceiling image of the Cal State East Bay seal projected on to the back wall of the theater stage and colorful flags representing the university’s four colleges and library served as backdrop to the event that drew some 450 attendees to the theatre and approximately 75 to an overflow room in the Music Building.
Faculty Marshal Edna Reiter, professor of math and computer science, opened the proceedings. Eileen Barrett, acting chair for the Academic Senate, Provost Jim Houpis and Associated Students Inc. President Michelle Xiong delivered welcome addresses and introductions.
The President then approached the podium and asked the assembly to devote a moment of silence to the memory of Norma Rees, third president of the university and the only woman to lead the institution in that role, before delivering his remarks.
“Upon this, my third convocation address, I would like to take the opportunity for us to review the past year’s accomplishments, talk about the challenges ahead and discuss new initiatives that I hope you will help me address this year,” President Morishita said.
Following an introduction of new administrators and staff members, the President turned his attention to the academic side of the house.
“I want to thank the faculty for all of the great work you do in educating our students both in and out of the classroom, for your research and scholarly activities to advance and keep current in your discipline and in service to the university through work in various committees and activities,” he said. “You are outstanding.”
He added that 25 new tenure-track scholars joining the faculty bring to Cal State East Bay impressive credentials and a diversity of backgrounds in terms of “ethnicity, gender and ability.” The President also announced authorization for the Provost to conduct 26 tenure-track faculty searches in 2013-14.
While the past year was not without it’s challenges, passage of Proposition 30 by voters in November gave CSUEB and the CSU improved financial stability or, as President Morishita called it, a “floor beneath our feet.”
“Despite this success, the CSU and Cal State East Bay still confront many financial challenges,” he said. “That is why last year, we began an ambitious new undertaking – Planning for Distinction.”
Through the Planning for Distinction process, faculty and staff have participated in a process to identify priorities for future resources.
“Your response has been tremendous,” President Morishita said. “You embraced our need for better data and better cross-divisional understanding of what we do.”
Additional reports from across the university are expected in winter quarter that will assist in “enhancing the quality of the education we provide for our students.”
He briefly updated faculty and staff about the Chancellor’s support for converting CSU campuses on the quarter system to the semester system. Two campuses are in the transition phase; CSUEB may begin the conversion in the next wave. President Morishita pledged to share information once a “clear direction and plan” are available.
He next highlighted successes and achievements from the past year, including the October 2012 Day of Celebration-Week of Service that culminated in a joint celebration of Faculty Honors, Investiture and al Fresco. During the associated Week of Service, nearly 250 volunteers painted and refurbished Harder Elementary School, bringing tears of appreciation to the eyes of its principal.
The University also celebrated its inaugural Week of Scholarship; received its ninth rating as Best in the West from the Princeton Review; enhanced programs that promote the success of first time and transfer students from diverse backgrounds; launched a successful Industry Jobs Panels program; and boosted the number of service hours contributed by students to communities throughout the region to approximately 200,000.
“While this is not a comprehensive list … our collective achievements last year clearly demonstrate our ability to excel,” President Morishita said.
In support of furthering this objective, he addressed the recent creation of the University Diversity Office headed by Dianne Rush Woods.
“Dianne will be working across divisions and departments to support our campuswide effort to uphold our strategic commitment to diversity and inclusiveness while working and learning at Cal State East Bay,” the President said.
The balance of the convocation address focused on his No. 1 priority: students.
“I believe strongly in working with students to overcome obstacles inside and outside the classroom, focusing on their intellectual, personal and emotional development,” he said.
In the strongest statement of the morning, however, the President acknowledged the need for change in some areas.
“Our retention and graduation rates are unacceptably low – a 43 percent six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen and a 51 percent three-year graduation rate for transfers,” he said. “Our four year graduation rate is below 20 percent. Even though these rates are not uncommon for similar public universities, I believe we can do better.”
He encouraged staff and faculty to ask themselves: “What can I do to help our students succeed in their studies at CSUEB and want to stay at our university?”
Part of the answer, he argued, lies in exploring successful existing programs at Cal State East Bay, such as the Peer Mentor Program, and at other universities, including a CSU Chico program that has boosted retention and graduation rates for participants.
It was a convocation message that resonated for many audience members, including Marguerite Hinrichs, a graduate student, lecturer and staff member.
“It’s really inspiring, his balancing commitments to students, staff and faculty,” she said.
Sukari Ivester, assistant professor of sociology and one of the new tenure-track faculty members, said the address left her feeling enthusiastic and moved to try innovative approaches such as those employed at CSU Chico.
“I really appreciated the President describing all these wonderful things,” she said. “I want to figure out how to do those town hall meetings Chico was doing and get involved in community service learning.”
Associate Professor Nancy White, a six-year faculty member in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism, said she liked hearing updates about university business and future plans for the Warren Hall replacement building that will be constructed adjacent to the Student Services and Administration building.
“I liked that he brought us up-to-speed on the budget and changes happening on campus,” White said.
Senior theatre and dance major Daniel Banatao, 25, works as a backstage technician on the Hayward Campus. Listening to the convocation address as a student, he said, gave him some insight into issues faculty focus on such as making students feel welcome. He said he appreciated hearing about their concern for “continually pushing to give students like me the best education we can get.”
“Being a student, it’s scary sometimes to ask a question; it might be stupid,” he said. “In my department, I feel completely welcome. All my professors encourage me to ask questions.”
He also credited faculty with doing their best with the resources available and in the face of a lot of change. Overall, Banatao said, President Morishita’s convocation address left him feeling optimistic.
“What stood out to me was the future (direction),” he said. “The way the school’s heading is looking pretty bright.”
Read the full 2013 Convocation Address online.