Fall 2015 Convocation Address: A University Ready to Soar

  • September 21, 2015

Thank you Provost Nelson, and good morning to all of you. In August, I appointed Dr. Nelson as Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs when Dr. Jim Houpis stepped from his position. I would like to thank and acknowledge Dr. Houpis for his accomplishments during his past five years of service as Provost. Now, I would like to welcome the Cal State East Bay community back to campus as we begin our 2015-16 academic year and as I begin my 5th year as your President.

I tell everyone I have fun working here and I say to you today, I am excited and looking forward to this coming year. This year marks our 58th year of service to the East Bay. In our short history we have developed a legacy of academic excellence in preparing over 120,000 graduates who have entered and made a difference in the Bay Area, California, across the U.S. and beyond. Today, our University serves as a source of pride for the East Bay and the citizens of California. 

I would like to thank Faculty Marshal Reiter, Mr. David Lopez, President of Associated Students Inc., Dr. Michael Hedrick, Chair of the Academic Senate, and Dr. Carolyn Nelson, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, 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.

Let me start these convocation remarks by thanking the faculty for all the great work you do for the CSUEB community. You educate our students both in and out of the classroom, you conduct research and remain active in your field to advance in your discipline, you are engaged with our community, and serve the university through work in various committees and activities. You are outstanding!

I want to extend a special welcome to the 31 new tenure/tenure track faculty members who are joining the CSUEB family. We have now hired 100 new faculty since I became your President. You join a very distinguished faculty who have brought great pride and recognition to the University. I wish each of you success as you begin your professional journey as part of the Cal State East Bay family. We look forward to your contributions in advancing the University and the success of our students.  

I would like to acknowledge the members of my cabinet, the academic and administrative leaders in our four divisions, as well as the members of the Academic Senate, for all the work they do throughout the academic year to support the students of this University.  I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such talented colleagues.

I will now introduce to you the President’s Cabinet:

  • Carolyn Nelson, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
  • Debbie Chaw, Interim Vice President for Administration & Finance/CFO
  • Julie Wong, Vice President for Student Affairs
  • Tanya Hauck, Vice President for University Advancement
  • Dianne Rush Woods, University Diversity Officer
  • Derek Aitken, Chief of Staff

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

This University has a strong and committed staff, all making valued contributions to an inclusive, vibrant learning environment that prioritizes the needs of our students. Thank you for working diligently to help our students realize their dreams. For those staff who have joined us over the past year, I offer my warmest welcome to you. Would you please stand, if able, or wave and be recognized? 

I would like to introduce my wife, Barbara Hedani-Morishita. She is my greatest supporter, confidant, and critic and has great pride in this university, you, the students, and all of the faculty and staff. Barbara, would you please stand and be recognized?

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

I invite the following individuals to stand, and remain standing, and be recognized:

  • Dr. Zinovy Radovilsky, Professor and Department Chair of Management and recipient of the George and Miriam Phillips Outstanding Professor award;
  • Dr. Rose Wong, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, recipient of the Outstanding Contributor to Community Engagement award;
  • Dr. Cristian Gaedicke, Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering, recipient of the Outstanding Researcher—Untenured award;
  • Dr. Jenny O, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Mentor of Students award;
  • Eric Kupers, Assistant Professor, Department of Theater and Dance, recipient of the Outstanding Scholar on Issues of Diversity, Social Justice and Multiculturalism.
  • Dr. Penny McCullagh, Professor, Department of Kinesiology, recipient of the Outstanding Researcher—Tenured award; and,
  • Julie Mielke, College Academic Scheduler, College of Education and Allied Studies, Staff member recipient of the Vivian Cunniffe award.

Please join me in congratulating our recipients. Thank you for your valued contributions and congratulations! 

I remember vividly when I first arrived, that a colleague said to me: “You will be amazed at how fast the time will go by.” Four years ago I gave my first convocation speech to you. Indeed – how fast the time flies by!

People are talking about Cal State East Bay!

I ended last year’s address by noting that we no longer wanted to be the “hidden gem” or the “best kept secret.” From the beginning of my work here I found Cal State East Bay to be an institution with incredibly talented people who are dedicated and committed to the success of our students and the University.

All of you have heard me state repeatedly how important this university is to the East Bay – intellectually, culturally, and economically. Now we are hearing this message everywhere we go. It is one thing for us to tell others about the greatness of this university, it is quite another to have people tell us how great we are. Some very recent examples of comments to me include: 

  • A political leader who said: “The East Bay is a hub of innovation and learning. CSU East Bay is a key part of our growth and success as a region.
  • A business leader who said: “Our region is engaging in unprecedented collaborations and conversations with educators from pre-school, K-12, community colleges, and CSUs as well as UC, along with business and non-governmental organizations. Much of this exciting work is led by Cal State East Bay."
  • Alumni who say that the education they received at Cal State East Bay was, not good – but great, and laid the foundation for their professional success. 
  • Countless students who say how Cal State East Bay has changed their lives.

Collectively, these individuals are telling us about the critical and positive impact we have on improving the quality of life for the people who live in the communities we serve; the regional economy and workforce; the intellectual resources in the East Bay; and especially as we are creating opportunities for the thousands of students who are transforming their lives by attending Cal State East Bay. This is what we see as the power of a Cal State East Bay education. 

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of you – our faculty, staff, students and administrators – at this moment, we are being recognized as a “rising institution” in the CSU. There are critical periods in the history of a university that you can point to and say that is when “the University came into its own,” or that’s when “the University turned the corner.” We are at that juncture.

Across the University I see a source of pride in the strong academic programs, those long established as well as those more recently developed – all of which are now being recognized for their excellence. 

I see a collective pride in our physical environment, given the current drought leaving some parts not as green as before, but still a beautiful, gracious and safe place to live, learn and work.   

I firmly believe now is when people will reflect back upon our history, point to this time and say – “This is the period in which Cal State East Bay came into its own – recognized regionally and nationally.”  We are a University that is ready to soar!

All around us, this is happening now. Businesses, organizations, foundations, public and private agencies are visiting and selecting Cal State East Bay as partners because they believe we are the best place for them to invest, now and into the future.  

New faculty and staff are choosing CSUEB as their first choice institution at which to work. Every year I meet with the new faculty and they consistently tell me that they had multiple offers and chose CSUEB because they felt welcomed, the students were engaged, and that this institution is the right fit.

Similarly, students are increasingly selecting Cal State East Bay as their University of choice. Even though we closed admissions on November 30, we received a record number of freshman applications and this year’s entering class is our largest in history – more than 1,700. In addition, we enrolled the largest numbers of transfer students ever – more than 2,200. We are meeting our enrollment target and over the next year, I believe we need to begin a discussion about how big we want our university to be and how we will manage enrollments to stay within our budgeted enrollment target. 

This year has seen several significant achievements. For the fourth consecutive year, the Governor and the legislature increased funding for the CSU. I am thankful to all of you who advocated in Sacramento on Cal State East Bay’s behalf. The increase of $217 million for 2015-16 – fully funding our Trustees’ budget request – will enable us to serve more students without raising tuition fees – the fifth year in a row without a tuition increase. These additional funds will enable us to enroll more students, expand student success and completion efforts and address pressing infrastructure needs.

Last spring we hosted a visiting team from WASC as part of the University’s reaccreditation process. Their final report noted our accomplishments in “collaboration and shared governance, diversity, inclusiveness, and developing students core competencies.” The commission acknowledged that “the seriousness with which we took on the work will not only help the institution ensure that students receive an excellent education, but also provides examples of best practices for the region.” This is so outstanding, it bears repeating — Cal State East Bay is an institution that provides best practices for the region, a model for others to follow.  

In recognition of our work, the Commission provided the longest reaccreditation possible – ten years – with no further action requested. As best we can tell, this is the first 10 year reaccreditation in our history. I encourage each of you to read the Visiting Team’s Report and the Commission Letter, which are posted on the Accreditation webpage. Fundamentally, WASC confirms that we as an institution have the people, resources, policies and practices in place to continue to achieve our eight shared strategic commitments.

I would like to take this moment to collectively congratulate and thank the University community for your outstanding work, and express my heartfelt gratitude for a job extremely well done!!    

This year, I also had my own review. CSU Trustee policy calls for a comprehensive review of the President in his or her third year in service which is to include feedback from the campus community as well as others with whom the President interacts. The process was very thorough and culminated in a meeting with the Chancellor and a separate meeting with the Trustees and Chancellor this past July. While the review was certainly about my work here, it was fundamentally a review of the efforts and focus of the entire University community. I am pleased to share with you that the review was extremely positive and laudatory. You could say we got an “A”! The Chancellor and Trustees view Cal State East Bay as a “rising institution” that is presently addressing many crucial and long-standing needs, and doing so in a way that “builds up the community of students, faculty, staff and external partners.” Again, I congratulate all of you for your outstanding work. 

The following are more examples of what the University is accomplishing today:

We remain committed to maintaining a community free of sexual assault and violence. To that end we have taken many strides to be both proactive in preventing incidents on campus as well as better responding to incidents that occur. We have hired a Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Terri Labeaux, and we have trained Deputy Title IX Coordinators across campus. We also entered into a MOU with Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) and have a confidential advocate to talk to and advocate for survivors, and those impacted by sexual assault. A search committee for the faculty/staff ombuds position has been selected and will convene this fall, with hopes for a filled position by winter. We have also launched a Title IX website which outlines policies, reporting procedures, resources, and training. I encourage you all to visit that web site and familiarize yourself with its content.

In an effort to raise awareness and prevention, we have implemented on-line training to create and foster a working environment free from all forms of violence and harassment, offered to all faculty and staff, as well as to our student population. I hope you have seen some of the new posters that were displayed across campus this summer that provide instructions on how to report incidents. You may have seen the t-shirts our students were wearing as part of their “It’s on Us Campaign” – a national pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault, as well as a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution. These are all examples of the many collaborative efforts we are taking to put an end to sexual assault and violence on our campus.

We can succeed in this effort, but it will require us to act as a community. Please take the time to educate yourself, and utilize the resources that are already available to you.

In recent years, our Senate Academic Program Review process, Planning for Distinction and, more recently, the WASC review identified limitations regarding our institutional data. They highlighted the need for continued attention to data collection, including what data need to be collected, how the data should be coded, analyzing the data, and making the data and their analyses accessible in a timely fashion.

As a result, we have initiated a data warehouse project with the goal to make institutional data more accessible, user friendly, and with increased functionality. With broad based input we have completed admission and financial aid dashboards. These and future dashboards will allow us to obtain the information necessary for critical analyses and decisions. We will make these accountability measures more visible and useful to all of you.

Recently, we also implemented a campus based equity program designed to complement the recent general salary increases. Retroactive to July 1, 2015, the plan addresses wage issues for a number of our faculty members and some of our lowest paid staff employees. While there are insufficient resources to resolve all faculty and staff equity issues, this program addresses some of the disparities resulting from the past budget crisis.

I would like to mention a few additional accomplishments:

  • The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac lists Cal State East Bay as the most diverse public institution in the continental United States, only the four University of Hawaii campuses rank higher.  We have achieved success in matching the ethnic composition of our region and I am proud that we are designated by the Department of Education as both a Hispanic Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.  Further, well over half of our students are first generation college students and a large number are first and second generation immigrants.
  • Our EXCEL Program, now in its 45th year, provides some of our most disadvantaged students with in-depth, long-term academic support. This year, we were awarded a $2.3 million, five-year federal grant to continue providing existing services and infuse new student support strategies for STEM education, non-cognitive learning skills, and undergraduate research. 
  • Last week our campus was awarded $1.5 million grant from the Department of Education to support our AANAPISI Program, which improves and expands our capacity to serve Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders and low-income individuals.  We anticipate hearing positive news about our Hispanic Serving Institution grant proposal in the coming days.
  • Also, last week you may have read that Cal State East Bay was awarded the INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine’s Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for the second year in a row! The HEED Award recognizes our outstanding efforts and success in the area of diversity and inclusion. The application was rigorous and comprehensive and we should be very proud of the work we are doing and will continue to promote diversity and inclusion among our students, faculty, staff, and community.
  • Increasing numbers of our faculty are recognized for prestigious awards by their scholarly disciplinary organizations and selection to distinguished academies for their exemplary achievements and service.
  • We launched the Pioneer Scholarships web portal, which brings all University scholarships under one umbrella with a single on-line student scholarship application.  Last year we awarded over one million dollars to over seven hundred student scholarship recipients.
  • In a few months we will be moving into the new Student and Faculty Support building which replaces Warren Hall and will house faculty offices, the Welcome Center, the Academic Senate office, University Extension, and many high impact student support groups. We look forward to this vibrant and wonderful addition to the campus.

These are but a few of the accomplishments and successes at our university.

Yes, I am excited about our accomplishments and I am also very enthusiastic about our future. We have taken great strides toward addressing our Eight Shared Strategic Commitments to this point. We should celebrate how far and how well we have come in each, and we must also recognize that for each of these commitments we need to continue the momentum we have generated.   

In our WASC report and in my review with the Chancellor and the CSU Trustees, I reaffirmed five priorities within our Shared Strategic Commitments that provide opportunities for us to improve upon in the coming years: 

  1. Improve student success
  2. Continue with new faculty hires and excellence
  3. By Fall of 2018, move to the semester system
  4. Enhance success in STEM
  5. Increase philanthropy and fund raising

I would like to take a moment to briefly discuss each of these initiatives with you.

The area of greatest need for improvement continues to be student learning and success – getting more students to completion and degrees sooner. Two years ago, I stated that our retention and graduation rates were unacceptably low – a 43 percent six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen and a 51 percent three-year graduation rate for transfers. Our four-year graduation rate was below 20 percent. Even though these rates are not uncommon for similar public universities, I believed then, as I do today, we can do better. We must do better.

We set a goal that by the year 2020, we would increase the six-year graduation rate for entering freshmen to 60 percent and increase the three-year graduation rate for transfer students to 70 percent. Amidst discussion and collaboration, we established a number of programs and structures to advance this important goal. Now is the time for our campus to identify and monitor critical metrics to assess the efficacy of these programs and structures, and if necessary, begin modifications to ensure continued progress.

If we all start from the belief that the students we admit will graduate, we can attain or exceed our goals. It is imperative that we continue to set high expectations for our students, hold them accountable and then help them to succeed. The research is clear about what distinguishes those universities with above average graduation rates — a shared belief in the collective responsibility for student success is what really makes the difference. I very much want us to succeed in this goal and ask you to share with me and others your suggestions or specific programs to test. Individuals — not just institutional processes — make the difference for students. Let us continue our work with the realization that each of us has a vital role in assisting our students to achieve their educational goals, regardless of our working title.  As we have said before, it takes an entire village. 

Cal State East Bay is on the move, and it is the faculty who propel us forward. Our tenured and tenured-track faculty are the lifeblood of the University. You, our faculty, are the ones in front of our students, delivering on our mission, and it is you the faculty who are often the measure of the quality of our academic excellence. This fall, I have authorized Interim Provost Nelson to conduct 30 more searches this coming year. Our ongoing efforts to increase both the number and diversity of tenure track faculty provides evidence of our commitment to the University mission, the quality of our academic programs and importance in reflecting the demographics of the communities we serve and the students who attend our great University.  

I have charged Interim Provost Nelson to begin working with the Deans and faculty on developing a multi-year plan to continue to increase the number of tenure-track faculty to reach the goal of 350 by 2018. In addition, I have charged Vice President of Student Affairs Julie Wong to work with the Interim Provost, the Deans and their faculty to formalize a multi-year enrollment management plan with metrics that are integrated with the faculty hiring plan. In order to ensure that the hiring of tenure track faculty continues to meet the needs of the University, as well as the expectations and requirements of our students, the faculty hiring plan must be linked to our formal academic planning processes and enrollment management plan.  We have much work to do in both areas. 

Work is progressing very well with the Semester Transformation Project. A number of structures and committees have been established, including an Office of Semester Conversion, led by Co-Directors Dr. Eileen Barrett and Dr. Jason Singley, who work closely with the Executive Sponsors – Interim Provost Carolyn Nelson, Interim Vice President for Administration & Finance/CFO Debbie Chaw and Vice President Julie Wong – overseeing the Steering Committee and five subcommittees.

Comprised of faculty, staff, students and administrators, these cross-divisional committees are focused on a successful Semester transformation in Fall of 2018. I am extremely pleased that more than 80 percent of our academic programs are being transformed. On the Academic Affairs homepage, there is a link to the Semester Conversion Project, with announcements, the project plan, and committee membership. A number of you recently attended the Fit Gap kick off session which provided an update on milestones and next steps. I encourage you to become informed and familiar with our processes as this transformation affects and involves all of us, especially our students.

Semester Transformation requires the collaboration and collegiality of faculty and administrators working closely together to establish policies and procedures. Our administrative team and I look forward to continuing our work with the Academic Senate in ensuring that the project moves efficiently and effectively toward our established collective goals.

To meet our pledge to students in the conversion process, we know that establishing very clear communication and enhancing advising are essential to avoid impacting our students’ progress towards degree. Further, with the recent reestablishment of the Division of Student Affairs and realignment of student support services across the divisions, we have a renewed opportunity to improve our services and support of students. This includes all student interactions across the University, from admissions through advising, enrolling in classes, tutoring, participating in student life and service learning activities through to graduation, and beyond.  

We will continue to make Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education a priority to meet the California workforce and economic development needs, just as we do with teachers, health care workers and many other in-demand fields. As one of the most diverse campuses in the state, we are primed to address industry needs for a diverse workforce in STEM rich fields and disciplines.

The university’s Institute for STEM Education advances teaching and learning in alignment with the rapidly changing knowledge, practices, and needs in STEM fields and disciplines. The Institute also strives to help all students acquire the STEM knowledge required for decision making in their daily lives. We are also infusing STEM across all four colleges, as industry has expressed the need for employees to have STEM knowledge in addition to expertise in their chosen field. Faculty are working on numerous projects in each of these areas.

Further, we are leading a larger regional effort – the Gateways East Bay STEM Network. This work is key to ensuring that students from our region, particularly students of color and students from low-income families, get the support they need from preschool to a college degree. We are proud of this work and will continue to support it.

During the past four years, I have focused on building partnerships across the campus and in the community. We are building a broader community of businesses, organizations and public and private agencies with a shared purpose. These partners are visiting and selecting Cal State East Bay because they believe we are the best place for them to invest, now and into the future.  

In order for us to maintain and enhance our excellence and quality, we need to concentrate our efforts to identify private gift support to advance the university’s mission. Currently the support we receive is from a relatively small segment of loyal donors. Thus, I am asking you – administrators, faculty, staff and alumni – to help expand our donor base.

Out on the front line every day, no one understands better than you how what you do at this institution enhances the lives of our students and graduates. Each of you can help inspire loyalty and investment in a number of ways – strengthening relationships with former students, sharing individual contacts within the community, and facilitating relationships between our students and Bay Area agencies and businesses. Help me build this network.

Through the leadership of Vice President Hauck, I am confident that we can reach our goals. She has the leadership ability and is building her team to achieve the philanthropic support that this great university truly deserves. We are launching a refresh of our brand and redesigning the website to proactively spread the word about Cal State East Bay’s impact. This initiative will begin with the first edition of “Inside East Bay” a communications piece to keep our campus community informed about what is happening, what is being accomplished and what to expect in the future.   

Last year we were able to raise $4 million dollars in private support. This year our goal is to raise more than $4.5 million. I’m pleased to announce we are well on our way due to a very generous $1 million gift made this month from Educational Foundation Board member and Honorary Degree recipient, Dr. Kumar Malavalli. The endowment will provide program support for early education initiatives associated with CSUEB that advance excellence in STEM disciplines. 

We seek more partners like Dr. Malavalli to help us sustain the level of quality required for our educational programs. Going forward, we are committed to identifying the private support needed to achieve that extra measure of excellence for our University.

As I stand here today, having served as a member of this great university for four years, I am inspired by your cumulative intellectual capacity, by your unyielding dedication and motivation to our students and the University, and by the willingness of all of you to be creative and innovative in moving this University to new heights.

Yes, people are talking about Cal State East Bay. I believe – and I hope you share this belief with me – that even better days are ahead because there are tremendous opportunities for us in the coming years. And I want you to know that my plan is to be here with you as we move forward. Our ability to optimize these opportunities will depend upon our effective planning for the future – remaining steadfast in realizing our eight shared strategic commitments and institutional learning outcomes, while addressing the needs of our region, state and country.   

Yes, people are talking about us! As they laud us for what we have done together, you should feel proud and uplifted. How truly satisfying it is to know that these feelings are widely shared across the University and the community, and throughout this region.

We are creating a buzz, so let us now take it to the next level.

By continuing to work together collegially and collaboratively, we will persist in transforming this university into a special and unique learning environment. By doing this, this university will continue to receive recognition from community and political leaders, respect and support from cutting-edge organizations, and gratitude from students, graduates and their families and friends.

As you go about your work this academic year, I hope you do so with a renewed and growing feeling of pride and a sense of focused commitment. Please take some time to listen to the people and voices around you, because people are talking about your university: California State University, East Bay. 

I wish for each of you a productive and successful year.  Go Pioneers!

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