Michael Lee, Academic Senate Chair: Fall 2020 Convocation speech

Before I start my speech today I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and honor the Ohlone and Chochenyo Tribes and all of the original Indigenous peoples of the lands upon which California State University, East Bay now stands.

Boy what a difference a year makes.

Last August I stood on the theater stage for the first time as Senate Chair and welcomed you all to a new academic year  one in which the notion that a pandemic would fundamentally disrupt our society  force our campus to close  and cause a switch to predominantly online instruction  was something more suited to a dystopian science fiction novel than to a convocation speech.

But yet here we are socially distanced masked and gloved watching our convocation welcome on a prerecorded video all of us fearful to some degree for the health and welfare of ourselves our faculty and staff colleagues and our students as we work together to deliver on our educational mission and conduct our daily lives in a society ill prepared and ill equipped to respond to a virus for which as yet we have no vaccine.

These are not normal times yet nevertheless we must forge ahead with the normal business of educating our students and conducting our University processes and do so without a loss of quality even though the logistic fiscal and personnel challenges we face are enormous.

Looking back on what we accomplished in the Spring and over the Summer to keep things on the rails I want to say how enormously proud I am of our staff and faculty colleagues and of our students.

I’m particularly grateful to my shared governance colleagues our students, staff, faculty, and administrators who took part in Senate and Standing Committees and in the two Rapid Action Advisories that responded to the unfolding crisis and put in place the policy modifications needed to sustain effective pedagogy and support our students.

We showed and we continue to show great ingenuity, creativity, resilience, and cohesiveness while experiencing a whole gamut of emotions and challenges – anxiety, dismay, frustration – stress, isolation and loneliness.

Different people have experienced these emotions and challenges in very different ways and there have been great inequities in the way the pandemic has affected our community particularly economically.

The inequities continue to manifest themselves differently by race and ethnicity – by age – by gender and by class and we need to remain mindful of that as we continue our governance work and our efforts to provide our staff and faculty with a safe and nurturing work environment and our students with a quality and equitable educational experience regardless of or rather in spite of their personal circumstances.

We must also recognize that the parallel events to this pandemic the killing of George Floyd many of his fellow Black Americans, and other Americans of color at the hands of police officers across the country has placed added stresses on our community and –especially on our Black staff, faculty and students.

We must continue to demonstrate a level of care – compassion – sensitivity and openness to each other and to our students that reflects both the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the institutional racism within our society and by extension within our University that many myself included have clearly not done enough to recognize or challenge in the past.

Our Senate leadership myself, Ryan Heryford, and Michelle Rippy are committed to making the Academic Senate a space for such collective care, support and encouragement as we move forward together in this new academic year to confront these challenges.

Together we will review our policies and procedures to respond to the ongoing pandemic and we will identify any ways they might exacerbate or fail to address longstanding and hidden inequities especially those of a racial nature  in our processes and outcomes.

The recent report issued by the Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education in California pointed out how lowincome and underrepresented students graduate at lower rates than their peers and that equity gaps are a problem of practice not deficits in the abilities of students.

Improving access and success among groups historically underrepresented in higher education including lowincome students first generation college students – LatinX  and African Americans  is essential to our mission and to California society.

This is not news to us at the CSU and at East Bay – through our Graduation Initiative GI 2025 we have been trying our best to address these inequities but we have not made as much progress as we had hoped and thus will need to work even harder this coming year to achieve our institutional goals.

A major grant from the Stupski Foundation to address the advising piece of this equation will be of great help I want to congratulate the Provost and his team for securing this award and we can support this effort in the classroom.

It is there where many of us listening to these welcome speeches today will make the most difference through greater efforts to deliver culturally responsive and inclusive pedagogy an effort that the Provost will support with a Faculty Learning Community on this subject this year.

In reading the Master Plan report I was struck by the statistic that in California 64% of the tenured faculty and leadership in the CSU and 62% and 72% respectively of the leadership and tenured faculty in the Community Colleges and UCs are reported to be white while only 23% of the 2.8 million undergraduates in higher education are of this ethnicity.

Clearly this has to change and as we enter into a new phase of shared governance and the hiring of administrators such as the Dean of CEAS and our President and of new faculty in programs such as my own AGES we must bear this statistic in mind.

I have been encouraged this summer by the organic mobilization of many faculty staff and students around the issue of institutional racism and in support of efforts to close the equity gap.

Many of our colleagues and our students have organized and participated in protests across the Bay Area and on our campus they have joined forces in the Alliance for the Black Community the White Anti-Racist Collective and the Un-DocuAlly Task Force.

And almost 650 staff and faculty signed an open letter to our students professing our commitment to combatting racism and anti Blackness – to promoting social justice and to achieving equitable success for all our students.

I have also been encouraged this summer by the willingness of our administration to engage in discourse on these and other topics for example in the weekly meetings and frank discussions we have held between our Senate leadership and President Morishita and Provost Inch and in the Strategic Planning process chaired by Vice President Espinoza and Provost Inch which is doubling down on addressing structural inequities within our student outcomes.

The Strategic Plan is committing to making student resource centers for our African American and Undocumented students a reality adding to commitments already made to staff coordinator positions in support of campus efforts for both of these student groups.

Looking at the year ahead it seems from all the evidence that we are about to enter the first of a multiyear economic crisis that will see our University budget shrink.

This raises the specter of layoffs of staff and faculty and makes the role of the Senate which appoints each year the University Committee on Layoffs to advise our President and our committees like COBRA which advises the University administration and particularly the Provost on our spending priorities even more important than usual.

It requires that our Senate work together with our administration and our unions especially the California Faculty Association and the California Employees Union to craft a balanced – equitable consensus approach to weathering the coming budget crisis with the greater collective good first and foremost in all our minds.

Together we are stronger divided we are weaker and our Senate is one place that we all come together – administration – faculty – staff and students – and can craft a collective response to continue to fulfil our mission – educating the students that entrust us with preparing them for the future and for the challenges ahead – even in the face of severe adversities.

The next time we meet to convene our university community for a new academic year we will have a new President.

We should be introducing one today but President Morishita gallantly agreed to continue on through the end of the calendar year to provide continuity of leadership in addressing the Covid19 crisis and I am very grateful for his generosity commitment and integrity in agreeing to do so.

In September the Advisory Committee to the Board of Trustees of which I, Jason Smith, Vanessa Yingling, Lisa Booker and Suzanne Espinoza will be the faculty, staff and administration representatives will meet to review the application packages of potential candidates.

We will do our very best on your behalf to identify and to recommend the best candidate who we believe like President Morishita before them can uphold and further shape the mission and values of our University and our commitment to an equitable socially just and sustainable society as we strive to educate our amazing – diverse – inspirational East Bay students.

Thank you all for your time and your continued efforts to support our shared governance and have a productive, safe and healthy academic year wear your masks in public and wash your hands frequently.