2013 Fall Convocation

Faculty and staff were in attendance for the Fall Convocation in the University Theatre welcoming the start of the 2013-2014 academic year. (Photo: Garvin Tso)

September 23, 2013

Thank you and good morning.  Let me officially welcome you, the Cal State East Bay community, back to campus as we begin our 2013-14 academic year. First, I would like us to reflect on the rich history of this institution and the legacy of Dr. Norma Rees, the first woman (and third) President of Cal State East Bay.  As you know, Dr. Rees passed away on June 6.  Her contributions to both this campus and her field of expertise in Communicative Disorders will be remembered for years to come.  Please join me in a moment of silence in honor of Dr. Rees.

Thank you.     

I would like to thank Ms. Michelle Xiong, President of Associated Students Inc., Dr. Eileen Barrett, Acting Chair of the Academic Senate, and Dr. James Houpis, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, for joining me on the stage this morning.  Our success depends on our ability to work collegially and collaboratively to continue to make Cal State East Bay the best that it can be.

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.

If this is your first time back to campus since commencement, I’m sure you noticed that our skyline is very different. For almost 40 years, Warren Hall served as one of the most visible landmarks in the surrounding Bay Area. Last month, the CSU Systems’ most seismically vulnerable building was imploded which garnered much media coverage – I’m sure you saw some of it on YouTube, on television, or in a newspaper. What an exciting event to see the building successfully imploded. And the worldwide coverage we got was incredible.  The collaborative work with our Geology faculty and the U.S.Geological Survey unit was a wonderful partnership.

The implosion left us with 12,500 tons of material and almost all of it is being recycled and some will even be used for the new replacement building.  In 2015, a sustainable and energy efficient building adjacent to the Student Administration Building will be completed, housing Academic Services and Faculty Offices. Soil dug up during preparation of the foundation for the new building will be moved to the Warren Hall site to fill in the ground where Warren Hall used to be—a symmetry between the old Warren Hall and the new building - recognizing a history rooted in the University’s community and traditions as we progress toward a promising future.  

Now, I would like to thank the members of my cabinet, the academic and administrative leaders in our many 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 would like to take this opportunity to introduce a new member of my cabinet, Vice President for University Advancement, Ara Serjoie.  Ara is a seasoned fundraiser and development administrator with experience in higher education and nonprofits, and comes to us from Clark College in Washington.  He has been here only twenty days but is quickly learning about you, our students and our university so that together we can continue to elevate the University’s profile within the community and with our alumni and increase our philanthropic support.  Vice President Serjoie, will you please stand and be recognized and will you all join me in welcoming Ara to our campus?

I am also pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Jagdish Agrawal as the Dean of the College of Business and Economics, also after a nationwide search.  Dr. Agrawal’s goal is that the College of Business and Economics be widely known for its outstanding academic programs involving experiential learning, innovative curriculum, internships and job opportunities in the public and private sectors. He is committed to helping students meet their career goals and contribute to the local, regional and global economy.  Dean Agrawal, will you please stand and be recognized?

I am pleased to welcome John Wenzler as the new University Librarian. John has his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Rochester and has an extensive background shaping technology to improve access to information resources.  He brings more than a decade of library experience to his new position.  Dr. Wenzler, will you please stand and be recognized? 

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 or wave.  Please help me welcome and congratulate these colleagues.

Since we arrived on campus three years ago, some of you may have had the opportunity to meet my wife, Barbara Hedani-Morishita.  She is my greatest supporter and critic and shares my enthusiasm for making this university the very best that it can be.  Barbara, would you please stand and be recognized?

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. You are outstanding.

During my first convocation, I stated that one of my goals is to rebuild the number of tenured faculty here at CSUEB. I am proud to announce that this academic year, 25 new tenure-track faculty members join us to advance our academic excellence and institutional distinction. They are an impressive group of scholars, with a range of excellence that I know will bring a new sense of global awareness to the University.  I am also very pleased with the diversity of this cohort of faculty in terms of ethnicity, gender, and ability.  The wealth of perspectives and experiences they bring to our university’s learning environment is outstanding. 

I would like to extend a personal welcome to these new faculty members.  You are the newest members of a distinguished faculty who have brought a sense of pride and recognition to the University through teaching, scholarship, creative activities and service to our students and the community.  I wish each of you success as you begin your professional journey as part of the Cal State East Bay family and we look forward to your contributions in advancing the University.   

One of our highest priorities is to continue to hire, nurture and retain a diverse faculty to lead our academic programs. In addition to these 25 new faculty members, I am happy to announce that I have authorized the Provost to conduct 26 tenure-track faculty searches this academic year.

This University has as strong a staff as I have ever worked with, all making valued contributions to an inclusive, vibrant learning environment that prioritizes the needs of our students.  Thank you for your dedication, hard work and commitment to the success of our students and the university.  I would ask our newest staff members who have joined the university in the past year to stand or wave and be recognized.

As is our tradition at Fall Convocation, I would like to recognize individuals who have been honored by the University community this last year. Each year a faculty member is selected to receive the George and Miriam Phillips Outstanding Professor Award and a staff member is selected to receive the Vivian Cunniffe Award for the outstanding staff employee.  Newly created this year, three additional faculty awards were also presented: Outstanding Mentor of Students, Outstanding New Researcher, and Outstanding Contributor to Community Engagement.

I invite the following to stand and be recognized:

  • Dr. Nancy Mangold, Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Accounting & Finance and recipient of the Phillips Outstanding Professor award;
  • Ms. Terry Cunningham, Academic Advisor in the Office of Liberal Studies, recipient of the Vivian Cunniffe award;
  • Dr. Jennifer Eagan, Professor, Department of Philosophy, recipient of the Outstanding Mentor of Students award;
  • Dr. Jiming Wu, Assistant Professor, Department of Management, Outstanding New Researcher award; and,
  • Dr. Lettie Ramirez, Professor, Department of Teacher Education, Outstanding Contributor to Community Engagement.

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

A year ago in my convocation address, I spoke of impending budget cuts predicated on the election.  As you know, the voters of California, including you, overwhelmingly passed Proposition 30, providing much needed funding for valuable State programs, including Higher Education.  After years of budget shortfalls, increasing enrollment demands, and the struggle to keep us affordable and accessible, we finally have a floor beneath our feet.  You should be proud of your advocacy on behalf of this campus—and your continued advocacy efforts will be important in 2014 and beyond.

Despite this success, the CSU and Cal State East Bay still confront many financial challenges. The one billion dollars cut from the CSU budget will never fully be restored in the way cuts were made.  All new monies will be earmarked for enrollment growth, salary increases, rising benefit costs, mandatory cost increases, and new initiatives. 

This is why last year, we began an ambitious new undertaking – Planning for Distinction.   Planning for Distinction was initiated with the goal of identifying the University’s areas of distinction and investing resources appropriately to reinforce the University’s mission and the strategic commitments and institutional learning outcomes we adopted.  From the outset we asked the university community to participate in a process of identifying priorities for future resources, and your response has been tremendous. You embraced our need for better data and better cross-divisional understanding of what we do.  Both the instructional and support service task forces worked diligently all last year.  And now every program is either in the process of preparing their reports for review or soon will be. I look forward to receiving the results this winter so that the University will be positioned to move forward in enhancing the quality of the education we provide for our students.   

Also, last year, the university engaged in a structured assessment of the effort and cost that would be associated with a change from the quarter system to the semester system. This work was discussed with the Chancellor who has stated his support for the semester system.  Plans about conversion are still under discussion. Two other campuses are in the first wave of conversion and CSUEB was mentioned as being in the second wave.  When there is a clear direction and plan to share regarding this system-wide discussion, I will communicate this information to the campus community.

I want to acknowledge last October’s incredible day of celebration, for Faculty Honors, Investiture, and Al Fresco. The entire campus community came together to produce an extraordinary week of events, from numerous service activities to a terrific Al Fresco. Thanks to the several committees who put in much time and effort to make the day of Celebration and Week of Service so memorable. Thank you for all that you did to make it such a very special time.

Let me also take a moment to recognize the success of the 2013 Commencement exercises. Commencement is my favorite time of the year because it is the culmination of why we are here:  the successful completion of our students’ endeavors.  I thought the video we saw earlier captured the excitement and celebratory nature of commencement very well.  While moving to three ceremonies was not easy, I can tell you that I have received extremely positive feedback from our graduates, their families and friends, as well as from many external community members complementing us on our hospitality and how well run and efficient the ceremonies were.  It took hundreds of people thousands of hours to prepare and execute Cal State East Bay’s three commencements and related events.  The success of the day depended entirely on our dedicated and committed Cal State East Bay staff, faculty and administrators all working together in support of our students, their families, and guests. Thank you to everybody for all of your hard work on a job exceptionally well done.

I now want to speak about our strategic commitment on academic quality:

  • During the week of April 22nd, the University celebrated the scholarship of our faculty and students. Each afternoon a different event showcased the disciplinary research and creative activities of faculty and students as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning occurring on this campus. The Week of Scholarship will be an ongoing annual celebration of faculty and student scholarship, and continued demonstration of our commitment to an experiential and student-centered learning environment.
  •  The Princeton Review rated Cal State East Bay a "Best in the West" college for 2013 – the ninth consecutive year the University has been so recognized
  •  The most recent U.S. News and World Report’s Campus Ethnic Diversity Index rated Cal State East Bay #5 in the Western US and #1 among all 23 CSUs.
  • Cal State East Bay was also ranked nationally among the top 25 online colleges and universities in a recent 2013 Online College Rankings report.
  • A2E2 continued to fund multiple service and student-focused activities and programs to enrich the academic and co-curricular life of our students and support our faculty in their activities. Achievements since the inception of A2E2 include over $2 million allocated towards purchasing instructional and research equipment, the establishment of advising centers in all four colleges, and the establishment of a Center for Student Research.
  • This quarter, the arts, communication, and media departments are joining together as the “School of Arts and Media”.  The goal of the newly-formed School in CLASS will be to enhance activities and visibility in the arts and media fields, and to promote cross-disciplinary curriculum, research, and teaching. 

In our continuing outreach efforts in support of an inclusive community:

  • Last winter, the University combined our two educational summits into one large and extremely well attended event – “It Takes A Community!” – providing admissions resources and  information to over 1000 students and their families from First Generation, African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander households.
  • The campus also created the “Gaining Access 'N Academic Success” program, more commonly known as GANAS, which targets and serves newly arrived community college transfer students.  Open to all students and with a particular focus on Latino and underrepresented populations, GANAS offers integrated academic and cultural approaches to welcome and socialize new transfer students while increasing their confidence, engagement, resiliency, academic success, persistence, and, ultimately, baccalaureate degree attainment rates.
  • I am pleased that the Leadership and Employment Enrichment Program has grown. The program offers about 9 workshops, classes or training opportunities, each week, in addition to offering numerous volunteer opportunities in the surrounding community. LEEP has received positive feedback on all of its initiatives, and in particular, the personal enrichment programs are helping to build a stronger sense of community within the University.
  • The Hayward Promise Neighborhoods project continues its success in coordinating health, social, community, and educational support from cradle through career in the Jackson Triangle.
  • And our Institute for STEM Education continues to prepare students for success in STEM fields and to advance STEM teaching and learning in parallel with the rapidly changing knowledge, practices, and needs in STEM fields and disciplines. Part of this work includes the Gateways East Bay STEM Network which is a partnership of education, non-profit, civic, philanthropic and business leaders from Alameda and Contra Costa Counties working on enhancing preparation of students in STEM classes and disciplines from cradle to career.

We continue to strengthen the vibrancy of our campus through enhanced student life activities:

  • As part of Career Readiness Month last spring, a University-wide coalition led by Associated Students, Inc., Academic Advising and Career Education and University Advancement held eight Industry Job Panels, to unite the community around improving student engagement in their own career-readiness. The panels consisted of executives, managers, human resource professionals, recruiters, and leaders in their fields chosen from among our notable and distinguished alumni and our greater community of partners. Students were able to hear what skills and abilities employers value. They also heard firsthand accounts of how our alumni achieved success and left these sessions inspired that they too, could be professionally successful after receiving their degree from Cal State East Bay.     
  • I am pleased to tell you that we reported to the NCAA that our graduation rate for our most recent student-athlete cohort was 65%. Thirteen of our fifteen teams had cumulative grade point averages above 3.0 and over the last six consecutive terms 60% of our approximately 250 student athletes had a 3.0 grade-point-average or above. Fourteen student-athletes have a grade point average of 4.0. 

I also am excited about the progress made towards enhancing our efforts in sustainability.

  • The University received a second grant to triple the number of electric vehicle charging stations.  The additional stations have been installed in time for the fall quarter providing spaces for 16 vehicles to charge in Lot G. 
  • You may have noticed changes to our landscaping, as a result of sustainability initiatives adopted last year. Our topsoil is now made from composted green waste produced on campus and the first of three edible sites has been established, which provides tomatoes, basil, and other produce.
  • Many more courses now incorporate sustainability concepts. One class in Geography and Environmental Studies, working with Facilities Development and Operations, landscaped an area adjacent to Robinson Hall with native plants as part of a class project.
  • Student housing’s move out Reuse/Recycle program received a national award and was highlighted on KTVU.
  • Shuttle transportation between the Hayward campus and Castro Valley BART was added, weekend and evening service to Downtown Hayward is now provided, and shuttle service between the Concord campus and Concord BART has been enhanced.

Community service learning is also expanding as a hallmark of our University.

  • Last year we increased the number of service hours provided by our students to our regional communities to more than 200,000 hours. 
  • I was very proud of our students, faculty, staff and administrators who helped transform Harder Elementary School prior to my investiture. Almost 250 volunteers cleaned, painted and beautified this elementary school in the Hayward Promise Neighborhood, located a few blocks down the hill from this campus.
  • This past spring, freshmen engaged in Cal State East Bay’s second Freshmen Day of Service.  Approximately 1,325 students participated in 77 community service projects located throughout the Bay Area.
  • The Cal State East Bay Athletics Department through the Read with the Pioneers Program encouraged 448 Hayward area elementary school students from four schools to read 205,000 pages last year.

While this is not a comprehensive list of the outstanding accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students, our collective achievements last year clearly demonstrate our ability to excel.  I would like to thank each of you for your dedication and commitment to our students and the University.

Cal State East Bay continues its strong commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence. Our performance is predicated on bringing diverse ideas and perspectives to the campus and reducing many of the barriers to access to quality higher education, such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability or many other human characteristics.

In June I announced the creation of the University Diversity Office with the purpose of focusing on inclusive excellence in our dynamic and diverse academic community.  As we move forward to further develop and implement our strategic diversity plan, we will address inclusive pedagogy, student and employee recruitment and retention, professional development, research, engaging diverse communities, and international collaborations.

I asked Dr. Dianne Rush Woods to serve in the inaugural position of University Diversity Officer and she began her new assignment on July 1st to support the University’s 2ndstrategic commitment, “to enhance our inclusive campus by responding to the backgrounds and interests of our diverse community and promoting their academic, professional and personal development”.  We need to have faculty and staff who reflect the wonderful diversity of our students.  The University Diversity Office alone cannot create an environment of inclusive excellence.  Dianne will be working across divisions and departments to support our campus- wide effort to uphold our strategic commitment to diversity and inclusiveness while working and learning at Cal State East Bay.  Dr. Rush Woods, will you please stand and be recognized?

At my first convocation, I stated my number one priority was our students.  I believe strongly in working with students to overcome obstacles inside and outside the classroom, focusing on their intellectual, personal and emotional development. 

I also stressed the need to build a sustainable pathway to strengthen Cal State East Bay’s excellence and distinction.  I promised we would take actions together based on what is best for our students AND the learning and growth experiences we want to provide for them.  Through listening sessions, the campus community expressed ideas about what more we can and should do to enhance Cal State East Bay as a welcoming, engaging and inspiring place for our students to learn and grow as individuals.  As a result, we wrote the University’s third Strategic Commitment, Student Success: “Serve students first, by expanding access and enhancing each student’s educational experience and prospects for success as a graduate and life-long learner.”

This commitment reinforces my deep interest in improving the learning experience and personal growth of our students.  As you may know, my career in academia began in EOP working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds to provide access and opportunities for them to obtain a baccalaureate degree.  I believe that with support and guidance for all students, and their hard work, many can achieve their educational dreams.  

That is why I am asking the entire campus community to join me; to become partners in a new vision to enhance the total student experience and student success model – in class, out of class, in the residence halls, and elsewhere – with a focus on increasing retention and graduation rates. 

Our retention and graduation rates are unacceptably low – a 43% six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen; and a 51% 3-year graduation rate for transfers.  Our four year graduation rate is below 20%.  Even though these rates are not uncommon for similar public universities, I believe we can do better.  We need to set goals to strive toward. 

  • Can we work together to increase the six year graduation rate for entering freshman from 43% to 60 % by 2020?;  and,
  • Can we work together to increase the three year graduation rate for transfer students from 51% to 65 % by 2020?

Over the course of the next 6 years, we will need to take a number of intermediate steps and concrete measurements, including increasing the first and second year retention rates for all of our students, moving towards our longer term goals.  

I have tasked the Cabinet with guiding this collaboration in unison with the entire University community.  Student success is the responsibility of everyone at Cal State East Bay – faculty, staff, administrators AND students.  This is not going to be a simple or easy task to accomplish.

I am asking each and every one of you to reflect, analyze and question everything you are doing in light of how you, in whatever job you hold, help our students succeed at our university.  Are we providing the welcoming environment that we want for our students both inside and outside the classroom? We must ask ourselves why we lose 35-45% of our first-time freshmen by the end of their second year.  Are the hours we are open to students serving our students well?  Are the services or programs we have established, truly aiding in the retention and graduation of our students?   In the first two years, our students’ main coursework is in general education.  Is it acceptable to have approximately 20% of the GE sections that we offer have a drop withdrawal fail rate of 20% or greater?  How have we taken into account that nearly 50% of our students are first generation college students?  How do we take into account that many of these students, as well as many others, are unfamiliar with a college environment and learning expectations?  How do we convince our students that it is not so much the grade they receive that is important, but rather what they learn that they can take with them for the rest of their lives? I am not talking about reducing what our students learn in their classes but improving the quality of our pedagogy so that students can learn the material and pass the course.  Nor am I talking about reducing access to our university.

I am asking each and every employee of CSUEB to ask themselves this question: “What can I do to help our students succeed in their studies at CSUEB and want to stay at our university?” I have greeted hundreds of new students (freshmen and transfers) who come to our great university excited about being here.  They come to learn but are anxious, unsure and a little in awe about being at our university.  In each department, are we welcoming them in the way we provide services to them?  The way we answer their questions?  The speed with which we are able to respond to their questions, phone calls or emails?  The ease for them to register for courses, and hopefully ones they want to take? 

In the classroom, do we maintain their interest and excitement about a subject or topic by making it interesting and thought provoking?  Do we make our lectures and discussions as relevant to our students as possible?  We must ask ourselves these types of questions so that we can improve on the retention and graduation rates of our students.  We must explore successful high impact practices, such as our peer mentor program, that aid in the success of our students.  We can learn from each other but also see what practices have been successful at other universities.  At Back to the Bay, we heard of a program at CSU Chico that has improved the retention and graduation rates of all students participating.  For students of color in this program, they actually surpassed the success rates of their white peers.  Will that program achieve the same results here?  I don’t know but we should at least look into the program and assess its potential for our students. 

I want to make sure that all of us understand that this is not about achieving a number.  It is about doing our best, to do whatever it takes so that students who come through our doors will achieve their own dreams and goals that come with higher learning and a college degree.  I know that many of you will look at those numbers and think that radical improvement is impossible.  As a source of inspiration, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from the late Robert F. Kennedy.  Senator Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

We can, and must, do much better in retaining and then graduating our students.  It is going to take a number of steps/actions in every area of the University to reach our goals.  Towards this end, last week I announced a single, but important step in this plan.  I am re-establishing the division of Student Affairs, consolidating services that contribute to student development that are critical to student learning and success. 

Effective today, I am appointing Stan Hébert as the Acting Vice President for Student Affairs. Stan’s long-standing association with Cal State East Bay, as well as his broad experiences in student services and his deeply-rooted commitment to students uniquely qualify him for this role.  Vice President Hebert, will you please stand and be recognized?   

Initially, the Student Affairs division will include the offices of Student Retention Services, Student Life and Leadership, Student Health and Counseling, Student Housing and Residence Life, Parking and Transportation, Accessibility Services and Student Development. Bringing together these services under this division signifies, I hope, the importance of the services and programs outside of the classroom that can contribute to the success of our students.  Working with the other divisions of the university, the focus will be doing all that we can to enhance student success.

The Cabinet and I collectively agree that this is an important component and I will be asking everyone to work together in partnership to strengthen the student experience and meet these goals. 

As an institution, all of us are responsible for creating a student-centered learning environment, which connects to the reality of our students.  We need to provide, reinforce, and enhance what it means to be adaptable, a team player, a leader, a life-long learner.  And we need to instill in our students not only the importance of competency in the basic skills, but the importance of diversity, creativity, critical thinking and higher learning.  All of these aspects of learning, both those that occur inside and outside the classroom, are geared to advancing the whole person, a person who will not only grow intellectually, but also develop a sense of social responsibility.

I ask you to think of the challenge I have raised to our collective community and for you to come up with ways that you can contribute.  We will be eliciting your suggestions, ideas and input toward achieving our goals.

My friends ask me if I am still having fun being the president at CSUEB.  I smile and tell them that yes I am, indeed, still having fun.  I can say this because of each of you and the students we serve.  Your dedication and commitment to our students and the students themselves inspire and excite me about coming to work with all of you every day of the year.  I thank you for this and hope that this year will be one of your and our best years yet.

Thank you.  And Go Pioneers!