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President's Fall Address
August 30, 2007

Alexander Gonzalez
Sacramento State


Good morning, and thank you for being here today.  It’s nice to see the campus community gathered together again after a tough spring semester and a too-short summer.  I hope that you have all had an enjoyable break, and that you were able to enjoy extra time with family and friends.  It’s important that we take the time to rest, relax and recharge.  In fact, for the first time in at least ten years, I actually took a two week vacation.  My batteries are recharged.
As a reminder, we’ll be gathering for the faculty and staff welcome back event this evening near the new bookstore.  I’m very much looking forward to it, and hopefully many of you plan to attend.  I think there will be something there for everyone to enjoy.

I also want to thank all of the community members and friends of the University who have joined us today.  You are so important to this campus, and we really appreciate your continued interest and enthusiasm.
Welcome, all of you, to the start of the fall semester and a new school year.  We have an exciting and promising year ahead of us, and I’m confident that despite some difficult issues we’ll have to confront, it will be one we all look back on with pride of accomplishment.  We have to remember that we are motivated by a shared commitment to the success of our students – a simple but powerful fact that brings us together.  It guides our work as we bring our myriad viewpoints and opinions to the table to make this campus a premier metropolitan university.
Before I continue, I want to be sure to welcome our freshmen class of faculty that is 27 strong this year.  They are joining our various colleges in departments like nursing, biological sciences, mechanical engineering, environmental studies, and theatre.  They come from universities across the nation such as MIT, Kansas and Washington State.  Any of you who are here today, please stand so we can recognize you with a warm Sacramento State welcome.
I know we also have a number of new staff members who have joined our community recently.  Those of you here today who joined us during the spring or summer, would you please stand?  Again, welcome.
We also have a few new people in leadership positions on campus, some of whom are filling positions after long vacancies.

  • Although many of you already know him since he joined us last spring, Larry Gilbert is our new Vice President and Chief Information Officer.  He comes to us from Western Washington University and already has had a significant impact on our campus.
  • Doug Jackson, Director of Academic Computing Resources, comes to us from the University of Texas at Dallas.
  • Jill Trainer is our new dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.  She is a biologist who comes to us from the University of Northern Iowa, and her research interests include behavioral ecology and ornithology.
  • Ed Mills is our new associate vice president for Student Affairs who will be focusing his attention on enrollment management.  He comes to Sacramento from Cleveland State University.
  • Joy Stewart-James is the new director of the Student Health Center.  She comes to Sacramento from Austin, Texas where she was the Director of Occupational Health Services at St. David’s Medical Center.

We also have two new Associate Deans:

  • Pia Wong (Education)
  • John Oldenburg (Engineering)

They have both been on campus for many years, and we welcome them to their new positions.

  • As part of our effort to extend ourselves internationally, through the College of Continuing Education, the government of China has sent 18 accounting students to spend this year with us (they arrive today), and 52 students from Tamkang University in Taiwan have arrived to spend a year with us as well.  We welcome them and all our international students.

Please, let’s provide a warm welcome for these new members of the university.
Today marks the beginning of my fifth year as president of this university.  While I have adhered to tradition in the past, I’m going to take a different approach this year.  While providing you with updates and information I also want to specifically address many of the questions people have asked me in recent months that were raised last year during the Faculty Senate’s referendum regarding my leadership.  I will also address questions that were submitted online just last week.


As you might expect, there have been many questions about how I think we can move forward following the difficult events of last semester.
Let me say at the outset that I am approaching this year with optimism.  Despite the outcome last spring, I think the process is in place to examine the issues that led to the vote of no confidence and come to a clear and reasonable resolution of the issues that were raised.  Now that some time has passed and emotions have reached a reasonable level as a result of the settlement of contracts with the various collective bargaining units, we can examine the issues objectively, without hyperbole, and distortions.  The facts are the facts.  And as the year unfolds, I think they will speak for themselves.
But I don’t want to dwell on that.  I’m a straight shooter who believes in moving ahead.  At the end of the last semester, I established the University Budget Advisory Committee and it has been working all summer long.  I’ll say more about its work later.  Additionally, Bruce Bikle, chair of the Faculty Senate, Dean Marilyn Hopkins, and I have begun discussions on the creation of a Commission to address issues on campus climate, communications, and governance.  The committee will provide a forum to discuss the many issues related to how we collectively govern ourselves and engage one another, the level of civility on campus, the articulation of a common understanding and purpose not only of the university but what we want to get out of our work personally, and work to identify the specific cultural and organizational challenges we face as a campus community.  It is my hope that after an open, candid and honest process, the Commission will make specific recommendations about needed changes where appropriate.  After several preparatory meetings this summer, we have discussed the role of the Faculty Senate in co-convening this group.  Dean Marilyn Hopkins has agreed to serve as one of the co-chairs for this effort.  We have also discussed the benefits of bringing in a professional to facilitate this effort.  I’m confident the Commission will begin its work very soon with the cooperation of faculty, staff and students.
But I don’t need a committee to tell me that our overall communications on campus need improvement.  I have heard you, and I understand that you want and need more information.  We need a greater shared understanding of how the campus operates and of the challenges facing us.  And along with that, we need to develop a culture and processes to ensure broad participation in campus decision-making.  That was made very clear to me last year.
The level and type of communication I am talking about is not something that I have focused on, since I assumed the process of communication on this campus was well established.  But it is something that now I know is needed and that I want to improve.  It is clearly a priority for me.  I will be working very hard during this academic year to ensure that the campus community is regularly informed and updated as we work toward developing processes that are transparent and inclusive.  I have asked the vice presidents and the deans to do the same, and I expect that commitment to be reflected throughout all levels of the university.  In addition, I will continue to meet with small groups of faculty and schedule town hall meetings that provide for a much deeper level of discussion and communication.
People have asked me how they can be more involved in improving our campus, and it is clear that they have great dedication and commitment to students.  This is where our improved communications will be important.  We need to be sure that members of the campus community are able to do something with the information they have.  Working closely with Associated Students, the Faculty Senate, and other campus groups, we will ensure that there are processes in place for shared and effective input and decision-making.
For example, the people at this campus have great ideas and enthusiasm for what they do.  In my first year here, the many suggestions and insights of our students, alumni, faculty and staff spurred development of our Destination 2010 initiative.  I have continued to receive interesting ideas and comments, but it is clear we must focus on opening up new channels for information sharing as well as input.
I want to be clear that we all have a responsibility here.  I think I’m safe in saying that communications is a two-way street.  This is not simply something for the President and a few administrators to tackle.  There are multiple formal communications methods on this campus, there are countless informal ones, and there are new ones being developed constantly.  But for any of it to matter, those with an interest in being involved must actively listen and process the information.  And there must be an energetic, positive participation in the processes.
It will take all of us together, all consciously deciding to participate in open dialogue.  It will require many of us choosing to participate in committees and work groups.  We will have to overcome many of our preconceptions, and we will have to develop new ways of disagreeing and of compromising.  We must develop a new sense of collegiality.

I have had many questions about the campus budget, some as specific as why certain classes aren’t offered.
First, let me thank our new University Budget Advisory Committee that is chaired by Dean Emir Macari.  This summer, this group worked very hard on our behalf.  Not only did they review a vast amount of information related to the university’s operating budget, but they also met throughout the summer and heard from every vice president so they could understand both the scope and challenges of their work.  As a result of their hard work and dedication to the task, they were able to develop recommendations on a very short timeline.  I have already shared these with the campus community earlier in the week, but let me reiterate them here.  First, and most important, the committee concluded that a structural deficit does exist and that it began many years ago but had not been recognized as such until the campus experienced a flattening of enrollment.  Second, the most prudent approach to take is to rebalance the budget over two or more years rather than all at once.  And third, the committee recognized that divisional allocations need to be examined further.
During the coming year, the campus will follow the comprehensive budget development process outlined by the University Budget Advisory Committee.  The University Budget Advisory Committee will continue its work in close cooperation with the Strategic Planning Council and other campus groups.  The overall process will afford many more people an opportunity to have input regarding the campus operating budget.  I hope you will take advantage of the fact that information about the budget, its development, allocation and expenditures will be available to everyone.  In fact, this fall, the University Budget Advisory Committee will be provided detailed information on all aspects of the budget relative to Academic Affairs and will include workload, salary and instructional costs.  This is a key example of how the University is opening up its decision-making processes to allow broader participation.  I am hopeful that the transparency and collegiality that have been part of the process with UBAC so far can be replicated throughout the campus.  To that end, and as I announced last semester, I am in the process of appointing advisory groups for University Advancement, Student Affairs, Human Resources and Administrative and Business Affairs.
A number of external challenges that we discussed last year drives our current budget situation.  The state’s budget shortfalls continue to result in under-funding of higher education.  This is happening in many other states, so we’re certainly not alone.  We are also facing a leveling off of the number of high school graduates, and some parts of the country are seeing declines in undergraduate enrollment.  As a result, more universities are starting to compete with us for new students.  In fact, some of our sister campuses have been having success in recruiting students right here in Sacramento.
Compounding the challenge for us is the fact that for four years in a row we have not reached our enrollment growth targets.  So, we have been budgeting for a larger student population than we actually have.  That is, although we have continued to grow, we have not grown to the level for which we have been funded.  In addition, mandatory costs have continued to grow and while I am very pleased with the recent collective bargaining agreements, in order to fund fully the salary increases for this coming year, we must use campus resources.
The end result of all this is that the campus will be dealing with a structural deficit of about $7.5 million to our operating budget and, while it won’t be easy, it is manageable.  We receive $142 million from the state general fund and, with student fees included; our operating budget is about $240 M.  So, when considering the overall size of the operating budget, it is something we can handle.  The budget committee’s recommendations about how to deal with it, and the approach they have recommended, should lessen the negative impact on our mission of educating our students.  In fact, under this approach, we can actually turn things around if we begin to grow.  The key to all this working however, involves not only rebalancing our operating budget, but also another critical variable—enrollment.

I am also frequently asked questions about enrollment, so let me tell you what I know at this point.
First of all, it should be evident that enrollment drives our operating budget.  As I’ve explained, if we don’t reach our funded enrollment target, we lose a commensurate amount of budgetary support.  For this fall, there are promising signs that we will meet or exceed our enrollment target.  But because we have made so many changes to registration timelines and deadlines this year, we can’t reliably compare to past years.  We’ll know much more after the start of classes.
Enrollment must remain a top priority for us in coming years.  It clearly has an effect on our budget and our ability to operate, but enrollment levels also indicate how well we are helping our students to be successful.  Enrollment includes not only recruiting and enrolling students, but retaining them and making sure they graduate.
To be blunt, our retention rates and our graduation rate are simply not good enough.  Compared to the CSU System, we are well in the lower half.  We must do better for our students, and we are taking active steps to begin to address this issue.  Academic units are preparing and implementing retention plans, and we have begun requiring new students to attend orientation and to participate in the mandatory advising program during their first year on campus.  These are positive efforts that I believe will lead to good results, but we must continue to be creative about doing even more.  I want to thank everyone who has been involved with addressing this issue so far.

Now that I have addressed the big issue on everyone’s mind, I want to update you on a number of campus projects and initiatives.  But first let me address a few other questions that were submitted online.  Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time today to answer all of them because they are so specific, but I’ll try to be as inclusive as possible.
Why are no new classrooms being constructed, and what about Science II?  In fact, we hope to open up new classroom space next year.  The former bookstore building is being renovated to include five to eight new classrooms.  They will be large rooms, as requested by the deans and provost.  But, this addition of classrooms is a campus project and not part of the CSU capital program.
That’s the good news.  The bad news is that Science II, a new science building, has actually slipped in the priority list at the system level.  Funding for new buildings is dependent on two factors: enrollment and space utilization.  Both are determined by formulae developed by the State Department of Finance, not by us.  Unfortunately, this campus will not secure new state-funded buildings until we increase enrollment and utilization levels that meet the minimal threshold.  With our flat enrollment, we are currently 928 FTES below that threshold.  Once again, outreach, enrollment and retention are the keys not only to securing a good budget, but also new state buildings.
Why have courses been cancelled?  This is the question I referred to earlier.  Each semester students send me emails about courses that have been cancelled or of the need to add more sections.  I think the best way to answer this is to point out that the president does not dictate class scheduling decisions.  I personally do not believe in micro managing and this is something that is clearly handled at the dean or department chair level.  The provost is the Chief Academic Officer in any university, and it is the Provost who provides the leadership and management for our academic programs. Again, when students and faculty think the president is responsible for everything, it points to the need for a better understanding and communications about how the university operates. 
What is the status of the Events Center?  We are seeking a partnership agreement with a third party to get this project started.  At this point, we’re looking at an 8,000 to 10,000-seat arena.  An RFQ – request for qualifications – document has been drafted and is being reviewed by the Chancellor’s Office.  This would be considered a privately funded project.  Clearly, this is something that will happen only is we can develop a public private partnership.
What is being done for the nursing program, which is impacted?  Actually, we have received some assistance from the state to increase the number of nursing students.  However, it clearly is only a small part of what we need to open the program to more students.  Again, space is a major issue for the program and there are some possibilities that we will explore for the future.  I’ll say more when I cover the recent purchase of a new building for the campus.
Does the management agreement with Follett to operate the campus bookstore help or hurt students?  Can you promise students that book publishers will not over-price textbooks?  Follett’s management is absolutely positive for students.  Their approach has shortened lines for buying textbooks, and they provided about $1 million for the interior of the new bookstore.  As for the second part of the question, I’ll frankly respond that the President of one university can’t reign in the book publishers.  However, this issue has garnered national attention and even Congress has been looking at finding a solution to the high cost of books.  In addition, the CSU is directly addressing this issue with their “Digital Marketplace” initiative.  But our bookstore carries many used textbooks at reduced prices, and it buys back any re-adopted books at 50 percent of the purchase price.  The bookstore has also started offering digital versions of some books in the larger disciplines.
Are there any plans for creating new practice fields, or buying land for this purpose?  Are there any plans to purchase land near the water treatment plant or to buy the ball fields near the Folsom entrance to campus?  What are plans for a Performing Arts Center, and where would it be located?  I’m afraid the answer is “no” to the first question and “no” to the second question since the city owns the land and has given no indication that it wants to part with it– although you never know what opportunities will come up.  As for the performing arts center, I know there has been talk of building one, but as with Science II, until we can demonstrate a need based on enrollment and utilization or until we can find private support for construction, we can only begin to have discussions of what we would want it to contain as well as where it would be located.
Someone submitted a question online about my thoughts on the CSU accessible technology initiative that will have an impact on much of what we do in instruction.  I would answer simply: I think it is vitally important.  At its heart, this initiative is about fairness and about doing what the CSU does best – offering the greatest possible access to higher education.  Under this initiative, the CSU is committed to making information technology and resources available to everyone, regardless of ability or challenge.  It is a large effort, and many of you will be involved.  I would ask that we all work to live up to the spirit of this work – to do all we can in our individual work to make the campus more accessible.
On a related note, there have been some changes in how we administer information technology on campus.  Under our Vice President and Chief Information Officer Larry Gilbert, we have reorganized a number of existing units into a division called Information Resources Technology, which will be focused on supporting the academic process.  A key priority this year will be information security, an area in strong need of attention.

Now for a few updates and announcements.
First, I hope you are all aware that Sacramento State is now a much different place than it was last year.  The reason is simple.  After securing WASC approval, we have begun offering, for the first time in our history, an independent doctoral degree.  Our first cohort in the new doctorate in educational leadership and policy is enrolled this semester.  I want to thank everyone who helped develop this program – and best of luck to the first students.
You are probably aware that we also successfully completed the first phase of our WASC review for reaccreditation.  Although it was a lot of work that involved many members of the campus community.  We hosted the visiting team last spring.  The visit focused on our capacity and ability to deliver our programs.  After the campus visit and the commission accepted the team’s report regarding our campus, we met with the commission and received permission to proceed to the next step in the process.  The second phase of the reaccreditation procedure will involve another visit focused on our effectiveness in teaching and learning.  This will take place in the spring of 2008 and emphasizes assessment of learning outcomes; part of developing a culture of evidence-based decision making that is vital and significant to our success.
Another very important development finalized during the summer was the purchase of the CalSTRS building by University Enterprises.  It is on Folsom Blvd. contiguous to the campus.  Earlier I mentioned some new classrooms we’re building for next year.  Well, this offers us much more space.  It’s an 188,000 square-foot building – nearly twice as large as the Academic Information Resource Center – that will eventually be used for academic programs and related activities.  CalSTRS will lease it back from UEI for up to two years while they build their new building in West Sac, and then we can move in.  There will be more information about this in coming months as we begin to plan what programs will be part of this very valuable addition to the campus.

Initial year-end reports show that we’ve had another very successful year as far as generating private support – raising a record $17 million.  Our alumni and friends remain excited and energized by what we’re doing here.  Many are volunteering their time with fundraising, mentoring and other activities in support of our students.  In addition, approximately $300,000 that was raised by the annual fund effort is being directed to the provost and deans to be used for academic priorities.  Private support also funded the new theatre lobby as well as the tea room and gardens in the lower level of the library.
Our strategic planning process is also moving forward, and I hope you will all participate in the discussions that are planned for early this fall.  The Strategic Planning Committee – chaired by Provost Sheley – solicited campus assistance and received extensive feedback on the initial portion, which was a set of value statements.  The next step is a broad discussion about a set of foundational goals to guide our work over the next five years.  These goals will address some of the issues that were raised during our recent WASC reaccreditation review – which include campus communications, student retention, and outcome-based assessment.  I see these goals and the work of SPC as exceptionally important.  I want to thank everyone who has participated in that effort.
There has also been progress on a number of campus capital projects.

  • Of course our new bookstore is open for business near the University Union.  A grand opening is set for 10 a.m. on Sept. 12 and will continue throughout the day.
  • Foley Hall is being torn down on the north end of campus to make way for a new residence hall.  That will add 606 beds on campus and will be completed by fall 2009.
  • Construction is well under way on the new Broad Athletic Facility south of the stadium.  When it is completed in early 2008, work can begin on the new student Recreation and Wellness Center.  The date to begin construction will be in June of 2008 and occupancy will occur in the fall of 2010.
  • Planning is also well underway on the faculty and staff housing project on Ramona Ave., and we are hoping we can issue an RFP – a Request for Proposals – from developers after we have updated our needs survey. The survey should be completed by the end of this year. Since I focused on the operating budget this morning, I would also like to point out that all these projects are non-state funded projects.  That is to say, funding comes from non-state sources such as gifts, revenues and fees and are therefore, self-supporting.  The operating budget and the system capital program are not affected by these projects.
  • Someone also asked for an update on Destination 2010.  Actually, we are on track in many ways.  And, with the work of the SPC and the University Budget Committee, we should begin to address some of the planning and coordination needed to develop Destination 2010 further.
  • Finally, someone asked what my five priorities are.  That is a very good question, especially since one of the things I heard last year was that I had “misplaced priorities.”  Well let me state them now, unequivocally.  My first priority is to promote academic excellence for this university.  To me that means excellence and achievement not only for students, but faculty as well.  It means excelling not only at teaching but research and scholarly activity as well as service to the community.  Second is to provide access and to raise retention and graduation rates for our students.  Third is to promote open communication and the use of data and evidence as the basis for planning and decision making.  Fourth, is to provide the opportunity to move to a collegial and open environment where people are respected and civil to one another and where shared governance is a meaningful concept and process.  Fifth is to continue to strive to refine and achieve the goals of Destination 2010.  I have a lot more but I was only asked to state five!  Actually one should be to not have a heart attack!

Let me conclude this morning by pointing out that this is a critically important time for Sacramento State.  We have some challenges ahead of us, but I think we also have the energy and commitment to face them together.  We are making important progress in making this an even better University for current and future students.  Sacramento State is on the way to becoming a more residential campus and a premier metropolitan university.  I know our students appreciate that because they tell me.

I would like to close by reminding you what an important institution this is, and how vital your work is to its mission.  More than 28,000 students come here to pursue a higher education, to improve their lives, to pursue their dreams.  Like Joe Sheley who years ago attended Sacramento State and is now Provost, many of our students are the first in their families to attend college; just like many of you and me.  Many of them work and have family obligations.  And each year more than 6,000 graduate – each one a success story of personal sacrifice, achievement and joy.
You help that happen.
Thank you for your dedication to our students – in and out of the classroom.  Thank you for working to help this University develop its potential, and thank you for all that you do each day. 
Let us all commit to building a better future for Sacramento State. I hope to see you at this afternoon’s celebration. Have a good semester.