August 31, 2006
Good morning. Thank you all for being here as we prepare for the new academic year at Sacramento State. I’m always glad to see so many exceptional and dedicated people who do so much for our students and our community. You really do make a difference. So thank you again for being here, but thank you most of all for the work you do.
And let me also extend a very warm welcome to those from the community who are with us today. Thank you for your interest and support.
The start of a new semester always brings new enthusiasm, but this is no ordinary year for Sacramento State. Within a few days we will officially begin our 60th year of instruction, something that we and the community can all celebrate. We were founded following the end of World War II, a time of great optimism and tremendous growth. Higher education was experiencing a rebirth, as nearly 8 million veterans used their GI Bill to pursue an opportunity that most would not have had a decade earlier. College was no longer just for the well-to-do but was opening its doors to the returning servicemen and women.
In retrospect, this campus has lived up to many of the hopes of those involved with creating this University. Sixty years later, we are still the only comprehensive four-year university in the state’s capital city, and we have been a major factor in transforming the culture and economy of the region. Our thousands of graduates, our impact on business and in the arts, and the applied research we provide have helped shape this city and region. The Sacramento of today would be incomprehensible if not for this University.
We have definitely come a long way from our early years of sharing space with what is now Sacramento City College. From what I can tell, that wasn’t exactly easy. Just last semester at a dinner honoring a group of alumni, I heard stories about classes being held in unfinished apartment buildings and other places. I guess that puts things in perspective for those of us who were on campus complaining about the air-conditioning this summer. But, while it wasn’t easy, it was exciting.
I know that the start of the fall semester brings with it mixed emotions. It is full of promise and other things as well– meetings, wandering students, parking hassles … and of course the myriad of questions. So I really appreciate the abundance of patience around here at this time of year – this is when “collegiality” is really put to the test. I remember as a professor and then department chair the excitement of the beginning of the semester. I loved the rhythm of academe and everything that came with it. Now, even though I’m no longer in the classroom, the excitement and promise of our students is still what motivates me.
But along with our new students, we have new faculty. So, before I proceed any further, I would like to welcome all the new faculty members who are with us today. We have forty-three new faculty members who are joining us this year from many fine institutions, including Stanford, Vanderbilt, Bowling Green, and Xavier as well as many others. Please stand so we can recognize and welcome you to our campus and to the community. Thank you.
We also have new staff members. Anyone who joined the staff over the spring or summer, would you please stand? Welcome.
We also have a few new and not-so-new people in leadership positions on campus.
- Joe Sheley, who it seems takes on a new position about once a year, is now interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He was previously Executive Vice President.
- Otis Scott has been appointed dean of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies after serving one year as the interim Dean.
- Emir Jose Macari is the new dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He joins us from the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology at the University of Texas at Brownsville, where he was the Dean.
- Vanessa Sheared is the new Dean of the College of Education. She comes to us from San Francisco State University, where she was the Associate Dean of the College of Education.
Welcome to all of you.
Now, for all of our newcomers, and everyone who has been here for a while, you probably noticed a lot of construction on campus. I know that’s an understatement, but you should have seen it about three weeks ago! We are in the process not only of construction, but also upgrading our infrastructure. To put it mildly, there will be more than the usual difficulties with parking when students return. The spring will be better, when the new parking structure is completed, but this fall will be difficult. So if you are able, please consider leaving your car at home. You can find a variety of commute choices on the University’s website. I’m glad to say that next year will be different and I won’t have to make the usual disclaimers that I do about parking.
Today, I’d like to focus on some of the challenges we’re facing in higher education as well update you on some of the exciting things that are happening on our campus.
If you have been keeping up with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ commission on the status of higher education in this country, you understand that higher education on a national level, and here in California, is facing serious challenges. The commission’s findings include a set of recommendations that focus on issues of access, cost, quality, technology and efficiency. The commission’s broad conclusion is that in coming years, universities that do not respond strongly enough to these issues will slide into mediocrity. But, there will also be universities that rise to the challenges now and in coming years, and those universities will flourish.
I think it should be clear that we want to be a part of the group of universities that is responsive and serious. Challenges can bring out the best in us, and I want to make sure we recognize what the challenges are so we can respond appropriately. As President, I have been focused on a single proposition – Transforming Sacramento State into a premier metropolitan university and a destination campus. That means one with first-rate academic programs and facilities, one even more capable than ever of offering our students the opportunity to change the course of their lives. That is at the heart of our Destination 2010 initiative.
So what challenges am I talking about? I’m sure some will sound familiar – a long-term trend of declining public budget support amid increased demands by our students for services, particularly those related to technology. But did you also know that the Baby Boomlet, or Echo Boomers, will have largely earned their college degrees by 2009? The boom never really materialized at the level predicted. So, now we are facing, on a national level, the first ongoing decline in college-age students in decades. While California is a growing state and may not see the same decline as other parts of the country, that simply means more out-of-state universities will be here trying to recruit our students. At the same time, foreign student enrollment on a national level continues to decline. These students play an important role because they offer a perspective and a dimension to American universities that is vital in an increasingly Global Community. Yet, for reasons that are at once obvious and not so clear, their numbers are dwindling.
These challenges are national in scope and we are not an island on to our own. We are caught up in the same trends as other universities. This fall, for instance, new enrollment appears to be flat once again as it has been the past few years, and we may not reach our enrollment target. Some of the enrollment patterns are similar to other Northern California CSU campuses, and our campus’ student retention rate isn’t nearly as good as it should be. This summer we were looking at about a two percent decline in continuing students compared to the same time last year. And as of last fall, our foreign student enrollment had dropped about 200 students– down to 532 students – since 2001. Most troubling however, is the fact that the largest number of students that is leaving the university is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Clearly, this is an issue we must address and reverse.
In part because of these enrollment trends, we are dealing with budget challenges even in a year when the Legislature and Governor increased funding for the CSU system. Our budgets, as you well know, are based on enrollment as well as mandatory costs. The enrollment is what drives not only our funding but also our ability to add new classrooms and labs, pay for our wages, and a myriad of other operations that we have on campus. So when we don’t reach our enrollment target, we receive less on the revenue side of the ledger, yet we still have to provide resources for mandatory costs such as benefits and energy which have risen substantially the past three years. Add to this the fact that our budget has still not recovered from cutbacks that were implemented a few years ago, it is easy to see that we have a set of pressing issues to deal with.
But if we tackle these issues of enrollment, budget and planning, we can gain control over our own destiny. We can be less impacted by economic cycles and population cycles. We can build the type of University that our students and the Sacramento Region need and deserve.
In a general way, that means serving students better at all levels, improving the way we do business and attracting even greater private support. We have to ensure that our campus culture is one that is responsive and agile.
The State Hornet ran an interesting opinion piece last spring – Yes, I read the student newspaper regularly. I think they do a good job. This piece was interesting I thought, because it managed to capture a broad theme very well, even though I would disagree with a few of the points. Amid the demands that we - actually that I, as the President - fix our parking problem, simplify class scheduling and order the football team to have a winning season – amid those demands I heard a broader plea for this University to pay closer attention to our students’ particular needs.
Sometimes, I think, our goal of serving students can be too abstract. You are a dedicated group of faculty and staff, that I know values higher education. Too often many of us find ourselves losing sight of the fact that this is a person-to-person enterprise, and often students get lost in that process. In everything we do, we need to make time – to take time – to help the student right in front of us. They need answers, they need advising, they need directions – and they need to feel a very human connection to this large institution.
Over the summer, I met with a group of our students who run orientation sessions for new students. They offered an honest assessment of how we’re doing. Our students expect us to provide them with more information and more services. They want us to meet them where they are, including on the Web. They want and expect us to offer them the latest in technology – and they don’t understand why they can get something like wireless access at a coffeehouse but not on all parts of our campus. They want offices open when they are here – even those taking evening classes. They want to pick up the phone and be able to find help from a real person. They need stronger advising, both from their faculty in the departments and from staff in our Advising Center.
Our students also expect us to offer enough class sections at times that make sense to them and that accommodate their busy lives. They want classes delivered in formats that seem practical to them given what they are used to and have come to expect in a technological society – such as online courses or perhaps in short sessions outside the regular semester. Students who had decided not to finish their degree here gave us a clear message. We need to align our class scheduling and availability with student needs. It will not work to simply continue on the path we are on. Our current approach isn’t working well enough for our students. And to be honest, it isn’t the most efficient use of our facilities.
We need to continually change the way we do business in other ways. There are efficiencies and best practices that we can adopt all across campus – from managing technology to maintaining our facilities. We can do our work better, and if we can save money at the same time, we can ultimately offer more classes and more service.
We need to make a much better effort to get students here and keep them here. We know we offer an incredible opportunity, but we need to be certain our prospective students understand that. They need to hear from us more often. And, as I mentioned earlier, our retention rates are simply not good enough. Over the next year, we will work to make this University more focused on recruiting and retaining students. The Provost and the Vice President for Student Affairs will take the lead on this, but it is clear it will require a sustained effort by our entire campus community. It must become an integral part of our campus culture.
At the same time, we need to make sure that we keep the way clear for students from community colleges. Far too many students who choose to attend a two-year college before seeking a four-year degree don’t make it. The Sacramento Region is among the leaders in making the community college and four-year transfer system work. Transfer students depend on us, and we need to stay focused on them and help them succeed.
As for the budget, we know that there will always be pressures. That’s part of being a CSU campus. There will be good times and economic downturns. The State Legislature will have competing priorities. Ensuring that our enrollment stays on target is one way to address the cyclical nature of our funding. The other is remaining focused on generating private support for our students and programs. I’m proud to tell you that last year Sacramento State raised about $16.3 million in private support – up from $6.5 million the year before. This is the first time in many years we have reached the goal set for us by the Board of Trustees, and it shows that our broader campus agenda has built excitement among our alumni and community.
This year, there will be a number of activities to develop detailed strategies to meet the challenges ahead. They include work related to the continuing WASC reaccreditation process and the development of a new strategic plan. Campus committees have worked very hard on both of these initiatives, and I appreciate all their effort. There will be many opportunities for the campus community to provide input on related draft documents, and I hope many of you take advantage of that. These are projects that, like our Destination 2010 initiative, will guide our efforts for many years to come.
This focus on planning is very important and has broader benefits than just securing accreditation. It allows us to share our aspirations and achievements with the broader public. Public higher education, after all, is a public good. Our biggest supporters – the state’s taxpayers – expect us to carry out our mission effectively, and they don’t simply trust us to say we’re doing so.
There are many college rankings by magazines, more public records requests, and more websites. We should welcome this public scrutiny, especially here in Sacramento, where our state legislators look to us for understanding of the CSU as a whole. We need to accept, rather than fear, websites with student comments about professors, and that now even provide information on the types of grades professors give. While disconcerting at one level, it does demonstrate that the public demands a level of accountability of us that was not present before. On the other hand, it also signals that what we do is valued, and offers us more opportunities to share the good work we are doing.
There is a lot of change taking place at this campus. We’re focusing on new initiatives, tearing up sidewalks, building new buildings. This is all part of meeting those challenges I talked about, and that is positive. But we all know that change can also lead to frayed nerves and uncertainty.
As we start a new semester, I would like to ask that we all remember to treat each other with respect and understanding. That starts right here with the President – I don’t make any claim to being perfect. We are all in this together, with the same broad goals of providing our students with the best possible education.
Yes, there will be disagreements and we will have differences of opinion. That is bound to happen when you have some 32,000 students, faculty and staff all here on 300 acres. But this is a university, not the U.S. Congress. By that I mean to say that we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility. This is a place of discourse and debate, where ideas can and should be freely shared. We need to be models for our students and for society, demonstrating that a group of people can disagree today and still be able to talk and work with one another tomorrow.
Einstein once said: “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” We know Sacramento State faces some issues that need our attention, but we also know there are opportunities to be seized. This campus has proven itself over the years, and there are great things happening. Let me share a few with you.
- Thanks to the leadership of the faculty, especially George Craft, the university has a new Honors Program in place that will be directed by Professor Roberto Pomo. Student interest in the program has been very high and, in fact, we have already raised the first scholarship for the program and the first recipient will be with us next week. By the way, the scholarship is worth $16,000 for the year.
- A group comprised of members of our faculty, representatives from the community colleges, and K-12, has been hard at work this summer developing the doctorate in educational leadership that was authorized last year. This degree will make us one of the first of the CSU campuses to begin offering an independent doctorate. With the group’s good work and the proper review and consultation by the Faculty Senate, the first cohort of students should begin the program next fall.
- Just last week, we broke ground on the Broad Athletic Facility, which is the first project in the Alex G. Spanos Sports and Recreation Complex. The programming has also been completed for the Recreation, Wellness and Events Center portion of the Complex, and the architects are at work on designs. Construction should begin in early 2008.
- As many of you have seen this morning, the new bookstore and parking garage are developing rapidly. You may have also noticed that we have begun installing new student-designed way-finding signs which I know many of you will appreciate and which are very important as we seek to become a more welcoming campus. And, as I mentioned, private support has nearly tripled in the last year which will allow us to begin to provide a level of support for excellence not afforded to us with state funding. We will acknowledge a number of our supporters at our second annual Green and Gold Gala on Oct. 6th right here in this ballroom.
- Our Academic Talent Search program, which offers enrichment classes on campus for sixth to ninth graders, is in its 25th year and is still going strong. There are other significant anniversaries, including the 25th anniversary of the Center for California Studies and the 25th anniversary of the Aquatic Center at Lake Natoma. Our University Theatre is celebrating its 50th year. CAMP – our program for underserved children of migrant workers – is celebrating 20 years.
Our faculty members continue to be productive and provide leadership in their respective fields. For example:
- Dr. Mary McCarthy-Hintz of Chemistry, Dr. Tim Horner of Geology, and Dr. Tom Peavy of Biological Sciences (NSM) engaged students in original research projects this summer through the "Introduction to Science Research" program. This program introduces underrepresented students to original research projects. Students presented their results at the Science Educational Equity Undergraduate Student Research Symposium.
- Dr. Bin Lu of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics (NSM) visited Beijing University with a Wang Family Fellowship for research and teaching in China. Dr. Lu is the first faculty member in the CSU system to receive a Wang Family Fellowship in Mathematics.
- Collectively SSIS Faculty members were awarded nearly $1.8 million in research support during AY 05/06.
- Professors Tim Fong, Director Asian American Studies, and Greg Kim-Ju, Psychology (SSIS), co-authored a research report, “Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Sacramento.” The insightful and informative report provides detailed information about the social economic status of these under reported groups.
- Katherine Pinch (Recreation and Leisure Studies, HHS) was appointed to the national board of the Society of Park and Recreation Educators.
- Sylvester Bowie (Social Work, HHS) continues to serve as Director of the Title IV-E Program. Each year, this program brings $2 million dollars to our College for student stipends and special training in the area of child protective services.
- Associate Dean Patricia Clark-Ellis (HHS), in cooperation with the Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program, was funded by the campus to pilot a mentor program for African American males starting their education at Sac State. And Bonnie Raingruber, Director of the HHS Research Center along with Associate Dean Clark-Ellis, received NIH funding to support a partnership with St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church to promote healthy eating and physical activity in African American youths.
- Rachel Clarke of Arts Department (A&L) will have a one person show of her recent work at the Center for Contemporary Art in Sacramento (CCAS). Titled "The Present Moment.”
- Joshua McKinney, Brad Buchanan, Cherryl Smith, and Catherine Fraga of the English Department (A&L) published books of poetry last year and gave a number of readings including one on public radio.
- Eric Matsumoto of Civil Engineering (ECS) conducted a structural engineering research with students as part of the $550,000 National Highway Cooperative Research Program, Development of Precast Bent Cap Systems for Seismic Regions.
- Amy Liu and her students once again provided important data regarding significant issues related to the quality of life in the region while Steve Perez and Steve Perez and Suzanne O’Keefe also produced important reports for SACTO as part of our Sacramento Regional Research Institute.
- For the past four years, Marcy Merrill and Mark Rodriguez (College of Education) have organized an online tutoring program designed to improve the writing skills of selected elementary and high school students in our service area.
- Crystal Olson also from the College of Education organized (for at least the second year) a hugely successful Arts Faire in February which brought over 500 area teachers to campus to share and learn strategies for infusing the arts into various curricular areas.
- Dr. Stan Taylor of the College of Business Administration was awarded a three-year, close to half million dollar contract from the California Department of Developmental Services. Dr. Taylor will assist the department in training and review of methodologies to improve the state’s services to people with developmental disabilities.
And, of course, our campus is celebrating the start of our 60th year of instruction. We have had remarkable accomplishments over those years, and I believe that our best days are ahead.
Thank you for all you do for Sacramento State and the California State University system. What we are doing here is special. Higher education is important. It is one of the great strengths of this country and certainly of the state of California. You are providing opportunities for the leaders of tomorrow. That’s why we are being recognized nationally for your good work. For example, we were ranked 27th in the entire country for the number of bachelors degrees awarded to minority students. That can only happen when the faculty and staff are committed to what they do. Again, thank you.
It’s hard to believe that today marks the beginning of my fourth year at Sacramento State. I continue to be very excited about the future of this campus and its people. As I’ve done each year since I’ve been here, I pledge to you that I will continue to work as hard as possible for you and this institution. I know that sometimes it seems like there are so many issues that it doesn’t seem possible that we’re making any headway. But that’s not so. We are moving forward and, together, we’ll be able to make Sacramento State truly a destination campus. Do not be dissuaded. Change is necessary and inevitable. And with change, comes opportunity. I’m asking you, each of you, to join with me, to work with me in making this campus the best it can be for you and our students.
Thank you for being here today. Let’s have a great year.