President Robert S. Nelsen, in his second formal address to the Sacramento State community, announced two new University initiatives on Thursday, Jan. 21.
The first is the creation of a Diversity Office, which will be led by a yet-to-be-determined Diversity Officer and advised by a permanent council made up of students, staff, and faculty.
“As the seventh-most-diverse university west of the Mississippi, 56.5 percent of our students are underrepresented minorities,” Nelsen said. “Having faculty who look like them, (and) recruiting, hiring, and retaining faculty who look like them, I believe, will help our students.”
Secondly, Nelsen will refocus Sac State's Graduation Initiative with two new goals: to graduate freshman students in four years and to graduate transfer students in two years.
Sac State currently has 33 separate initiatives that address graduation and retention rates, and although five- and six-year graduation rates have improved, the University’s four-year graduation rate still is at 8 percent.
“There has been some progress, though not nearly what we want or would expect with all the hard work and great efforts that are being expended,” Nelsen said.
Earlier in the week, he announced the hiring of “graduation czar” Jim Dragna, whose formal title is executive director of University Initiatives and Student Success. Dragna will be charged with evaluating and reorganizing the various graduation initiatives.
“We need to know what is working and what is not,” Nelsen said. “We need to work smarter and spend our funds smarter, instead of doing more and more with less and less, because we are spreading ourselves and our funding too thin.”
Nelsen delivered his Spring Address to a capacity crowd of students, faculty, staff, and community members in the University Union Ballroom. In a move likely without precedent, Nelsen invited a student to speak before him.
Melissa Bardo, a biology major and president of Associated Students Inc. (ASI) at Sac State, spoke about the University's student government leading the charge last year in rallying students across the 23-campus California State University to lobby at the State Capitol for a fully funded budget.
“I’m proud to say that the legislators listened,” she said. “The reason I am sharing this with you is because it is time that we, as a campus, acknowledge that student voices matter in these conversations.”
Optimism about Sacramento State, concern about proposed budget
Nelsen’s nearly hourlong address, often interrupted by applause, was optimistic about the University’s future and focused on what is best for the students.
He shared the good news about the hiring of 42 new faculty members, the impending construction of a state-of-the-art science building, and a new 1,300-space parking structure, which goes out to bid this year.
But he’s concerned about Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, he said. It falls $100 million short of the CSU’s request and includes only $35 million for deferred maintenance and infrastructure repair for the 23 campuses and the system headquarters in Long Beach, combined.
“I understand better today what it means to be California’s Capital University,” said Nelsen, who became Sac State’s leader July 1 after spending 25 years at Texas universities. “I understand better today what the effects of the so-called great recession have been on California, on the infrastructure of our University, on the faculty, and on the staff. I have learned about the furloughs, the stagnant wages, the lack of large classrooms, the outdated labs, and the peeling linoleum.
“I have seen the Periodic Table in Sequoia Hall that is dated 1970,” he said. “I have seen the women’s hair dryers straight from Target that we are using in lieu of Bunsen burners to heat chemicals. I have watched students crash classes for that one empty seat. I have been at the soccer matches where we are still using porta-potties. I have watched the long lines as students and faculty drive onto campus. And, yes, I have seen the cars circling for parking. I have walked up the four flights of stairs in Amador Hall because the elevator wasn’t working.”
Nelsen concluded his address by announcing his to-do list for the next few months: Hire a new provost. Create a Task Force on Internationalization to examine how to increase the study-abroad program and make it easier for English Language Program students to enroll at Sacramento State. And, with a new budget cycle on the horizon, ask University leadership to give him their funding priorities. “I know that, for me, safety, sufficient classes with sufficient faculty, student success initiatives, the downtown campus, and the aforementioned Diversity Office and diversity initiatives are high priorities, but I am open to advice and changing my mind.”
Then, as has become his trademark sign-off, Nelsen stepped away from the microphone and shouted, “Sac State is No. 1! Stingers up!” – Dixie Reid
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