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2013 University
Convocation Address

Dr. Willie J. Hagan

September 12, 2013

Good morning, everybody, and welcome. I hope you had a good summer and your fall semester got off to a good start. For those of you who are returning, welcome back, and for those of you who are new to campus, welcome to our family.

I feel a strong affinity with new people. Although I was interim president for almost a year, I have been the permanent president for just a little over three months. While I have had the opportunity on more than one occasion to thank those who played a role in my appointment, I wanted to do so again. The outpouring of support by the faculty, staff, students, and community members is the primary reason I am standing here as permanent president today. It is also the primary reason I intend to be standing here for the next several years.

Although I was appointed by the Board of Trustees, I believe I am the only president where the decision was made by the campus community. This places a tremendous amount of responsibility on me and a tremendous amount of blame on you. There is no buyer’s remorse when it comes to the president. You bought me, you’re stuck with me.

The establishment of my presidency was the result of a collective action on the part of this campus and my stated and demonstrated commitment to shared governance, fiscal transparency, and the commitment to two guiding principles:

  1. What’s in the best interest of our students?
  2. What’s in the best interest of our university?

And the success of my presidency and the continued advancement of the university will not be the result of my actions or decisions, but will be based on our collaborative adherence to these principles of shared governance, transparency, and putting our students and our university first.

Before I get to my remarks, I want to give you a quick update on our budget, our enrollment, and some of the accomplishments achieved this year.

This year’s budget brought significant financial relief to the CSU and Cal State Dominguez Hills. With the passage of Proposition 30, CSU also avoided a planned $250 million mid-year reduction and the tuition increase that was in place was rolled back. The 2013 budget brought $125.1 million in new funding for the CSU and provided funds in the amount of $125 million to offset last year’s budget cut.

This new funding will provide for mandatory cost increases in health benefits, energy costs, and retirement contributions.

Funds have also been allocated for 1.2 percent compensation pool as well as a modest enrollment growth. I expect at some point we will get back that compensation money and begin allocating that out to folks.

Due to the enrollment growth money, our campus was allocated funding to increase our enrollment by 2.15 percent. This is important because a system-wide average was only 1.45 percent. We welcome this new target and the $1.3 million in additional baseline funding associated with it.

Needless to say, for the first time in several years, we are not making budget reductions and the governor has promised a multi-year plan of modest, but regular budget increases for the CSU. We will plan accordingly and we’re going to have a couple of town halls where we are going to go into a great deal on the budget, so I won’t say much more about that.

With regard to enrollment, we continued our pattern of strong growth with the largest first-time freshman and transfer classes ever. Although we have not yet reached our official census date, as of last night at 10:02 pm, because that’s when I called Sue [Borrego, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs] and asked her, our total headcount enrollment was 14,542 and over 10,782 California resident Full-Time Equivalent students. We have 1,552 first-time freshmen, which is 339 more than we had last fall, and 2,665 transfer students, 864 more than we last fall. We also have 7 percent more graduate students, with 1,136 graduate students, and 850 in our credential programs.

When we have a final enrollment count, I will ask Vice President Borrego to prepare an enrollment report for the campus with additional details.

Growing our enrollment is a combination of recruiting new students, but more importantly, retaining students currently enrolled. Campus-wide, a number of faculty and staff are working on new initiatives aimed at supporting student success. These initiatives will be included in the enrollment report.

I also want to talk about some of our more significant accomplishments with the understanding that the one that you did, the one that you are most proud of, is probably not on my list. It goes without saying, whenever you read any list, someone is left off. So, I apologize in advance.

I actually had the division heads send me a list of accomplishments to report and it ran 13 to 14 pages, single-spaced. We then tried to cull it down to about four or five pages, and I got it down to six bullet points. Presidents can do that.

So, let me just mention a few. Number one on our list of accomplishments is that we conferred 3,274 undergraduate and graduate degrees this past year. That is something to be proud of. That is 150 more than the prior year.

We established a task force, chaired by Professor Clare Weber, charged with conducting a comprehensive review of student advising. We established a wonderful partnership with the STEM Advantage Foundation to sponsor and fully fund 12 Dominguez Hills students studying in the Computer Science Department. The funds will cover in-state tuition, all fees and books for one year, and provide the students with internship opportunities and a mentor in the computer science field. This is a great partnership and our goal is to have more of these for our students.

We established a task force on internationalization of the campus, chaired by Janine Gasco. This task force will engage campus in discussions and assessment aimed at establishing an international vision and a set of goals to help better prepare our students to compete in a global economy.

Working with our Administration and Finance Division, we developed an all-funds budget approach, which supported the hiring of 18 new staff positions and implementation of a multi-year plan to hire over 50 new tenure/tenure-track faculty.

We allocated additional funds to support our veterans, students with disabilities, homeless students, and students who come out of the foster care system. And with the guidance of a number of faculty, and working with Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, we re-established a Women’s Resource Center, including funding for a permanent director.

We launched a new student leadership program and hosted 61 student leaders during a three-day retreat covering topics such as ethics, personal strengths, values and communications styles, and emotional intelligence.

Working with the Provost’s Office, we re-established the Faculty Development Center and just recently remodeled the first floor of the library space as a venue for workshops and programs such as the Scholars Writing Institute.

We also allocated $600,000 to support faculty intramural research. The Academic Senate, working with Academic Affairs, established an awards program, and 24 awards totaling approximately $240,000 were funded last year.

We also completed national searches and filled the following positions on a permanent basis:

  • Chief Information Technology Officer
  • Dean, College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences
  • Dean, College of Arts and Humanities
  • Director of Nursing
  • Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs.

We have a number of additional senior positions that we are going to be searching for and they are all important. And my goal is to shift us away from a history of interim appointments, including interim presidents, and bring on board the permanent leadership we want that looks forward to being a part of this campus.

We also established new records for student athletic academic performance with a record 162 student athletes earning honor roll status. Our IT Division developed and is in the process of implementing a computer and iPad rollout program for faculty and staff. And our faculty and staff secured well over $3.5 million in new annual and multi-year grant awards. Let me cite just a few examples of the kinds of grants we received:

  • The Keck Foundation, to Professor Leonardo Martinez to support a cyber-enabled laboratory.
  • The National Science Foundation, to Professor Terry McGlynn to support international experiences for our students.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities, to Professor Erica Verba to support writing the biography of Chilean folklorist Violeta Parra.
  • U.S. Department of Education, to Dr. Susan Borrego and Dr. William Franklin to support an Upward Bound Math and Sciences Grant Program.
  • U.S. Department of Education, to Michelle Martinez for the McNair Scholars Program.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to Dean Rod Hay and Mike Ferris to use GIS mapping in India related to the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia Project.

As I said, this is just a sample of the awards received. We will be working this year to share these kinds of success stories with our area business people, our political and our community leaders. For example, last year we sent the brochure from our Student Research Day out to around 400 area businesses and in my meetings, a number of them have mentioned receiving that. There is a lot of impressive work done on this campus and it is our job is to make sure that information is shared.

Again, we did accomplish a lot last year, but no one in this room is under the illusion that we are where we want to be or where we need to be. We have suffered years of significant budget reductions, interim leadership in key positions, and instruction facilities in need of significant refurbishment if not outright replacement.

A significant part of our job is to meet with people and tell them about Dominguez Hills to get their support. To be effective I have to constantly familiarize myself with the projects, the activities, and the other good things that are going on around this campus. But I have to be honest, the more I learn about the outstanding work of our faculty, our staff, and our students, the more difficult it becomes for me to remain my humble self during those meetings. In fact, I find myself getting a little bit cocky when talking to people about this university. Sometimes I feel like, “Yeah, Dominguez Hills, we did that.”

Yes, we are ranked sixth in the nation according to the Business Insider, who used the criteria recently articulated by President Obama of accessibility, affordability and outcome. And Yes, Washington Monthly ranks us eighth in the nation in terms of “The Public Good,” using the criteria of upward mobility for low-income students, research, and commitment to public service. And yes, that was us on stage in Washington D.C. being honored as one the nation’s leading colleges in terms of community service.

The list of things to learn about this campus and to share with the outside world goes on and on. The bottom line is this: When I am out there meeting with people and I can feel they don’t know the kinds of things that go on this campus, and I can see the surprise in their eyes, sometimes I just feel like saying, “Yep, Cal State Dominguez Hills. Deal with it.”

But here is the point: We also need to inform ourselves about the things we do on this campus. From my conversations, it is clear that we do not know ourselves as well as we should. And this is important, because all of us need to be highly informed ambassadors out there telling our story to the world.

Speaking about knowing ourselves, I would like to say a few words about this campus as a community, our history as a catalyst for change, and then I want to ask you to do me a favor, or to do this campus a favor.

When I arrived 15 months ago, I was told Dominguez Hills was a close community; small enough to offer more personal contact between faculty, staff and students, but large enough to have the critical mass of each to provide for a quality educational environment. I have found that to be true. We have a strong sense of community on this campus. There is closeness you don’t find at many other places. Everybody seems to know everybody and with a few exceptions, everybody seems to get along.

But what we have as a community is made more vivid, more poignant when we lose an important part of it. This past spring, we lost one of our students, Marcela Franco, a junior majoring in psychology, along with her father, in the senseless mass shooting at Santa Monica College. We also lost Rene Romero, a senior digital arts major, and Stefanie Ramirez, an active alum and sociology major, in a car accident not far from campus. And due to health issues, we lost Tommy Rimmer a senior marketing major and last year’s director of ASI legislative affairs.

The Greek organizations held a candlelight vigil for Stefanie and Rene on the Sculpture Garden lawn. In addition to the powerful words of friendship and loss, what stood out to me were the words of community and how important it is, and how it is often created by the acts of a single individual.

One of the students spoke about how Stefanie changed her feelings about college. This student said her college experience here at Dominguez Hills, and I quote her, “was terrible,” consisting of driving to campus, taking her classes, and driving home. And then Stefanie took her under her wing and introduced her to new friends, the Greek community on campus, and got her involved in a whole host of events and activities. Her education was important but Stefanie helped her become part of something bigger, a community of students with shared interests, an opportunity to add fun and friendship to the scholarship that brought her here. She said Stefanie changed her life.

I know we are a commuter campus with only 650 dormitory beds but developing and maintaining a sense of community, especially for our students, is important. This student reminded me there are many on this campus who need to be sought and engaged. We must be diligent in following the lesson of Stefanie and make a concerted, conscious effort to reach out to others, to embrace them, and invite them into our family. And I invite you to make recommendations to me and others on this campus if you think there are additional steps we can take to help foster and strengthen a sense of community.

While I understand the solemnity of a moment of silence, today is about celebration. I have listened to the families, friends and classmates of these students and former students. I heard of the profound impact they have had on this campus and while I know it is customary to take a moment of silence, instead I would ask you to join me in a moment of applause celebrating these four lives that touched and enriched our campus.

You have all heard some form of the statement, “You can’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been.” I prefer a Buddhist philosopher’s version, “If you want to know your past, look at your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look at your present actions.”

Let’s look at our past for a moment. In 1960 Governor Pat Brown allocated funds for the development of a state college in the South Bay area, which was to be known as South Bay State College. In 1962, the name was changed to California State College at Palos Verdes. The first classes were taught in 1965 at the California Federal Savings Bank in Palos Verdes. People I talked to who were around at that time said the attempt was to create a unique comprehensive institution which some referred to as the Harvard of the West.

After the 1965 Watts riots, the governor decided to relocate the campus to the City of Carson. A lot of people in Palos Verdes and the surrounding areas were not happy.

Let me read you an excerpt from the editorial page of the South Bay Daily Breeze that came out shortly after the decision was made, titled “This is not our college.”

“In what had been characterized as a desperation move, the State College Trustees picked a site in Dominguez, stretching their own definition of a college’s service area to permit it…. Unfortunately, the selection of Dominguez assumes the earmarks of a political gamut. The governor’s wholehearted approval being a recognition of a voting block rather than a contribution to education. Justification is sought as a sociological experiment in a troubled area.”

In another 1966 editorial labeled, “An open letter to Governor Brown,” it stated:

“Last summer, we all remember with sorrow and regret the riots that occurred in the Watts area. None of us realized that this tragedy would figure in the fate of our college.”

Whether they were political or financial reasons for relocating the college to Dominguez Hills, one thing is clear. Both sides, those who wanted the college in Palos Verdes and those who wanted the college in Carson, were saying the same thing: A college is a catalyst for change.

There was a community in crisis and what did the leaders of the day reach for? They reached for a college. They reached for California State University, Dominguez Hills. They turned to higher education because they were looking for a way to bring greater opportunity, a proven route for upward mobility and hope to individuals and to a community at large.

They wanted transformation and they got it because of CSU Dominguez Hills.

Remember that editorial, “Justification for Dominguez Hills is sought as a sociological experiment in a troubled area.” Eighty-thousand alums later, 14,700 students, $180 million budget, $335 million in annual economic impact, supporting 3,000 regional jobs, generating more than $20 million in state taxes, I think you will have to agree that California State University, Dominguez Hills was an extraordinarily successful “sociological experiment.”

The work of transformation is not complete and I don’t think it ever will be. But we will continue playing our role and work with state and community leaders to provide access, affordability, and quality to our region and our state.

There is another important historical context within which the success of our university should be considered. There is the context of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. This plan was conceived in 1960, the same year as our university. A plan that promised universal access, affordability, and quality education.

The California Master Plan for Higher Education probably had the most impact in terms of economic and social development in California over the last half-century than any other policy document. But let’s look at that period from conception in comparison to now.

In 1960:

  • 90 percent of California’s population was white.
  • English was the primary language spoken at home.
  • The majority of women did not go to college.
  • The state budget was robust and 20 percent of it was dedicated to higher education.
  • California was preparing for the oncoming baby-boom generation, the 1946 to ’64 group.
  • CSU fees were $50 a semester.
  • A high school diploma was still seen as a significant path to the middle class.

Compare that to 2013:

  • There is no ethnic majority in California.
  • We are 39 percent white and as of July, predicted to be 39 percent Hispanic, Asians at 13 percent, Blacks at 6 percent.
  • We are a majority-minority state.
  • Forty percent report speaking a language other than English at home.
  • One-point-five million English language learners are in the K-12 system.
  • Fifty-one percent of the population under age 18 in California is Hispanic.
  • Women outnumber men in college enrollments.
  • CSU fees average over $6,000 a year.
  • The state budget is in debt and higher education represents a reduced share of that budget.
  • Of the 30 fastest growing jobs in California, half require a college degree.
  • A high school diploma is no longer seen as a natural vehicle for accessing the middle class.

The California Master Plan never anticipated these changes and was never updated or fully funded to be responsive to this new reality. While the California Master Plan did not evolve, California State University, Dominguez Hills did.

We are one of the most diverse university’s in the nation. Our enrollment is close to 70 percent female. We are affordable, accessible, and provide a quality education, the very goals articulated in the Master Plan. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that California State University, Dominguez Hills, is the physical manifestation of the California Master Plan for Higher Education had it evolved to reflect the current 2013 realities that exist in the state. And like the Master Plan, we, too, are underfunded. But I state that as a fact, not as an excuse.

Let me quote again, “If you want to know you’re future, look at your present actions.” We are creating a future of this campus by the actions we take today. And I am talking about the actions of all of us. The actions the faculty takes in the classrooms, in the laboratories, and in the field. The actions a groundskeeper takes while working around campus has a direct impact on our future.

I had a conversation last semester with a groundskeeper who told me about being the first person many visitors to our campus encounter. People would ask him for his honest opinion about the campus, trusting his word over our four-color brochures and presidential statements. He said he always had great things to say about the university and encouraged more than one visitor to be sure they supported Proposition 30.

This is a clear example that the actions we take are creating our future. This groundskeeper played an active role in helping pass Proposition 30. The actions of a single individual do play a role in shaping our future.

Toward that end, here is the favor I want to ask of you. It’s kind of dumb, but I’m too old to worry about the quality of my decisions anymore. I guess I should have said that before you selected me.

I would like for each of you to take a moment and think of one new action you personally can take this year that will strengthen our university. And then I want you to think of one new action you can take this year that will be a direct benefit to the success of our students.

Now I’m serious. Take a moment to think about it. I’ll take a sip of my water. I’m not going anywhere.

Again, “If you want to know your future, look at your present actions.” If we want to shape our future, we have to act in accordance with our desired outcome. We have over 14,700 students and nearly 1,300 employees. If 16,000 people acted on just one new idea to improve this campus, one new idea to advance student success, that is 32,000 new ideas going into effect in one year. That is a tremendous amount of energy and ideas put forth to improve this university. There is no way that would not have a profound impact on our future.

Big actions, small actions, highly public actions, actions known only to you. We can build our future one action at a time. We may not have all the money we need, but I have talked to a lot of people on this campus and I can say for a fact, that we are very rich in ideas.

I would like you to write your two ideas down before this day is over. I was going to have pencil and paper here, but I thought that might have been pushing it. I would like you to commit to these ideas and next semester I will host an open luncheon in the same room so we can discuss and share some of the actions we have taken and how they helped this university and helped our students.

Let me end by saying this: California State University, Dominguez Hills has always been a catalyst for change, a place of individual and social transformation. This is who we are. Despite the push and pull of politics, technology, and budgets, we need to remain true to our mission.

In the novel, “The Leopard,” written by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, his main character the prince says, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” If we want to remain a strong institution, if we want to remain true to our purpose, if we want to remain a catalyst for transformations, things will have to change. All of us here in this room and beyond, we are the instruments of that change, nobody else. And I believe we are sufficient.

I was going to talk about my own goals for this upcoming year but I decided that would take too long and last night I put those bullet points on hold. Rest assured, almost all the goals I have revolve around student success and require consultation with faculty, staff, and student leadership. We will talk about those goals as we move forward.

But, I do want to mention one goal that I will ask Provost Reichard to undertake. I have asked the Provost to work with the Academic Senate and other key faculty leaders to further encourage, pilot test, assess, and more broadly disseminate classroom-based practices proven successful in improving student retention and graduation.

Dominguez Hills faculty have a strong history of incorporating successful student retention and success practices into the curriculum. However, I think we can do a better job in sharing the many powerful teaching techniques occurring on our campus and more carefully document the successful results of this work.

What types of practices am I referring to? The kinds of practices prescribed to many of our faculty and outlined in the new book by Vincent Tinto from Syracuse University. For example, setting high expectations in the classroom, writing students a clear roadmap to success in the class, frequent classroom assessment of student learning, using pedagogies of engagement such as cooperative or collaborative learning, and problem- or project-based learning, and involving students via the construction of learning communities and service learning.

Our faculty incorporates student success practices in the classroom. They use powerful approaches to teaching and learning. I want to work with our faculty leadership to identify, access, and disseminate information about these powerful practices more broadly.

If this wasn’t a great campus, I would not have accepted the invitation to stay. Let’s set high expectations for ourselves and then let’s do everything in our power to exceed those expectations. And in all of this, let’s enjoy our time together here. Let’s enjoy each other. Let’s have some fun.

Thank you for listening and thank you for inviting to be a part of this campus.