Welch Hall background

2014 University
Convocation Address

September 16, 2014

Thank you Ellen. Welcome everyone. I hope your semester so far has been as exciting as mine. I’ve had a lot of fun so far, and I’ve had some inspiring moments.

We got things started with an outstanding first-ever Freshman Convocation at the StubHub Center. We took over 1,100 of our freshmen to visit the site they would one day graduate from. We talked to them about being accountable for their own education and provided them with strategies on how to succeed in college.

In addition, over 90 faculty met with them to discuss various majors they could pursue. The energy from those students was overwhelming. They were so thrilled to be here, and so wanted to be here. It was a reminder to me of the moral obligation we have to give them our very best while demanding the very best from them.        

I also found it exciting to walk around during Welcome Week. I got to watch an all-male rock band with some of the tightest red shorts I’ve ever seen; they were singing and dancing in front of Loker Student Union. You would think from their attire they could only sing in falsetto, but they were very, very good.

I also got amazed by students in my class. A student who works 60 hours a week and is determined to get her degree, and another student whose job starts at 4:30 a.m., yet still manages to be a full-time student.

I got to see some of our newly renovated classroom facilities, and I am pleased to announce these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of renovating this campus.

And I’ve had the first of my twice-monthly campus lunches where I get to informally chat with small groups of faculty, staff and students to get their input and answer any questions they may have.

As I said, it has been fun.

But the most exciting aspect of this semester has been seeing all of the new people joining our campus. The new faculty and staff, and especially the 4,200 new freshmen and transfer students, and 770 new graduate students.

In your convocation brochure there are pictures of many of our new faculty and staff. In fact, it would be nice if all of the new people in the room would stand. The new students, new faculty, new staff, new managers—heck, even the newlyweds—please stand and receive our welcome and congratulations.

Thank you.

You have joined a great family. I learned that myself when I arrived here about 27 months ago. You represent the constant growth and evolution of the campus. You bring new ideas and new personal and professional experiences that will enrich us all.

And your arrival could not be timelier. Growth and evolution relate to a future state of being, and that is what I want to talk about today.

So I am not going to give you a detailed budget update or talk about our enrollment statistics as I’ve done in past convocations, even though they are important. I’ll save that for a later campus-wide forum or an email update. Suffice it to say the budget picture is better, not great, but better, and enrollment demand is robust and continues to exceed our capacity to serve all those who want to enroll here.

But before I talk about the future, I want to comment on my standing here as president. I am still amazed this came about, and every time I stand here the nature of my presidency has been different.

The first time I stood here, I was the interim president. The second time I stood here, I was the permanent president. And this year, I have the official stamp of approval.

On May 2nd I was inaugurated as the 10th president of Cal State Dominguez Hills. I was in awe of the way this campus showcased itself to our external guests, our friends, and to the external community. From the Day of Service that kicked off the week-long activities to a series of outstanding Inauguration Lectures, to the Women in STEM Conference; the Student Research Symposium; the Student Leadership and Service Awards; the Community Engagement Symposium; the Community Brunch; and the Academic Contest around our inaugural theme of America Happens Here. All of this culminating in a combined Inauguration and President's Scholarship Dinner that raised $472,000 in scholarship funds.

I was thoroughly impressed by that day and I continue to be honored and humbled the campus community selected me as their president, and I remain committed to partnering with all of you to fulfill our mission and support our students and their success.

Thank you for this amazing turning point in my life.

Let’s talk about our future, but first from the perspective of the educational foundation upon which it has to be built. And by foundation I mean our educational programs, and our resources, which include the people, money, facilities, the tools by which we do our jobs, our support infrastructure, and our policies, practices, and our time.

In terms of our foundation, our budget has improved, but keep in mind the CSU as a system lost over $1 billion in budget reductions and we have a long way to go to recover from that loss. We have made good strides in hiring faculty and staff, and this year we will add more advisers, more faculty and more support staff.

Under the leadership of Interim Vice President William Franklin, and his team, by tripling the size of our Bridge Program, which provides support to students who need additional preparation in mathematics and English, we are supporting that foundation also. This program has been so successful, it has been recognized nationally, and students completing the Bridge Program have year-to-year transition rates exceeding those of students who arrive in need of no additional preparation.

We also have established an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Institute designed to encourage and support student involvement in research, a known contributor to student learning and success. And we have established a Center for Innovation in STEM Education to give our students a better opportunity of participating in the STEM fields when they graduate.

We have strengthened our foundation by enhancing professional development opportunities for our faculty by providing additional funds to the colleges, and by reestablishing and funding our faculty Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities grant program. And within the next few weeks we will launch an interdisciplinary research grant program.

We also will be moving forward with a professional development grant program for staff so they too can seek leave time to stay current or further enhance their professional skills.

And thanks to our IT and facilities staff, we have renovated 17 classrooms around campus and are developing a plan to significantly escalate classroom and laboratory renovations, all critical improvements to our foundation. At the same time we are working to acquire funds to build new classroom, laboratory, research and performance facilities.

One of the more notable renovations this year is the new virtualized Toro Student IT lab on the first floor of the library. According to Chris Manriquez, our vice president of information technology, this is the first step in a planned student technology center, which will be a one-stop service center for student technical support.

And some time during the spring semester we plan to have the first of our “brilliant classrooms” in place as part of an innovation village advocated by Provost Junn.

And while on the topic of facility needs, I recently indicated to Chris Fernandez, president of our Associated Students, Inc, my strong support for working with ASI to construct a student recreation facility.

As an aside, many of you may not know this, but Chris Fernandez is a candidate to become a Rhodes Scholar. I and others on this campus have been honored to lend our support to his candidacy.

All of the things I’ve mentioned, and many more I haven’t talked about, are examples of our efforts to strengthen the educational foundation of our campus. But our foundation is more than just facilities, programs and people. It also includes policies and practices that must be improved if we are to move successfully into the future. Key among these for our campus are the internal policies and practices related to compensation.

Collective bargaining lays out the agreed upon compensation parameters for the CSU campuses, but we need to look at our own practices related to hiring and salaries at appointment. I am hopeful the bargaining process will address many of the important compensation issues we are facing. Once the system-wide agreements are reached, and the impact on our campus has been determined, I will in good faith review and consider compensation issues on this campus and act appropriately.

When Abraham Maslow first proposed his theory on the hierarchy of needs, he said that once an organism has addressed the deficiency needs, it then starts down the path of self-actualization. For the past couple of years we have been addressing our deficiency needs, and I know there is more to do. But I believe now is the time for us to look beyond our deficiency needs and look to the future.

As an institution, we must define and move towards our own version of Maslow’s self-actualization and take those actions necessary for us to achieve our full potential as a university.

I understand that who we want to be, and in some cases, who we can be will be impacted by the context within which we exist. We exist in a state that has backed away from its original position of being a leader in providing higher education to its citizens.

But California is not alone. So many in our nation, at least those in positions of leadership, seem misguided in their perspective and support of higher education.

In the old days, when people talked about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children, it usually implied a generation or more would have passed. But in today’s world, the sins of not educating our children no longer wait until the future; they visit us daily in the form of continued crime, unconscionable inequality, environmental dithering, false battles between faith and facts. And they visit us through the erosion of social foundations long supported by a sense of civic duty, appreciation of cultural and ethnic differences, and the role of the humanities in understanding, and in fact determining, who and why we are.

And there is this strange political alchemy that we are seeing today that attempts to transmute the full breadth and depth of higher education to that of just job training. We are in a context where invention and profit are prized over contemplation and awareness of the beauty within and around us.

Education matters. Higher education matters. It is not the be all and end all.

And you can call me biased, but I believe it is all.

Health, environment, sustainability, banking, art, criminal justice, labor, the economics, you name the domain—education prepares us for it, examines it for us, and provides solutions and directions related to it.

I am not trying to give a balanced argument here. There are some things that are true, and seeking a counter argument for the sake of political correctness is a waste of time.

Education matters. Period. More now than ever.

If we as a campus are to matter to the degree that we need to, for ourselves as an institution, for our students, for this state and nation and for our own sense of purpose then we must take the necessary steps to ensure our future and achieve our full potential, and offer our highest value. We must as a campus not only articulate those steps, we need to be clear and in agreement on the vision we are walking towards.

For me, I’ve always found that the best way to look at the future is by looking back on it. Decades from now, when we look back on our contribution to the future of this campus, what do we want to look back on?

In my 2012 Convocation remarks I said I wanted to be part of this campus so that one day I could look back and proudly say, I was part of building that. At the time I said I didn’t even know what ‘that’ was. But I knew the people on this campus, so I knew that whatever we built, it would be great.

But it has been two years since I made that statement, and over the course of that time—over the course of numerous conversations with faculty, staff, students and members of the community, and spending enormous amounts of time struggling to address some of our long-standing issues, through celebrating our successes including the personal honor over the past two years of shaking hands with nearly 6,200 of our students during graduation ceremonies—now I know what ‘that’ is. I know exactly what future I want to look back on.

I will look back on institution born literally out of the death and destruction, the moral indictment, the human sadness of the Watts Riots of the mid-1960s. For those of you who are new here, I won’t go into that history right now, but it is worth knowing because it is the reason we are located where we are and why we do what we do.

I will look back on an institution that fully embraced its charge to transform a troubled community and did not shy away when the necessary support to fully execute that charge never fully materialized, even to this day.

I will look back on an institution that did not embrace impaction, a policy that allows us to be more selective and look better on the more popular metrics of today.

I will look back on an institution of such robust quality in our academic programs and in our faculty and staff that we will not only serve well our assigned service area, from wealthy beach communities to impoverished urban communities. We will be sought after by individuals throughout Southern California and beyond.

I will look back on a campus that is fully realized because of the work being done by the people in this room, both those who have been here for a while and those who have joined us anew. A campus that has built out the core faculty and staff, expanded the international components of its curriculum, renovated existing facilities and built new ones built strong and mutually supportive partnerships with the industrial and political giants that surround us and in partnership with the chancellor and the state finally gets its compensation house in order.

I will look back on a campus where both academic standards and graduation rates are high.

But to look back on this vision, we need to address the question of how do we best move beyond a focus on our deficiency needs to move beyond the liminal stage of transition, beyond the threshold and into the future we envision.

We need a plan.

In an era of limited resources, competing needs and more good things to do than we will ever be able to do, we need a plan. A plan we all agree upon and are willing to sacrifice to achieve. A real strategic plan. Not a plan that is trucked out when the accreditors show up. Not a plan that sits on a shelf. We need a plan that sits in the hands of our budget committee, that sits in the hands of the president’s cabinet, that sits in the hands of the academic senate. We need a plan that sits in the hands of all of those who helped create it.

We have to act from the same playbook. Without that, we will still do good work, as we have always done. But it’s not just about doing good work; it’s about achieving our fullest potential. It’s about our obligation to those who will come after us. The next round of new faculty and staff. The next round of excited new students. A good strategic plan, one that is crafted with full campus involvement straddles where we are now, and where we want to go.

We have taken the first steps with the work of numerous meetings of the University Planning Council and a robust and well-attended campus strategic planning town hall. We have produced a draft document that we look to finalize this fall with additional input from the campus.

This document is so important I would like to acknowledge the members of the University Planning Council. Their work in pulling together all of the input they received was phenomenal and that kind of effort can sometimes feel like a thankless task. But more importantly, by knowing their names and being reminded they are your colleagues, that they are us, I’m hoping it will strengthen your involvement in developing the plan and your support of the final set of goals that will guide the campus. If there are any members of the University Planning Council in the audience, would you please stand. Thank you for your efforts. These individuals are not creating the plan, they are compiling and constructing the plan based upon campus input.

At the end of the day, we already know the overarching goals of our plan: We need strategies to give us the best faculty and staff; We need strategies to give us the best academic and co-curricular programs; And we need strategies to give us the best facilities, be they renovated or new.

And we need all of this because we already have the best students. They are the best students because our students more accurately reflect and represent the future of America. And as they go, so goes America. And as they go, that is shaped here at Dominguez Hills by the work of our faculty and staff. And as many of you have heard me say before, that is why America Happens Here.

This is a time for us to stay focused on the future despite the pull of past. Not everyone appreciates the extraordinary work that we do here. We do the heavy lifting because we are lifting our students generation after generation into the future.

We’ve had our past slights, being measured by yardsticks whose metrics are not adjusted for economic and other social factors. Where instead value added, lives transformed, opportunities given, hope rekindled, individual self-actualization achieved, unimagined careers launched, these are the units on the scale by which this campus is measured.

And as noted in the Washington Monthly, Time Magazine and the Undersecretary of Education, when you look at the correct metrics, Dominguez Hills is a national leader.

As I said earlier, I am excited about this year and years ahead. And that excitement stems from the people on this campus. We have done a lot together, we know who we are. It is hard work. It is rewarding. It is fun.

It is California State University, Dominguez Hills.

They say home is where the heart is. My heart is here and I hope yours is as well. Be happy, be excited. We have more good stuff to do.

Thank you for listening.