President's Opening Convocation 2005
Opening Convocation Address, August 18, 2005
Good afternoon and welcome to the start of the new academic year! Maybe I’m just hallucinating in the Chico heat, but wasn’t Commencement just yesterday? I’m sure we were just congratulating our graduates and wishing each other a good summer. But, here we are, welcoming new students, greeting new colleagues, and wishing each other well for the new academic year. It is a cycle as relentless as it is refreshing.
I am pleased to be joined this afternoon by a few folks to bring you greetings from their colleagues and constituencies and to provide some perspectives on the year ahead. Let me begin by introducing someone who represents why we are all here, the president of the Associated Students, Thomas Whitcher.
Now, some words from three colleagues: Marc Siegall, chair of the Academic Senate; Terry Battle, chair of Staff Council; and Pat Gantt, the local chapter president of the California State University Employees Union, who is representing all of our bargaining units today.
Thank you, all.
Like last week’s – last May’s! – Spring Commencement, Fall Convocation is also about beginnings. Different, to be sure, but connected. These are events we share as a community and they are occasions that focus on hopes.
We begin this year with renewed hopes and high expectations.
The governor has honored the compact with public higher education. This means that our budget situation has improved to the extent that we will be seeing the first comprehensive pay raise in the CSU in three years. We are far, far from where we need to be, but my thanks to all who have stood up for the CSU, including the groups whom our speakers represent.
The CSU Board of Trustees unanimously and enthusiastically approved our Master Plan in July. You will be seeing our presentation to the Trustees in just a few minutes. But, in brief, what their approval means is that we will move forward with plans for enrollment growth on our terms and with new and renovated facilities to support our academic programs, student services, and community partnerships.
Our intercollegiate athletics program finished the year ranked third in the nation among the nearly 300 NCAA Division II institutions for the overall performance of our thirteen teams. The year before we were ranked fifth. I like that direction, Anita. Anita Barker, by the way, after a national search, has been named our permanent athletic director. She has also been invited to serve on the Division II Management Council, the highest ranking committee in the NCAA on which an athletic director can serve. One other note about our student-athletes: they succeed in the classroom, too. Their overall GPAs are, in fact, slightly higher than the GPA of the student body as a whole.
CAVE celebrated its 40th anniversary as the CSU’s premier student volunteer and service learning organization and, partially as a result, Chico State has been invited to co-lead a national effort under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation, the New York Times, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to encourage civic engagement among students.
The Orion won just about every important award it could last year, including being named the best non-daily newspaper in the country and the best collegiate newspaper of any sort in California .
Whether building steel bridges, making presentations at the National Future Farmers of America Conference, winning forensics competitions, performing at the American College Theater Festival, or receiving recognitions from such prestigious organizations as the National Tourism Foundation, the Botanical Society of America, the New World Symphony, Rotary International, and the Stegner Foundation, our students amaze and inspire us and testify to the dedication of their faculty.
The University has strengthened its relationship with the Mechoopda Tribal Community through their moving participation in our most recent Founders Week celebration and a joint agreement being finalized with the University to ensure the preservation of their cultural heritage as further construction occurs on the campus.
Over 150 faculty and staff have come together to prepare the self-study for our WASC re-accreditation visit in spring, 2007, and to document the University’s accomplishments in effecting student learning and implementing other aspects of our Strategic Plan.
Just last week, the Redding-based McConnell Foundation awarded nearly $800,000 to the University to support our service to the North State through academic programs in Shasta and Siskiyou counties. This is a wonderful example of the kind of public/private partnerships that we must increasingly seek.
We are embarked on an effort to transform the Greek system on this campus into a national model and to demonstrate that Chico State is the place to watch in order to witness the resolve and to find the strategies to change the alcohol culture that has plagued this campus and many others and to improve the conditions for student success.
I will say some more about this matter in a few minutes, but I want to acknowledge a few people right now for their leadership in these matters. First, Vice-President for Student Affairs Jim Moon. Jim, as many of you know, will be retiring at the end of this year after 35 years of service to Chico State . Last year may have been his most trying and exhausting. But it may also have been the year he made his greatest contributions to our community, providing a steady hand, sure counsel, and tireless dedication in the face of some harsh challenges. Jim and his good colleagues – people like Herm Ellis, Mary Oling-Ottoo, and Lizanne Leach, plus Connie Huyck and Rick Rees– were up to the task. The same can be said for last year’s Associated Students President Adam Dondro, Interfraternity President Nick Hollingsworth, and Panhellenic President Michelle Dobin.
So, too, let me acknowledge Joe Wills, who managed our media relations; Steve King, who stepped out of retirement to chair our Commission on Campus Life; Scott Chalmers and Sheryl Lange, who effectively engaged the University Advisory Board and Alumni Association, respectively, in telling the overwhelmingly positive story about our students and campus culture.
I want to commend, as well, the support of the leadership of the Academic Senate and the faculty as a whole in these matters. Our colleagues in Academic Affairs, including Provost Scott McNall, the deans and chairs, developed and will act on a set of recommendations to help our students make wise choices and to succeed in their studies.
A special word of thanks to our admissions, recruitment, financial aid, and advising people, including the Summer Orientation students, who faced doubts and tough questions about the University but never failed to be truthful and effective in bringing our new class here – including, we anticipate, when all registrations are complete, the most ethnically diverse freshman class ever admitted to and enrolled at the University.
Just one example of this accomplishment. Last year, I challenged Bob Hannigan, John Swiney, and their staff to increase by 50% our freshman African-American cohort this fall. Right now we are looking at a 68% increase in those numbers.
What all of this adds up to – reaffirmed once again in the latest US News & World Report rankings which will be announced tomorrow – is that, as has been the case since 2002, Chico State is ranked among the top four most highly regarded public universities in the West, the top three in California. These new rankings will also show that we have improved a notch among all of the universities, public and private, in our category, particularly in the most important peer assessment area. At the risk of reading too much into these rankings – but, why not, when the news is good – it would seem that our peers recognize not only the quality of our people and programs, but also our willingness and ability to address directly issues and events that would otherwise detract from our reputation as one of the West’s finest academies. So, congratulations to all of us.
It is not pleasant, of course, to make some of the headlines we did last year and to face some media coverage which might best be described as self-serving and cynical. It takes its toll on the institution and on individuals.
But we will not shrink from scrutiny or idle in despair. We will be known by how we respond to all challenges, how we answer all questions, how we exercise our social and moral responsibilities through the standards we set, the tolerance we practice, and the goodness we inspire. I could not be more proud of how we as a University handled adversity, or more grateful for the support that the members of the campus community and city provided for our efforts to deal with behaviors and conditions that tarnished our reputation and tested our resolve. But we are a better, more respected institution as a result because we took a stand and neither doubted nor compromised the values that guide us.
Much more to note and to anticipate, to be sure. But, most notably, we have new colleagues among us – the largest number in years. Let me introduce a few of them to you now.
- Willie Hopkins, Dean, College of Business .
- Rick Ellison, Vice-President, University Advancement
- Leslie Nix-Baker, Vice Provost for Human Resources
- Helmata Jhaveri, Associate Director for University Housing and Food Service
- Familiar faces, but in new roles include:
- Bill Loker, Interim Dean of Undergraduate Studies
- Karla Zimmerlee, Director of Labor Relations
- Tonya Emerson, Director of the First-Year Experience Program
- Tray Robinson, Coordinator of University Diversity Initiatives
- Bill Jones, Interim Associate Vice President for Financial Services
- Chela Patterson, Director of Equal Opportunity Program
The screen behind me lists the names of our new faculty and staff colleagues. Welcome all of you. Please stand so that we can acknowledge you. We will all have a chance to meet you more personally at a reception outside immediately following this convocation.
Just two other folks for special acknowledgment. We have been well represented as a campus, and the CSU well served as a whole, by having one of our own on the Board of Trustees. Thank you, for two years of exemplary service as the faculty trustee, Kathy Kaiser. Chico State will continue to be represented on the Board, though. Congratulations to the newly elected alumni trustee, our own, Bob Linscheid, who is already on the job for us in Long Beach today.
It is now my great pleasure to unveil a video for its first public viewing. This is the expanded version – the director’s cut, so to speak – of the DVD on our Master Plan which we showed the Trustees in July.
Some viewing tips. First, this is G-rated, so, Dennis, you can stay. Second, this is as much about principles and guidelines, as it is specific buildings and spaces, because many of the buildings are conceptual and their construction timelines and locations are still to be determined by such matters as funding, neighborhood relations, and environmental considerations. Third, please note some of the tracking shots in this production. They’re eloquent and spectacular. Fourth, there’s a brief appearance of some native wildlife in here – not the guy who appears now and then – but something a lot more handsome and inspirational. This creature is not some digitized invention. He actually accompanied our film crew for awhile. Fifth, admire the technical handiwork of our colleagues, who I’ll introduce after the showing. There are none more talented anywhere. And, sixth, it’s OK to be a little proud of what you’re going to see. You made this possible.
Now, enjoy this view of our past, our present, and our future and the spirit of place and purpose that it conveys.
This is a vision which we all have helped develop. But this is a DVD that a few folks, in particular, have made. Let me introduce them, and ask them to stand to be recognized, and ask you to hold your applause until these introductions are completed. The supervisory producer for the project, who oversaw post-production and computer graphics, is Rick Vertolli. The lovely poem which began the video was written by the DVD’s assistant producer and director, Dan Carter. There’s a long list of folks who assisted them: classical guitarist Warren Haskell, IMC wizards Adam Morgan and Chris Ficken, narrators John Roussell and Alice Burkart, ATEC directors Kathy Fernandez and Dave Abbott, cable cam designer and operator Johnny Poon, executive producers Dennis Graham and Greg Francis, and Sam the Eagle. Thank you, all.
As this video relates, the Master Plan is closely tied to the University Strategic Plan. For it affirms our most compelling goals, none of which is more important and central than building a community of learning and hope worthy of the trust that our students and the people of California have placed in us.
Others flow from this noble purpose. These include accommodating and managing enrollment growth, protecting our distinctive living and learning environment as a residential campus, strengthening the extraordinary relationship the University has with its host city Chico, affirming the harmony between the natural and built environments of the campus, and reinforcing the educational experience of our students through the buildings and spaces of the campus and its extended locations.
Above all, though, the Master Plan communicates values. We declare our commitment to environmental sensitivity and respect and to sustainable building and living practices. We affirm openness of expression and access through a barrier-free campus. We demonstrate civic engagement as a good neighbor and a partner with the city of Chico , committed to building a safer, more civil and desirable living community together. We articulate a keen sense of place, psychologically, historically, aesthetically, and geographically. We express confidence in our identity and pride in our story.
Yes, a good Master Plan reveals, but it also prepares. It compels us to examine the University’s defining values and characteristics, and it challenges us to consider how our identity and mission have prepared Chico State to meet the needs of an increasingly more complex workforce and pluralistic society.
In the words of Marion Wright Edelman, we “educate students not just to make a living, but to make a life. ” We emphasize that the capacity to learn finds its fullest expression in the use of knowledge to improve self and society. We believe that the goals of self-discovery and service are connected and complementary.
Promoting civic engagement is a key way we do this. Such engagement begins with the relationship that students have with the University and how clearly the University provides example and communicates expectations in these matters.
The example of faculty and staff – because learning occurs as surely in classrooms and laboratories as in work-study jobs and extracurricular organizations – is critical to this goal. This sense of a learning culture without boundaries or borders guides and challenges us and underscores that the best learning communities teach not only through the command of academic disciplines and administrative tasks, but also through the force of personal example: kindness and compassion, decency and civility, personal integrity and intellectual honesty.
The best institutions build their intentional values into everyday operations, habits, and conversations. They recognize the congruence between the goals of individuals and those of the institution. And they choose a certain set of values and commitments that are clear, compelling, and connected. Distinction and high morale flow from this kind of intentionality and the satisfaction of shared expectations and engagements.
We are one of these best places. And we have other things to do to become even better, as the University of the North State , as an institution of first choice for students, faculty, and staff, and as a place of hope. Among our actions to this end:
- To recognize not only the obligation of service, but also to establish the value of service to others as a defining characteristic of our institution and all who are members of this community.
- To build not only a civil and respectful community of teachers and learners, but also to help strengthen the social fabric and moral spirit of our state and nation in the 21st century through the compelling example we set as an institution.
- To support not only the world of ideas and its exploration, but also to affirm the integration of liberal and applied learning.
- To celebrate not only that we are an American public university, but also to signal that we are “one university” where collaboration, mutual support and trust, and common goals define our work together and the spirit of its undertaking.
- To recognize not only that we are distinguished by our natural environment and close ties with the city of Chico , but also to practice stewardship of the former and civic engagement with the latter.
These goals are among those that I propose we emphasize in a review of our Strategic Plan this year and as we move it forward over the next five years, to the eve of the 125th anniversary of our founding. In conjunction with our Master Plan and a comprehensive fund-raising campaign to mark that occasion, we can choose pathways of greater distinction that will both strengthen and focus our story and attract the favorable attention and support of others. For our ability to align our actions with our intentions, to make decisions and to allocate resources along the lines of clearly articulated priorities and values, will affect the integrity of our message, the delivery of our promise, and the faith of our friends.
I hope always, though, as tough as the conversations we will have and the challenges we will face, that our common endeavor will be characterized by joy. We live in a beautiful place; we are surrounded by good and smart and talented people; we are hosted by a charming and attractive city; we are renewed every year with new colleagues and students; we have a distinguished history and a noble mission. Like the eagle in our Master Plan video, we have every reason to soar confidently and purposefully. So, with gratitude and pride, I wish you a good year and a joyful one.