President's Opening Convocation 2006

Video of Speech

Opening Convocation Address, August 17, 2006

Good afternoon and welcome to the start of the new academic year!

As the images which have been playing on the screen as you arrived suggest, we begin this year, as we should every year, with some reminders about why we’re here, that is, the heart of the matter – the success and learning of our students.  Check out those smiles and feel the energy and joy of their efforts.

It should feel good, and right.  And comfortable.  Because we should recognize ourselves in those faces.  For behind every triumphant performance, every noteworthy achievement, every proud smile, every good effort, there is someone in this room, on this campus, among our friends and supporters, who enabled those good things to happen.  A lesson effectively taught, counsel wisely given, a hand warmly extended, a gift generously provided. 

We connect to the success of our students because we have enabled it and we are sustained by it. We, in fact, are enlarged by that connection, as individuals and as a community. And this is what I want to gear my remarks to this afternoon.  How we connect, why we connect, and what happens when we get the connections right.

But, first, other folks have some things to say to you, too.  So let me introduce some of our colleagues and their words of greeting as we start this academic year.

  • Courtney Voss, a political science major from Upland, CA, and President, AS
  • Gayle Hutchinson, Professor of Kinesiology, just returning to us after a year away as an ACE Fellow, and Chair, Academic Senate
  • Terry Battle, who runs the dean who runs the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management, and Chair, Staff Council
  • Mark Snelgrove, of the University Police Dept., representing our collective bargaining units

There are a few other folks here today whom I’d also like to introduce to be acknowledged.  Some new to our University; some very familiar folks; and some veterans in new roles.

  • Drew Calandrella, VPSA
  • Jennifer Ryder Fox, Dean, College of Agriculture
  • Susan Place, Dean, Graduate, International & Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Bill Loker, Dean, Undergraduate Education
  • Bob Jackson, interim Dean, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Trustee Bob Linscheid  (at alumni meeting in Long Beach)
  • Trustee Glen Toney

Advisory Board members  (Judy Sitton, Trish Dunlap, Farshad Azad, Steve Nettleton, Matt Jackson, Natalie Birk), and Scott Chalmers, a former Board member and now chair, University Foundation.

Now, let me call your attention to all of our new colleagues – faculty and staff – whose names are listed in your program.  We’ll all get to know you soon enough – that’s the nature of our community – but will all of you listed in our program please stand so that we can congratulate you, and us, for your joining Chico State.  Welcome and thank you for all that you’re bringing to us and all that you will accomplish with us.

A few minutes ago, I paraphrased a quote from the main character in E.M. Forster’s novel, Howard’s End.  That line is “to enlarge space through connections.”  The other more famous line from this book along the same vein is an even simpler, even more profound, piece of advice: “Only connect.” 

So let me talk about connections, using this geometric figure to illustrate several key elements that we seek to connect, that we need to connect, in order to bring focus and purpose to our work together.  Each of the vertices in this hexagram connects to each of the others through common ground – our Mission and Values. 

Master Plan

At last year’s Opening Convocation, I was pleased to present a video of our Master Plan, which the CSU trustees had just enthusiastically approved.  It is a values-based document that aims to accommodate and manage enrollment growth, protect our distinctive living and learning environment as a residential campus, strengthen the extraordinary relationship between the University and our host city Chico, affirm the harmony between the natural and built environments of the campus, and reinforce the educational experience of our students through the buildings and spaces of the campus and its extended locations.

Although we are constantly working to implement the Master Plan, such as utilities upgrades, energy management, and sustainability efforts, this year we will see the very visible commencement of several major projects.

These include:

  • Our first “green” building, the Student Services Center
  • The student-funded Wildcat Activities Center
  • The Northern California Natural History Museum, the product of a visionary community/University partnership
  • New student housing and dining
  • The First Street Project

Other projects, such as Taylor Hall II and improvements to the University Farm, stand in the wings, as we anticipate the success of fundraising efforts and await the outcome of the November election and the higher education bond measure on the ballot. Another opportunity to vote early, vote often, for dear old Chico State.

Over the next 18-36 months, or so, our campus will be an active construction zone.  Dean Derucher will be in charge of hard hat distribution.  Dennis Graham will have the happy task of squeezing more cars into fewer parking spaces. Please be patient with the progress, for all of us will be inconvenienced a bit.  But what we will have upon completion will further strengthen our identity and story as the most beautiful campus in the CSU, a place of distinction in what we do and what we look like.  

STRATEGIC PLAN

After a period of consultation and feedback lasting about a year and a half, I was pleased to announce recently the update to our Strategic Plan.  The need for an update reflected several contexts.  The previous plan was updated in 1999 and such plans typically need refreshing about every five years. Our 2005 trustee-approved Master Plan, the Governor’s “Compact” with higher education, State and CSU budget conditions, our approaching 125th anniversary, and the lens of a new president, that’s me, are additional factors.

The update preserves the format and basic structure of the previous plan, but adds some new language and elements.  The Mission Statement is more concise.  A Values Statement is new.  As is a sixth strategic priority that focuses on environmental issues and sustainability practices. 

Themes of regional stewardship and service, civic engagement and community, high standards and expectations, distinction and intentionality characterize this document.  It is posted on the University web site and I encourage all to become familiar with it, as well as to continue to provide input on its implementation. 

This is a plan that aims to communicate, internally and externally, what we are all about.  It challenges us to demonstrate a real and clear determination to allocate resources in terms of articulated priorities.  And this we must do.  For, even in the best of circumstances, we cannot be all things to all people.  Rather, in a world of flattened revenue streams, great pressures to hold down fees, rising infrastructure and benefits costs, increased competition for faculty, staff, and students, and fewer dollars for new investments, we must make choices. 

This updated Strategic Plan emphasizes those choices and challenges us to ensure that they are wise ones.

ACADEMIC PLAN

There is not a single academic plan per se, as much as there is an academic agenda to build on past actions and accomplishments and to align them with the values and priorities of our Strategic Plan, especially strategic priorities one, two, and three, as displayed on these slides.  

All divisions of the University, of course, have responsibilities and roles towards the fulfillment of our Strategic Plan.  But the most formal expression of our primary mission – student learning – occurs within the construct of our academic programs and the qualities of engagement, rigor, currency, and mastery that shape our curricula and define our teaching.

We must always affirm that the heart and essence of higher education is the learning process: the interaction between students and faculty that results in discovering and rediscovering the joys of learning and becoming successful lifelong learners.  All other facets of an academy such as ours must be justified and measured in terms of their support of the teaching/learning process and our service mission.

Assessing and measuring what we do is an on-going process, but every few years these activities take on added significance.  This is one of those years – for WASC is coming. 

This coming spring we will have our scheduled ten-year accreditation visit in which the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) will review whether, as an institution, we function with clear purposes, high levels of institutional integrity and fiscal stability, and whether we have in place the organizational structures and processes to fulfill our purposes.

We’ve had seventeen campus teams, comprised of scores of our colleagues, at work identifying and assessing the evidence to make our case.  The reports of these teams have been reviewed by the WASC Steering Committee – Bev Ford, Don Graham, Jennifer Robison, Arno Rethans, Marc Siegall, and Chuck Worth – and are being summarized in our Capacity and Preparatory Report headed to WASC this November.  Detailed information on the Report and the WASC process may be found on our new WASC accreditation website.  I encourage you to visit this site and note the great effort that the campus has put into demonstrating our capacity for educational and institutional effectiveness.  We will be a better, more informed university as a result of the work of all who are engaged in the reaccreditation effort.  Thank you, all of you.

ENROLLMENTS           

As we all know, enrollments – particularly, FTES, fulltime equivalent students – drive our budget.  To the tune of $7225 per FTES, the State provides the lion’s share of our budget.  Student fees – and these vary considerably depending upon student status, that is, full-time vs. part-time, resident vs. non-resident, undergraduate vs. graduate, and fee waiver eligible – represent the next largest revenue category for our budget.  But the name of the game in Sacramento and Long Beach is FTES.

Enrollment management is not just a case of hanging out a shingle and announcing we are open.  Genuine enrollment management recognizes a continuum from outreach and recruitment, to admission and orientation, to retention and progress to degree, to Commencement and alumni status.

We have some of the best people in this business at Chico State – units headed by Bob Hannigan and John Swiney, by Spence Bolich and Lorraine Smith, by Bruce Rowen and Meredith Kelley – and that is a major reason why we met our enrollment target last year and are looking good to do so again this year, as the slide on the screen indicates. 

We are running about 3% above our fall, 2005, FTES numbers and about 2% above that headcount, at this point.  Yes, fewer students to produce our FTES.  A terrific reflection of a University-wide effort to put courses out there for our students and then to get them into the courses they need.

We know what the consequences of failing to meet target are.  Seven campuses in the CSU did not meet their targets last year and their budgets this year have been cut by almost $6 million.

There are two very important subplots within our enrollment story, though, that should be highlighted. Check out this slide, which indicates the progress we’ve made to bring greater diversity to our entering freshmen cohorts.  Although the figures for fall, 2006, are preliminary and will not be certain until census, several weeks away, we are potentially looking at a picture that, since 2004, represents a 77% increase in Chicano/Latino enrollments, a 40% increase in Asian/Pacific Islander, and a 173% increase in African-American. 

In spring, 2004, I met with a large contingent of faculty, staff, and students to talk about diversity in our student body.  At that time, I set a target of doubling our African-American freshmen numbers within two years.  As you can see, we will do that and more.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Many, many people deserve credit for this progress. Every faculty and staff member of color who serves as a role model for these students.  Every faculty and staff member who affords our students dignity and respect and a helping hand.  Every student of color who goes home and says, “You know, there’s still not that many of us up there, but it’s a good place.  People care.  You can learn there; you can succeed there.” And every one of these students who believes this message and then finds it to be true.  They become our ambassadors and our recruiters, our face of access and success.

Among so many, and I apologize for not naming everyone, thank you, especially, Tray Robinson, Gary McMahon, Lori Holcombe, Susan Green, Nesto de la Torre, Chela Patterson, Alan Bee, Dave Ferguson, Chris Malone, Paul Villegas, Berta Curiel, C.C. Carter, Herm Ellis, and Billie Jackson for your advocacy and work in gaining resources for these students, and providing them with guidance, help, and hope.  But thank you, all of you, for affirming the values of multicultural respect, awareness, and understanding and signaling that diversity is not just an idea to embrace, but a community to form.

Secondly, I want to thank everyone on this campus, and in this community, who has supported and contributed to our efforts to address some problematic aspects of student conduct the last couple of years.  Whether it is Greeks or non-Greeks, student athletes or student clubs, residence students or visitors to the campus, we have made it clear that we will hold all students accountable to behaviors that will make us a more civil, more respectful, more responsible, and safer living and learning community.

Although it is too early to tell, I would not be surprised to find out that the strong enrollment figures we are seeing this fall are due, in some measure, to two developments:  first, increasing the number of scholarships for our applicants with the strongest academic profiles; and, second, convincing parents, high school counselors, and students that our commitment to improving student conduct is clear, correct, and certain.

I also expect this resolve to be reflected positively in another high ranking by US News and World Report, which will announce its annual rankings tomorrow.

No one – no one – has been more key to this effort than Jim Moon.  I want to thank Jim and his able, dedicated colleagues in Student Affairs for helping send a message that this University will be characterized by the learning and success of our students, not by student behaviors that embarrass and distract us.  Lord knows, Jim’s not perfect – I witnessed his golf game in Scotland this summer.  But he hit this shot squarely and we are a better place as a result.  Thank you, Jim.

ADVANCEMENT

Fund-raising has become a fact of life for all of higher education, public and private.  In the CSU, we have been directed by the Chancellor’s Office to raise through private support the equivalent of 11% of our General Fund allocation (that is, 11% of $107 million or $11.7 million).

We are well on our way to achieving this goal and others which we have established internally.  The latter include increasing the numbers of both gifts and donors, increasing the proportion of cash gifts to gifts-in-kind, increasing our endowment, and, in general, strengthening our Advancement infrastructure and culture as we take the initial steps towards a major fund-raising campaign in conjunction with the University’s 125th anniversary, which we will celebrate in 2012.

Under Rick Ellison’s leadership, and with a solid Advancement staff centrally and in the colleges and athletics, we have seen progress in all of these areas.  In just one year, the number of gifts has increased by almost 2500 (a 13% increase), the number of individual donors has increased by almost 2000 (a 18% increase), and, most importantly, our fundraising in 2005-2006, as the slide behind me shows, has increased by more than $4 million over the previous year making the most recent fiscal year one of the most successful fundraising years in the University’s history.  We are poised to do even better.   Right, Rick!?

Three related pieces of good news.

The University endowment is now valued at nearly $31 million, almost a 50% increase since 2001-2002.  Although we are only the 12th ranked campus in the system in terms of enrollments and budget, we are seventh ranked in the size of our endowment. We thank the members of the University Foundation and its most recent chair, John Burghardt, for very able guidance in these matters.

Membership in our Alumni Association has grown dramatically, in fact, a 259% increase since 2002.  Chico State now ranks fourth in the CSU for the number of alumni donors, powerful evidence of the affection that our alumni have for the University.  When you walk along the north side of Chico Creek, in the Alumni Glen area, you will see a series of banners recently developed by the Alumni Association and designed by Alan Rellaford to celebrate our alumni and to introduce our current students to the Chico State alumni experience.  It’s never too early to get them thinking about being alumni.  In addition to Sue Anderson, Polly Crabtree, and the staff in the Alumni Affairs Office, thanks, in particular, to Alumni Association immediate past president Sheryl Lange and current president Alicia Barr and the members of the Alumni Advisory Board for their leadership and vision.

I’d also like to acknowledge the work of the Office of Grants and Contracts under Katie Milo’s supervision and the incredible energy and creativity of our faculty and staff to develop winning proposals.  We are inching towards $30 million in annual grant and contract activity, a record which only three or four other campuses in the system (all larger than us) can match.  In just four years, we have seen a 74% increase in proposals submitted and a 72% increase in proposals funded.  The indirect cost recovery of this activity returns over $2 million to the University.   Although not a part of the Advancement Office per se, OGC advances the University in rich and obvious ways.

BUDGET

Let’s just look at two slides here.  How our budget is principally constructed.  And how it is principally used.

First, budget sources, and a few observations:

  • Increased State support in terms of dollars, but reduction in terms of budget percentage.
  • Increased revenues from student fees.
  • Leveling of non-resident fee revenues.
  • Small size of the “other” category – where fundraising is reflected as well as one-time funds from such sources as application and transcript fees.  And library fines – so we need the library in more ways than one.

For budget uses:

  • Significant increases of benefits and financial aid costs.
  • Increases of all mandatory expenditures and corresponding lack of flexibility for everything else, that is, the “other” category.

But a budget is just a tool, a means to an end.  The main question is how our budget is used and, especially, the extent to which our budget decisions are based on judgments that further the reputation and record of the University.  With this budget picture, and the limited flexibility we have until we get new, unrestricted dollars, our budget goals are quite simple: to maintain the highest quality where it exists; to support key areas where academic quality can be improved; to expend our resources in areas where we have attained distinction and where we aspire to it; and to align those areas of distinction with our values and mission.

CONCLUSION

So what does all of this add up to?  A good story, a connected story, and, even, a compelling story.

To return to the images that greeted us upon arriving today, it is a story about being a place of learning and achievement, a place of public purpose and service, a place of values and a value-added experience.

It is also about being a place of high expectations.  For our students, of course, these focus on academic performance.  But they must go well beyond that, beyond GPAs, and GREs, and awards won, and jobs secured.  They center, as well, on personal and social responsibilities and how the time our students spend with us will affect and even define their character and identity.  And how, as a result, they will represent not only the values of our University but the ways we serve the public interest.

Our high expectations for them include what kind of work ethic they will embrace, how deep a sense of academic integrity they will form, how great a desire to contribute to the larger community they will develop, how seriously they will respect the perspectives of others, how effectively they will discover their own voices, how passionately they will want to shepherd our fragile environment, and how kindly they will respond to the needs of the weakest and least advantaged among us.

Every day, and in myriad ways, each of us in this room has an opportunity to influence our students’ values and attitudes, and to define success through our ability to strengthen their prospects for becoming responsible members of a democratic community and global society.

Whether in the principles of sustainability we practice, or the obligations of regional stewardship we undertake,

Whether through the attractiveness of our grounds, or the cleanliness of our buildings, or the safety of our campus,

Whether through the performing artists on our stages or the teaching artists in our classrooms,

Whether through the first-year student experience or the life-long alumni experience,

Whether through our relationship with the city of Chico or partnership with the Mechoopda,

Whether through regional institutional accreditation or national disciplinary associations,

We have opportunities to teach, to affirm common goals, to demonstrate success, to be “One University.”

In my third year with you, I could not be prouder than to be your president, your colleague.  We aspire to be the university of choice for all those who share our vision and values.  And we aim to bring greater intentionality to the alignment of our values and vision with our actions.   We have good reason – in fact, many of them – to be confident and optimistic about our future and our role in the lives of our students, region, State, and nation.

So, let’s get on with it.  Thank you and have a great year!