President's Opening Convocation 2007

August 23, 2007

Good afternoon.  And welcome to the start of the new academic year.

What you have been watching as you’ve been settling into your seats are images of success:  images of our students learning, images of our students demonstrating what they have learned, images of our students exhibiting our finest values.  These habits of the mind and practice and the heart are what the WASC visiting team found and what they emphasized in their report.  Chico State, they concluded, is “a vibrant and healthy institution…particularly to be commended for its strong community and the remarkable commitment of the faculty, staff, and administration to student success.”

In other words, as I wrote in an Inside Chico State column in April, "they got it.”  Most important, they discovered that our story of commitment to student success, diversity, regional service, community engagement, sustainability, and academic, civic and social values was neither invented for them, nor written for them.  It is a story that we live every day and upon which we constantly strive to improve.

This story is the focus of my remarks today, but I want to preface them with a few introductions and some words from some of our colleagues.

Introductions:  Sandra Flake, Joel Zimbelman (Humanities and Fine Arts) Gayle Hutchinson (Behavioral and Social Sciences), Sean Farrell (Associate Vice President for Business and Finance, a Chico grad who comes back to us after twelve years of experience working for the Butte County Administrative Offices, the last seven as their Senior Administrative Officer), new faculty and staff in attendance, advisory board members,

Farshad Azad
Natalie Birk
Trish Dunlap, Advisory Board Chair
Matt Jackson
Maureen Kirk
Steve Nettleton
Richard Matson, University Foundation Board

Ann Schwab (Chico City Council), Bob Linscheid (CSU Board of Trustees), Tim Colbie, Vice President Alumni Association.

As has been my custom, I've asked a few other members of our University community to share greetings and remarks with you.  AS president Osazee Edebiri, a senior in business management from Richmond, California; Academic Senate chair (Kathy Kaiser, professor of Sociology who has served our community, campus, and University system in too many ways to mention, but, for example, as a current member of the board of the Chico Unified School District and as the Faculty Trustee for the CSU Board of Trustees); staff council rep (Terry Battle, who despite the titles that others in her college have, really runs the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management); and representing our collective bargaining units, Pat Gantt, recently re-elected president of the CSUEU.

Thank you, all.

We begin this year with strong momentum in several key areas that focus on student success and the conditions and environment for it.

  • Enrollments (likely Fall enrollment at 16,800, that is, about 3% more than last Fall, largely due to a higher percentage of our admits accepting our offer of admission and stronger continuing student rates)
  • Diversity
  • Progress to degree  (our efforts twice highlighted at trustee meetings this past year)
  • Advancement ($ for scholarships from endowment and gifts, that is, fundraising, donor-supported)

Total endowment:  76% increase since 2003
Total Program Endowment: 109% increase since 2003
Total Scholarship Endowment:  56% increase since 2003
Total Scholarship disbursement: 47% increase since 2003
Along these lines, just this week through the leadership of Paul Villegas, director of our MESA Center, we learned that we have received a new award of nearly $600,000 from NSF to support scholarships for our students in the sciences.  This brings our grand total of NSF scholarship awards to nearly $1.8 million.  Thank you, Paul, and your colleagues.

  • Accreditation (WASC unqualified reaffirmation, NCATE, etc.)
  • Master Plan projects (Student Services Center, Wildcat Activity Center, NCNHM, housing/dining)

One of the images you saw on the opening slide show, and here again, captured an event that happened at the end of the last academic year.  It was an event that happened after Commencement, so some of you may have missed it.

This race – the 10,000 meter run, that’s 6.2 miles, which, and I don’t know about you, I get tired just driving – was one of the highlight performances of our men’s and women’s track and field teams when they finished 6th and 13th respectively in the nation at the NCAA Division II championships.  For both teams, this was the strongest overall performance in their history.   Many of the members of these teams are here, and I will introduce them and their coaches, and other members of our intercollegiate athletics programs in a moment, but, to set the stage for that introduction, let me tell you a little about this race.

And one other.

First, the 10k race.

This race featured a star-studded field headed by Abilene Christian’s Nicodemus Naimadu, a Kenyan runner who was the NCAA Male Athlete of the Year and who had never lost an outdoor Division II race longer than a mile in his career.  He had collected 11 NCAA national titles along the way.  Including once holding the world record at this distance.

Halfway through the race, it was pretty much going to script.  Nicodemus held a comfortable lead over the chase pack, which included our Scotty Bauhs, a sophomore from Danville.  With each lap the chase pack grew smaller, and with five laps to go Nicodemus led our guy by almost 100 meters.

And then something wonderful began to happen. Scotty kicked into a different gear.  The 70-second laps he was running now dipped to the mid-60s.  The lead began to dwindle and the crowd began to notice.  With two laps to go, now nipping at the heels of Nicodemus, Scotty turned in a 63-second lap. Here's where we pick up this story with the film clip you're about to see.  Nicodemus is about to lap a runner, and our guy is two behind and moving up fast.  Feel free to cheer if you'd like. 

The Kenyan runner felt the heat and fell slightly behind, but the great champion wasn’t finished.  He caught Scotty with about 50 meters to go and even inched ahead for what just about everyone thought would be one of his patented final kicks to victory.  Everyone, that is, but Scott Bauhs. With a decidedly pro-Chico crowd urging him on, Scotty out-kicked Nicodemus over the last 20 meters, edging him by one-quarter of a second at the finish.  After six miles, Scotty had covered the final 400 meters in 57 seconds.

The California Collegiate Athletic Association Male Athlete of the year, and winner of three All-America honors, in 2006-2007:  Scott Bauhs.

5K race story

Now if the 10k was a defining race for individual will and courage, the 5k was a defining race for the class and character of an entire program.  Scotty Bauhs and his teammate, Charlie Serrano, were the authors of this extraordinary story, a journey of only 12 ½ laps, but so much more.

Following their game plan perfectly, Scotty and Charlie settled into a chase pack about 100 meters behind the lead runners.  After a mile, the pair started clocking 67-second laps, the gap began to narrow, and just about everyone else in the race started to fade. 

With two laps to go, and here we'll join the video of this race, the two Wildcats caught the leaders and moved relentlessly ahead, each stride widening their lead, each stride affirming that this would be a one-two Chico State finish, something that had never happened before in NCAA championship competition.  Now pay particular attention to the exchanges between Scott and Charlie on the last turn, and I'll tell you more about that after the film clip.  Now let's see it.

With about 150 meters to go, Scotty turned to Charlie and said, “Enjoy this, Charlie,” and urged his senior teammate on in his last race as a Wildcat.  Charlie pushed a step ahead with only a few meters to go and crossed the finish line two-one hundredths of a second ahead of Scotty for his first national championship.  Said Scotty afterwards, “I’ll have more chances, but this was Charlie’s moment.”

Grace, class, teamwork.

You've met Scotty, now let me introduce his teammate, who leaves us as a seven-time All-American (five times in track & field, twice in cross-country:  Charlie Serrano.

Other members of our remarkable track & field teams, which produced nine All-American performances at the national championships, and their coaches are here today and they are: Elle Cruickshank (heptathlon), Jon Rosborski (javelin), Sarah Montez (3000 meters), Mary Torres (3000 meters, 5000 meters), Michael Wickman (800 meters).

Please greet them and their coaches:   Kirk Freitas, Oliver Hanf, and Gary Towne.

The best of intercollegiate athletics – and so much more – is in the story of the two races you’ve just witnessed:  will, present-mindedness, courage, sacrifice, class, success, teamwork.  And, most important, proof that some universities, like ours, are capable of balancing the opportunity to participate in a competitive athletics environment with high ethical standards and academic achievement.  Incidentally, the men's and women's teams with the highest GPA's in 2005-2006 when the University Foundation Board of Governors first began to recognize the academic achievement of our athletes were men's track and field (2.88) and women's cross-country (3.27)

Several years ago, the football coach of the University of Oklahoma – an institution, by the way, which was recently ordered to forfeit all of its victories in 2005 because of NCAA rules violations – declared that he hoped the University was a place his football team could be proud of.

Well, folks, if we’re talking about values, let’s begin with those of the University and then measure the performance of our programs, including athletics, against them, not the other way around.  At Chico State, there is no higher value than those within our first strategic priority:  the development of high-quality learning environments that foster student success both in and beyond the classroom.

The places of competition for intercollegiate athletics are some of those environments.  For it is there that a fundamental goal of education – self-discovery – occurs.

Finding out about ourselves – whether individually or institutionally – is a process that is as much an act of discovery as an expression of will.  It occurs in many ways.  Whether through reading, thinking, making friends, meditating, exploring foreign cultures or unfamiliar circumstances, we are caused to look at ourselves in different ways.  No less so, observing how we do in moments of stress when we have been pushed to our mental and physical limits reveals much about who we are.

Sport provides an infinite variety of these moments.

Down by a point with only a few seconds left on the clock, the outcome of a basketball game resides on your pick or pass or shot.

Seeking to extend the deciding set, you’re hitting your second serve at 30-40. 

All square on the 18th green, you face a slippery, side-hill four-foot putt to halve.

Running shoulder to shoulder with a national record-holder, you sense that this is the moment, and you are the one, to win the race today.

Can you keep your mind functioning clearly enough so that you can perform at your best in these moments?  That is a real learning experience, a lesson in self-discovery and self-mastery, for every contest is as much about mastering oneself as overcoming an opponent; as much about finding out what kind of person you are as helping become the kind of person you choose to be.

The story of our student-athletes both in competition and in the classroom is the stuff of pride and good example for all of us.  They offer important lessons in teamwork, too.  For the real joy of teamwork occurs during those splendid moments when 11 or 9 or 5 or even 2 individuals subordinate their personalities to achieve a common goal.  They work not only for victory, but to chip away at the wall that separates individuals from one another.

Now, in the post-glory world of fantasy football, half-court basketball, over 50 softball, and other activities that allow adults to maintain some contact with competitive athletics, there is not much call for a pick and roll in making a real estate deal, and “reading the defense” takes on new meaning as a trial lawyer.

But there is enduring educational value even in the more limited competitive arena to which all intercollegiate athletes will eventually graduate.   It accrues through the benefits of fair, hard play and the ability of colleges and universities to teach this lesson well.  If these lessons do not always produce championship seasons and All-Americans, they should foster respect for opponents and integrity in the conduct of the game.   There is no firmer basis for a life of continued self-discovery and meaning, or a surer purpose of the academy.  Our intercollegiate athletics program is aligned with these values and we are a better university as a result.

Friends and colleagues, let me introduce a few other folks to you who make this happen for our students, for our University.   First, Athletic Director Anita Barker and her staff.  And, now, the head coaches of our intercollegiate teams:

Jamie Brown -  Softball
Travis Brown - Men's Golf
Kathy Dais - Women's Golf
Kirk Freitas - Men's Track and Field
Molly Goodenbour - Women's Basketball
Oliver Hanf -  Women's Track and Field
Cody Hein - Women's Volleyball
Mike O'Malley - Men's Soccer
Puck Smith - Men's Basketball
Kim Sutton -  Women's Soccer
Dave Taylor - Baseball
Gary Towne - Cross Country

What our student-athletes find out about success with these people, the rest of our student body finds out in myriad ways with all of us in this room.  Because this is not just an intercollegiate athletics story – it is an all University story.

Consider what our students told the WASC visiting team:

“Students spoke passionately regarding relationships with faculty and staff that they interact with on campus and within the community.”

“Students spoke eloquently of the staff that provided the training and support for various roles.”   One student described staff mentors as the individuals who helped her “write her story.”

“Students proudly speak of the over 200 student organizations and their opportunities to create organizations where one had not existed before.”

“Chico students take great pride in their ability to work in teams and stated that this is a factor that distinguishes them in the job market.”

“Students feel strongly about their role as active citizens within the Chico community and are proud of their service and role in turning around the image of student behavior within the community.”

So, like Scotty and Charlie and their teammates in the heat of competition, what did we, as a University, discover about ourselves through the WASC experience, and what lies ahead as a result?

We discovered that we teach both in and beyond our classrooms, and studios, and lecture halls, and labs.   Yes, we teach through disciplinary mastery and pedagogical skill.  But also through a certain moral style – that is, right rules of conduct  – that includes kindness, decency and civility, personal integrity and intellectual honesty.

We discovered that high performance is the consequence of hard work and hard thinking, of patience, persistence, perseverance, passion – and high expectations.

We discovered that nothing gives us greater joy than the accomplishments of our students – the work ethic they embrace, the sense of personal integrity they form, the desire to contribute to the larger community they develop, the seriousness with which they learn to respect perspectives other than their own, the discovery of their own voices, the passion they bring to protecting our environment, the kindness they find in responding to the needs of the weakest and less fortunate among us.

We discovered this joy amidst our pride in the ever-strengthening reputation of our University as a place of service, purpose, promise, and values.

Yes, exemplary student-athletes will come to Chico State.  And future engineers, teachers, nurses, farmers, managers, journalists, designers, artists, scientists, social workers, psychologists, geographers, even an historian or two.

And exemplary new faculty and staff will come, too.  They are in this room right now. Because they choose to be part of a story whose direction is clear, and whose best chapters are yet to be written, by them, by us.

The next phase of our work with WASC will be part of that story.  We have demonstrated – clearly and convincingly – that we have our act together in order to accomplish great things.  We have revealed – boldly and surely – that “the Chico experience” is a felt and measurable phenomenon, not just a slogan.  We have established – purposefully and confidently – goals that command attention, earn praise, and demand accountability.
Again, not just for WASC, but for our own integrity and well-being, we will more fully translate readiness into effectiveness, promise into performance.

I look forward with all of you to another year of high aspirations and grand achievements.  A year when we will find joy and fulfillment in what our students learn, how they perform, and through the pleasure of their and each other’s company. 

We are a place where these things matter most.  We are a place where success flows from noble habits of the mind, and practice, and the heart – whether demonstrated on an oval track in North Carolina or a seminar room in Trinity Hall; whether revealed through raising funds for children’s cancer research at St. Jude’s or raising homes for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; whether provided through our example for the CSU on math/science education and regional stewardship or for the nation on community service and sustainability.

We are Chico State!  

Let’s have a great year!  And let's go out to the courtyard for a reception.  Thank you.