President's Opening Convocation 2008

August 21, 2008

Choosing and Sustaining a Culture of Distinction

2008 Opening Convocation

Well, it's 100 degrees outside; we don't have a budget yet; we have more students than we want, less parking than we need, and we've got a problem with the waterless urinals in the new Student Services Center. But, hey, we should enjoy another undefeated season this fall by our football team.

"What's so funny Anita?"

"We don't have a football team!"

"What!? No one tells me anything!"

Well, someone did tell me that the music accompanying the images which greeted you this afternoon is provided by the Chico State Jazz X-Press, under the direction of Rocky Winslow. This summer this terrific ensemble played at the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado. That's about as good as it gets and their sounds tell you why. Catch their concert this year.

So, good afternoon!

We begin this academic year with many important affirmations of who we are as a community, how we are perceived by others, and how we are accomplishing our most important task, the learning and success of our students.

I'll get to some of these in just a few minutes. But, first, I'd like to recognize a few folks in the audience this afternoon and, as I've been doing for a few years now, four members of our University community to bring you greetings.


We have some new faces on campus, with whom not all of you are acquainted yet. And some familiar folks in new roles. Among our new colleagues are:

Lori Hoffman, Vice President, Business and Finance
Joseph Han, Director of Facilities
Jorge Salinas, Director of Labor Relations
Catherine Felix, Director of Student Health Services

And colleagues in new roles include:

Mike Ward, Dean, College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management
Eric Reichel, Chief of Police
Meredith Kelley, Vice Provost of Enrollment Management
Allan Bee, Director of Admissions
Pedro Douglas, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs
Dave Foreman, Associate Vice President for Financial Services


Academic Senate chair Kathy Kaiser, professor of Sociology, current member of the Chico Unified School District, and former faculty trustee of the CSU Board of Trustees.
Susan Green, representing our collective bargaining units, and president of the campus chapter of the CFA since 2004, associate professor of History and Chicano Studies. At Chico since 1999.
Angela Corrral, chair, Staff Council, and administrative support coordinator in the School of Social Work, graduate of Chico State, and fourth generation Chicoan. At Chico since 2000.
Associated Students' President Jesse Eller, majoring in Agricultural Business, from Corning.

Thank you, all.

A few minutes ago I mentioned affirmations of our identity and direction -- affirmations that underscore the choices we make as an institution when we declare and live certain values, when we establish and accomplish certain goals.

Consider these examples:

This summer, scores of our faculty, staff, and students performed thousands of hours of service to our neighbors as the University provided critical assistance in dealing with the fires that ravaged our region. Whether assisting at evacuation centers on the campus, working at the Farm with displaced animals, making firefighters comfortable at University Village, or volunteering in the community in a multitude of ways, these folks showed us and our community why Chico State is such a rewarding place to work. I particularly want to mention the contributions of the University Police Department, University Housing and Food Service, Intercollegiate Athletics, Facilities Management and Services, and the College of Agriculture for the way in which the University responded to this crisis. Please join me in a round of applause and appreciation for our colleagues.

In its survey on Great Places to Work, The Chronicle of Higher Education listed Chico State, the only CSU to be named.

Both Grist and The DailyGreen, respected on-line environmental web sites, ranked our University among the top ten institutions of higher education in the country for leadership in the areas of sustainability and environmental awareness. We were joined on these lists by some East Coast places named Harvard, Yale, and Duke.

Related to these recognitions, our third annual This Way to Sustainability conference drew almost 1000 participants, the largest such conference in North America.

Cris Guenter, of the Department of Education, was named the National Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association.

Chico State biologist, Jeff Price, was one of the lead authors of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

And whether in popular periodicals, the principal scholarly journals, conferences, and on-line exchanges in their fields, or books, our faculty explored the cutting edges of their disciplines and shared their expertise.

These teacher-scholars will be joined this year by 40 new colleagues, folks who come to us from such outstanding places as the campuses of the Ivy League and the University of California, from Stanford, Iowa, UT-Austin, Vanderbilt, Indiana, UMass, Notre Dame, and USC (both Southern California and South Carolina); who come to us from Beijing and the Ukraine, from Canada and Korea, from Taiwan and Redding. Just seeing if you're still listening. They are marvelous testimony to the attractions of our academic community. Many of these new faculty are with us this afternoon, and their names are in the program. Would you folks please stand so that we can see you and greet you? Thank you. We look forward to the pleasure of your company for a long time to come.

Almost 15% of our students participated in the annual Up til Dawn fundraiser to support children's cancer research at St. Jude's Hospital. Our campus raised almost $190,000, tops in the nation in terms of dollars and contributors. In six years, we have raised nearly $700,000 for St. Jude's. The $1 million mark is now within reach. Right, Larry Bassow?

117 of our students, mostly from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management, spent part of their winter break in New Orleans. This is the third consecutive year our students have helped with the post-Katrina recovery.

Every program, department, and college that stood for accreditation or certification over the past year was successful. Most notable was NCATE accreditation for the School of Education, a rare achievement attaining accreditation the first time seeking it, and AACSB accreditation for the College of Business, something which only 15% of business colleges in the world have. The College of Business was also listed by The Princeton Review as "one of the Best 290 Business Colleges' in the nation.

The Chico Economic Planning Corporation honored our College of Agriculture with the 2008 Excellence in Agribusiness Award. This award is given each year to an agricultural entity that has demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and contributes to the economic development of Chico and Butte County.

WASC, as we all happily remember, gave us their report of their 2007 Institutional Capacity visit and its positive conclusions have set the tone for their return in spring, 2009.

Grant and contract activity totaled almost $25 million, about a 25% increase over the last five years.

In an increasingly competitive environment, our overall applications and those from students of color nearly matched our all-time highs. The same is true for the admission of students of color. Further, we expect to achieve a stronger balance in 2008-2009 between our enrollment target and our actual enrollment, about 15, 700 FTES for the college year.

Part of our responsibility is to demonstrate to our stakeholders our commitment to, and evidence of, student learning. One of these demonstrations is related to a national accountability effort known as the Voluntary System of Accountability. It includes a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment designed to measure writing, analytical, and critical thinking abilities. It's administered to cohorts of freshmen and seniors.

So, how did we do? Our incoming students performed a little less well on this test than we might like, with CLA scores below what would have been expected from their SAT scores. But our seniors, on the other hand, scored well above expectations. In fact, Chico State came out in the 99th percentile of all the 180 universities, nationwide, taking the CLA in '07-'08. Even if one has reservations about this test - and some do for good reasons - this is an impressive result that suggests the value-added experience as our students progress to their degrees.

Some awards have become delightfully routine:

The Orion won another first place for general excellence from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the ninth time this has happened. No other university publication has won this award more than four times.

Our Manufacturing Technology Program students won Grand Prize at WESTEC, the prestigious Western Tool and Exposition Conference for the fourth year in a row. It's actually Chico's fifth grand prize in six years - we didn't compete in that other year.

For the second time in two years, our Model United Nations team was named best delegation at the national conference in New York.

37 of our student-athletes earned all-academic honors from our conference. 35% of our student-athletes, in fact, achieved a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Our teams won four conference championships and nine of our 13 teams participated in NCAA post-season championship competition. Overall, we finished 25th among all D-II institutions for the annual Directors Cup competition, ranking us again among the top 10% of such programs in the nation.

Four of our coaches - Kim Sutton, Molly Goodenbour, Gary Towne, and Kirk Frietas - were named coach of the year by our conference in their respective sports.

Nine student-athletes achieved All-American status, including Scotty Bauhs, who repeated as the D-II 5000 meter national champion and was named US Track Athlete of the Year by the D-II Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association. He was also named our athletic conference's male athlete of the year. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but many of you saw one right here in Chico last April when he ran the first sub-four minute mile in the University's history, breaking Kim Ellison's 37-year-old mark of 4:01 by two seconds.

In addition to the opening of the Student Services Center, the new home for many of you, we are well into construction of the Wildcat Recreation Center and well underway for the new student housing and dining complex and the Northern California Natural History Museum. Taylor Hall II, physical sciences, Butte Hall, and our utility infrastructure are the next major state-funded projects on the horizon, as State revenue bonds permit.

Regarding the Student Services Center, in particular, please stay for a few minutes after my presentation for a fun video on its construction. This video and other great information about the building and the campus can be accessed through the kiosk in the lobby of the building. A pretty good team, consisting of Chris Ficken, Rick Vertolli, Morgan Schmidt, Randy Wall, and Johnny Poon, put this together. It's particularly noteworthy for its accessibility features. Check out their fine work when you have a chance and congratulate them.

Now, let me share a few slides that demonstrate our progress advancing the University's story and the extraordinary generosity of our friends and supporters.

As this slide indicates, our total endowment has steadily increased over the last few years, weathering two down investment cycles extremely well. It stands at nearly $35 million now, a 30% increase in five years.

Scholarships represent 56% of the total University Foundation Endowment and we awarded $1.7 million last year, up 11% alone from the previous year.

In 2007-2008, we reached a total of $10.4 million in private gift commitments from almost 13,000 donors. This is a growth in dollars of 46% in one year and the donor number is the second highest in any single year.

Within these numbers is one gift, in particular, that I'd like to acknowledge today.

People give to universities for many reasons - affection, loyalty, gratitude, even a sense of obligation. All good reasons, to be sure. People also give to a university when they see their own values reflected in the institution, when they see their own sense of service echoed in the work and direction of the institution, when they recognize an opportunity to assist the institution to achieve great things in the noble work of helping students learn and succeed.

Such is the case with the gift that Valene Smith Posey has made to us. Many of you know Valene, as a professor in the anthropology department for many years, as a local business woman, as an active emeritus faculty member.

Valene's gift will support several specific areas, such as cultural anthropology, museum studies, and, in particular, enhancing the University's Museum of Anthropology. She is absolutely committed to making our anthropology department and museum outstanding in every respect, and sees her gift as a lead effort that will prompt other benefactors to join her in advancing these areas and, with that, our University.

This is a gift, in other words, with vision and purpose. But it is also a gift with confidence. It will be noticed and celebrated because it signals great trust in what we are accomplishing and invites others to follow her example.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in recognizing our good friend and colleague, Valene Smith Posey, who is with us today, and thank her for her gift to the University which is valued at $3 million.

These are not random acts of achievement and acknowledgment, generosity and grace, kindness and commitment. They are reflective of an experience and a culture which are discernible, measurable, praiseworthy, and distinctive.

We exhibit many of the virtues and characteristics which the experts say make up high quality and high morale institutions.

We have a clearly articulated and broadly understood institutional mission. WASC especially noticed and praised this.

We intentionally try to build our values - such as regional stewardship, sustainability, civic engagement, and student success - into our everyday operations.

Examples abound, but one I'd particularly like to mention is the adoption by the larger Chico-area of our book-in-common this year, Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, as a community book-in-common. We have been joined by Butte Community College, the Butte County libraries, Enloe, Lyon's Books, Barnes and Noble, the Chico Enterprise-Record, the City of Chico and others to read this book and develop programming in a year-long effort to read, think, and be active in the causes of peace, compassion, and social justice that the book encourages. Its author will be with us later this year in an already much anticipated visit.

As evident through the many affirmations I've mentioned, we enjoy a certain sense of We set high standards and expectations for our students and ourselves.
institutional momentum.

We enjoy an enviable degree of shared governance.

Although many institutions claim these characteristics, too, when they are true and connected, a distinctive institutional culture emerges, because distinction is a choice and the sum of all that we do.

Without a doubt, our distinction focuses on a powerful sense of place. This is about geography - that is, our location in Chico and the North State; it is about roles and responsibilities, that is, our place in serving the needs of those who count on us; and it is about the special qualities of this campus - this beautiful place and the extraordinary harmony between our natural and built environments.

I am occasionally asked what is my favorite place on this campus. That's an easy question to answer - the walkway from First Street to the main entrance of Kendall Hall. Under a canopy of spectacular trees, many dating back to the time of the Bidwells, one can take in the three great buildings of architect, Chester Cole - Kendall Hall, Trinity Hall, and Laxson Auditorium. These mainly Romanesque-style buildings, graced with porches and arches, columns and capitals, a dome here, a tower there, and their distinctive red bricks provide a unique architectural vocabulary in California public higher education.

I look forward to this walk everyday. I can't wait for the days to begin. Some days, I can't wait for them to end, but that's another story.

But the beauty around us just doesn't happen on its own. Skilled and dedicated people provide us with this beauty. They're often the first people I greet in the morning - Gary and Janice and Ricardo, who always seems to be doing something around Kendall Hall. You're looking at a few of them at work on the screen behind me. But let's greet and thank them all.

Here are the people of Facilities Management and Services. And many are in the auditorium today. Will you folks please stand so that we can recognize and thank all of you for making our place of work so inviting, clean, safe, and beautiful?

Thank you for that kind recognition of our colleagues and co-workers.

What sets high quality institutions apart, as well, is a sense of constant striving. Even a sense of daring. And an awareness that we can never assume that our worthiness is so self-evident and compelling that support will flow to us because we are intrinsically deserving.

Of all the threats to a university, often the most dangerous come from within. Not the least of which is the smugness that believes that the institution's value is so self-evident that it no longer needs explication, its mission so manifest that it no longer requires definition and articulation.

For without constant attempts to re-examine, re-define, and re-assert publicly our nature and purpose, we - in fact, any university - can become frozen in internal mythology, in complacent self-perpetuation.

Remember, universities are profoundly conservative institutions by nature, meant to transmit the past, built to remember. When we are not challenged within ourselves to justify our work, to ourselves as well as to the society we serve; when we are not held accountable by ourselves and are not constantly urged to examine our suppositions, processes, and acts, we can stiffen up, lose our credibility, and suffer a loss of dialogue with those whom we serve, those who count on us.

Yes, it would be nice if everyone fully realized how fundamental higher education is to the needs of our region, state, and nation. That higher education is as crucial today as waterways were in the early 19th century, as railroads were after the Civil War, as federal highways in the 20th century. If that were the case, perhaps we would not be stuck as we are in the discretionary portion of the state budget vying with prisons for state support.& There are simply no words to describe how strange and wrong that is.

But, the enlightenment we would like to see and the courage to act on it are, unfortunately, not the case. Rather we must face - and, in fact, welcome - the challenge of demonstrating our role in supporting a knowledge-based economy and building a sound social fabric. For that which we are about is the public good - whether defined as a strong economy, a clean environment, a healthy population, a just society, an engaged citizenry.

This is the powerful, on-going message of the Alliance for the CSU. It is very gratifying to be at a campus whose performance in this effort - that is, letters written, calls made, rallies attended, people enlisted, including trustees and members of our advisory boards, like Farshad Azad pictured here - consistently exceeds our proportionate numbers.

Undertaking our role in society is an honor. Accomplishing it is a trust. Excelling in it is a necessity. It is also a mark of character - a celebration of a community bound together in promise, purpose, and performance.

That's what a distinctive community looks like. We are Chico State - and we choose distinction.

Let's have a great year. Thank you.

View the convocation video.