Fall 2013 Convocation Speech

Andrew Rogerson
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Fall 2013 Speakers
August 19, 2013

Ruben Armiñana

Andrew Rogerson
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Margaret Purser
Chair of the Faculty

Mac Hart
Associated Students President

Marybeth Hull
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate

Good morning and welcome back.  As is the tradition at convocation – let me start by introducing our new faculty – please stand, or wave, and be recognized if you are present:

Dr. Emily Acosta Lewis – joins the school of Arts and Humanities as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Lewis received her Ph.D. in Communication Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012.  She is particularly interested in the role of media in shaping viewers’ perceptions of social reality via persuasion, communication and psychological theories.  She received the “Top Paper Award” at the 2012 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference.

Dr. Kathryn Chang – joins the School of Business and Economics as an Assistant Professor of Business Administration.  Dr. Chang received her Ph.D. in Manufacturing and Technology Management at the University of Toledo, Ohio.  She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant, and has worked in private industry as an international accountant and financial analyst.  Her teaching interests include managerial, cost and financial accounting.  She has participated in scholarly presentations at a wide variety of conferences nationally and internationally.

Dr. Haider Khaleel – is an Assistant Professor in Engineering Science in the School of Science and Technology. Dr. Khaleel is not new to SSU.  He joined us last year as a visiting professor in the Engineering Sciences program.  He earned his Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  He has published two book chapters and over 25 peer reviewed journal and conference papers.

Dr. Lares is a new Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the School of Science and Technology. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Since 2010 she has been a Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular and Cell Biology at the City of Hope Cancer Hospital in  Duarte, California.  She has taught courses in General, Organic and Biological Chemistry.  She is passionate about mentoring student research and is actively engaged in outreach and community involvement.

Dr. Daniel Soto joins the School of Social Sciences as an Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies and Planning. Since, 2010 Dr. Soto has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.  He received his Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University.  His research and teaching interests include the physics of energy, energy efficiency, energy in the developing world and data analysis. 

Ms. Laura Krier joins the University Library as Senior Assistant Librarian. Ms. Krier, our new Web Services Librarian, earned her master’s in Library and Information Science at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston, Massachusetts.  Laura comes to Sonoma State from the California Digital Library where she was employed as Metadata Analyst beginning 2011. Prior to that, Laura was a Systems/Metadata Librarian at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

Dr. Thomas Targett is a visiting Assistant Professor in Physics and Astronomy.  Dr. Targett has a Ph.D in Astrophysics from the University of Edinburgh and postdoctoral research experience from the California Institute of Technology and the Universities of Birmingham, British Columbia and Edinburgh. He has broad interest in galaxy evolution.

And finally, and by no means least, I welcome back Dr. Emiliano Ayala who returns to the School of Education after a stint at Humboldt State – we are delighted to have him back at SSU.

On the senior administrative front, I congratulate our new permanent dean of Education, Carlos Ayala and our continuing interim dean of Arts and Humanities, Thaine Sterns.  We also welcome Dr. John Wingard who has stepped up to lead the School of Social Sciences as Interim Dean – after the retirement of Elaine Leeder. And Dr. John Kornfeld is now in full swing as the interim AVP of undergraduate studies.

I am also delighted to announce we won three student success awards funded from the chancellor’s office. This will enable us to hire more advisors and peer mentors for the first-year learning cohorts as well as money to pilot the sophomore year experience. We were successful with one promising practices award that will allow us to put astronomy 100 online. These awards total $574 K and my sincere thanks to all faculty, staff and administrators who came through with competitive proposals on a very tight schedule just before the summer break.

We are busy creating a new space in the library for a new collaboration between academic affairs and information technology. This is a space where faculty can go for help for academic technology and faculty development services, Moodle, hybrid or on-line teaching, classroom presentation technology and hardware/software needs.  IT will be hiring an instructional designer for this space in the near future and academic affairs and the library are conducting interviews later this month for a new director of educational technology.  You will have an opportunity to attend open sessions during the interviews.

Watch out for some other notifications – the first is for applications for a director of the newly established executive committee on sustainability. This will provide one course release per semester to help promote sustainable practices and education across the campus. In light of this, it is only fair that we also reappoint a faculty director of diversity – again providing one course release per semester.

I shall also be putting out a call to faculty to encourage them to request funds to support undergraduate research and scholarship. Because of donor support, we are able to provide 20, $1000 awards to fund the cost of research projects and/or the cost of student travel to present their results at an appropriate conference. I hope to grow this fund over the coming year and strengthen undergraduate creative activity.

And speaking of research – once again we have had a very successful year in the area of grants and contracts. Last year we spent $9.7 million on externally funded projects. While the Anthropological Studies Center and the outreach TRIO projects accounted for much of this money – an impressive $5.1 million was expended by the schools.

The now fully operational Green Music Center is instrumental in strengthening SSU’s commitment to liberal education. In just one year since the Center opened, students have had the opportunity to attend concerts by celebrated artists such as the cellist Yo Yo Ma and the pianist Lang Lang. As we enter the second performance season, student opportunities for attending concerts will increase because of the ‘rush’ ticket program offering last minute tickets at a much reduced cost.  The campus is largely residential and co-curricular events are important for providing learning opportunities for students beyond the classroom. To this end, Cheryl Strayed the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘Wild; from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ will discuss her book in Weill Hall with in-coming freshmen who were assigned the book for summer reading.

  • As we reflect on the year, the breadth of academic interactions we are establishing go well beyond concerts and lectures.  In one short season, our accomplishments include:
  • The recruitment of three Weill Hall Artists in Residence – who have just delighted us with their music.
  • A general education class entitled ‘Living in a Changing World: Culture, Values and Perspective’ was taught by the School deans to 750 students.
  • The Department of Music used the hall for rehearsals and performances and their students benefited from master classes given by some of the performers. 
  • A science research symposium showcased the research of some 50 undergraduate projects.
  • Engineering and computer science students are being introduced to Digital Signal Processing using music and concert hall acoustics. 
  • A Soundscape Project is engaging biology, engineering, and performing arts students and faculty to interpret sounds captured from nature through performances in the Hall.
  • A collaboration has been established between the Oakland School for the Arts (K-12) and Sonoma State University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. 
  • SSU’s recording studio in Ives Hall is being upgraded to enable students to learn recording using high quality sound captured in the GMC and Schroeder Hall. 

While it is hard to predict the range of academic interactions that will evolve in the years’ ahead, it is clear that these will be varied and interdisciplinary and will serve to radiate creativity across the campus.  To help this, the University is again providing $100 K to fund academic interaction projects next year – so watch out for a call for proposals.

And finally on the academic affairs news front – we shall be going ahead with 10 faculty searches for next year – as soon as we can assemble search committees.

This summer, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading about higher education across the nation.

Perhaps the most chilling comment came from Jeff Selingo, editor of the chronicles of higher education when he bluntly said “American higher education is broken”.  Pick up any recent article or book on education and the message is gloomy and the same – the pressures from outside the academy and from the higher education community present challenges that require us to rethink what it means to be educated in today’s world. We must find ways to provide a coherent and meaningful educational experience in the face of the turbulence, uncertainty and fragmentation that characterizes much of higher education today.

Higher education, we are told, is in financial crisis with an urgent need for radical change in order to serve the next generation of college students – or in some cases simply to survive. The decade ahead will be very different from the last decade.

As if to hammer the point home, in January this year, the bond rating agency, Moody’s, indicated a negative outlook for the financial position of higher education, noting that net revenues continue to decline and that the business model of most institutions of higher learning, including major universities, remains unsustainable.

The facts are out there for all to read –

The US is ranked 12th among developed nations in higher education attainment by its young people. Americans could face an era of dwindling intellectual capital – a bad position for a country that hopes to continue as an economic superpower.

Since the collapse in 2008 – students now pay more towards instruction than the state does – indeed the state often has the smallest part of the budget pie – 6% at the University of Virginia, 7% at the University of Michigan and 11% at Berkeley. If the current trend continues – in less than 10 years states will be getting out of the business of supporting public higher education.

Not surprisingly, students are being asked to pick up the difference and across the nation university tuition increased an average of 8.3% last year – the biggest jump on record. As costs spiral out of control, student debt has soared to $1.1 trillion.

And graduates are struggling to pay off this debt – more than six million borrowers are in default on their federal student loans representing $89 billion dollars.

Not surprisingly, students are becoming more thoughtful about the reasons for taking out loans and are starting to question the value of a college degree. Last year, enrollment numbers dropped 2% from the previous year, the first significant decrease since the 1990s.

Why should that be? New disruptive educational models like the massively open online courses or MOOCs – make lecture halls look quaint and de-emphasize the college degree as the essential path to a meaningful living.  This, together with rising costs might explain why fewer people are choosing to attend university.

It doesn’t help that unemployment of college graduates at an all-time high.  Thomas Friedman, in his latest book ‘that used to be us’, stresses that Universities need to prepare all students for careers in which they not only do assigned tasks but offer something extra.  For everyone to find his or her ‘extra’ will require both more education and better education.

Eventually, less competitive universities will be forced to close their doors or reimagine themselves to get noticed!  The universities of Arizona and Oregon are doing just that and now enroll more freshmen from California than 6 CSU campuses combined.

And finally, we can read how we have gone from a system of intellectual exploitation and learning to one modeled after corporations, fraught with grade inflation and worthless degrees. The ‘A’ is now the most common grade – accounting for 43% of all grades (in 1988 it was less than 33%)

I liken this array of facts and consequences to what we are witnessing with climate change. Despite irrefutable evidence – the measurable increasing CO2 levels, the melting glaciers and ice caps, the rising sea temperatures, - more than a third of Americans don’t believe in global climate change.  And of the 63% that do – almost half think it’s natural and not related to human activity.

But the encouraging piece is that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that it is human caused.  In other words, if you are truly informed – you get it. And I would hope that all at this University can read the tea leaves and see that education has changed and will never be the same again –

As the saying goes, what a time for the roof to leak – just when it is raining!

So rather than accepting Selingo’s sweeping journalistic phrase that American higher education is broken – let’s be honest and admit that American higher education is in a state of flux and that many of us will do fine if, like the climate scientists, we believe the signs.

Now I know it’s not easy to reimagine the academy -  particularly since no pursuit other than religion has more successfully resisted change over the centuries than higher education.  But it is time.  It helps that we know what a highly valued education looks like – 4 recent surveys by the association of American colleges and universities clearly show that the majority of employers want to hire college graduates who have broad intellectual competencies – critical and creative thinking skills, the capacity to conduct research and analyze the results, solve problems, have well developed professional written and oral communication skills and the ability to work independently or in teams.  This is the ‘extra’ Friedman talked about. And these attributes embody the principles of excellence the President mentioned in his talk.

And there is good news …….Sonoma State has all the pieces it needs for the future –we are a public residential campus offering a liberal education that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, transferable skills and preparation for professional careers and successful futures.  We have faculty and staff committed to excellence in teaching and willing to work with students to help them succeed. We want to prepare our students well for tomorrow’s workforce, through the promotion of internships with industry and scholarship opportunities with faculty.  Being largely residential in nature with the majority of students living on campus or within a few miles, the importance of learning opportunities outside the classroom is recognized at SSU through co-curricular events.  The residential experience also turns our students into adults – in short, it gets them ready for life.  Finally, the Green Music Center allows students to attend and participate in the performing life of a world-class concert hall.

So in line with my charge from the president to make SSU better – I shall be keen to hear your views on how we might reassemble all these pieces to find the better path in education that will lead to a stable and successful future and how quickly do we need to move to get there!  And should this seem daunting, remember the words of the distinguished thinker – Ilio Adorisio -  ‘With a different set of images, everything can still be changed’.