Fall 2010 Convocation Speech

“Are We Recovering?”

President Ruben Armiñana
August 23, 2010

Fall 2010 Speakers

Ruben Armiñana

Saeid Rahimi
Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

John Wingard
Chair of the Faculty

Bridgette Dussan
Associated Students President

Dolores Bainter
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate

I am delighted to welcome all faculty, staff, administrators and especially the students to the fall semester of the new academic year. I also want to welcome the interim administrators who assumed their positions this summer. You already met the Interim Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Saeid Rahimi, who is well known to you because he has been at this University for the past 28 years, the last 10 as Dean of the School of Science and Technology. Dr. Lynn Stauffer, Interim Dean of the School of Science and Technology has been with us for the past 16 years; Dr. Carlos Ayala, Interim Dean of the School of Education, has been at SSU for the past 8 years; Jason Wenrick, Interim Chief Information Officer; and Sally Miller, Interim Chief of Police and Parking Services. They will serve in these positions for at least the next year and then, as our finances stabilize, we will conduct national searches for these and other interim positions. I am also happy to welcome Dr. Elisa Velasquez-Andrade in her new and additional role as Director for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence and Dr. John Kornfeld as the first Director of Undergraduate Studies.

I wish I could give you some specifics about our budget situation for this academic year but it is unknown at this time. The State of California has not adopted a budget despite the fact that we are now finishing the second month of the new fiscal year and that the state has a $19.1 billion deficit. The unemployment rate for California remains above 12%, personal income for state residents has fallen by $40 billion—the first such decline in one year since World War II—tax collections are low, and additional Federal funds are less than what the Governor and the Legislature wished. We are not working ourselves out of these difficult times by any significant economic growth, and job creation has not materialized. As a matter of fact, the national economic growth has slowed down and it seems to be losing momentum with California lagging the nation.

There are several competing proposals to close California’s $19.1 billion budget gap and adopt a budget. They all include significant reductions to government spending, including a billion dollar reduction to the projected growth in expenditures for K-14, and in health and welfare programs, while at the same time hoping to obtain substantial additional federal funds. Some Democratic proposals include new revenues by increasing the income tax rates and the vehicle license fee, creating a new oil severance tax, delaying corporate tax breaks and increasing tax enforcement but decreasing sales taxes. Republicans generally reject all of the tax increases and advocate for public pension reforms, cuts to prisons, and deeper cuts to government spending, especially to health and welfare programs and to state workers’ pay and benefits. The basic disagreement can be summed up this way:on one side the Governor and the Republican legislators believe you should not spend more than what you have now and should not raise taxes; and on the other side the majority of the Democrats are calling for tax increases and changes in order to support a network of social support programs. To date the needed compromise has not been found, but every day without a balanced budget, another $52.5 million is added to the deficit.It is anyone’s guess when California will have a signed budget. While I have not seen the budget standoff go past mid-September in previous years, there are those who are concerned that it might wait until January and a new Governor.

An encouraging development for higher education is that the Legislative Budget Conference Committee has agreed with the Governor’s proposed budget for higher education. This proposal calls for a restoration to the CSU of $305 million plus $60.6 million for enrollment growth, and assumes fee revenues equal to a 10% increase for the entire academic year. The Board of Trustees adopted a State University Fee increase of 5% this past July based on the promise by the Speaker of the Assembly that in the new budget there would be a buyout of the other 5% fee increase (totaling 10%), but this proposal was dropped later in the Legislative Budget Conference Committee report. If this budget is finally approved and signed, it will necessitate the Board of Trustees increasing the State University Fee in November by 15% beginning with the Spring semester in order to annualize the fee revenue to the expected 10% increase.

Let’s be clear that this optimistic budget represents only 63% of the funding requested by the Board of Trustees. Years of reduction have resulted in the CSU’s share of the state budget dropping from 11% in 1984 to 5.5% last year.Higher education gets less than 60% of the state funding that prisons get. It is important to note that SSU lost more than $25 million in the past four years alone—$16 million just last year—and we are now funded at mid-1990s levels while costs and enrollment have grown substantially in the past fifteen years.

This last fiscal year was most difficult for us and we experienced salary reductions of nearly 10% in the form of furloughs, enrollment reductions, closing of the spring semester to new students, reduction of lecturers due to decreased enrollment, the reduction of other employees through attrition, the cancellation of vacant positions and position consolidations, increased workload for all, fewer and larger classes, and the reduction of budgetary support at all levels of the University. Despite all of these difficulties, I am most proud of maintaining my commitment to avoid layoffs. It was a very tough year and we do not know yet if it will be repeated—hopefully not.

If the proposed budget is finally adopted as it is, it would be a good first step toward a recovery and it would amount to an increase of about $9.25 million for Sonoma State University. But even if we were not to receive any additional funds this year, we are still increasing the budget for class offerings by $1.6 million from one-time stimulus funding and savings—and student scholarships are fully funded. The additional funding in the proposed budget would allow us to continue:

  • decreasing the student/faculty ratio,
  • adding classes to our offerings,
  • hiring new tenure-track faculty,
  • increasing the funding for faculty development,
  • increasing academic technology,
  • refreshing all faculty workstations, and
  • giving greater support for student life activities, including athletics.

One of the most important aspects of the possible budget increase is adding enrollment by 2.5% or more, meaning at least 176 FTES above our annual target of 7050 FTES. Because the budget has not been approved, we have been directed by the Chancellor to only accept applications for the spring semester through the month of August, but not to admit new students until the budget is firmed and we know for sure what kind of revenues we have available. The possible increase enrollment in the spring semester would be mostly from fully-qualified transfer students where the demand has been very high.

The benefits of increasing enrollment and graduation rates are key to the economic and social growth of California. The Public Policy Institute of California has predicted that the state needs to increase the number of college graduates by one million by 2025. By that time, 41% of all jobs in California will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. We are graduating a third of that million now. The report warns that failing to invest more in higher education, “will cost California even more.”Simply stated, “Losing the economic activity that future graduates would generate could cost California hundreds of thousands of jobs and dilute the most important ingredient in California’s economic success: a highly educated, diverse workforce capable of fostering the innovation and entrepreneurship of the 21st century” (Charles B. Reed, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2010).

A recent economic impact study shows that the CSU’s almost 2 million graduates employed in California earn an additional $42 billion annually because of their degrees and the economic activity that they generate. CSU-related expenditures create a return on investment of $5.43 for every $1 the state invests. Sonoma State’s graduates earn about $941.5 million each year and create an additional $1.6 billion in yearly economic activity throughout the State.Regionally SSU generates $330 million of total economic activity and $376 million to the statewide economy. SSU sustains more than 2,500 jobs in the region and more than 3,200 jobs statewide (ICF International, “Working for California: The Impact of the California State University System,” 2010).Chancellor Reed has properly stated that, “A CSU education is clearly an investment that pays for itself year after year for both the individual and the state.

We do a great deal at this university and each division has submitted to me a list of their major accomplishments during the past year. They are most impressive. Soon they will be posted on our website. During these difficult times we have preserved the core mission and functions of the University and in many instances we have improved and enhanced them. The contributions of our faculty, staff, and administrators are remarkable and our students are the beneficiaries of such care and dedication. This is why we are such a popular campus with students from all over the state. Sonoma State once again has been named by the Princeton Review among the “Best in the West” colleges and universities.

We have to build on these successes through the implementation of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative which has the purpose of increasing the retention and graduation rates of all of our students, and the underrepresented students in particular. While rates tell us what is achieved as groups, and in comparison with other universities, the reality is that retention and graduation are personal experiences and successes of our students. Each one is an individual story of hard work, sacrifice, dreams, aspirations and accomplishments. This initiative is the lens through which all of our activities would be examined, supported and evaluated, in and out of the classroom, academically and administratively, and with increased diversity and greater satisfaction. This university-wide effort is led by Provost Rahimi and it has clear goals and measurable objectives. Already we are seeing new activities such as degree audit, block scheduling for first-time freshmen in two pilot programs in remediation and pre-business, improvements in advising, and our largest EOP freshmen class.

Looking forward, and in spite of the current economic conditions and uncertainties, our future looks bright. What we accomplish here on behalf of our students and the people of California is important, relevant, and consequential. We are a solid investment worthy of recovery.

I wish you a very good semester.