Fall 2014 Convocation Speech

"Strategies for Academic Success"
President Ruben Armiñana

Fall 2014 Speakers
August 18, 2014

Ruben Armiñana

Andrew Rogerson
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Richard Senghas
Chair of the Faculty

Elaine Newman
Chapter President, California Faculty Association

Anthony Gallino
Associated Students President

Katie Musick
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate

Ruben ArminanaWelcome to the Academic Year 2014-2015. I especially want to welcome our new students, staff, and faculty who have joined us. Eleven new members of the faculty will be introduced later by Provost Andrew Rogerson. One more faculty member was also hired this year but he will come next year. You have made a good and hopefully long-term decision professionally and personally by becoming members of the Sonoma State family. I also want to welcome back returning students, staff and faculty and look forward to a productive and rewarding year with you all.

At this time I report back to you the results of the newly enacted State budget and its consequences for the California State University and specifically for Sonoma State University. It is always a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. During most of the past six years it has been mostly the bad and the ugly but in the last two budget cycles a bit more of the good has appeared.

We began the 2014-15 budget cycle with the Governor’s recommendation for an increase to the CSU of $142 million and ended the cycle with exactly that amount despite enormous efforts in the Legislature to increase that amount by $95 million to meet the Trustees’ request. Many in the CSU were optimistic about some increased funding since the State has experienced a healthier economic recovery which has resulted in greater tax revenues and surpluses. We also believe that higher education is a rewarding investment for the State and its economy. As many of you know, I was never optimistic since my experience of more than 25 years in California is that whatever the Governor proposes in his budget is what eventually happens in the end. This budget does not permit a tuition fee increase for this year and I suspect there will not be such a fee increase for the next couple of years. Chancellor Timothy White expressed that, “The budget enables the university to maintain existing programs, services and tuition fee levels, but our biggest challenge is that this funding level falls below the threshold we need to admit the thousands of fully-eligible California students who seek a CSU education.”

Under the approved $142 million increase, SSU’s enrollment target increased from 7540 FTES (full-time equivalent students) to 7810 FTES or 270 FTES more. We made expenditure plans based on the expected allocation given to us last March. Now we understand that the campus needs to internally cover 1% of the compensation pool of 3% instead of the 2% in the approved budget. This means adjustments will need to be made to our expenditure plan for approximately $650,000. We do not yet know the exact amount and nature of this reduction. This shows that even when there is good news it can be accompanied by some unanticipated reductions as well.

Governor Jerry Brown has committed to increases to the CSU for the next two years unless there are dramatic revenue shortfalls in the State. Based on this assertion I am proposing a three prong strategy for academic success for the next three years. These prongs are: hiring tenure-track faculty; student mentoring grants for faculty; and enhanced advising capacity.

I have committed to hiring an average of 15 new tenure-track faculty for each of the next three years. Aggressive recruitment encouraging a more diverse faculty, focusing on reducing bottleneck areas in the curriculum and the willingness to collaborate across departments are integral parts of the hiring efforts.

Another area which we will pursue this year is the creation of competitive grants for faculty to get one course release time for them to mentor, supervise, collaborate and guide students in individual research, scholarship, performance or inquiry experience. This could also be in the form of an internship with an industry or a non-profit institution. The goal is to offer to all students a tangible experience before they graduate which will enable them to show to employers that they can enter the world of work with demonstrated experience. Presently, 62% of our graduating seniors have had some form of creative experience. The ultimate goal is to provide all students the opportunity to work creatively and collaborate with the faculty in engaged learning.

Enhancing undergraduate advising is an essential component of keeping students on track to timely graduation. The failure to connect with a major early in a student’s career results in delays and frustrations which hinder graduation. Close to a third of our new freshmen (about 500 students) are undeclared, and each fall we have similar numbers of continuing students still trying to decide on a major or get admitted into an impacted one. Effective advising is essential to helping these students find their path and it is also important to educate them about majors that they have not considered, those beyond the 12 most popular, but which meet their career goals. We will establish an advising center in each of the academic schools; two already have advising centers and we also have the undeclared student Advising Center. In addition, we will fully implement a robust e-advising system where in addition to determining the requirements they must satisfy for graduation it will have the added component of course planning which allows the students to map their path to graduation.

I am pleased to report that we are increasing the number and capacity of teaching and learning spaces with the opening of Schroeder Hall and the conversion and renovation of the old Student Union building into International Hall, the Commons into the Wine Spectator Learning Center, and Chalk Hill with classrooms and other learning areas. Classrooms in other buildings are being renovated incorporating greater technology to assist in the learning process. All of these on-going efforts are designed to increase academic success and will result in greater student retention, graduation and satisfaction.

An emerging serious issue in higher education national and locally is the alarming stories about sexual discrimination, harassment and sexual violence on campuses. The number of students who have been victims of sexual violence, reported or not, is sickening.

Under Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act, and State of California laws, we are all personally obligated to report any known harassment and/or violence. Later in the semester, the CSU will release a training program that I will ask each of us, including students, to take in order to become more familiar with these issues and to learn about ways to prevent them. Sexual violence is not acceptable in any form. Unfortunately, most if not all of these crimes are committed under the influence of consumption of alcohol or other substances. We must change the culture of substance abuse and sexual violence and we must make clear that there are no excuses for taking advantage of another person, no matter what their state. I have asked Joyce Suzuki to lead these educational and enforcement efforts as out Title IX coordinator.

There continues to be an on-going debate about the relevance for the future of universities which have the liberal arts and sciences as their core. Some argue that we need to be more specific about workforce preparation. I counter this argument by saying that universities like SSU do a terrific job in preparing students for the current and future workforce by equipping all students, regardless of discipline of study, with the skills needed to be successful in life. Success in life is multi-faceted and includes a blend of economic, social and civic activities and rewards. The liberal arts and sciences provide the knowledge and skills needed for a flexible, adaptive, innovative and collaborative career preparation pathway resulting in success.

Through engaged learning practices we expect that students will be able to translate their academic knowledge and skills into abilities in the workplace. The capacities that they acquire in general education and their major prepare them not just for a specific career, but for any career. CEOs in both the private and public sectors, many of them having broad and diverse educational
backgrounds themselves, continue to tell higher education that they look beyond a student’s major and academic performance for indicators that show abilities such as: working in a team structure; decision-making and problem-solving; planning, organizing and prioritizing work; verbally communicating with others inside and outside the organization; obtaining and processing information; and analyzing quantitative data. (“Job Outlook for the Class of 2014”, National Association of Colleges and Employers). Ninety-three percent of recently surveyed employers want students to have “cross-cutting skills and experiences” as shown by “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” (It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success, Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, AAC&U). These are the abilities that a liberal education (a term coined by the third President of the United States and the founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson) provides to Sonoma State University students. We just need to do more of it and get even better at it.

This is the challenge that I know we will meet during this academic year. I wish you well.
Thank you.