2019 University Convocation President’s Address

September 25, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs

>>Good morning.>>Good morning.>>What a great — what a
great group of awardees. I mean, I say that every year,
but this is just tremendous and inspiring, I think. Welcome, everyone,
to Convocation 2019, best start of a new
academic year, another fresh and exciting opportunity again. We have the privilege of
educating, of guiding, preparing our students as
they create the futures that they’ve dreamed of. The ability to do this powerful
work, it is powerful work, to serve as co-creators,
pulls each of you here and keeps you coming back. As faculty members
and staff members, you journey with our students for an important
chapter of their lives. You work every day with
relentless passion and drive, realizing that our students’
success rests on our work, knowing the impact
of our actions. This year, as we
gather for convocation, this is what we celebrate,
another opportunity for impact through excellence
and dedication. I’d like to take a moment to
recognize some of our guests. As you heard earlier today,
we welcome 43 new faculty, a vibrant group of
superb scholar teachers. They will no doubt do
great, great things. And I want our new
faculty to know that you are joining a faculty
whose transformative dedication and talent is simply unparalled. I’d also like to
welcome our new staff from across the university. Any staff members here today who
have joined us in the last year, could you please stand
and let us welcome you? Any staff members who have
joined us in the last year? [ Applause ] Thank you very much. Wonderful to have you here. This year’s President
of Associated Students, ASI, is Aaron Castaneda. Aaron, I saw you
there somewhere. Would you please stand
and let us welcome you? [ Applause ] Thank you for representing
the voice of our students. We wish Aaron and his
colleagues all the best. We look forward to a great
year of working together. I also want to welcome
our emeriti faculty. We always appreciate and delight
in your presence with us, and today we’re also joined
by members of the board of directors for the
alumni association and board of directors from the Cal State
LA Foundation, so it’s great to have all of you here
participating in this moment. I’d also like to give
special thanks to Wendy Baker, the Executive Director for
the Luckman Fine Arts Complex and her staff for their hard and
so welcome and welcoming work on convocation, so many
thanks to the Luckman and many thanks to Wendy. [ Applause ] We also are pleased to
have students here who work on We Are L.A., the
campaign for Cal State LA, our first comprehensive
fundraising campaign. These are the students
who call you up to explain why you
should give to Cal State LA. They’re very convincing. I hope. They usually call
right around dinner time. I had a call six weeks ago. No, it was in late
spring, late spring, so a little longer than that. I really did. The phone rang, “Hello, may I speak to William
Covino, please?” “Speaking.” “Hi, I just wanted
to call and tell you about all the great things that
are happening at Cal State LA.” [ Laughter ] We had a nice chat. She told me some
things she knew, I told her some things I knew. Yeah. Where are students
from the call center? Are they here? Yes? Stand up. [ Applause ] Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you for all the
wonderful work ahead. We start the new academic year
with a great accomplishment that emphasizes our
impact through excellence. The WASC Senior College
and University Commission, our accrediting body, has awarded Cal State LA
10 years of accreditation. [ Applause ] Our 10-year accreditation
says a lot about how we’re doing
as an institution. Of the 15 institutions whose
accreditations were reaffirmed in June, Cal State LA
was just one of two to receive accreditation
for 10 years, which is the maximum term. [ Applause ] The accreditation committee,
who visited us in March, pointed to many wonderful
successes for Cal State LA. It commended us for taking steps
to improve graduation rates by implementing 15-unit course
loads and educating students and the campus community
on the benefits of a full course schedule to aid
students in timely graduation. It commended us for thoughtfully
using the quarter to semester, remember that, conversion, to advance institutional
goals including efforts to define the meaning of the
degree, to strengthen curriculum and learning outcomes in support
of quality and integrity. It commended us for
demonstrating a commitment to civic and community
engagement as reflected in the curriculum
and co-curriculum, including the Cal State LA
downtown campus, so thank you to Dean Eric Bullard and
the staff of the College of Professional Global
Education. [ Applause ] It commended us for developing and using institutional
effectiveness tools and services to enhance data-informed
decision-making, and the committee commended — we don’t see commendations like this very often during any
accreditation visit anywhere, so this is a standout. The committee commended our
Center for Effective Teaching and Learning, CETL,
as a national model. [ Applause ] They commended CETL
as a national model for faculty development,
with a specific focus on student success and equity,
and this goes, of course, to Cat Haras and
the staff of CETL. You’re over here, right? [ Applause ] Okay, back to work. We extend our deepest gratitude
to Dean Karin Elliott Brown and the WASC Steering Committee. [ Applause ] The steering committee includes
Amy Bippus, Vice Provost for Planning and Budget; Michele
Dunbar, the Associate Director for Institutional Research;
Parviz Partow-Navid, the Director for Academic
Facilities and Planning; Jessica Dennis, the Interim
Director of Assessment and faculty member in the
Department of Psychology; Jennifer Miller, Dean of
Students; Laura Whitcomb, Faculty in the Department
of Management; Benjamin Lee, Faculty in the Department
of Technology; Andre Ellis, Faculty in the Department of
Geosciences and Environment; Holly Menzies, Associate
Chair in the Division of Special Education and
Counseling; William London, Faculty in the Department
of Public Health; and Andrew Chavez, our
WSCUC Support Assistant. All of you who are here today and who helped us get this great
10-year gift, please stand. There they are. [ Applause ] Thank you very much, folks. See you in ten. Cal State LA continues, as you
know, to hold the distinction which no — to which
no other university in the country can lay claim. We are, we continue to be
number one in the nation for the upward mobility
of our students. [ Applause ] It’s a good thing. This is — you know, this is
not just a bragging point, though it is one of the
best bragging points. It is — it really
is who we are. We are number one
because of you, because of what you do
every day, every week, every month, all
through the year. Cal State LA is ranked
nationally at so many levels in so many places as among
our best universities. For instance, the upcoming Wall
Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings,
in U.S. News Report, in its Best Colleges
2019 guidebook which ranks us among the top
public regional universities in the West. And by the way, about U.S.
News and World Report, in six years we have
gone up 37 spots in U.S. News and
World Report, 37. [ Applause ] The Campaign for College
Opportunity named Cal State LA 2018 Champion of
Higher Education for Excellence in Transfer. This is really a great one. This recognition celebrates
colleges and universities that have significantly
increased the number of students earning an
Associate degree for transfer, enrolling those students
at a CSU as juniors, and graduating them
with Bachelor’s degrees, a great achievement for us, one
that we will continue and grow. We are poised to continue our
success in all of these areas. The plan to create a new
College of Ethnic, Racial, and Social Transformation . . . [ Applause ] That plan has reached my
desk, it has left my desk, and we are moving forward. [ Applause ] The college will be home
to the Departments of Asian and Asian-American Studies, Chicana/Chicano/Latina/Latino
Studies, and Pan-African Studies, all
departments that were birthed by community-led movements. [ Applause ] And the college will feature a
curriculum that includes faculty from across the university. With the creation
of this college, Cal State LA will become
the premier destination for ethnic studies
scholarship, praxis, and the training of educators. [ Applause ] The proposed mission of
the college is, quote, to provide an interdisciplinary
intellectual space that centers the histories,
traditions, cultures, experiences, struggles,
and accomplishments of diasporic communities of
color, making connections between the local and
the transnational. It empowers traditionally
oppressed and under-represented
people to engage in rigorous self-reflective
study that motivates critical
engagement, self-determination, and de-colonial understandings
of the world, unquote. [ Applause ] And because of the founding
department’s longstanding relationships with
community-based organizations, the college will, of course,
boast an inclusive network of community-based partners and
center a pedagogy of practice in community with local
neighborhood educational and civic leaders,
a perfect alignment with the university’s
commitment to engagement, service, and the public good. So we applaud the work
of those who proposed and are leading the effort to begin this groundbreaking
college. Thank you all very much. This is terrific. [ Applause ] As a community, we
are doing our best to create a sustainable world. This spring we took an important
step by banning plastic straws. You’ve heard some talk about
that in the tweetosphere lately. Well, they’re gone here. Banning plastic straws, this
will be followed by a ban on plastic water
bottles and Styrofoam, so begin to figure
out how to adapt. We’ll have help with that. This semester we continue
our move toward zero waste with the introduction of central
zero waste stations that’ll be located in building hallways. It’s a significant step
that will have a big impact. Second Nature is an
organization committed to accelerating climate action
in and through higher education. The organization has confirmed that Cal State LA has
achieved its requirements for the first three years
of our climate commitment. This includes the publication of
annual greenhouse gas emissions, inventories of those emissions, a campus community resilience
assessment, active support of a joint campus community
resilience task force, and the development of a comprehensive
climate action plan. That’s all on the web. You know, look for
climate action plan and you will see
pages, no paper. You will see lots of pages on the web detailing
just what we’re doing and what we’ll be
doing over the years. So we’re at convocation. Convocation and commencement
are the bookends of the academic year. Just a few short months ago,
and they did feel very short, I will tell you, many of us
were together for commencement. I shook the hands
of 6,200 students. I am just recovering,
just in time for the start of
the fall semester. At each of our 15 commencement
ceremonies, I shared a story or two about a student’s
amazing success that demonstrates the kind
of change that takes place in the lives of our students. Behind each student’s story,
there are other great stories, on and on, and in
these narratives, you, Cal State LA faculty and staff,
you are the costars, right? You are a great part of
the story of students like Sade Meeks, who I spoke
about at commencement in 2018. Sade was a stellar student who sometimes experienced
food insecurity. She relied on the
university’s food pantry when her money ran low, and
based on her experiences, she wrote a cookbook to
teach other students how to eat well when funds are low. Last year at commencement,
I spoke about David Fonth. David was an honors
college student who majored in philosophy. He was on the Dean’s
List every semester, he earned the outstanding thesis
award, and he was an EOP student who also worked in EOP. Through that work, he wanted to provide other EOP students
the support that helped him through his academic career. This year EOP celebrates
its 50th anniversary. [ Applause ] So in that spirit, we will have
a number of celebrations here and at the system level of EOP and the wonderful transformative
work that’s taken place, and we will, as I do today,
thank the staff and EOP for your work at transforming
the lives of our students. Many of the students I spoke about at commencement identified
faculty who provided them with life-changing guidance. Joaquin Miguel Lopez credited
Professor Jose Cruz Gonzalez with helping him develop his
skills as a visual storyteller and Professor Ligiah Villalobos with helping him find a
niche working in short film. Without the influence of his two
professors, Lopez said, quote, I don’t know if I
would have figured out that I was going to do this. Now I can’t see myself doing
anything else, unquote. At commencement in June, I
spoke about Matthew Keels who found support
and camaraderie through the Veterans
Resource Center, and this year we had the
privilege and pleasure of having 42 students
participate in our first Dreamers
Graduate Recognition Ceremony. [ Applause ] And this was for
me quite a moment. We had our students there, some of those students
identifying themselves as Dreamers for the first time,
and most of the students there with their parents and siblings,
and when we welcomed each of the 42 on to the stage, the
parents and siblings came along and we had kind of a great
group hug happening in the room. I am so very grateful for
the support and guidance that they receive and — did
receive and continue to receive through our Erika J. Glazer
Family Dreamers Resource Center, which is headed by
Henoc Preciado. Wonderful work, a wonderful
event, one which will, of course, become a
tradition at Cal State LA until we don’t need it to
become a tradition anymore. [ Applause ] So Cal State LA is
— and you know this. You’re doing it. Cal State LA is not just
a university, right? It’s a community that strives to
meet the needs of our students and challenges them to move
forward with distinction and with a sense of rigor
and excellence and hard work and that’s what they do. Our support for these students
exemplifies the many ways in which we try and
provide a path forward. When we’re guided by our
students’ needs and our belief in what they can become. We create a climate in which
students like Sade, Joaquin, David, and Matthew
can thrive in spite of the challenges
that they face. This is at the heart of our
Mind Matters initiative. Mind Matters is now a
comprehensive approach to wellness from helping
students achieve inner wellbeing to combatting food and
housing insecurity. Mind Matters is providing
for our students’ needs. Through this initiative, we’re
addressing food insecurity. In 2018 and ’19, more than
4,600 students visited our food pantry, and our donations
are up significantly. More of you are giving to the
pantry, which has received more than $17,000 worth of gifts
to help feed students. In addition, we screened
1,200 students for CalFresh, which is a state nutrition
program, and we submitted more than 500 applications on
their behalf for this program. Last spring, more than
400 students participated in our first Pantry
to Plate program. This is cooking lessons,
right, or preparation lessons. Through this program,
students learn how to cook a nutritious meal on
a budget, maximizing the food that they receive
from the pantry. In recent years, the largely
first-generation students in our First-Year Experience
program devoted part of each semester
to helping us think through the Mind Matters
initiative to give us advice. Hundreds of First-Year
Experience students have repeatedly offered suggestions for making our campus
environment more conducive to healthy practices
and effective learning. One request they have eagerly
voiced each year is the creation of a garden site on campus
that will provide an atmosphere that supports calm,
concentration, and clarity. The resulting concept is
the Mind Matters Garden of Wellbeing, a beautiful
place for meditation. Is it up there? Yeah, that’s it. [ Applause ] A beautiful place for
meditation, gathering, and relaxation made possible
by philanthropic support. It will embody multiple uses. It will serve multiple needs,
from the meditative walking path to the plants that
stimulate good feeling to the gathering space
for classroom meetings, campus events, and
student engagement. The garden will be at the
center of our dedication to improving the public good
by fostering inner wellbeing. Students also expressed
a need and a desire to have a place on
campus to sleep. Lots of them were interested
in that: Where can we sleep? So tomorrow we will open the
Mind Matters Relaxation Station. Located in the USU, the
station provides an opportunity to replenish in between classes in our new state-of-the-art
sleep pods. Take a look. [ Applause ] [ Laughter ] [ Applause ] [ Applause ] You notice one of the kids
had his phone on in the pod. Not ready to sleep yet. So we hope to add more pods
that will be made possible by philanthropic support and
we’re getting to work on that so that we can line them up. Tomorrow we are also
debuting our two Mind Matters Wellbeing classrooms. We understand student wellbeing
encompasses all aspects of their educational
experience including their learning environment. The classrooms in Salazar
Hall include a moss wall, bringing the outside
in, ample natural light, features that contribute
to wellbeing and comfort, including air and
lighting systems. We actually have lighting
systems that clean the air in the classrooms,
which is nifty. We expect the classrooms to be
well-certified in the future. “Well” is a building
standard, a certification based on medical research that aims
to improve health and wellbeing through the built environment,
so look forward to that. Sign up to teach in there. It is designed for
any discipline and any faculty member
who would like to make use of the Wellbeing classroom. There are two 30 student
classrooms that can be opened up into a 60 student classroom. So that starts tomorrow. We continue to provide resources to meet the psychological
needs of students. The number of our psychological
counselors has tripled and we’re seeing students more
immediately than ever before and more students are
utilizing group sessions. There’s a great program of
group sessions every semester. We provide after-hours
service and weekend service, recognizing that students’
needs don’t observe standard work hours. The staff of Facilities
Services plays a crucial role on our campus as we work to provide a comfortable
environment for students. Today we opened a new
parking structure. [ Applause ] The new structure will provide
more than 2,200 vehicle spaces, features 36 Level II electric
vehicle charging ports, three DC fast charging
stations, rooftop solar panels, and a smart parking
occupancy system. We can tell you how
many spaces are left. And we continue to work to update our classrooms
and our systems. A total of 64 rooms in King Hall in the Biological Sciences
building that were not suitable for classrooms were converted
to classrooms in a project that required coordination with
the staff from the divisions of Administration Finance
and Academic Affairs. We have updated the
automatic door openers in buildings throughout campus
to ensure accessibility. We’ve implemented a
system of daily checks to ensure a timely
response to any problem. And we are constructing
new student housing that will also provide
new study and dining areas that will be available
to all students, not just those who live there. I’d like to recognize
the recipients of the 2019 Facility
Services Champion Awards. They are Gilbert Santiago, Sr.,
Cesar Ortiz, Steve Garrett, Himner Granados [phonetic],
Henry Washington, Maria Carmen Marias — Ramirez,
Inez Bridsuela [phonetic], Renee Avalos, Maria
Lopez, Matilda Mendoza, Adriana Sandoval, and
Melissa Serpa [phonetic]. All of you who are here
from Facilities Services as champions, can you
stand and let us thank you? There they are. There’s some of them here. [ Applause ] This year’s Outstanding
Staff Award recipient is Elia Amaro-Hernandez of the Office
of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities. Her colleagues commended
her for having an eye on the shared goals of Cal State
LA, and another nominator noted that she has a positive
attitude, commitment to excellence, and spirit of cooperation
and collaboration. Where are you? Please stand for us. There she is. [ Applause ] We Are LA, the Campaign
for Cal State LA continues to move toward our
goal of $75 million by the university’s
75th anniversary. The campaign has
to date raised more than $61 million,
so many thanks. [ Applause ] Many thanks to Vice President
Janet Dial for her leadership and for her staff and
for her endurance. She just came back
from running a marathon in Kenya and came in fourth. [ Applause ] We begin this new academic
year, unfortunately, against the backdrop
of national tragedies. This summer the nation
experienced the horror of mass shootings
in three cities and an escalating
climate of hate. The gunman in the El
Paso shootings targeted and killed Latinos including
immigrants, sparking deep fear. ICE raids across the nation
are destabilizing lives and tearing families apart. The federal government is taking
measures to deny citizenship to those immigrants who
accept public assistance. From the highest
office in the land, we’ve heard vile verbal
attacks against cities with large black populations
and against black leaders and we listened as others
defended this vitriol. We read the tweets “Go
back” and the chants of “Send her back” directed
at a group of women of color who are citizens of our nation
and members of Congress. I, with you, have thought a lot about how these egregious
acts impact our students and our community. These actions fuel
fear, anxiety, anger, a sense of betrayal, mistrust,
feelings of being unsafe. This leaves all of us with
a heightened responsibility to look out for each other
and to care for each other. We have to work together
to maintain a community that embraces diversity
and embraces inclusion. We cannot use the
tools of othering, the tactics of divisiveness,
the assumptions of ill intent. To do so would put us
in a league with those who cause our community
damage through the use of the same devices that
we find reprehensible. If we’re not intentional in
our resistance to such tactics, the vitriol may seep
into our campus and cause even further harm. This summer, the nation
lost a national treasure with the passing of the
great Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize winner,
a Nobel Laureate, wonderful in so many ways. We especially recall her advice to college graduates encouraging
them to recognize their agency to choose the tone and the
language of their lives. To them she said, quote, but
then I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a
believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer
in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the
ferocity of beauty. So from my point of view,
which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already
artful, waiting, just waiting for you to make it art. In this spirit, let’s
work together in ways that sustain our bonds
and fulfill our purpose. Let’s affirm and declare
our belief in the power of education, the beauty of our
diversity, and the necessity of caring for each other. I wish you a year filled
with excellence and impact. Thank you for all that you do
to make this a great university. Welcome back. [ Applause ]