2013 Convocation Address

Academic Senate Chair

Daniel O'Connor

August 23, 2013



Good morning!


I want to thank President Para and Provost Dowell for inviting me to share some thoughts about the upcoming academic year.  I am invited to speak because of my role as Chair of the Academic Senate.  As such, I would like to recognize the members of the Academic Senate who are with us this morning.  Would you please rise? 


Thank you for your service.  Now, if you happen to find my remarks this morning off-putting or distasteful, please take it up with any of the individuals who were just standing.  If you like my comments, I will be available in the lobby after the ceremony.


CSULB is different from other universities in that our Senate is an Academic Senate that includes representatives from all four constituent bodies of the university: the students, the staff, the faculty, and the administration, as opposed to more typical Senates that include only faculty representatives.  It is this inclusive and shared governance process that is a hallmark of our university, and I am looking forward to continuing in my capacity as Chair to insure that we address all the issues that come before us in a collegial and productive manner.


This year will be an unusual year for our university.  Four of the top six administrative positions in the university are currently held by individuals on an interim status.  Now some might consider this a cause for uncertainty and trepidation, but I can assure you that we are in very good hands.  All of the interim administrators have a wealth of experience with, and understanding of, the positions into which they have been promoted and of our university more broadly.  President Para and Provost Dowell, combined, have over sixty years of experience on this campus.  I am continually impressed by the energy and commitment that they and their administrative colleagues devote to making this a great university. No one on this campus will be sitting on his or her hands this year in a “wait-and-see-what-happens-next-year” mode.


We have much work ahead of us. 


This morning, I will talk about two aspects of that work.  I want, first, to speak in praise of public education. Secondly, I will address what I perceive to be a revolutionary opportunity to improve higher education, and what may simultaneously be a potential challenge - and even a threat - to PUBLIC higher education, namely, the impact of digital technology on how we teach.


  II. In Praise of Public Education

 In my remarks last year, I asked each of you to stand up for public education.  We were confronting a politically uncertain time with potentially dramatic consequences for the economic sustainability of our and other higher education institutions throughout the state.  You did it!  You talked with each other, your neighbors, family, and friends. You walked precincts, hosted gatherings and sponsored candidates and policies that supported public education. The voters of California approved Proposition 30, which was a necessary, albeit insufficient, step towards revitalizing state funding of higher education in California. 


But even more important than the fiscal implications following from last November’s ballot is the principled statement made by Californians.  They are willing to support higher education.  (They are not, in fact, allergic to taxes, as long as the taxes are directly tied to goals they value.) They recognize, in a way that apparently escapes far too many of our elected officials, that higher education is a sound investment in the future of our youth, our state, and our nation. 


They recognize that during this next academic year, the CSU will educate nearly half a million Californians across twenty-three campuses and that this is a public good.  They recognize that today’s college students are our best hope to meet the challenges we will confront as a community, city, state, nation, and globally.


With this recognition – and with this investment by our fellow citizens - comes a tremendous responsibility.  We must rise to the challenges before us.  We must educate this generation to meet the challenges of many generations to come.  We must rise to the expectations placed upon us by the community and by the students, themselves.


  III. Learning, Technology, and Public Education

 Nowhere are the opportunities and challenges we face more evident than in the area of digital technology.  This year, our campus will engage in several exciting and necessary initiatives that will promote student learning through the use of digital technologies.  Now, using technology in education is not a revolutionary change in itself; we have been using technology in education for millennia, from pencils, pens, and paper, to paintbrushes, test tubes, and Bunsen burners.  But digital technology opens avenues that we are just beginning to explore and whose impact on student learning we are just beginning to appreciate.


Our university must engage in this exploration of using digital technology to improve student learning and student services, and we have already begun.  Our students, who are digital natives, expect it and the demands of the day are such that digital literacy has become an imperative student-learning outcome across our university curricula.  We are doing this by exploring the use of digital technology in flipping classrooms, integrating digital media into our pedagogy, and having students demonstrate their digital literacy in their projects, labs, and essays. 

Five years ago, many of us in the faculty would ask students at the beginning of class to turn off their phones and close their laptops.  Today, we ask them to use their phones and laptops to share resources, ideas, complete group projects, and create lesson plans.  And given that very soon every schoolchild in the LAUSD will be provided an iPad as a learning tool, we may want to explore how to employ them and other technologies in our own classes.  Again, the students will expect no less.


We will have an ongoing conversation this year about improving learning through technology at CSULB.  We will do so always with the understanding that learning is the key, not the technology itself.  We will be as careful as possible to be clear about what we mean when we talk about technology.  


And most importantly, we will remember always, that technology does not teach, faculty members teach.


We are well positioned on this campus for facing the possibilities and challenges of the new digital technologies by the fact that we have a President, a Provost, a Senate Chair, and a Faculty Union President who are all on the same page with regards to the importance of technology.  We will move forward with caution but steadfastly.


  IV.  Surveillance at CSULB

 We live in a time where technology is pervading all aspects of our lives, sometimes without our knowledge.


In the news all summer long we have found stories about government Surveillance of phone records, emails, texts, tweets, you name it.  These are attempts to uncover secrets by employing the most advanced technologies available. 


Well, I decided to engage in some surveillance of my own over the past few weeks, and I did it using a very primitive form of technology…  I walked around campus and talked to people, without using my phone.  I’m not kidding.  You can do this. #facetoface


And here are some of the secrets I learned:


I stopped by a staff workshop organized by Tom Enders that introduced an electronic advising system that will revolutionize how we advise students by employing the very latest technologies.  These technologies will allow advisors to track student progress, identify and avoid potential pitfalls, and help the students choose majors and courses that will best serve their goals.  


I stopped by two faculty workshops organized by Leslie Kennedy of Academic Technology Services and Teri Yamada, our CFA President, that combined hosted approximately eighty faculty members who were learning about how to use digital technologies to enhance their teaching practice.


I spoke with students enrolled in summer classes, many of whom were simultaneously taking regular classes taught in our classrooms and other classes that were being taught online.  CCPE supported and trained 25 faculty members this summer to convert their courses to online classes, and they plan to double that number next year.  One of the students with whom I spoke told me that because of her family and work responsibilities, the online option was the only way that she could take that course this summer and because of it, she will be able to graduate next spring.


I spoke with student athletes, who were training at 7am in order to prepare themselves for the season ahead. 


I spoke with students, designers, faculty, and facilities staff working on the AS corridor project, designed by our own Design students to make it a more habitable student study space.


I spoke to faculty in the sciences and engineering who are using new technologies in their research and their teaching, ever mindful of the connection between disciplinary expertise and good teaching.


I spoke with Future teacher candidates practicing their craft by serving as camp instructors at the young scientists camp.


Just last week I encountered two students who were standing pretty much in the middle of campus, trying to figure out where they were.  When I offered to help them find their destination, one of them said, “Oh, we aren’t lost. We don’t know where we are, but we’re not lost.”  Pretty deep, huh?  They were not lost because they were exactly where they want to be here at The Beach.


My surveillance of our campus revealed dedicated students, staff, faculty and administrators preparing for what will be a great year at this great university. Surrounded by all of this technology, I encourage all of us to take some time to walk and talk to each other face to face and be mindful of the moment. #Inspiration


The role of the Academic Senate is to provide a civil and collegial space for considered debate that allows students, faculty, administration, and staff to build consensus about how to fulfill our mission as a public institution. 


 This is going to be an exciting and challenging year and with our commitment to working together and to sharing the good word about public higher education - we will make it a great year for the university.


Let’s get to work!