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Interim President, Donald J. Para Convocation Speech

August 23, 2013
Carpenter Performing Arts Center, CSULB


  • Greetings, again. I thank you for being here today as we begin this new academic year. Each year, as I hear the list of accomplishments and recognitions that have been earned and achieved by our faculty, students, and staff – and this is only a partial list – I am amazed and impressed. And we are well on our way for 2013-14. CSULB has once again been recognized by Princeton Review as a “Best in the West” university. Of special importance is that a heavily weighed factor in this ranking comes from very positive input from current and former students. Our students are telling Princeton Review that they are getting, or have gotten, an excellent education.
  • I am very honored to have this opportunity to serve CSULB as Interim President. Our Chancellor, Tim White, is an outstanding and visionary leader. When Chancellor White offered me the opportunity to serve as Interim President, he stated that he wanted a leader, not a manager, and that he expected the campus to continue to move forward. I assured him and I assure you that, despite our challenges, the forward motion at CSULB will not diminish. We will continue to achieve, excel, and do remarkable things. Our mission–our academic purpose, our prime goal–will continue to be student success. Graduating students with high-quality degrees is engrained in our DNA.

National Issues:

  • Recent issues impacting higher education in our nation’s capital include changes in Student Financial Aid. There is good news and bad news. In short, the good news is that there is stability in the program. The interest rates will not double from last year as many feared, and the current bill has no expiration date. Previously, the norm was a series of tweaks and temporary agreements to extend or reauthorize the adjustments which came after considerable political turmoil. This is considered a “long-term fix.”
  • In the new bill, interest rates are market-based and tied to the federal government’s cost of borrowing money. The bad news is that market-based interest rates are not static; as the economy improves, the rates will rise.
  • I hasten to point out that while this agreement is welcome news, it does nothing about the larger national issue of the mounting student debt. Nationally, the collective student debt is greater than our collective credit card debt. While this is a significant national issue, CSULB is not part of the problem. Forty percent of our students are Pell eligible. About half our students graduate with no debt, and those who do accumulate debt owe an average of $13,000 for an undergraduate degree. This is remarkable. CSULB is among a handful of campuses whose students graduate with the smallest amount of debt. Debt incurred by students who attended private universities can easily be over $100,000. And it has been well documented that the “For Profits” have taken a beating after their low completion rates and student debt became public information.
  • And we also know that if you “miss” a student in high school, the chances of that student ever obtaining a B.A. degree are very small. In our country, 85% of students who graduate from high school in the top third of their high school classes get at least a B.A. degree. Only 8% of the other two-thirds get a degree.
  • Among the many issues facing our country, entitlements is among the biggest. The nation cannot survive without a reform of Entitlements. We are all aware that this is a politically charged issue. But fully two-thirds of the federal budget is tied to entitlements. If a greater and greater share of the federal budget is tied to entitlements, the amount of funding for education, and other programs, will continue to diminish.
  • Funding for all public education, K-12 and higher education, is a public policy issue of the greatest importance. In my positions here, I have the good fortune to meet with international leaders from all over the world. Whether they are civic leaders or leaders in business or education, it is clear that other countries identify education as the highest priority. They understand that a country’s level of education is directly related to its standard of living. Knowledge is any country’s most important resource. The defunding of public higher education is a national tragedy.

State Budget and the New Normal

  • In any reasonable business model, a business that lost over 30% of its revenue in just a few years would fail. In 2007-08 the state provided $2.97 billion in state support to the CSU. In 2011-12 that number was $2.0 billion. The CSU lost 30% of its revenue but did not fail. While some of the loss was filled by increases in student tuition and fees, our reality in the last five years was that we operated in survival mode. But we must do more than survive. Survival is not a good business strategy. Survival is not a goal.
  • As you heard earlier, this year’s budget provides a modest 5% increase in funding for the CSU for 2013-14 to $2.3 billion. This increase does not fully restore the substantial loss of state appropriation that we experienced over the past several years. However, with Proposition 30 having been approved, the budget outlook does place us on a stable footing with positive expectations for the future. CSULB's estimated share of the budget is roughly $4.4 million in “new” money. In addition to the $4.4 million, the budget includes funding for long-awaited, much-needed faculty and staff compensation increases of 1.34%. It has been too many years without increases in pay. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Compensation increases are a matter for collective bargaining. We all hope that an agreement can be reached quickly.
  • Governor Brown has indicated that beginning in 2014-15, the CSU budget will be impacted based on its performance in various student success measures, such as graduation rates. CSULB is both enthusiastic and well positioned to meet this challenge since we have been working on improving student success, retention, and graduation rates for many years. And we will continue to link an increase in these rates with a high quality educational experience and a high-quality degree. Time to degree and program quality are complementary, not mutually exclusive.
  • For the first time in California, Dream Act students, our AB 540 students, are eligible to receive Cal Grants from the state. On our campus, this means that an additional 130 students will receive Cal Grant aid totaling over $600,000, and 285 additional students will qualify for more than $1.5 million in State University Grants.
  • The Middle Class Scholarship Program, the Perez Bill, was approved as part of the current budget. It will direct funding to middle class families beginning in 2014-15.
  • But we know our state has challenges. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California is the only state in the country where 25- to 30-year-olds are less likely to have a BA than older citizens.
  • CSULB and the CSU have been aggressive in sharing with the public our data. Anyone who wishes can go online and learn a great deal about our successes and challenges based on data
  • Having said that, it is also clear that the CSU and CSULB must do a better job of telling our story. We need to continue to work together with our K-12 schools, community colleges, industries, businesses, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, and other public and private entities to spread the word about the dramatic impact education has on our region, state, and beyond.
  • We must be accountable. We must prove how the CSU is doing more and doing it better. And then we must communicate these facts effectively with our communities and state leaders, including our local legislators. We have a great story to tell – and our collective future depends on the decisions we make now. Cost will be part of the conversation, but we must balance the conversation about cost with the benefits of having – and the dangers of not having – an educated workforce and an educated citizenry.

Presidential Search

  • During this year, beginning in September, the CSU Board of Trustees will begin the national search for our new president. A small group of elected campus representatives from the faculty, students, staff, administration and community will serve as an advisory group to the board. Presidential searches in the CSU are confidential. That means that the names of the individuals who apply and who are considered for the position are not made public. The only public announcement will be the naming of the new president – the eighth since CSULB’s birth date in 1949!
  • In the next few weeks, we will also begin the search for a new vice president for student services. The search for the president and the search for the vice president will be coordinated so that the new president will have the opportunity to interview the finalists and make a selection. This is not a closed search. Finalists will be brought to campus as part of the selection process.
  • Emergency Preparedness – It is a sad reality that we must prepare for the possibility of disaster, be it an earthquake, active shooter, or other calamity. During this year, we must continue to make significant progress in our response to emergencies. Last week, CSULB, with great cooperation from the Long Beach Fire and Police Departments, staged a drill to test our response to an active shooter. The drill was a success. However, as fate would have it, we had a real active shooter scare on that very afternoon. Fortunately it was a false alarm. We thank our partners in the City of Long Beach and congratulate Chief Solorzano and his team, and we especially thank Jon Rosene, our emergency preparedness coordinator, for a job well done. While the drill was a success, we learned a great deal and identified many issues to be worked out. We must be prepared. Stay tuned for Safety Week in October.


The central activities of a university center on the teaching and learning process is housed in the Division of Academic Affairs. But each of the four divisions of the university has an essential and critical role in student success. I am pleased to share a few of the initiatives that impact us all.

Division of Administration and Finance

There are many campus projects that will improve our infrastructure:

  • The renovation of Buildings LA 2, 3 and 4 is moving forward. The renovation includes classrooms and offices, including the addition of Smart Classrooms. This project will greatly enhance the learning environment for our students and faculty.
  • Three classrooms, two in the College of Business Administration, are being renovated as Active Learning Classrooms. These rooms have both digital instructional technology and furniture which allows for easy group interaction.
  • The Parkside Commons Residence Dining Hall is being renovated.
  • Road improvements will make a much safer environment for both walkers and bicyclists.

Our thanks to Vice President Mary Stephens and her team.

Division of Student Services

  • The new Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Center for Student Success is the result of a campus-wide collaboration. AIM will serve the entire campus community: students, faculty and staff, and will be a one-stop shop for universal design and to integrate accessibility into the fabric of the university.
  • Housing and Residential Life introduced three new residential colleges at CSULB: Hillside College, Parkside College and Beachside College making CSULB the first university in the CSU system to implement the residential learning college model.
  • CSULB has been designated as a “Best for Vets” campus by G.I. Jobs for four years in a row.
  • The Men’s Success Initiative–a support program for African American and Latino male students–increases their level of engagement by building connections with faculty, staff, and other students on campus.
  • ASI Communications, College Beat Productions and the Union Weekly all won 1st place in their respective national competitions.
  • University Outreach and School Relations hosted 6,000 fifth-graders from the Long Beach Unified School District through the Long Beach College Promise.

Our thanks to Vice President Mary Ann Takemoto and her team.

Division of University Relations and Development

What it should really be called is the Division of Alumni, Friend-Raising and Fund Raising

  • In 2012-13, University Relations and Development was able to secure the naming gift for the planned Anna W. Ngai Alumni Center. This new gateway to campus will be located on the southwest corner of Atherton Street and Merriam Way. We are very grateful to Anna for her support and dedication to CSULB.
  • Last year, University Relations and Development raised $27 million. In addition, on July 1, 2012, the newly created CSULB 49er Foundation assumed responsibility for private gifts and endowment. This entity will focus on maximizing private support for “The Beach” while allowing the CSULB Research Foundation (formerly known as the CSULB Foundation) to return to its original mission of generating and administering research grants, contracts and non-philanthropic dollars. We are very pleased that former Mayor of Long Beach and CSULB alum Beverly O’Neill is chair of the 49er Board.
  • Over the last year, UR&D hired Terri Carbaugh, Associate Vice President for Legislative and External Relations, along with Andy Hoang, Associate Vice President for University Relations and Communications. Both Terri and Andy are experienced professionals who will play key roles in communicating our mission and values to both on- and off-campus communities.
  • Our thanks to Vice President Andrea Taylor.
  • Our deepest thanks to our alumni and friends. A university can only be as great as its alumni and friends allow it to be. With the budget realities we face, their support is critical to our continued success.

Two Presidents: Robert Maxson and King Alexander

  • At CSULB, I was raised as an administrator and as a person on a campus led by two very different, but highly effective presidents – Robert C. Maxson and F. King Alexander. Bob Maxson was president for 11 years. In addition to initiating a signature campus program, the President’s Scholars, he caused this campus to believe in itself and to understand that CSULB is really a special institution – an institution which is student centered, but which understands that if the faculty are not successful, no one can be successful. And he also reminded us that without the staff, the whole edifice falls. It takes a village, and CSULB is a small city. Bob Maxson also accomplished something rather remarkable, something that few thought could be done. He branded the campus. Bob Maxson branded us as “The Beach.” Every time he appeared in public, on or off campus, his comments always ended with what became his trademark “Go Beach.” “Go Beach!” became our identifying sign-off. It was our public exclamation that what happens at the Beach is important. Bob was so consistent in using this exclamation that I believe that as they retired each evening, the dialogue between Bob and his wife Sylvia would be something like this: “Good night, Bob,” “Good night, Sylvia,” “Go Beach!”
  • When Bob Maxson retired from CSULB he was followed by King Alexander. King was president for over seven years. He was a national force in higher education as a leading expert on higher education finance and policy. He was well known in our state capital and in Washington, D.C. He was well known to the Obama Administration and Obama’s Domestic Policy Group. He was invited to the White House as one of only a handful of university presidents to meet with President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. King’s impact on our mission can be summed up in two mantras: “Graduation Begins Today” and “Among the Nation’s Best.” This was a perfect fit for our statement of purpose: We graduate students with highly valued degrees.
  • These two presidents set us on the course that we follow today. We know we are good, we know we are a special place, and we know that we change lives. At CSULB, student success is more than a slogan, it is central to who we are and how we work. To these leaders we all owe a great deal.

Why CSULB Matters:

  • You have heard three themes this morning: student success, pride, and forward motion. I love this institution and its mission. I love this university because of who we are, what we do, and how we do it. I love this university because CSULB matters – CSULB matters to our community, to this region, to the state and to the nation.
  • Why does CSULB Matter?
  • CSULB Matters because we provide a low-cost, high-quality education. Our students succeed as they compete with the best in the nation for jobs or places in graduate school – they succeed because our students are among the best in the nation. The measure of a university is not who it takes in but is the quality of the students who graduate and what those students achieve.
  • CSULB Matters because of our incredible students. CSULB has been blessed with great students and consistently outstanding student leadership. When I came to this campus 25 years ago, I intended to stay a few years and “move on.” Among the things that I quickly learned was that the students on this campus were very special. I quickly became captivated by our students, their stories, and the roads traveled to get to this point in their lives. Our students, 40% of whom are the first in their families to go to college, see an education as an opportunity, not an entitlement.
  • CSULB Matters because we have over 280,000 alumni, and last year we graduated over 8600 students, among the largest graduating classes in the nation. Last year, we graduated almost 600 engineers, 300 nurses, 220 social workers, 430 mathematicians and scientists, 800 students in the arts, 850 students in business, 600 educators, and over 2300 students in the liberal arts.
  • CSULB Matters because we received more than 82,000 applications for admission for this semester, Fall 2013. We will welcome 8,900 new students to our campus beginning on Monday. Included are a growing number of international students whose presence makes our campus environment richer.
  • CSULB Matters because of who we are as a community. CSULB is both a Hispanic Serving Institution and an Asian and Pacific Islander Serving Institution, one of only a handful of universities in the country that can make that claim. Forty percent of our students are Pell eligible. We have more Pell eligible students at CSULB than the entire Ivy League.
  • CSULB Matters because we were named once again as a “100 Best Values in Public Colleges” by Kiplinger’s; “Top 10” in awarding bachelor’s degrees to minority students by Diverse Issues in Higher Education; and “Top 10” in both the number of bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees awarded to Hispanics.
  • CSULB Matters because our female students set the pace. Fifty-eight percent of our students are women and at graduation, women are almost 70% of the graduates. The dramatic increase in women graduating from college is among the greatest success stories of public higher education of the last 30 years.
  • CSULB Matters because half our students graduate with no student loan debt, and for those who do have debt, the average is $13,000, among the lowest in the nation.
  • CSULB Matters because of the impact we have on the community. Last year, CSULB students gave thousands and thousands of hours in community service.
  • CSULB Matters because we have the premier President’s Scholars Program in the state which will be celebrating its 2Oth birthday next year.
  • Speaking of birthdays, I have an important question for you. Next year is CSULB’s 65th birthday; at what age does a university qualify for Social Security?
  • CSULB Matters because of the Long Beach College Promise. Working with our good friends Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent of LBUSD, and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Superintendent-President of LBCC, King Alexander took our close partnerships with the Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach City College and created a signature program, The Long Beach Promise. The Promise, which guarantees priority admission to CSULB to local students who meet admission standards, has been nationally recognized and is being emulated across the state and nation.
  • CSULB Matters because of our talented and dedicated faculty. Without effective teaching and learning, without the classroom experience, why are we here?
  • CSULB Matters because of the outstanding Research and Creative Activity of our faculty. Last year, our faculty received over $20 million in grants and contracts. Earlier you heard the Provost share with us a small sampling of the amazing accomplishments of our faculty. Without our faculty being successful, we cannot continue to claim that we offer high quality degrees.
  • CSULB Matters because of our faculty’s dedication to engage our undergraduate and graduate students in their research and creative activity. Faculty and student partnerships in research and creative activity are an essential element of what makes this a unique and important institution.
  • CSULB Matters because of our dedicated and talented staff. Without the staff, the whole edifice falls apart.
  •  CSULB Matters because we understand that if a student’s education does not go beyond the classroom, his or her education is incomplete.
  • You know, we even excel in many little known arenas: Did you know that the CSULB Bass Fishing team is ranked 6th in the nation?
  • CSULB Matters because we honor shared governance; we honor the collective bargaining process and our unions. And in the big decisions and small, everyone including students, staff, and faculty, has a seat at the table.
  • CSULB Matters because we have a history, a proud reputation of dealing with adversity in a civil, productive, and professional manner.
  • CSULB Matters because of our intercollegiate athletics program. As is the reality with the other entities on campus, Athletics has been negatively impacted by our budget realities. Despite this, CSULB has won the Big West Conference Commissioner’s Cup four of the last five years. The Commissioner’s Cup is awarded in recognition of the most success in team sports. Even more impressive is that every one of our teams has surpassed the minimum Academic Performance Rate (APR), making CSULB one of only two schools in California to achieve this distinction. These are truly student-athletes. Athletics, like the other enterprises on campus, operates on a level of financial support for our athletic teams and programs that is unsustainable.
  • CSULB Matters because it is an institution with a passion for knowledge. This drive to discover and to create shapes and energizes us. This passion, this energy to grow and learn, becomes apparent in our classrooms, studios, labs, and beyond the campus. This passion for discovery is what drives our faculty and students to engage and excel, and to share with the broader community. You have heard that we say we are a “teaching-intensive, research and creative activity-driven university.” I believe we are a discovery-driven university.


  • In closing, I want to thank a few people who serve this institution so well – and who make my life easier. It is an honor to be associated with these people: our outstanding vice presidents: David Dowell, Mary Stephens, Mary Ann Takemoto, and Andrea Taylor. Also Lynn Mahoney, Cecile Lindsay, Holly Harbinger, Elizabeth Martin, Terri Carbaugh, Rick Gloady, Marianne Hata, Roman Kochan, Jeet Joshee, Tom Enders, Jeff Klaus, Manuel Perez, Kevin Crowe, Michael Losquadro, Janet Foster, David Salazar, Scott Apel, our deans, associate deans, and department chairs, and Coleen Followell, Liz Labrador, and the amazing Karen Nakai. A special thank you to my wife and partner of 43 years, Sandy.
  • CSULB has a clear sense of mission: student success. We make decisions based on data and information, not on anecdote. We are results oriented.
  • We push ahead and move forward because we are proud of who we are and what we have accomplished. We have an essential purpose because what we do matters and what we do matters well beyond the 321 acres of this campus.
  • We care. We care about this campus and its people, we care about our students, and we care about the future of our region, our state, the nation, and the world.
  • We know our current budget realities, though stable, are unsustainable. We know we are being scrutinized ever more closely by the governor and legislature who want to “hold the line” on costs without acknowledging that this is exactly what we do and that we do it better than almost anyone else in the country. The CSU and CSULB are among the most affordable in the country. We must more effectively communicate the value of education, K through Ed. D., to the decision makers in Washington and Sacramento.
  • My job – our job – is to protect and nurture the future of this institution. We must continue to make the decisions that will put CSULB in the best position to continue to succeed. We must continue to make the hard decisions to protect our future. We will make those decisions in the process that has proven so successful for this campus: transparent, collaborative, and inclusive. We will use data, not anecdote; we will consult. Then, we will let the best ideas win. We will innovate; we will challenge ourselves; we will succeed. Sometimes we will push too far and fail, but if we don’t fail occasionally, we will know we were not bold enough.
  • The history of this campus is that no important decision is made behind closed doors. No important decisions are made by one “leader,” one person, or a small group of people.
  • CSULB Matters because of its people. CSULB Matters because we transform lives. 280,000 alumni are our legacy. Alumni and friends, thank you for being our partners.
  • I leave you with a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.”
  • Lastly, I know that I am a better person for having been molded, touched and formed by the people of CSULB.

I thank you for your kind attention.