Convocation 2017

I am so pleased to be with you in this beautiful and increasingly accessible (thank you Megan Kline Crockett) setting for the fourth time and to be welcoming you to the 2017-18 academic year. A special welcome to our President’s Scholars and their families – the Scholars are proud new members of our notable University Honors Program. Thank you Professor Deborah Thien. I’m so glad you are here.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the pictures of some of our new faculty and staff who have recently started their careers at the Beach. New faculty and staff members who are here: we look forward to supporting your success and look forward to how you will change us for the better.

Returning faculty and staff you remain the heart and soul of all we offer to our students.

I see the deans of our colleges here this morning. Thank you very much for coming by. Special welcome of, course, to Curt Bennett, our newest dean and first holder of the Richard D. Green Endowed Deanship.

Here this morning is Dr. Collie Conoley, who after 44 years of friendship and marriage remains my best friend and most enthusiastic supporter. Thank you Collie.

Let me introduce Andy Fee who joined us in May as our new Athletic Director and who has already shown terrific leadership. Andy is from UC Santa Barbara and emerged as the favorite from a very large group of applicants because of his knowledge of collegiate sports and most importantly his commitment to academic excellence for our student athletes, who already, by the way, lead the campus in graduation rates. Over half our student athletes qualify as academic all stars, deans’ lists, and president’s list scholars. So, way to go student athletes and wonderful coaches and advisors from the Bickerstaff Academic Center who offer such expert guidance.

Finally, let me introduce Detecting K 9 officer Avery who is the newest member of our Beach team. She is a two and a half year old yellow lab who is an expert at sniffing out explosives and making people just feel better. Her handler is Sergeant Ray Gonzalez. He will be introducing Avery around campus, so contact our University Police Department and, as duties permit, Avery can visit student, staff and faculty groups. She will, of course, bring Sergeant Ray along with her.

I’ve been reflecting a lot about what to speak about with you this morning. There’s so much happening at The Beach. My speech today will cover a lot of territory because, as I mentioned in an earlier address to you, we’re living in VUCA land – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous opportunities and threats surround us. So consider this speech a window into many of the things I spend time thinking about.

But before I focus our attention toward just our campus – fascinating as it is – I want to say a few words about the tragedy in Charlottesville two weeks ago. I am fully aware there are multiple interpretations of this event. There is one clear and present danger that confronts our campus and most campuses across the nation. We must guard against any erosion of First Amendment rights while at the same time protecting our community – our people and our property. We must challenge each other to listen, debate with civility, and re-affirm American values. I remind you of Abraham Lincoln’s words:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Neo-Nazis, Identity Evropa, KKK, White supremacists, and white nationalists are not working to bind up the nation’s wounds or achieve a lasting peace among the diverse groups who make up this great nation. Quite the contrary! Their beliefs, which they can freely share because of our Constitution, are un-American. Their beliefs dishonor all who have lived and died for a democracy with liberty and justice for all.

At the request of and as a courtesy to faculty and staff (thank you Professor Kelly Young), my team of communicators and our legal counsel have put together a two page resource sheet, should you wish to discuss the intersections of free speech, ideological divides, violence, and legality in your classrooms and other places of guidance for students.

Now, back to The Beach.

I think it’s typical to start the year off with optimistic statements about the future. Certainly all the victories just described by Provost Brian Jersky speak to our abilities to excel even in constrained financial times. The next two slides indicate that every part of our campus has received special notice for excellence.

And make no mistake; I am very optimistic about the future of our university. We face today some looming challenges, but we have faced looming challenges every year for the past 67 years or so I imagine. And as the old song celebrates (with a pronoun change), we’re “still here,” and here in great style.

In addition to a history of success, my optimism is based on the conviction that we can continue to build on our commitments to student success, embrace challenges with innovative and entrepreneurial strategies, and maintain and improve our position as one of the nation’s great comprehensive universities. We have shown the persistence and dedication to get hard things done.

So today, I will share what I’ve been thinking about:

  • Optimism
  • Challenges that face us on and off campus with some emphasis on money
  • Growth versus fixed mindsets
  • Inclusive Excellence at a SMART campus
  • Removing barriers
  • Strategic planning that I anticipate will tackle our most important questions as we march, dance, run, jump or skip to 2025
  • Some personal aspirations I have for the next year

This past year I supported a research effort (thank you Andy Hoang and his team) to uncover strengths of our university that deserve more emphasis so we could develop better communication strategies to attract more support, especially from our 310,000+ alumni. You will not be surprised that the excellence of our faculty, staff, and academic programs along with our beautiful location (thank you everyone who works on our grounds and keeps our buildings in working order) emerged as items that deserve more attention when we discuss The Beach. Something else that emerged was a campus ethos that was described by the researchers as an “insane” commitment to removing barriers that prevent others, especially students, from succeeding.

Thank you all very much for that insane commitment! I think it illustrates our belief that with the right environment, evidence-based pedagogies, high expectations, and compassionate interactions, all the students we admit (our standards are very high) can achieve a Beach degree.

I consider student success, by the way, a very complex metric that certainly includes timely graduation, but is so much more. Our students should leave us as thinkers, doers, great communicators, compassionate and civically engaged community members, leaders in their chosen professions and well prepared to be critical and skeptical consumers of information.

I think as we embrace an18-month process of strategic planning starting this fall we will be in an even better place to propel our students forward toward lives of success. I’ll come back to strategic planning.

There are, however, challenges looming that are somewhat out of our campus’ control, but can have significant effects on our abilities to add the edge of excellence each of our students deserve.

For example, the good and bad news is that birthrates are plummeting. At least for a while, the country is running out of teenagers. Did you know that in just a few years there will be 5,000 fewer Long Beach Unified School District 12th graders? Did you know that the sheer number of universities and colleges continues to decline (mainly among ‘for profit’ and small liberal arts colleges that suspend operations or merge with other entities) because of financial exigencies mainly caused by plummeting enrollment? But don’t overlook the draconian cuts in public higher education happening in Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania to name just a few.

Did you know that in 2023, when applications are predicted to begin to edge up across the country, those who apply would be significantly more economically distressed than previous cohorts?

Obviously, we may think we are in a particularly good position to weather enrollment and student economic diversity challenges (we do that now!), but we’re still vulnerable despite the privilege of being a state supported school. State revenues are increasingly directed toward K-14 education, health care, prisons, pensions and other mandatory costs leaving smaller and smaller portions for the discretionary parts of their budget. That discretionary part is where we live.

And while state funds account for shrinking portions of our total budget, our student success and public good commitments require greater and greater investments in our students. For example, the challenge to remove barriers to four-year graduation rates, for those students who wish that path, costs a lot more money because of needed financial aid, increased advising and more classes and sections.

What are other threats on and off campus that require our attention? The list is long as we face an aging campus infrastructure, escalating pension and health costs, salary concerns among our employees, uncertainties about federal funding, insufficient parking between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (I had to say this before one of you did!), frustrating bureaucracies, escalating costs to buy or rent homes in this area, horrifying “isms” of many brand names, and a growing national mood that higher education is not delivering on its promise to be the great social and economic equalizer. By the way, it is delivering, but the national conversation indicates that a large percentage of Americans think we do more harm than good.

These are daunting challenges, big issues that really deserve our sustained attention as we plan for the future of our campus. So the strategic planning process we envision must look on and off campus at the issues that are really threatening us as a public university in California.

I think that figuring out new ways to keep our university viable will require a growth mindset. Growth mindset means that we are willing to try hard new things and believe that persistence will pay off. People with growth mindsets accept that mistakes are inevitable and are actually learning tools. This is in contrast to a fixed mindset that drives us to be risk averse, afraid of making mistakes, avoidant of challenges and change, and easily discouraged. Doing new and hard things makes our brains better. Trust me. That’s true.

In the context of a stagnant state budget, we must embrace the ambiguity of having to be more entrepreneurial while passionately keeping our public good mission. We must change some things if we want to offer our students high impact educational experiences like research with faculty, international travel, service learning, and so on. The state contribution, signaled already by the State Department of Finance to shrink next year to a 3 percent so-called increase, won’t make it so. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous – perhaps on steroids at the moment.

We’ve already shown we can excel for our students in smaller projects. Scaling up is difficult but we have the insane commitment to do so. We will just need the money. Everyone should check out Engineering’s BESST program if they are not believers in Inclusive Excellence and evidence based pedagogies. Thank you Dean Golshani.

So, new ways outside of our traditional revenue sources must be investigated. I anticipate our strategic planning process will uncover many of these opportunities. While the funds from the state are vital to our survival, they no longer will provide for the edge of excellence that we know we can deliver and our students deserve. Thank you faculty, advisors, and student affairs professionals for providing so many edge of excellence opportunities. Increasingly, we must dust off our entrepreneurial skills to figure out how to pursue our public good agenda while being expected to operate more like a private university. This is not easy, but there are models across the nation of the best universities finding new ways to create revenue that supports their well-deserved distinctive identities. We can do this too.

I know there may be some in the audience who feel that as we move in this direction the state will pull back resources. Consider however the trend in California’s support of its universities. The 30-year trend is down and we’d be asleep at the wheel with a fixed mindset if we anticipated some significant jump in state support.

While our strategic planning work this year will ferret out many more, from my perspective our core skills and assets are around instruction, research, evaluation, community outreach, creative “products,” athletics, spaces on campus, and relationships with our alumni and other friends in business, industry, the arts, and government. We will have to work together to figure out how to better transform these skills and assets into resources for our students, faculty, and staff.

Another thing we’ll have to face as we become more entrepreneurial is that we need a budgeting system that promotes and rewards risk taking, innovation, and careful attention to new opportunities that fall within our mission to educate Californians, produce important and useful research, and contribute to the public good.

We don’t have a system like that now, but as our context changes, we’d be asleep at the wheel with a fixed mindset if we didn’t respond. Brian and Vice President Mary Stephens will be talking a lot about this in the coming months.

So far, I’ve suggested that we’re up for challenges, that we must strive to develop growth mindsets that will support a more entrepreneurial campus, and that our strategic planning work will help us settle on priorities for action recognizing that our superordinate goals are to create a campus that promotes well being by removing barriers to student (and everyone’s) success – in other words be a model of Inclusive Excellence with financial chops.

I hope I haven’t tired you out already.

Let switch gears a little and share what I identify as more particular goals I have for the campus in the coming year.

  1. Reach/surpass our annual goals for Graduation Initiative 2025. Every student who wants to graduate in four years with a great education should be able to do so. It’s telling to me that with one time money to ease student progress, we moved in one year from a 15 percent four-year rate to a 21 percent rate. There are students who want this and with some help will make it happen. So let’s not divert students with predictions of low quality or myths of students being “pushed out.”
  2. Make progress writing a 2025 Strategic Plan and meet 2017-2020 goals. This will be a big deal. Tens of thousands of students and many faculty and staff will be affected by the decisions we all make over the next 18 months. So please engage.
  3. Accelerate the work of the Inclusive Excellence Commission. More on this later.
  4. Help raise at least $30M in private funds including $2M each for Blair Field and the Alumni and Visitors Center. Thank you VP Andrea Taylor for your leadership in completing our Declare campaign with such success two years ago and all our development professionals, deans and others who tell our story to attract private investment.
  5. Create an academic integration plan for the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. I call on everyone from the arts to engineering to Student Affairs to consider how we do a better job integrating this singular campus gem into our students’ learning experiences.
  6. Re-imagine our planning and facilities processes so that we can build more affordably on campus, thus attracting more capital investment from donors. There is no state money for new buildings and our campus must grow to be viable.
  7. Re-think and update our internal budgeting processes. The current system is too centralized and is not responsive enough in a VUCA environment. This will feel good to all who have rightfully complained about too much centralization but comes with significant accountability and will demand a growth mindset.
  8. Continue to institutionalize BUILD grant initiatives, and reach our goal of $40M in annual research expenditures. Everyone on campus benefits when we are a center of discovery and can offer funded opportunities to take part in research and research training. Of course, much appreciation to our BUILD mentors and to former Dean Laura Kingsford for our brilliant successes in the BUILD effort.
  9. Advance our number of international students, while preserving access to Californians. This is a highly political issue, but a no brainer when we think of our flat world and our students’ needs to be global citizens.
  10. Hire a much more diverse Tenure Track Faculty. Let’s become more innovative in developing strategies that attract and keep an increasingly diverse (in every way) faculty so our students can see themselves as professors. We need them. Doing searches like we’ve done them is unlikely to create change.

Another right-headed opportunity we have is to completely update our so-called remedial education offerings to match research-based evidence that many remedial experiences do not regularly even-up students’ chances to graduate and can discourage many learners from persisting from first to second years, and slow them down toward their degrees. I am very interested in this and will track our evaluations closely.

The strategic planning process, which is in search of a cool name, will be key to our work over the next eight years. So many questions need answers, or at least a punch list for action. For example:

  • How big should we get? How many students should live on campus?
  • How many students can we serve online with excellence and positive outcomes? Consider that nationwide 45 percent of first time college students are now over 26. This is, perhaps, a population that can learn and thrive online.
  • How do we help our athletics program be an even better asset in growing Beach Pride among current and former students? Our success on playing fields is a strong strategy to keep our alums connected and that’s a very good thing.
  • Are we using all our space strategically? What should be moved to allow for right sizing our academic and student services mandates?
  • What’s a plan for our empty space that honors our native nations while permitting the essence of Puvungna – as a place for learning – to expand to meet the needs of those we now turn away? Thanks Craig Stone and others for tackling this issue. This is a particular problem to the general one: How do we retain the best of the past while meeting the needs of the present and future?
  • What are we already doing that could attract greater investment from individuals, business, industry, foundations, and the public sector?
  • What other processes must we modernize/streamline to reduce paperwork and hassles? How do we become a SMARTer CAMPUS? By the way, I have asked VP Min Yao to help us digitize as many routine tasks as possible; align procurements for better deals, increase our cyber security and on and on. The great thing is that he knows how to do this. So please work with him using a growth mindset.
  • What should our student body look like – more graduates, more transfers? What should our General Education look like? I don’t know much about GE, but think is a no brainer that what we offer should be cohesive and portable across numerous majors.
  • What’s an academic calendar for the 21st century?
  • How can we develop more centers of excellence that are interdisciplinary, represent the best in research and teaching opportunities, and contribute to the public good in our region/world? Tall order. We can’t afford to launch 100 of them, but I’m sure we could afford to launch ten to begin with.
  • How many International students should we serve?
  • How do we maintain and improve our Long Beach College Promise? This collaboration has established us nationally as a model university. How do we make it better?
  • How do we further reward faculty and staff for employing high impact practices that offer students transformational opportunities?
  • How do we grow internship opportunities and undergraduate research experiences for our students? Ask Dean Solt how his college has increased student internship numbers by 38 percent in just one year. We should all be looking at this.
  • Do we have any programs of mediocre quality that don’t belong here – across each division? We don’t have room for mediocrity.
  • How do we become a more 24/7 service oriented campus with a flatter organization that is more responsive?
  • Considering our Pyramid of Student Services: What are the key student services that we must keep/expand to be sure we are giving each student a fair shot at success?
  • How do we minimize costs for our students? Faculty, consider the costs of textbooks and especially those with electronic bells and whistles that cannot be sold as second hand copies. Those are clearly designed to make publishers rich and widely reported by students as keeping them poor.
  • How shall we stay true to the first amendment in the ideologically divided nation that surrounds us? There are serious threats to freedom of speech from those on every point of the political spectrum. Violence and/or shouting down provocative speakers are not the answers. Please everyone, get educated and educate others so we don’t face the tragedy of losing a member of our community in a violent confrontation. Some of the groups that show up for speakers or other demonstrations come with weapons and intend to fight. Our students can be caught in the crossfire and that would be heartbreaking. It’s happened once and could happen again on home soil.

I am a president with questions who needs your best thinking. Much of this help I know will be available from various existing committees and councils. I’m looking forward to guidance particularly from the Academic Senate, College Councils, Staff Council, and Commission on Inclusive Excellence. A little more on this last one.

As some of you may recall, we empanelled the Commission on Inclusive Excellence last January to move us toward a national university model of an organization that evens up everyone’s chances to be successful. Thank you VP Carmen Taylor and Brian for accepting co-chair responsibilities. We do this by removing barriers to success. In collaboration with other entities on campus, the Commission will support and report back findings from a variety of campus climate surveys we’ll accomplish this year so we’ll have a strong baseline from which to plan and implement strategies aimed at eliminating practices, norms, and attitudes that create systemic difficulties for any of our diverse community members. Your input to the Commission will be vital as we learn the stories and experiences of the Beach community. We must do frequent environmental scans, so to speak, to build a proactive plan for equity and not be simply reactive to campus or external threats.

So let me end by mentioning growth mindset, no barriers, innovation and entrepreneurship, strategic planning, Inclusive Excellence, taking our future into our own hands, freedom of speech that includes almost all speech but with a voluntary commitment to civility, and an environment engineered to provide universal, targeted and specialized services to all our students.

This is a lot of content, especially in an opening speech, but I’ll be coming back to you often investigating how we continue on our journey. Each item I’ve mentioned lies along the path or is shaping that path to intellectual rigor, inclusive excellence, and contributing to the public good.

I promise to lean in to the needed work and welcome your consultation and creativity. If we can seek (as President Lincoln said) to bind up the nation’s wounds, and do all we can to foster a just and lasting peace among ourselves…” This will be our best year yet.

Together every thing is possible. And that’s the truth.

Go Beach!