Fall 2014 Convocation Speech
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Fall 2014 Speakers
August 18, 2014
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Chair of the Faculty
Chapter President, California Faculty Association
Associated Students President
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate
Welcome to the opening convocation of the new academic year and let me extend a warm welcome to new students, returning students, faculty and staff as we celebrate all that we value at Sonoma State. As is the tradition, let me start by welcoming the eight new faculty who are joining us this year – a ninth hire in education, Dr. Edward Lyon, will join us in Fall next year. So as I call your name, feel free to stand or waive.
Dr. Mercy Romero joins the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies as Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and American Literature/American Studies. She received her doctorate in Ethnic Studies from the University of Berkeley and has been a lecturer in their Department of Ethnic Studies since 2012.
Dr. Joshua Glasgow joins us as Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department. He has been a lecturer of the Philosophy Department at Sonoma State since 2009 and Director for the Center for Ethics, Law and Society since 2012. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Memphis in 2001.
Dr. Sean Place joins the Biology Department as an Assistant Professor. He received his Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology from UC Santa Barbara. He has received numerous grants and awards in support of his research and has taught at both the University of South Carolina and UC Santa Barbara.
Dr. Martha Shott has been a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics since 2012 and now joins us as an Assistant Professor. She received her doctorate in Applied Mathematics from UC Davis in 2011.
Dr. Emily Asencio joins the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies as an Assistant Professor. She received her doctorate from UC Riverside in Sociology. Her specialty areas include juvenile delinquency, mental health, and identity and criminal behavior.
Dr. Tiffany O’Shaughnessy joins the Counseling Department as an Assistant Professor. Her doctorate in Counseling Psychology is from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Dr. O’Shaughnessy is on the board of various psychological organizations and frequently presents on topics such as Social Justice in Counseling and LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy.
Dr. Brian Gillespie is the new Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department. He received his Ph.D. from UC Irvine in Sociology with emphases on family, life course, demography, and research methods and design. He has previously taught at UC Irvine, CSU Los Angeles, and CSU Channel Islands.
Ms. Caitlin Plovnick joined Sonoma State University as a Librarian in February 2014. She received her Master of Science in Library & Information Science in 2011 from Simmons College and has been employed at UC Irvine for the past several years. Ms. Plovnick has a passion for library instruction and assessment, particularly when it comes to first-year students.
I would also like to recognize our three Visiting faculty:
Dr. Jennifer Casey joins as the Visiting Professor in the Chemistry Department. She received her doctorate in Chemistry this summer from UCLA. Dr. Casey is the 2009 recipient of the Hanson-Dow Excellence in Teaching Award from the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at UCLA where she has taught since 2007.
Dr. Erik Nielsen joins as the Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology. He received his doctorate in Sociology from Santa Barbara this summer. Dr. Nielsen specializes in urban and environmental sociology and was the recipient of the Graduate Division Dissertation Fellowship at UC Santa Barbara in 2013.
Dr. Renata Schaefer is the International Business and General Management Visiting Professor. She received her Ph.D. in Economics at the Poznan University of Economics in Poland and has fifteen years of experience teaching at different universities throughout Europe. Dr. Schaefer has received multiple awards including Professor of the Year and Faculty Excellence Award for teaching and academic service.
The word convocation literally means the coming together of a group assembled for a special purpose – and traditionally it has applied to both the church and to universities. I see this as rather fitting since no social institution, other than religion and higher education, have so successfully resisted change over the last 500 years.
This is unfortunate, since higher education in the 21st century continues to change fast – and the warning made 5 years ago by Gordon Gee, then president of Ohio State University, still stands. ‘We must become more agile, more responsive, less insular and less bureaucratic. In so doing, we will save ourselves from slouching into irrelevance’.
My message for the last three years has been the same – we need to change – and I don’t want to let up on that – but my appeal this year is softer than before because you have been changing. And I thank you for that. But before I get all teary eyed with gratitude, let me remind you why we can’t continue to do business like we did a hundred years ago, or even a decade ago. Pick up any recent article or book on education and the message is the same. Pressures from outside the academy, and from within the education community, present challenges that require us to rethink what it means to be educated in today’s world. We must find ways to provide a coherent and meaningful educational experience for our students in the face of the turbulence, uncertainty and fragmentation that characterizes much of higher education today. I don’t need to belabor these disruptive elements but they include dwindling state support, increasing tuition and student debt, high unemployment of graduates, and even questions about the value of a degree often fraught with grade inflation and poor course content.
The good news for all in this room is that demand for higher education remains strong. By 2018 it has been estimated that more than 60% of jobs in the US will require postsecondary education leading to a credential or degree. The advantage of a higher education was well illustrated during the last recession when unemployment rates soared. Although all suffered, the unemployment rate for those with just a high school diploma was almost double that of those with a degree. Fifty-five percent of Americans now believe higher education is necessary for success – which is up from 31% ten years ago.
All good - but how a student acquires this education is what we must pay attention to. Right now, college participation is often driven by habit — by the simple inertia that causes us to behave the way we’ve always behaved. However, with student debt at an all-time high, parents and students are looking much closer at value, and the return on their investment for higher education. They can opt for the lower cost at community colleges or they can take classes from multiple less expensive institutions and transfer credits. Consider that just ten years ago on-line programming was still new to higher education. Today, more than 1,000 colleges have online programs which provide consumers with many cost-effective options. All of these, and many other systemic trends, will no doubt lead to lower cost tuition.
Of course, much of what we read is sensationalized and in the moment. Last year the world of education was falling apart because of MOOCs – the multiple online open source courses that promised free education for everyone. These haven’t gone away and continue to be a choice for students who don’t want to be part of the trillion dollar loan debt in this country. We don’t have to look far to see universities facing declining enrollment and price deflation as students find alternate paths of education. Several hundred Georgia Tech students made history this spring by entering the universities’ on-line maters program in computer science which was noteworthy because tuition was one-sixth the cost of on-campus tuition. Even at SSU, the Schools of Business and Education are running a MOOC to 1000 students entitled the Entrepreneurial Educator.
So the first point to note, as we look to the future, is that educational innovations are being developed around us and are changing consumer habits. The predicted trend is for an unbundling of the college degree moving credits away from the university. Institutions of higher education will need to be more innovative to support and deliver learning in a cost effective manner, to continue to attract students.
We would also do well to pay attention to the changing demographic of college students. Predictions tell us that individuals of traditional college age who enroll as full time students immediately after high school will represent a shrinking share of future admissions. Increasingly, student admits will be older, attend college part time, work while enrolled and perhaps live at home all to offset the high cost of a college education. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that by the year 2020 (just 6 years away), 42% of students will be aged 25 or older.
While there are many risk factors when it comes to degree completion, such as first generation students, underprepared students, and those of ethnic minority, the biggest risk factor to degree completion is low income. We need to pay attention to the irrefutable fact that the longer it takes to complete a degree the less likely the student will graduate. To compound this, the nation can expect the number of students and graduates of Hispanic descent to grow swiftly in the coming years while the number from white, non-Hispanic backgrounds, will fall. In the Chancellor’s graduation rate initiative, we have reached our system target 6 year rate of 50% but we have failed to reach our target for underrepresented students which should make us reflect on curriculum redesign, technology mediated content delivery or any other educational interventions that might serve those students we are failing and who will soon be coming in increasing numbers to the university.
This brings us to this year’s major issue to pay attention to, the exponentially increasing drive for more accountability and transparency in higher education. This is being driven largely by the student loan crisis and perceived poor performance of universities across the nation. In 2013, the federal government spent 3.3 billion dollars on educational PELL grants. Awards were made to 9.7 million students, a number that has doubled since 2001 and such demand is unsustainable given current funding. Compounding the issue in the eyes of the federal government is that over the last 20 years, 31 million students have enrolled in higher education and left without receiving a degree or certificate. This is being viewed as a failing of the American higher education system. The proposed solution to this crisis is institutional accountability. State resolutions and the federal rankings have resulted in a rise of performance based funding where the allocation of future resources will be determined by indicators such as course completion, graduation rates, time to degree and even salary of chosen career. Of course, this is a highly controversial metric particularly in the context of liberal arts universities. Here, we teach students about the many facets of ‘life’ to promote social mobility and effective citizenship. The notion that educational success can be reduced to a starting salary is naïve since it says nothing about student learning. Nevertheless, performance based funding models are spreading from state to state and becoming part of the landscape of higher education financial support. Such rankings will also impact how students choose an institution.
As a first step, The College Scorecard is already available on the web, launched by the Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center to help students make informed decision about which university to attend. In case you are wondering, according to the site, the average net price of attending SSU is $14,143 per year (which is just within the ‘low’ category), our graduation rate is 55% while recognizing that 11.9% of students transfer to other institutions, the loan default rate is 6.8% (which is lower than the national average of 14.7%) and the median borrowing by the family is $18,281 in federal loans.
The lack of resources and poor graduation rates has pushed the CSU to innovate and experiment with lower-cost educational methods. The Chancellors office has launched online-learning pilot programs and concurrent courses at several of the campuses that are available to our students as part of their SSU tuition. The CSU is developing virtual laboratories and blended teaching that combines on-line lectures and supplemental instruction to reduce bottlenecks and enhance learning. Regardless of how you feel about this, be clear, we are in the midst of an increasingly rapid transformation in education across dimensions of purpose, content, pedagogy and methodologies. That is our challenge in the coming years.
But as I said earlier, this is a soft reminder because we are changing at Sonoma state in ways too numerous to mention – but here are some highlights.
We have a draft version of a revised University strategic plan that identifies areas for which SSU will have an overarching objective and supporting goals. This plan is posted on the web and I would like your input so a final version can be drafted before the end of the coming semester.
But in the meantime, as you heard from the President, we have used the draft plan to generate a three year strategy for immediate action in terms of faculty hiring, faculty release time and improved student advising.
Speaking of advising, I am pleased to report that the Chancellor’s office has recognized our ongoing efforts to expand eAdvising on the campus and is helping to fund our initiative to produce a Smart Academic Planner to allow students to map out a path to degree and to let Departments obtain a sense of future course demand.
Our new sustainability director, Dr. Paul Draper, has been making progress with his committee to increase awareness in our students about how sustainability is a critical, global and ethical challenge of our time. Please pick up a flyer today or check your email about an event on October 21 when SSU will host Sustainable Day & Expo at the GMC. This will feature guest speakers, poster sessions, a panel discussion, art and a photo exhibit, campus sustainability tours, and a day when we hope faculty will focus some lecture time on sustainability topics.
Equally impressive is how the new director of diversity, Dr. Lauren Morimoto and her committee, are advancing issues of diversity and inclusiveness on the campus. One example is the ‘We Are Sonoma Project’ – a dynamic event that highlights every day micro aggressions that staff, faculty and students experience on campus and how those micro aggressions can be changed.
I am gratified by the campus response to provide skill based certificates through extended education as a way to offer something ‘extra’ to students regardless of their field of study. To date, we have 39 certificates ranging from those in the discussion phase to those approved and current. These range from a very popular social media certificate to one in audio and recording production using our revamped recording studio. One in the works is a Craft Beer Certificate in partnership with Lagunitas Brewery.
Our early start program in mathematics this summer has allowed 21% of the participating students to remediate and move directly into GE Mathematics.
We are clearly a destination campus this year and while a record student headcount of 9,250 is challenging – it is testament to the wonderful work of the recruitment, enrollment and admissions staff. Equally powerful is the effort that goes into orientation – where our students are turned into sea wolves. I was chatting with a parent at the wine and cheese during orientation and she told me that for 5 years all her son talked about was attending Humboldt state but after one visit to Sonoma, that changed. So thank you campus tour coordinators.
This year we enrolled 125 new Early Opportunity Students (an increase of 25%).
We hired a new Career advisor who has added new career services, put on the best jobs fair ever, and created a new career center in the advising center.
Faculty in the school of science and technology published over 80 papers last year, many with their students.
The school of education recommended over 300 candidates for credentials in the last year with a greater percentage of science and mathematics teachers than our other CSU peers.
In the school of social science, the sophomore year experience program was created with help from a 200K grant from the Chancellor’s Office.
The school of Arts and Humanities saw the renovation of Person theater and the upgrade of the Walford sound recording studio. They also developed a sophomore year research and creative experience course.
The School of Business who offer one of the largest programs on campus, the business administration degree, tracked their graduates after three months and found that 92% of undergraduates were either employed or continuing their education.
The School of Extended and International Education served 8,124 unduplicated students during FY 2013-14.
And in the university library, the expanded SSU Faculty Center created several innovative technology-related curriculum projects that involved the participation of over 40 SSU faculty.
And finally, in the words of the American educator Albert Whitney Griswold “The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is liberal education” or more succinctly in the words of another educator Robert Hutchins “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives”.
This vision of education is important and as the President mentioned we remain committed to our Liberal Arts and Science mission. This summer I attended the annual Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges and reaffirmed our commitment to this organization as the only member from California. We are proud to be a member of COPLAC, a consortium dedicated to the advancement of high-quality public liberal arts education in a student-centered residential environment. SSU is a professional university built on a liberal arts foundation that now extends into science, technology, business and education.
As we strive to instill creativity in our students and have them appreciate and participate in the arts at SSU, let me leave you with an uplifting video produced by our performing art staff and faculty that is, I feel, an excellent example of how we are making positive changes on this campus. Thank you all.