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(Prepared text for address)
|Below is a closed captioned video of President Jolene Koester's 2010 Convocation Address.|
Let me begin by introducing the campus leaders on stage with me today: Provost Harry Hellenbran d, Faculty President Steven Stepanek, and Associated Students President Conor Lansdale.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate again our more comfortable and more cost-effective site. As I mentioned last year, this naturally-canopied site symbolizes our campus-wide efforts to find opportunities to both reduce costs and improve quality.
2009-10 ended in profound personal sorrow and institutional loss with the death of Vice President for Student Affairs Terry Piper. But we are delighted that Dr. William Watkins accepted the regular appointment of Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. Terry and William forged an exceptionally strong partnership during their years working together, sharing deep commitment to student success and learning, and William carries on this important work.
We have others with new responsibility:
And 32 faculty members are newly tenured and/or promoted to associate professor, and 47 newly promoted to full. Let me ask any who are here today to stand and be acknowledged.
Last year we gathered for convocation with a touch of gloom and doom in the air; well honestly, more than a touch. We could not deny the very real and painful difficulties facing our campus community and students. We were implementing furloughs, and grappling with their consequences on our personal lives and work. The University was figuring out how to cope with a permanent base budget reduction of $41 million. Students were facing fee increases while finding fewer available course sections. We were implementing policies designed to reduce our enrollment by about 3,500 students.
I’m not going to tell you this is over. You know better. All divisions of the University had to take a five percent budget cut this year. The economy and the state’s finances remain precarious, and the fundamentals of funding for public higher education have, I believe, been permanently changed. However, I am here to tell you that Cal State Northridge has weathered this part of the storm because we have planned, been strategic, and worked collaboratively. We have thrived through a battering economic climate because of forethought, planning, and teamwork, and with dialogue as our dominant interactional mode.
Today, I speak to you with the goal of “reaffirming our commitment to tomorrow” for a strong future Cal State Northridge. I begin by laying out the challenges to all public higher education – challenges we have begun addressing, but must continue to plan for in order to reaffirm our University’s tomorrow. Second, I describe this year’s work in our effort to reaffirm tomorrow. And finally, I close by acknowledging work accomplished this past year.
II. Let me begin today in our quest to assure this University’s future by examining the changes facing public higher education.
If there was ever a demonstration of the importance of collaborative work that allows a university to improve itself, our recent experience is it.
If there is an exemplar for the positive consequences of civility and dialogue, the Cal State Northridge community is that exemplar.
The typical response of a university during the kind of economic recession we are in is to “hunker down.” But we chose to do things differently. We prepared for the storm and made strategic and structural changes that allowed us to not only weather this storm but be better prepared for the future. We entered the rough economic sea with a plan – five priorities – accompanied by fiscal restraint that made us more efficient and yielded monetary reserves to provide time and flexibility in responding to budget reductions. We restructured to be more efficient, not by making wholesale cuts, but strategically with an eye to upholding our deep values and commitment to our permanent employees. Decisions were made with laser-like focus on the five priorities – academic excellence, student engagement and success, resource enhancement, user-friendly business practices, and campus and community collaboration.
Now, as we look forward, we need, in fact we must, continue this journey with planning as our mantra. These tumultuous economic times have hastened and sharpened other challenges for universities – emerging realities discussed widely by those who speak and write about higher education. Our planning must take into account these emerging realities. Some of these we have considered previously; others are newly on our landscape. Planning does not mean that we will know what the specific outcome will be. Rather, planning for multiple futures will allow us to adjust as circumstances change.
The first is a challenge for which we must plan. I have addressed it previously – the changed financing of public higher education. For the past two decades, higher education has experienced a modest but continuous decline in state funding. Appropriations are reduced during recessions, with some restoration as the economy grows, but never quite to earlier levels. The pattern adds up to an incremental divestment of state funds. Thus we have seen growing dependency on student fees, budget cuts, and threats to access.(click here for endnote i) We know from our own budget numbers, from our experience day-to-day, that the decline in funding of public higher education is real. This is the new reality, and reversal is unforeseeable.
Under this new reality, it is imperative for higher education institutions to plan and to use resources strategically. As two well-known policy analysts, Dennis Jones and Jane Wellman, recently argued, public higher education will be unable to solve its funding challenges simply by looking for new revenues, turning to the Federal government, or cutting costs. And it is not useful to talk about what the budget “would have been” had cuts not occurred. Rather, Jones and Wellman urge us to focus on such policy agenda items as improving degree attainment, investing strategically in areas core to the educational mission, and improving teaching and learning productivity.
What this means for Cal State Northridge is we must simultaneously invest in areas central to our mission while also improving efficiency. The key for us, I think, is Jones’ and Wellman’s first admonition – improving degree attainment, or a focus on student retention and graduation. We have already embraced this goal.
A second linked challenge for public higher education is the imperative to educate more students but with less state funding. President Obama has called for expanded access to higher education, an imperative for the 21st century economy. Virtually every study about future workforce needs documents an increasing demand for college-educated workers and citizens. Daniel Hurley, AASCU’s Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis, argues that if public higher education is to meet this challenge, it must develop an orientation sharply directed toward understanding students, with the goal of improving teaching and student learning.(endnote ii) This has been our focus for some years now as a learning-centered university, but there is more work to be done.
Our third planning challenge is the public’s expectations about higher education – generally referred to as “accountability.” I have spoken often of the forces of accountability, so these words are not new. But please pay attention. When the U.S. Secretary of Education speaks repeatedly of the low graduation rates of public universities, we must pay attention. When the U.S. Undersecretary of Education argues for the need to marry college and work, and a major analysis of jobs data concludes the U.S. is headed toward a serious mismatch between the skills needed for new jobs and the education of potential workers, we must pay attention. When the chair of the National Governors Association says he will make higher education productivity the focus of his term, calling for common performance measurements and concrete steps to increase completion rates within available resources, we must pay attention.
A fourth planning challenge is the rapidity of change amidst ever-escalating advances in technology. Where higher education was traditionally about the transmission of knowledge through instruction, today technology enables student discovery as part of the learning equation. Where technology previously was instantiated through its ownership, it is now instantiated by access. Where technology was once primarily “on” the campus, it is now increasingly “above” (or away from) the campus. Where technology was once a utility, it is now a potential strategic advantage.(endnote iii)
This brings me to a fifth major planning challenge. Alternative models of higher education have emerged, and students are increasingly choosing them. Some are smitten with the perceived cost-savings of education delivered via the Internet. But there is more to this development than just the money and convenience factors. We are on the cusp of a major shift in student demographics. Soon the incoming university class will be a cohort of “digital students” who, unless universities change, will struggle to find engagement in “analog schools.” They will likely demand education that embraces knowledge as something that is continuously created, not simply acquired and forever possessed. We will be pressed to commit to a new model of collaborative learning with our students. We already see these demands today, and we will need to embrace those adaptations that truly contribute to student success.
Additionally, students’ expectations are changing as for-profit universities offer, and extensively advertise, flexibility and convenience to match the realities of students’ lives. Degree options more immediately relevant to work and career resonate with students. Convenience of location and timing is achieved through technology and by stripping back to physical basics, eschewing co-curricular activities, athletics, extensive libraries, residence halls, and other features of the traditional campus. In many ways, this new model of higher education threatens the very definition of what we think of as a college or university, and yet many students are choosing it!
I see Cal State Northridge as a university well-positioned to continue to respond to these changes. Planning is necessary to move forward through this storm; we must chart a course that uses and builds on our strengths and sets an agenda for how we should and will respond to a rapidly and inexorably changing world.
We have been mindful and intentional in adjusting to new challenges, but we must, to reaffirm our commitment to tomorrow, now also become relentless in planning for them. We must set aside our hope that there will be another gold rush that would preserve our sense of entitlement to state dollars. We need to see the facts as they are, imagine practical alternatives without fixating on scapegoats, and accept that we must conserve resources. And, finally, we must neither wait for others to rescue us nor be surprised when our best ideas are frustrated, because in time, our efforts will prevail.
III. This year will see much work and additional planning that will allow us to reaffirm our commitment to tomorrow.
IV. Congratulations on a Year Well Done
Let me now congratulate the campus community on a year well done – a furloughed year well done. There is something in the Cal State Northridge DNA – a resiliency, a pragmatism, and confidence that “we can do it.” Through trying times, past and present, we have been mindful of our resources and remained focused on our mission, seeking improvements and learning to do our work better.
And so a few accomplishments from the past academic year.
Our mode is one of constant mindfulness about how to accomplish work efficiently while maintaining quality, and often improving it.
It doesn’t get any better than this praise!
Let’s hear it for our furloughed year of accomplishments at Cal State Northridge.
I close now with just a few words about dialogue and civility. As we look to the year and years ahead, I see many challenges, and yet I feel confident of this University’s future. That confidence is built on our already demonstrated capacity to carry out work, even very difficult work, with civility. The challenges facing public higher education – and Cal State Northridge in particular – can be met if we proceed in accord with our institutional commitment to maintaining dialogue with one another.
We in the Cal State Northridge community have done well in sustaining dialogue through uncertain and difficult times. University leaders – faculty, students, staff, and administrators – share a commitment to the highest standards of dialogue.
Recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and similar publications refer to a perceived decline in collegiality in higher education. If that is indeed the rule, let us seek to be its exception.
I entreat you now, as we continue forward during this time of challenge and change, to work to nurture dialogue so that we may sustain our University community and the life-altering work we do. Let us reaffirm our commitment to this University’s tomorrow.
ii) Daniel J. Hurley, “Considerations for State Colleges and Universities in a Post-Recession America,” American Association of State Colleges and Universities, November 2009, [Available at. http://www.congressweb.com/aascu/hurley.htm]
iii) Presentation by Diana G. Oblinger, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, “Leading the University of Tomorrow – Today,” Association of State Colleges and Universities Annual Meeting, November 2009. [Available at http://www.aascu.org/meetings/annual09/index.htm]
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