Reaching Together for Higher Heights
Mildred García Sets the Course for Her Presidency
Sept. 11, 2012
President Mildred García and CSU Trustee and CSUF alumnus Henry Mendoza
Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García shared her passion for higher education and charted a course for the coming year in her inaugural CSUF convocation address Tuesday.
“It is through higher education that we not only lift millions out of poverty into the middle class for themselves and the future generations of their families, but it is also the engine that catapults individuals to become our leaders, our scientists, our professionals and our innovators for the future,” said García, who serves on the federal President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence of Hispanic Americans.
Speaking before a responsive and appreciative audience of more than 600 faculty, staff and community members gathered inside Meng Concert Hall, she said: “I am excited about my new journey — working alongside all of you — beginning a new chapter in Fullerton’s solid history and to move CSU Fullerton to even higher heights.”
During her 45-minute address, she outlined three areas of focus for the academic year: “Setting our future horizons: completing the strategic plan; ensuring student success; and promoting Titan pride: friend raising and fundraising” and pledged to “work together to build upon the solid Fullerton foundation.”
She noted that since arriving in June, “I have learned much about Titan pride and culture, and I will continue listening and learning.”
She spoke of “the enormous fiscal challenges this state is confronting,” adding: “One thing I know for sure, Fullerton is strong and together, we will set our new directions, manage the fiscal crisis, provide evidence of our success to our external audiences and continuing to be successful in educating the diverse student body that enters our door and we have the honor to educate.”
The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time
Now in her third presidency, García reiterated her often-stated belief “that everyone working at a university is an educator,” acknowledging that “Fullerton has always been student centered, embracing our students, setting high academic standards and helping our students reach them, and then applauding and celebrating with them as they graduate and become successful global citizens and engaged alumni.
“I commit myself to working with you as your servant leader to ensure that we continue to aspire to be the premier comprehensive public university of our nation.”
She spoke with passion about the state’s disinvestment in higher education and issued a call to action: “This disinvestment should have our families and the citizens in California up in arms fighting back and saying ‘this must stop!’
“As Secretary of Education Duncan has stated, education has become the civil rights issue of our time. And I would add that we should be addressing this issue as forcefully as we did in the ’60s and ’70s!”
Proposition 30 on November Ballot
In looking ahead to the fiscal hurdle on the near horizon, she noted that unless voters approve Proposition 30 on the November ballot, the CSU’s budget will be cut by $250 million, which would result in a $20 million cut for Cal State Fullerton.
García spoke of the collaboration and planning that has been under way to address potential cuts, of the involvement by many individuals and groups in this effort and also what lies ahead.
“The economic crisis, as well as the possibility of additional cuts in 2013-14 requires us to plan for cuts to our baseline budget. That will require some difficult dialogues and decisions to be made across the campus using a holistic approach that best serves the entire university and our students.”
She also noted that “while our budget situation is bleak, our future is shaped by the strength of this institution and by our willingness to come together to continue to constantly improve on our excellence.”
The new president directed campus members to the University’s Budget website to learn more about Proposition 30 and about proposed cuts to the CSU. She pledged to keep the campus community informed as budget developments surface.
At various points in her address, she made a point of thanking faculty and staff members, community and alumni volunteers, including leaders and members of various committees, for their efforts in strategic planning, accreditation and in preparing for the fiscal challenges ahead.
“I again want to thank the Fullerton community under President Gordon’s leadership. I am deeply grateful and thankful for the prudent ways carry-forward dollars have been preserved.”
Audience members applauded when she said “we owe a debt of gratitude to Interim Provost Steve Murray for delaying his retirement to continue to provide leadership in Academic Affairs.”
WASC and the Strategic Plan
“We are now in the home stretch in sharpening and finalizing the strategic plan, which must provide us the road map clearly focusing and defining who we are and who we want to become given where we are today,” she said, offering congratulations for “the seriousness” of the campus community’s strategic planning efforts.
García quoted from the report by the campus team shepherding CSUF through the accreditation process of the Western Association of School and Colleges (WASC).
“It is now time for us, and I quote, ‘to take the next much harder steps — specifying clear strategic priorities that will guide decision-making, and then use those priorities to make tough decisions about where scarce University resources should go, and where they should not’ unquote.”
She noted that the WASC letter received July 3 affirming the University’s accreditation for seven years “supported the team’s observations.”
The president also announced that she had appointed Jolene Koester, president emeritus of Cal State Northridge, as facilitator to “help us move toward completing the strategic plan and providing the specificity outlined by the WASC Commission.
“Our goal is to develop a completed strategic plan using a universitywide process,” she said, setting next spring as the target for completion.
To further that effort, García announced an Oct. 12 town hall and that later this month, she will convene a newly constituted Strategic Planning Steering Committee, co-chaired by Robert W. Mead, associate professor of economics and chair of the Academic Senate’s Planning Resource and Budget Committee, and Jennifer Faust, associate vice president for academic affairs.
“It is so important that we provide opportunities for all voices to have input into our important work,” she said. “Everyone’s voice is essential to the success of developing a strategic plan for the University …”
Enhancing Student Success
Exalting in the diversity of CSUF students Garcia said: “Our student body comes from everywhere; we mirror the country’s changing demographics, and we are that educational laboratory, where students from different cultural and educational backgrounds and all walks of life enter our door; we embrace them and we pledge to see them succeed.”
She also set a high bar for the institution in the arena of enhancing student success, which she identified as “one of our most important institutional priorities.”
She continued: “Within our strategic plan goals, we proclaim that we will be the premier comprehensive public university in the state, and I’m going to change that to in the nation,” she said, eliciting murmurs in the audience. “To reach that goal, we must address our retention and graduation rates, as well as document and provide evidence to the quality of our student learning.
“As the largest CSU in the system with a diverse student body and a faculty and staff second to none, we can be that model comprehensive premier institution that others look to, in order to learn from us … about success — especially when it comes to student learning, retention and graduation.”
In addressing the dip in the institution’s overall six-year graduation rate from 51 to 50 percent in the past year and in the achievement gap for underrepresented students, she said: “We all know that students do not come to college to fail.” She also pressed for an examination of “why our graduation rates shouldn’t be higher.”
García said: “Our goal must be to improve student persistence, close the graduation gap and increase graduation rates.”
To further this goal, she announced her plan to reconstitute the Graduation Initiative Committee to be co-chaired by Ed Trotter, interim associate vice president for academic affairs, and Berenecea Johnson Eanes, vice president for student affairs. The committee members are to “take the lead on assisting us institutionally to become a data-informed action university that takes action for student success, across the divisions …”
She also spoke of the plan to compile a comprehensive inventory of student success initiatives, along with documenting “high-impact practices,” which are indicators for student success.
“High-impact practices include learning communities, writing-intensive courses, engaging undergraduate students in faculty research, service learning and internships in the major,” she said. “The focus will be to document … how many of our students are engaged in these practices and determine if increased graduation and retention rates hold true for those engaged in high-impact practices, and if so, how do we enhance successful high-impact practices for student success.”
Promoting Titan Pride
García spoke of the campus working together to “more clearly define who we are, what makes us different from our 22 sister CSU campuses; we can then brand and, yes, market the University.”
She noted that “because of our commitment to excellence and awareness of our achievements we need to obtain the necessary resources to support faculty research, to support student scholarships and to have institutional vitality.”
In her role as president, she pledged to “spend time internally and externally in our Orange County communities and beyond to talk about our focused directions and sharing the wonderful accomplishments at Cal State Fullerton.”
Garcia closed her remarks by saying: “I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as your new president. I stand in awe of all of you, the faculty and staff, who are second to none.”
By: Paula Selleck, 657-278-4856