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Cal State Fullerton’s First Virtual Convocation: The State of the University

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When President Fram Virjee greeted his Zoom audience at Cal State Fullerton’s first virtual convocation address on Sept. 10, he wasted no time in thanking faculty and staff for their diligent work during the COVID-19 pandemic and then announced his support for tackling what he called our nation’s “true plague” — systemic racism. 

Social Justice and Anti-Racism
“This is not just our nation’s history but our beloved institution’s history as well,” he said. “Yes, we have always endeavored to be a beacon for social justice, equity and inclusion, and in so many ways we have succeeded … but not always,” Virjee said.

“We must allow our hearts to break for all the hearts that we, as a nation and a people, have broken. Only then can healing come. Only then can we be the change we seek.

“Colleagues and friends, there are too many among us — faculty, staff and students — who are just not okay. They are not okay with seeing people who look like them getting shot in the back. They are not okay with inequitable access to health care, education, property, safety and upward mobility. They are not okay with being both invisible and hyper visible everywhere from our classrooms to our boardrooms. And to paraphrase LA Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, they are not okay continuing to love a country that does not seem to love them back.” 

So how do we move forward?

First, in a cross-campus collaboration, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programs created “Titans Together: Striving for Justice, Equity and Inclusion.” This is a comprehensive commitment to attacking systemic racism, rooting out discrimination and building the beloved community. There will be anti-racism training and diversity, equity and inclusion frameworks in all six divisions. And there is a campus-wide “common read” (“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez) with supporting activities. 

Virjee is working closely with Christ Our Redeemer (the largest Black church in Orange County) to hold a series of town halls and panels on issues related to social justice and racism. He also convened a social justice working group with local community college leaders and a cohort of university presidents and chancellors from across the nation. 

So far, some of the efforts are beginning to pay off. For example, in Fall 2012, the ethnic/gender breakdown of tenure track faculty was white (68%), Asian (20%), Latinx (8%), Black (3%) and female (43%). Fast forward to this Fall’s newly hired and tenure-track faculty and the numbers are a bit different: White (32%), Asian (32%), Latinx (28%), Black (5.4%) and female (62%). In total, CSUF now has a tenured and tenure-track faculty comprised of 11.3% Latinx (a 41% increase over the past eight years), 3.8% Black (a 27% increase), 25% Asian (a 25% increase) and 49% female (a 14% increase). 

“As proud as we are of these improvements, we are nowhere near done,” Virjee emphasized. “Our commitment to recruiting and retaining high-quality and diverse faculty and staff remains unwavering.” 

When it comes to students, more Latinx students earned their degrees at Cal State Fullerton than ever before. More Latinx women earned degrees than any year in the university’s history. More underrepresented students earned a degree, and the equity gap for first-time freshmen students improved by nearly 70%. First-year retention rates for Black students showed a 35% improvement over the past four years, and for Black women it increased to 56% — the highest number in CSUF history. 

“We were number one in California for conferring bachelor’s degrees to Latinx students and number two in the nation for graduating underrepresented students.” 

CSUF Progress Over the Past Year 
Among the successes that Cal State Fullerton has achieved over the past year include: 

Graduation Rates

  • The four-year graduation rates for first-time freshmen went from 29% to over 32%, an 11% increase and the highest rate ever at CSUF.
  • Both two- and four-year graduation rates for transfer students improved to record highs, and we are nipping at the heels of the GI2025 goals five years early in these categories as well.  
  • The university successfully achieved a ten-year WASC accreditation. 

Academic Affairs 

  • Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carolyn Thomas (and an alumna!) started in her new role this summer.
  • The Faculty Development Center delivered 31 multi-day sessions of the new faculty-designed “Teaching Remotely” course to over 1,100 faculty registrants, bringing the number of faculty who participated in professional development courses this summer to nearly 3,500. 
  • The Academic Advisement Center Team virtually supported a record number of over 5,400 first-time freshmen enrolling for the fall semester and completing all virtual general education training modules.
  • 92.2% of the first-time freshmen were registered as full-time students and half are carrying 15 units so they can finish in four years.
  • The Office of Research and Sponsored Projects secured a record-high $31.5 million in grants and contracts. 

Student Affairs

  • Student-athletes recorded the highest cumulative GPA in history with an awesome 3.32, and the all-athlete Academic Progress Rate was a record 979 out of 1,000. 
  • Women’s Soccer and Women’s Cross Country both brought home Big West Championships.  

Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion
They, as did many others, pivoted on a dime back in March, quickly shifting many programs to virtual modalities including major events such as: 

  • Titan Family Engagement Day
  • The What Brings Us Together Luncheon, and
  • University Awards 

Information Technology

  • The Division of Information Technology excelled in their usual partnerships such as one with Academic and Student Affairs, growing access to high impact practices from 14,971 students participating in 591 course sections two years ago to 17,097 students participating in more than 880 course sections a year later.
  • But when we transitioned to virtual modalities, the IT division helped fill much of the digital divide by providing thousands of laptops, MiFi hotspots and other technology support. 

Administration and Finance

  • The Division of Administration and Finance capped off an incredible year with the unanimous Board of Trustees approval of our new student housing facility AND our first Physical Master Plan in more than 15 years. 
  • They led our continued refurbishing of the library. 
  • The eastside parking structure was completed, adding 1,900 parking spaces with energy-efficient lighting and a solar canopy. 
  • Staff members from this division worked all summer to exceed all national guidelines on disinfecting the campus and installing safety protocols to keep returning Titans safe. 
  • Just over a year ago, the University Police Department ran towards danger. Our men and women (and dog) of the UPD are prepared to do that every single day. They receive, on average, 20,000 annual calls. Fewer than 0.05% require use of force. 

The Budget 
“And finally, before I move on from talking about Administration and Finance, I should address the budget. I can speak on a few things regarding our 2020-21 budget,” Virjee said.

“First, our share of the final $299 million system-wide baseline budget cut stands at $24 million. This is on top of the $35 million in losses we have experienced, to date, in our self-funded enterprises such as parking and housing, and our more than $4 million in unexpected COVID-related expenditures (much of this is tied to IT expenditures in our move to virtual teaching and learning). 

“Despite the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, we were not caught entirely unprepared.

“Over the past two budget cycles we have worked very hard to reduce our structural budget deficit. This established some limited reserves that empowered us to both cover our losses and live up to our educational commitments. Further, as we began to prepare for COVID-19 back in January, the belt-tightening measures we implemented gave us a little more breathing room. 

“All of this, in conjunction with the significant resources ($40M) we received and dispersed from the CARES Act, has been crucial these past few months.

“That said, we have already faced the unfortunate reality of layoffs — either from lack of work or lack of funds, or both. We hope to minimize any further layoffs this academic year through belt-tightening and drawing down on our reserves, and we do not plan to negotiate a furlough program for this fiscal year; although it is quite possible next year.”

University Advancement
University Advancement managed to successfully launch our campus’ first comprehensive philanthropic campaign. We are now at 78% of our $200 million goal after recording the highest fundraising year in our history with total philanthropic gift commitments exceeding $37 million (shattering last year’s record of $28 million). 

We met or exceeded donor total goals including parents, alumni, individuals, class gift and faculty and staff.

The number of major gifts and foundation proposals grew, and the division had the highest number of planned gifts in CSUF history. It was also the highest cash year in the university’s history, and CSUF received the single largest cash gift ever recorded. 

Looking Back
“Titan Family, if we can do all of that together, years from now, we won’t look back at this academic year and think about all the heartache and strife,” Virjee concluded. “Instead, we will look back and say, ‘That was the year that changed everything — that WE changed everything.’

“But, before we can look at our past and say, ‘that was the year,’ we have to look at our present and say, ‘now is the time.'”

Contact: Valerie Orleans,