Spring assembly 2009 speech – President John D. Welty

Home|PRESS RELEASES|Spring assembly 2009 speech – President John D. Welty

Spring assembly 2009 speech – President John D. Welty

Good afternoon and welcome as we come together on an historic day for our country.

As we watched the inauguration of President Obama this morning, the word “opportunity” kept coming to my mind.

I was struck by how Mr. Obama rose to the Presidency, so astutely taking advantage of the opportunities created by his own abilities and hard work, as well as the opportunities presented by our nation’s social and political evolution.

“Opportunity” is a watchword at Fresno State. We are a university of opportunity, providing the welcoming environment, excellent instruction and caring support services that encourage students of all backgrounds to thrive and succeed.

Today is a great time to celebrate our students who take advantage of the opportunities we give them to earn their degrees and achieve their career goals.

While there are many, many examples that I could cite, let me highlight just three individuals who turned Fresno State opportunities into success stories.

First, is Fresno’s new mayor, Ashley Swearengin. Ashley earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from our Craig School of Business and worked in marketing before seizing an opportunity during graduate school that changed her career course. An entrepreneurship class in the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got her hooked on economic development and Ashley began working to improve Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley.

As Director of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State and co-founder and CEO of the Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative, she worked to create jobs and educational opportunities throughout our region. That experience helped in her campaign for mayor.

James Harris was a rebellious teenager growing up in a poor Fresno neighborhood, but a guidance counselor helped him complete high school and enroll at Fresno State. By this time, James was already married with a young child.

James’ childhood dream to be a doctor was nurtured by Fresno State faculty and our Health Careers Opportunities Program, but it wasn’t easy. Even with financial assistance, he had to work full time to pay for school and support his growing family. One semester, when his wife was pregnant with their second child, James was forced to drop out. That was disheartening, but he found the will to return and to excel, raising his GPA from a 2.5 when he came to campus to nearly a 4.0 when he graduated.

James went to UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and today is a surgical intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He and his wife have three children. Best of all, when his training is completed, James plans to return to the Fresno area to practice and raise his family.

I met senior Christina Arredondo of Kerman just last month and was impressed with how wisely she is taking advantage of every opportunity available at Fresno State to reach her goals.

Christina’s parents are from Mexico and don’t speak English, but they made it clear their 12 children were expected to take advantage of higher education opportunities. Ten of them have earned college degrees already. Christina and one brother are at Fresno State. She will graduate this spring with a degree in management.

Because Christina’s parents could not help her financially, she has taken advantage of loans, scholarships and grants. She also works as a student assistant in the Industrial Technology office.

After she graduates, Christina wants to earn a single-subject teaching credential to help children who may come from circumstances like hers. I bet she’ll encourage them to look for opportunities at Fresno State.

What wonderful examples Ashley, James and Christina are of the success of Fresno State students. We should keep them — and all of our students — in mind as we go about our work. And that is especially true this spring, as we work through some very difficult fiscal issues.

Even on our most difficult days, we should remember that Ashley, James and Christina took advantage of what we have to offer, overcame obstacles and succeeded. We should be proud that each of us plays a part in helping all of our current and future students overcome barriers, take advantage of opportunities and succeed.

Our nation, state and university are facing unprecedented economic challenges that trouble us personally and professionally. But, I want to underscore one point that I made in my message to the university community before the holidays and to reassure you that we have been making plans to meet these challenges for the past two years. We were not caught unaware and we will work together to move forward.

Some of you remember or heard about the early 1990s, when a state fiscal crisis deeply affected our campus. I must be honest with you that today’s budget outlook is even more daunting – but – we are better prepared. We have something very important on our side this time: Our planning and budgeting process is dramatically improved and I am confident we will be able to address this crisis more effectively. But it is going to be painful.

Now, let me bring you up to date on the issue foremost in everybody’s mind – the state and CSU budget situations.

As you recall the 2008/09 budget was approved unusually late this year. Included in that original 08/09 budget was a $4.6 million reduction to Fresno State. The cabinet worked together to implement those cuts with no reduction in staff and minimal impact to instruction.

The Governor requested an additional mid-year reduction of $31 million in the fall semester for our system, which was a second campus reduction of $1.7 million, although this was a one-time cut. Enrollment caps were implemented in order to keep FTE targets in line with our budgets.

Just last week Chancellor Reed announced another reduction of approximately $66.3 million systemwide, which is a $3.6 million reduction to the 2008/09 campus budget. Unlike the previous mid-year reduction, this will be a permanent reduction to our campus budgets.

As you may have already recognized, California is in the middle of the most serious financial calamity the state has ever seen. No one can adequately predict what we’re really facing for the remainder of the 2008/09 fiscal year because of the state’s crippled position caused by its lack of cash and inability to borrow.

As you can imagine it’s extremely difficult to plan in an environment plagued with uncertainty. Let me recap what we do know with certainty: In mid-December the state abruptly halted thousands of construction projects across California and shut down hundreds of projects throughout the CSU due to a lack of cash to meet bond obligations and construction commitments.

The campus leadership has been diligent in ensuring that students are able to access the new library. But the critical question that we’ve been forced to answer is how much cash is needed to open the library, or in more simple terms, pay outstanding bills and complete construction and buy furnishings and equipment. Unfortunately this is a daunting number of over $10 million in cash that the campus simply doesn’t have for capital projects. But that’s not all!

Because of the unprecedented circumstances, we also have to forecast how much cash we may need if we were forced to operate the campus for the remaining fiscal year with limited cash from the state of California. I am encouraged that cash may soon become available to pay all outstanding construction bills promptly. But we may see continual delays in our ability to place orders for all remaining furnishings needed to complete this important project.

In our case, I am focused to ensure that we can cover salaries and mandatory obligations in this constrained environment.

So as you can see fiscal year 2008/09 still has a lot of challenges and in response to the additional reductions I am continuing the hiring freeze that was implemented in early 2008/09 and adding several severe restrictions on travel and procurement activity. All of us must make efforts to curtail spending and preserve campus cash balances for all state, non-state and foundation funds.

Now if we look toward the 2009/10 budget, Governor Schwarzenegger’s most recent proposal has four main components:

  1. Reduce spending by $17.4 billion in education, health and human services, and prisons.
  2. Increase revenues by $14.3 billion, mainly from a temporary 1.5-cent increase in state sales and use taxes.
  3. Economic stimulus by creating jobs.
  4. Make government more efficient by such steps as streamlining our energy functions and consolidating information technology.

The CSU requested $217.3 million in compact funding for operating costs and 2.5% increase in enrollment growth. The compact was not funded. Instead the Governor proposed adopting the permanent reduction of the $66.3 million — or the 3rd 2008/09 operating cut that I mentioned earlier — as the base reduction for the 2009/10 CSU budget.

The Governor’s budget also assumes that the CSU Board of Trustees will increase student fee by 10%, which would generate $130 million in revenues, with one-third of that set aside for student financial aid. The budget provides $3.6 million in new state funds for 340 full-time equivalent nursing students.

Between mandatory fixed costs, enrollment costs and financial aid set-aside, the 2009/10 proposed budget is short by approximately $15.8 million dollars.

These proposals are all subject to approval by the legislature.

Given all the fiscal uncertainty around 2008/09 and then into 2009/10, I am working with the Vice-Presidents to enact reductions in the most prudent and practical way possible.

The vice presidents are working with their units to develop individual budget plans for 2009/10 and I will host a budget summit on Feb. 12, where key campus leaders will join me to discuss how we might deal with potential funding reductions. Suggestions generated in the summit will be made available to the entire University Community. Today I am sending a communication to the campus community asking for suggestions for addressing the budget situation in 2009/10. These suggestions will be considered at the budget summit.

The budget principles adopted by the cabinet earlier this month give highest priority to helping our students stay on track toward their degrees and maintaining adequate staffing to provide needed services, without any compromises on campus safety and health.

It will not be easy, of course, but these principles will guide us in maintaining and broadening revenue development and in identifying areas where we can make changes or take advantage of technology to be more efficient.

I encourage you to share with your unit leaders any ideas about ways we can maximize our budget dollars.

Briefly, the principles are:

  • Ensure courses are available to students so they get degrees on time and we meet our enrollment target.
  • Maintain services and critical positions at an adequate level.
  • No compromise to campus community’s safety and health, while addressing welfare of students and employees.
  • Propose reductions consistent with University Plan for Excellence priorities.
  • Continue to grow grant, contract and philanthropic revenue streams.
  • Utilize technology to improve educational effectiveness, focus and efficiency.
  • Consider consolidating or restructuring offices, departments or programs to reduce costs and duplication.
  • Examine processes and procedures that could be eliminated, suspended or modified to reduce costs.
  • Increase and identify new revenue opportunities.
  • Consider what expenditures can be delayed or deferred.

Although the situation worsens by the day, the Legislature and Governor talk, but don’t act to resolve it. I urge all of you to contact your State Senator and Assemblymember and implore them to act immediately. We, as citizens – and our students – deserve and demand action. Now is the time for our elected officials to accept their responsibility.

I again want to reassure you that we will be ready to respond and take additional action whenever the state acts. My goal — to the degree that we can — is to have a tentative 2009-10 University budget plan in place by April.

The Cabinet members and I pledge to work hard to maintain the people, programs and services needed to continue our important work and serve our students. Vice President Cindy Matson is overseeing the university’s cash flow analyses and working with cabinet to address questions about our fiscal position. Further details will be provided on the University Budget Office Web site as they become available.

During the upcoming weeks and months, we should look for opportunities that may not have been apparent before. Homer once said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”

Our administration, faculty and staff form an incredible team. We are committed to minimizing negative impacts on our community as we strive to keep our university strong, protect the academic mission and ensure that students continue to receive the excellent education to which they are entitled.

An example of the fine leadership on campus is Dr. Tim Stearns. Let me add my personal congratulations to Tim as the recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence.

Tim represents the extraordinary commitment of our faculty and staff who daily challenge students to learn more and achieve their aspirations, while engaging in scholarly work that makes a difference.

Thank you, Tim.

Today we also recognize another leader of our community who has made an incredible impact and soon leaves us to join the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach. Provost Jeri Echeverria, please stand.

Jeri, I offer my personal thanks for your extraordinary work here, and I’m sure the entire university joins me in wishing you the best. Godspeed as you embark on this exciting new chapter in your career.

We certainly will miss Jeri, but we have another fine leader — Dr. Dennis Nef — who has agreed to fill the Provost’s spot on an interim basis while we conduct a national search. Dennis please stand and be recognized.

We have retained Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates to assist us in the Provost search. I welcome your nominations and suggestions so we can complete the search before the end of the spring semester.

It’s certainly reassuring that negative news about the economy and its impacts on the CSU has not affected our power to attract students to Fresno State. Other CSU schools have suffered lower application rates, but our applicant pool has remained so strong we had to close our application filing for first-time freshmen three weeks early. While we will continue to meet our target assigned by the Chancellor’s Office, we know that our students and the community see Fresno State as a highly valued and desirable destination campus.

And speaking of students, they — and all of us — are looking forward to the opening of the new Madden Library. As I mentioned earlier, last month the state halted funding for thousands of public works projects, including our library, which was on schedule to open in early February.

We decided that wouldn’t completely deter us. I want to thank the Administrative Services staff and especially the team in facilities management under the leadership of Associate Vice President Bob Boyd, and Library faculty and staff under the leadership of Dean Peter McDonald, who worked through Winter Break to determine how we could open the building and provide services to our community.

Because serving our students is our No. 1 priority, on Feb. 20 we will open the new north wing’s collection level, first, second and third floors, as well as the renovated south wing. Because purchase orders are on hold and the campus cash position is constrained, the new wing will open with sparse furnishings and equipment.

We’ll also have to delay relocating the Learning Resource Center and Office of Services to Students with Disabilities and occupying the Harold Haak Administrative Center on the Library’s new fourth floor until we get the state go-ahead.

Also on hold at Fresno State are the renovation of the Nursing Lab and all capital outlay projects.

That aside, let’s focus on our long-anticipated, magnificent new library and the beautifully redesigned Peace Garden. I invite you to join me at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the library at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 19.

And I have more good news to report: Our Campaign for Fresno State — whose target was raising $100 million in its “quiet phase” by December 31, 2008 — surpassed its goal! As of the end of last month, our team raised over $102 million!

Congratulations to the entire Advancement division under the direction of Vice President Peter Smits and Associate Vice President Mary Anna Dunn, who work closely alongside our volunteers headed by Jan and Bud Richter. Congratulations as well to all of our deans and others in the university family who have been part of this effort.

It is gratifying to see that even during uncertain economic times, generous donors are willing to step up with small and large contributions. To date, nearly 20,000 donors — yes, 20,000 individuals and organizations — have contributed to help Fresno State power the New California.

Here is a review of our donations and commitments of $1 million or more:

  • The Boeing Company for honors scholarships in Engineering
  • The Edward and Alberta Brown Trust for scholarships in Arts and Humanities
  • The California Endowment grants for the Health Policy Institute
  • Chukchansi Gold to support athletics
  • Dianne and Arnold Gazarian to create the Gazarian Real Estate Center
  • A bequest that named the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market and provided an endowment for our equine program
  • The John Harvey Estate, to create John and Cora Harvey Scholarships in agriculture
  • Bill Lyles, his family and companies resulting in the naming of the Lyles College of Engineering
  • The Meyers Farms Family Trust as the lead gift for a sports medicine center
  • Jan and Bud Richter to support the efforts of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning
  • Table Mountain Rancheria for the Madden Library
  • Tachi Palace to support athletics

Five other commitments from donors who prefer privacy, supporting scholarships and various academic programs

To build on this wonderful nucleus fund success, we now move into the public phase of the campaign, including expansion of the “family campaign,” which invites those of us on campus to contribute.

Already, 668 current and former faculty and staff members have participated, giving over one million dollars! I don’t expect any of you to be individual million-dollar contributors — but feel free to surprise me!

Seriously, gifts of any size make a difference. Remember those students we highlighted earlier who took advantage of opportunities at Fresno State to achieve their dreams? Your generosity will assure those success stories continue into our university’s second century.

To celebrate the kickoff of the public phase of the campaign, we will have a special event for the campus and a community event in the coming months. Please watch for campus announcements and join the festivities.

While we’re talking about good news, I want to share with you that our Division of Student Affairs is working to preserve two student success initiatives that focus on improving student retention — Supplement Instruction and SupportNet.

Supplemental Instruction, a peer-assisted academic support program, has helped reduce failure rates in difficult classes by raising the average of participating students one grade level over nonparticipants. We will offer SI in at least four courses this semester.

Initial data on SupportNet, an early warning program, shows 68 faculty members used the system to refer nearly 200 struggling students in their Fall classes. Seventy-five of those received academic coaching and/or were referred to student support services on campus.

Congratulations to the team headed by Dr. Oliaro who completed our 18-month NCAA certification process. In their exit report, an NCAA Peer Review Team commended our campus for the thoroughness of our self-study and for the broad-based involvement of the campus. They offered high praise for the work already accomplished and for the direction that our Athletics program has taken under Thomas Boeh’s leadership.

The committee’s announcement on certification is expected in early April. We believe we are in a good position to again be certified by the NCAA.

Congratulations also to University High School, which for the second year has been nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Out of the 21,069 schools studied, University High was ranked the 45th best in the country.

Plans for construction of the permanent University High campus just west of the Smittcamp Alumni House are ready to go. Unfortunately, the project is another victim of state budget inaction — delayed until funds are released.

Another project of interest, Campus Pointe, IS moving ahead with the developer expecting a summer opening for the workforce housing complex you’ve probably seen taking shape.

This semester, we’ll also consult with students to begin the process for building a parking structure, potentially on the west end of campus. We’re evaluating locations proposed by our master planners and analyzing costs for each option. The project would be funded by a student parking permit increase and other ancillary revenues.

A different kind of construction — last week’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — was an example of the many exciting ways Fresno State connects with the community.

Our involvement was two-fold. First, Fresno State students, faculty and staff were among the thousands of volunteers who helped build a new house for the Riojas family. Second, we are offering grants covering instructional fees for Ms. Riojas and her four children to attend Fresno State. They will have to qualify, just like any other student, but then they will have the opportunity to accomplish their dreams.

Helping the Riojas family reminds us that many of our neighbors need our help – especially now. I urge all of you to seek out community volunteer opportunities and let our Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning know what you’re involved in.

Another example of our campus’ generosity is the California State Employees Charitable Campaign, which ended in November. This year we had a 19.9% increase in donations for a total of $44,002. And congratulations to University Advancement, winner of the President’s Community Giving Award for their unit having the highest percentage of contributors.

We have had many faculty accomplishments since our last meeting.

Steven Church’s efforts launched The Normal School, a new Fresno State literary journal this past Fall.

Just last week, he received word that Barnes & Noble, the nation’s biggest bookseller, will carry The Normal School in its stores throughout the country.

The inaugural issue includes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, with poems by Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine, an emeritus English professor. Besides Steven, the publication’s editors are his English Department colleagues David Durham, Alex Espinoza, Corrinne Clegg Hales, Tim Skeen, John Hales and Steve Yarbrough, plus emerita professor Lillian Faderman. Congratulations on this fine publication

Also last week, the efforts of our grounds and arboretum department were recognized by Fresno State becoming just the 16th university in the nation to receive Tree Campus USA status, recognizing our commitment to the trees and other plantings on campus. Our congratulations to Ryan McCaughey and his team for keeping our campus beautiful and winning this award.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for the outstanding work you do for our university. I ask for your patience and assistance in facing the challenges this semester and beyond.

We have so much to be thankful for — dedicated and distinguished faculty, interested and hard-working students, faithful and talented staff, and excellent administrators. Now is the time for us to work collaboratively to tighten our belts for the short term while safeguarding academic quality in meeting our mission of excellence.

Thank you and I will be happy to take questions you may have.

Related links: