President Papazian’s December Blog

Welcome to the first installment of what will become a monthly communication to the San José State University community.

As I settle into my first year as president of San José State, I want to take the opportunity to reach out to you regularly with updates on the latest developments on campus and beyond. I also will use this space to highlight the accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff—so if there are items that you would like to bring to my attention, please email my assistant, Zaynna Tello, at

The end of fall term is an apt opportunity for us to celebrate accomplishments and progress on key initiatives and for me to share initial impressions from my early months as your president.

Toward sustained stability, leadership

The traditional academic year unfolds along a somewhat predictable pace that I know is familiar to many of you. While this fall has in some respects been anything but “ordinary,” I am confident that SJSU is on a path toward stability and extraordinary opportunity.

This summer, you welcomed me as your new president—warmly and enthusiastically, I should add—and we have begun to fill other key academic and administrative leadership posts. I observed in August that I was fortunate to have inherited a highly capable leadership team. Several months later, I’m even more convinced of this.

Next year, we will welcome new deans to lead the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business and the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering while conducting recruitments for a new permanent dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education and a new vice president for Information Technology/Chief Information Officer. As I mentioned in announcing our intent to elevate the latter role to a cabinet-level position, a truly integrated and strategic technology infrastructure is essential to all of our efforts.

Faculty and staff achievement and collaboration

In the meantime, I have been deeply impressed by our faculty’s dedication, expertise across countless disciplines, and commitment to student success and scholarship. Although it is impossible to cite all of them here, I want to recognize several examples of excellence in teaching and scholarship.  I know you will be as proud of our colleagues as am I!

  • Department of Communication Studies Associate Professor Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel The Kite Runner opens at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End on December 21 and runs through March 11, 2017.
  • Associate Professor of Astrophysics Aaron Romanowsky and several international colleagues discovered a massive galaxy that exists entirely of dark matter. (You can read the abstract online.) Romanowsky has another article pending in Nature.
  • Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Rachael French and Assistant Professor of Health Science & Recreation Miranda Worthen received SJSU’s Early Career Investigator Awards for their research efforts.
  • The Online Learning Consortium awarded SJSU the Award for Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching for its exemplary support of faculty development for both hybrid and online courses. Jennifer Redd, the director of eCampus, received the award on behalf of the campus on Nov. 19.
  • Debra Griffith, AVP for Student Transition and Retention Services, in November was named a 2017 CSU Wang Family Excellence Award winner, recognizing her service to SJSU students over the past 16 years.

Supporting diversity and action

Many of you know that faculty diversity lags behind that of our student population. I want to acknowledge the good work of Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies Magdalena Barrera and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Rebeca Burciaga, who are serving as Faculty-In-Residence seeking to diversify our faculty during a period of intensified recruiting. (We are in the midst of adding more than 130 new faculty positions over a two-year period.)

Magdalena and Rebeca actively have consulted faculty search committees, provided informative data assessments and insights, and meet regularly with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and others to support campus-wide efforts to diversify candidate pools.

Others of you have worked to ensure that we celebrate and support our community’s rich diversity. Our African-American and Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Task Forces have intensified efforts on behalf of student success through academic tutoring, finals week study sessions, other engagement activities and cultural celebrations. In addition, nine faculty members participated in a pilot program this fall, living in our residence halls as part of a pilot program seeking ways to better engage students.

Our Faculty Fellows initiative has amplified the work of our PRIDE and MOSAIC centers, helping identify ways to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. 2016 Faculty Fellows include Erica Boas, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Social Science Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Department; Funie Hsu, an assistant professor of American Studies; Manolo Callahan, a Mexican American Studies professor at MOSAIC, and Stephanie Preston, a counselor with SJSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services department supporting the PRIDE Center.

As many of you know, the fall semester also brought us many challenges related to diversity. I am grateful for the dedicated work of our nascent Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, led by Chief Diversity Officer Kathleen Wong(Lau). Through campus programming, targeted training, guided conversations and thoughtful engagement with individual campus community members, Kathy and her colleagues are deepening SJSU’s commitment to a welcoming, inclusive community. This work will be more important than ever as we enter 2017.

On January 24, SJSU will host what I am confident will be a compelling symposium at the Hammer Theatre Center, in partnership with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). This event—Sport, Activism and Social Change: From Words to Action—will feature an impressive array of panelists and also will serve to introduce the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at SJSU. You will hear much more about this in early January.

Students: at the heart of it all

The success and engagement of our students is something of which we all can be proud.  I feel uniquely blessed by abundant opportunities to see our remarkable students in action. As is the case with our faculty and staff members, I can’t possibly herald everything that our students are doing, but let me offer a few examples:

Helping students succeed 

Even before arriving in San José, I was aware of the impressive, holistic efforts underway at SJSU to ensure college readiness, enhance student retention, and shorten the time to a degree. This work is too complex and requires too much integration to be led by any single campus unit; indeed, every one of us contributes in some way to ensuring student success.

Our Spartan Scholars Program was launched last summer to prepare at-risk students for the difficult transition from high school to college. New advising tools were added to aid students’ navigation through the complex maze of selecting courses and tracking degree requirements. New class sections were added to reduce bottlenecks; and more academic advisors are being hired.

I am very encouraged by signs that this work, collaboratively guided by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, is paying dividends: Our four-year graduation rate has already risen from 10 to 14 percent; the six-year rate has risen from 57 to 62 percent; the underrepresented student achievement gap (which measures differential achievement among students from multiple racial and ethnic categories) has shrunk from 17 percent to 11 percent.

There is much more to be done if we are to meet (and exceed!) the four and six-year graduation targets established by the CSU by 2025. To that end, we joined with Assemblymember Evan Low to convene a Student Success Summit on September 30, beginning a solution-focused conversation about student success with representatives from K-12, community colleges, the CSU and local education foundations. This work will continue in 2017.

Adding building blocks for our community to thrive

Numerous steps were taken this fall to address our aging infrastructure. We dedicated the beautiful expansion and renovation of our Diaz Compean Student Union, fueled by a $15 million gift from Silicon Valley philanthropist Lupe Compean. Campus Village II opened, adding more than 800 new residential beds. Work began on both a student recreation and aquatic center (on the site formerly occupied by SJSU’s legacy “bricks” residence halls) and the initial phase of a planned overhaul of our South Campus athletic facilities.

Dudley Moorhead Hall is scheduled to reopen in January after months of extensive renovation work. And CSU trustees approved plans for the addition of a Science and Innovation Center, which, when built, will be the first new academic space on our campus in more than three decades.

Engaging beyond our borders

I’ve invested considerable time this fall meeting community and business leaders, elected officials and others to listen, learn and engage. While this at times takes me away from campus, the time invested is essential to building partnerships and attracting support for our shared efforts. I have heard—over and over—tremendous community support for SJSU and a desire that we be at the table for important conversations about the future of our region.

Of course, many of you also are actively engaged with the City of San Jose, County of Santa Clara and innumerable regional organizations and foundations—far too many to mention them all here. I have, however, sensed opportunities for SJSU to step up its regional engagement to ensure long-overdue transportation improvements, find solutions to the region’s housing crisis, and even more effectively meet the region’s evolving and growing workforce needs.

I was energized by strong engagement with local, state and federal officials and their enthusiasm for supporting our students and our mission. We are working actively—in close collaboration with the CSU and others—on an array of opportunities to bring additional resources and enhance our ability to serve students. Several lawmakers have expressed interest in supporting campus capital needs, which today are constrained by limited support from the state.

To leverage these opportunities and others, we will need to be continually attentive, engaged and ready to bring our intellectual assets and other resources to the table. There is room for you to contribute, and I hope that you will.


A retrospective look at the fall is incomplete without acknowledging several significant moments of pride for us all, as well as considerable challenges.

We celebrated 50 years of noteworthy marine research and education at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory. We welcomed home many luminaries from SJSU’s Speed City era of dominance in track and field for a day of celebration as we announced the return of men’s track and field to SJSU in 2018 as an NCAA sport. And the Hammer Theatre Center reopened its doors under SJSU management, restoring an exciting season of diverse artistic programming to downtown San Jose.

President Obama awarded the National Medal of Art and Humanities to alumnus and noted playwright Luis Valdez. SJSU advanced in national U.S. News rankings, rising from 8th to 6th among the West’s public comprehensive universities. The Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering rose from 4th to 3rd among national public comprehensive engineering programs, excluding service academies.

Earlier this month, Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier announced the hiring of Brent Brennan as SJSU’s new head football coach. Brent has deep Spartan roots—his parents met as SJSU students and he previously coached here for six seasons—and is uniquely prepared to support the academic progress and personal development of our student-athletes.

Challenges and opportunities

We end calendar year 2016 with much to be proud of, and much to do. The aftereffects of a highly contentious national election linger, as do concerns for students who may be affected by shifting immigration policies under a new administration. Our campus was shaken in recent weeks by reports of sexual misconduct that victimized numerous members of our community.

These issues, and others, demand—and are receiving—thoughtful, focused attention from university leaders, police and others.

Finally, an advisory group of SJSU faculty, staff and student representatives are collaborating on a review of SJSU’s Vision 2017 strategic plan, preparatory to beginning to imagine a future strategic plan for our campus. This work will continue into the spring.

I hope that this message illuminates my pride in SJSU and optimism about our future. On behalf of our campus leadership team, I wish you and yours a restful and joyous holiday season!

Mary Papazian