President Papazian’s February Blog

I have always thought that February is the most unpredictable month. It sits at the gateway between winter and spring and, as we wait patiently for the gifts of the warm weather, February often takes the opportunity to remind us to pay attention. This past week has been a perfect example of February’s strength.

Extreme weather

We witnessed the shocking development of nearly unprecedented flooding in portions of downtown San Jose and surrounding communities, extensive damage to residences and personal property, and many road closures. SJSU students and employees were among the 14,000 local residents displaced from their homes as of Wednesday morning. Many more have been impacted in other ways.

In the wake of this extraordinary weather pattern, we immediately reached out to our local officials with offers of assistance and began coordinating efforts to identify students in greatest need and ensure that they receive emergency assistance. We have provided temporary housing for a number of displaced students, and Student Affairs continues to reach out with information for our students who are experiencing hardship as a result of the storm damage.

Students financially impacted by the floods can visit the Financial Aid & Scholarship Office in the Student Services Center (8:15 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Friday) or submit a request form online, where information on local evacuation centers and shelters also is available.

We realize that a number of our faculty and staff members also may be experiencing hardship during this time. We will attempt to provide as much support as possible while this situation persists. If any members of our faculty and staff are experiencing difficulty getting to work or must be absent as a result of the situation, I am asking all our supervisors and administrators to be flexible and supportive.

With more rain forecast in the coming days and the possibility of additional flooding, we all must pay extra attention to the needs of those around us. I am grateful for the caring, supportive spirit across campus and throughout our community. As just one example of our commitment to our community, CommUniverCity is accepting donations on behalf of neighborhoods affected by the flooding. They will pass along proceeds to grassroots groups who can distribute them to those who most need help.

If you are interested in helping, please designate your gifts to: CommUniverCity – Flood Relief here or contact executive director Dayana Salazar.

Immigrant and undocumented students

This year, February also brought many changes on the national level, as federal policies have developed and rapidly changed, including federal immigration enforcement measures and travel restrictions. The latest developments have replaced recent policies that have stalled amid multiple legal challenges. Although early indications are that “dreamer” students will be unaffected, these new policies, like those that preceded them, are certain to provoke mixed reactions—especially in regions with large, diverse immigrant populations like San Jose.

On Wednesday, Chancellor White issued a statement speaking to this rapidly changing area and reaffirming the CSU’s commitment to fulfilling its mission in a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment. My own message offered important details related to the chancellor’s statement.

I realize that the changing developments in this area have unsettled many in our community and I thus reaffirm our commitment to sharing information as soon as possible. We also will continue to provide information on all available support services and make it as easy as possible to take advantage of those services. To this end, information about campus and community resources has been aggregated, updated and posted on a single website. University staff members are monitoring these issues closely, and this site will be updated as new information emerges.

SJSU’s rich diversity is intentional and a part of each student’s learning experience. We are particularly sensitive to the challenges facing our transgender students in the current political climate. Indeed, in this vibrant community of learners, we all benefit daily from the amazing tapestry of friends and colleagues that continue to be woven at San Jose State. We wear our diversity with extraordinary pride, and we will continue to make every lawful effort to provide a safe, welcoming and open campus for all our students, faculty, staff and members of our larger community.

Celebrating social justice, activism

In spite of the many challenges we have faced these past weeks, February also has provided us with opportunities to celebrate SJSU’s legacy of activism in pursuit of social justice, personal equity and human rights. I would like to share several highlights.

Noted author, writer and activist Kevin Powell visited SJSU last week as part of the Spartan Speaker Series, presenting History is a People’s Memory: Celebrating the Past, Celebrating Us. Kevin’s book is a powerful statement on the importance of reclaiming African-American history and culture, not only for the African-American community but for all of humanity.  I encourage you to read it.

This past Saturday, Feb. 25, the Hammer Theatre Center hosted the Black Legend Awards, honoring the regional contributions of 16 African-American community leaders, several of whom have ties to SJSU:

  • Active faculty members D. Michael Cheers and Charles “Buddy” Butler, and emeritus faculty member Dr. Ethel Pitts-Walker.
  • Alumnae Florene Poyadue BA ’75 and Debra Watkins MA ’98.
  • Retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge and former City of San Jose Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell, who led an independent special task force on racial discrimination after an SJSU student was subjected to race-based abuse in 2013.

Event proceeds will help establish a Black History Museum in Silicon Valley. I am proud to see SJSU so well represented in this important effort.

Last week, acclaimed journalist and philanthropist Bob Woodruff was here to receive the 2017 Steinbeck Award and participate in a conversation with local news anchor Dan Ashley. Woodruff was severely injured in 2006 when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq while reporting for ABC News.

His wife Lee subsequently formed the Bob Woodruff Foundation to support the needs of returning U.S. military veterans. This event raised funds for our new Veterans Resource Center, an important element in our efforts to support the academic and personal needs of those returning from active U.S. military service.

Narrowing the graduation gap – integrated efforts

Earlier this month the CSU Academic Senate sponsored a retreat at our sister campus, San Diego State University, for representatives from throughout our system to share and discuss strategies for enhancing student success. Participants included Chancellor White and members of his team; many campus presidents; academic, senate, student affairs and student leaders (including ours); and CSU trustees.

Framed around the primary goal of shortening the time to a degree, I found this to be a rich, eye-opening conversation. In particular, the importance of increasing the number of course units taken each semester (so-called “Average Unit Load”) stood out as a critical variable.

We already have seen a recent, modest uptick in this metric at SJSU, and I am confident that we have the will and focus needed to move the needle further on this and many other fronts. We soon will launch a search for a permanent Associate Vice President for Student and Faculty Success to help guide these efforts.

In addition, SJSU recently staged its second Student Success Summit, a collaboration involving SJSU, Assemblymembers Evan Low and Ash Kalra, community and K-12 education leaders and others. This effort is aimed at identifying ways to ensure that students are ready to transition successfully to the first-year college experience.

Our first summit, held this past September, brought together representatives from K-12 schools and districts, community colleges, local foundations and the legislature and involved broad discussion and information sharing. The most recent meeting was a working session for a group of SJSU, K-12 and elected representatives to conceive ideas for pilot programs.

I am grateful to our local legislators, staff in Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and University Advancement, and community education leaders for collaborating on such an important initiative. Together, we are placing our region at the forefront of efforts to improve college readiness—a priority for our campus, the CSU and our state. This work will help inform and strengthen spring state budget advocacy efforts in Sacramento.

Recruitment for new campus leaders

As I announced recently, we have launched our search for a Vice President for Information Technology/Chief Information Officer. The search committee, chaired by Prof. Michael Kaufman, met last Friday to receive its charge and discuss its plans. The search is on pace to bring finalists to campus prior to the conclusion of the spring semester.

The search for a permanent dean to lead the Connie L. Lurie College of Education has now officially opened and is being led by Prof. Michael Kimbarow. I encourage you to share the position prospectus with potential candidates. Updates will be posted online as this important recruitment continues.

We are also fortunate to be able to continue growing our faculty ranks. Last year, 68 new tenure-track appointments were made; this year, we are working to add 68 more.

Transportation

As a campus committed to accessibility and sustainability, we must pay special attention to the transportation infrastructure serving our campus community. In this context, we recently learned that the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which operates our regional public transit network, is planning changes to its service network.

As many of you are aware, VTA’s preliminary plan calls for the elimination of the free DASH downtown shuttle service between the Diridon transit hub and SJSU. (The shuttle also makes intermediate stops at several downtown locations.) SJSU has helped pay for the cost of operating these shuttles for many years. If approved by the VTA board, these changes likely would take effect this fall.

We recognize that many of our campus community rely on this and other transportation services, and thus we are communicating with VTA officials about this and other important regional transportation issues. I want to assure you that SJSU is fully committed to maintaining a shuttle service in the downtown San Jose corridor for members of our campus community—whether through VTA or other options.

Safety update

In last month’s blog, I mentioned that a comprehensive set of safety initiatives was in the works and that Vice President for Administration and Finance Charlie Faas soon would provide a detailed update.  The safety report has been completed and is now available. It includes background information, updates on various plans to enhance campus safety and security, links to various compliance reports and other data. I encourage you to review it.

Spartan Pride

I talk often about the relationship between great cities and great public universities, and as I indicated in my address to the campus community at the opening of this academic year, I believe strongly that San Jose State can—and should—be our nation’s premier metropolitan public university.

Our place among the great public universities in the country is supported by a recent report from U.S. News & World Report that ranked the San Jose area as the third best place to live among the top 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S.  In summarizing the report, U.S. News’ executive editor said “…the metro areas that do well are the ones with strong job markets and high quality of life.”

We know that our city and region depend on SJSU for the talent needed to sustain its strong innovation economy. And we should be proud to see San Jose earn long-overdue recognition as a great place to learn and live.

In addition to being an integral part of one of America’s most livable cities, SJSU is, as I shared last month, considered one of America’s top 10 universities for fostering students’ upward social mobility. This impressive ranking, which affirms that we are living our mission, is based on a social mobility index that based its rankings on each institution’s cost of attendance, graduation rates, median early career salaries and percentage of students coming from low-income households.

Top coders start at SJSU

Speaking of great places to live and learn, CodinGame (a computer programming support network) last month ranked SJSU second among U.S. colleges and universities, and 15th worldwide, for the quality of its computer programmers.

Congratulations to all our Spartan programmers!

Infrastructure building

Structural problems at California’s Oroville Dam in early February and storm damage throughout our region—including this past week’s flooding in downtown San Jose—remind us of the importance of national infrastructure investment.

SJSU faculty members are contributing important insight to this issue. Professor of Sociology Scott Myers-Lipton, who authored Rebuild America: Solving the Economic Crisis Through Civic Works, was interviewed for and featured in a recent Time.com story on U.S. infrastructure needs.

It is wonderful (and important) to see SJSU experts featured in news coverage of contemporary events; this exposure is integral to raising institutional visibility, building pride and appreciation for who we are and what we do, and attracting public and private support. I want to commend faculty and staff experts for devoting their time and knowledge to these efforts.

Athletics

Spartan men’s basketball is rising under fourth-year head coach Dave Wojcik. With seven wins in the Mountain West conference—including a sweep of conference and CSU rival San Diego State and breakthrough wins over UNLV and New Mexico, the program clearly has turned a corner.

Coach Wojcik has led this resurgence while coping with the loss of his father in late January. I am immensely proud of him, as well as his staff, student-athletes and others for rallying around such an inspirational leader. A recent Mercury News story adds great context to his inspiring and moving story.

After securing their third straight road victory at Air Force earlier this month, our women’s hoops team delivered head coach Jamie Craighead’s 100th career win. Seniors Dezz Ramos—who scored 1, 000-career points faster than any player in the history of SJSU women’s basketball—and Jasmine Smith have been instrumental contributors all season.

Saturday’s home women’s basketball game against Boise State attracted nearly 400 faculty and staff members and their families to an annual inter-divisional spirit celebration. It was terrific to see so many youth (many, we hope, future Spartans!) in attendance. Student Affairs was recognized as “most spirited” and Provost and Senior Vice President Andy Feinstein and Vice President Reggie Blaylock surprised me at the half with a spirited rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

I also am proud to report that 47 Spartan student-athletes from five sports were named to the Fall 2016 Academic All-Mountain West team. Eligibility for this honor is limited to student-athletes with a 3.0 or higher cumulative grade-point average who competed in at least half of their team’s contests.

This has been a month of transition—in some ways positive, in other respects leaving us searching for answers and paths forward amid adversity.

I want to conclude this month’s blog by sharing this short video, produced by our Strategic Communications team, capturing key moments and insights from the January 24 launch of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change. The NFL Network also has begun airing an hour-long documentary, portions of which were filmed at SJSU during and after the institute launch, on the role of the professional athlete in social activism.

This institute, through the unique synergies of interdisciplinary education, scholarship and service, is poised to impact meaningfully the pursuit of social justice, gender equity and human rights. It is just this kind of thought, scholarship and activism that makes San Jose State a remarkable place to live and learn. I am truly excited for our future, and I look forward to sharing it with each of you.