President Papazian’s Mid-Summer Blog

In one of her popular novels, Along for the Ride, author Sarah Dessen writes that “… in the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other. Out of school, everything was on pause and yet happening at the same time, this collection of weeks when anything was possible.”

Things are on pause for many students and faculty members, although some faculty members are teaching and many more are conducting research or otherwise participating in university service, while many students are working or taking summer courses. I hope some of you also are finding time to travel, spend time with family and friends, or simply to rest!

For our staff, while the summer months somewhat alter the rhythm and tenor of daily campus life, much important work is happening. I doubt that many would say things have slowed down!

Much is happening and, as Ms. Dessen observes, anything is possible. I have updates on several summer priorities later in this blog. But first, I want briefly to reflect on the Commencement season and its meaning for our community.

2017 Commencement: Institutional, personal milestones reached

As I noted in my last blog, the opportunity to confer degrees and celebrate with graduates and their families is a signature moment of each academic year. This year’s Commencement celebration at CEFCU Stadium was noteworthy in several respects.

Record degrees awarded

A record number of degrees—slightly under 10,000—was conferred this spring, including the first-ever doctoral degrees awarded by SJSU to graduates of the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program. (The Doctor of Nursing Practice, or D.N.P. degree, is offered in collaboration with Fresno State.)

With 2017 graduates added to the existing living alumni population, Spartan Nation has now grown to nearly 270,000, a significant majority of whom live and work in the Bay Area. This is a powerful reminder of the enormous contribution Spartans make to the rich diversity, intellectual vibrancy and economic vitality of our region and state.

It also is a reminder of the importance of forming and sustaining connections with recent—and all—graduates through alumni, athletics and other university programming. Ensuring our long-term institutional impact depends on it.

Spartans honored

Two Spartans were honored at the May Commencement ceremony: SJSU alumna Ysabel Duron, ’70 Journalism, delivered an impassioned Commencement address, and Phil Boyce, ’66 Business Administration, was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. I had the opportunity to spend time with both Ysabel and Phil and was impressed by their Spartan pride and the honor each felt at being invited to participate meaningfully in such a signature university event.

Deferred celebration

Speaking of pride, one of our graduates and his family celebrated some 44 years after he wrapped up his studies. I encourage you to read this wonderful story of Spartan grit and determination.

Directional shift

Meanwhile, a tweak in this year’s stadium Commencement ceremony moved the platform ninety degrees from its traditional location, with field seating for graduates and faculty members facing south instead of west.

As a result, access to the field and visual sight lines for guests improved. These were small, yet important shifts intended to improve the Commencement experience for all participants. Feedback from participants and others generally was positive; we also received helpful suggestions for further refinements.

We all know how important Commencement is to graduates, their families and friends, and our community. And we surely appreciate its centrality to our mission.

With this in mind, throughout the year I have solicited input from campus stakeholders and others on how we might further enhance the planning and staging of this seminal campus ceremony. I have received much heartfelt, substantive input. There are several oft-repeated points:

  • There appears to be strong desire to find ways to increase participation among students and faculty in the official degree-conferring Commencement ceremony.
  • While there are many opinions about the factors contributing to generally low student and faculty participation, some have wondered if scheduling Commencement over Memorial Day weekend, as well as staging many smaller celebrations in advance of the formal Commencement, are prominent factors.
  • There is an openness to rethinking how Commencement is staged. Some have asked if we might hold several smaller Commencement ceremonies (perhaps organized by college) in lieu of one large-scale stadium event. There also is sentiment for moving the official ceremony away from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, perhaps to a mid-week day before the holiday.

I want to express appreciation to all members of our community whose dedication to student success made it possible to confer a record number of degrees this spring and to all who make Commencement itself the memorable, celebratory moment we all desire.

I also am grateful for the interest many of you have expressed in further improving the Commencement experience, and for the specific ideas and suggestions that have been offered. This conversation surely will continue into the forthcoming academic year!

Meantime, much is happening

In the wake of a very active and consequential year, we now are regrouping and looking forward, with, I hope, a bit of time for reflection and rest.

There are many reasons to be excited. Among them:

Spartan student-athletes honored for academic success

We all can celebrate a record number of SJSU student-athletes garnering academic all-conference recognition this year. Seventy-seven Spartans from nine spring sports squads were honored by the Mountain West conference, while 158 student-athletes throughout the 2016-17 academic year were recognized by the four conferences with which SJSU is affiliated.

Each of these students maintained at least a 3.00 grade point average while competing in at least half of their team’s competitions—no easy feat. Congratulations to each of these stellar Spartans!

Facility construction and upgrades

Work is completed, underway or planned in many areas of campus. Among them: safety upgrades in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library and several residence halls; construction of the recreation and aquatics center; the recent opening of the south campus golf practice facility and ongoing planning for a second phase of upgrades on our South Campus; modernization of Morris Dailey Auditorium; and the return to campus of our College of International and Extended Studies (CIES) to the first floor of the Diaz Compean Student Union.

Administration and Finance will continue to offer updates on these and other ongoing efforts to make our campus more hospitable to students, employees and visitors.

Campus strategic planning

Under the shared leadership of Provost and Senior Vice President Andy Feinstein and Academic Senate Chair Professor Stefan Frazier, a roadmap for developing a long-term campus strategic plan is being constructed while a comprehensive report summarizing the impacts of Vision 2017 is finalized. We will publish that closing report in August.

I am pleased to see such collaborative progress in developing a rubric for future planning. At present, the tentative plan calls for us to kick off our strategic planning process with a campus event on September 14, followed shortly thereafter by a series of facilitated input-gathering conversations for all campus and community stakeholders.

The insights from those initial conversations will form the basis for further campus analysis and study during the 2017-18 academic year, culminating in a draft plan for us to review and discuss next spring.

How we go about developing our long-range plans is every bit as important as the plans that will evolve from this work. I am fully committed to involving campus and community stakeholders in thoughtful, transparent dialogue. Developing a long-range strategic plan for propelling SJSU to the forefront of urban public universities will be as important as anything we undertake this year. I am counting on and look forward to your active engagement in this conversation.

The president’s cabinet also will devote considerable time this summer—including a multi-day retreat—to long-range strategic issues. I will update you on those conversations in future blog posts.

Strengthening our capacity for excellence

As SJSU continues to evolve into a first-choice destination for many prospective students, we also are focusing on addressing the implications of enrollment growth. This fall, we anticipate that undergraduate enrollment will exceed earlier projections by several hundred students, as we welcome more than 4,300 new freshmen and another 4,300 transfer students to our campus community. This will create multiple impacts, including our ability to offer campus housing to all interested students.

The pace of activity on campus recently has picked up as new first-year students and family members began arriving for the first of sixteen summer orientation sessions taking place between July 7 and August 16. Our last graduate student orientation will take place on August 17.

Summer orientation and related programming for new students demands considerable planning and effort. I am grateful to the many campus community members who contribute to this important work and help prepare students for the rigors of university life.

When students do arrive each fall, faculty are central to their university experience. Added financial support from the state has permitted us to hire 130 new tenure-track faculty members in the last two years. We hope to continue this pace of hiring in the coming budget year.

We have strengthened our capacity to act strategically, hiring Bob Lim as SJSU’s vice president for IT and CIO. Bob, who started work on June 30, brings deep academic and technology industry expertise, abiding passion for the mission of the public university—himself a graduate of San Francisco State University—and a track record for student and faculty-focused innovation. I know you will enjoy getting to know him.

We also are strengthening our academic leadership. Our new dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, Dr. Sheryl Ehrman, joined us earlier this month. I want to take this opportunity to welcome Sheryl to campus and to express gratitude to Professor Ping Hsu for his interim leadership. Recruitments for deans to lead the Lurie College of Education, College of Science, and College of Humanities and the Arts all will be active this fall.

I also am pleased to welcome several faculty members to new administrative roles for the coming academic year. Dr. Michael Kimbarow, long-time faculty member in Communication Sciences and Disorders and recent chair of the Academic Senate, has been named interim AVP for Faculty Affairs; Dr. Michael Kaufman, chair of Physics and Astronomy, has been named interim Dean of the College of Science; and Dr. Shannon Miller, chair of English and Comparative Literature, has been named interim Dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts.  Thanks to all of our colleagues for agreeing to take on these new roles!

Mixed news from Washington

We’ve seen both positive and unsettling news out of Washington.

On a positive note, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that summer Pell Grants will be available to eligible students beginning July 1. I was in Washington D.C. for meetings with university and federal policy leaders, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, when this long over-due news was announced.

This is an important policy change, helping eligible students shorten their time to degrees by allowing them to enroll in summer coursework without incurring additional personal debt. This also could meaningfully impact the utilization of our campus during the summer months; it may be a worthwhile topic for campus consideration in strategic planning.

Students with questions about the Pell Grant program may contact our Financial Aid office.

At the same time, the United States Supreme Court last month authorized the federal government temporarily to implement certain provisions from the international travel ban, originally proposed last winter but on hold pending multiple judicial challenges. The high court also agreed to take up the broad executive order this fall.

We have been seeking clarity as to how these developments may impact current or prospective international students and others. But, as I observed in January when efforts to restrict international travel to the U.S. from specified countries were first proposed, we have been and will remain focused on supporting all students, faculty and staff members impacted by travel or other immigration restrictions.

As soon as we are better informed about the potential impacts of these actions, we will be sure to offer additional guidance.

Encouraging development(s) in downtown San Jose

Many of you have heard me observe that great universities and great cities are inextricably connected.

Two downtown development opportunities have been announced in the last month; each would help revitalize our city’s downtown core and offer intriguing opportunities for SJSU students, faculty and community members.

In early June, city leaders announced that they had entered discussions with Google about building a mixed-use development near the Diridon transit hub and SAP Center that could bring up to 20,000 jobs and millions of square feet of office and R&D space to the center of our city. And late last week, Adobe Systems disclosed plans to expand its downtown headquarters by acquiring adjacent property that could house 3,000 additional workers, more than twice its local workforce presence.

With a daytime population exceeding 40,000 (combining students, employees and visitors), SJSU is downtown San Jose’s oldest, largest and busiest epicenter of activity. The addition of a Google “village” and expansion of Adobe’s presence would add dynamism to the western edge of downtown San Jose even as we remain its easternmost anchor.

This poses interesting questions for city and regional planners as they sort out related infrastructure issues, including the strategic placement of downtown BART stations and access to affordable housing. And as Silicon Valley’s go-to provider of talent across many disciplines, SJSU naturally will look to forge deeper ties with Google and Adobe benefiting our students and faculty.

Stay tuned!

Putting SJSU on the map

The colorful banners adorning the perimeter of our main campus and adjacent to Hammer Theatre were part of a limited, internally-focused rollout of a new SJSU visual identity and brand platform.

Other iterations of this work include profiles of Spartans showcased on banners along campus paseos and a companion website; various creative treatments throughout the interior of the Diaz Compean Student Union; and selected Spartan apparel and other merchandise.

As the fall semester gets underway, our branding campaign will expand to include SJSU banners flying along several additional downtown streets, around the entire perimeter of our South Campus, and inside CEFCU Stadium.

You also will see several buses running through portions of downtown between the South Campus park-and-ride lot and main campus. These “roving billboards” will help amplify SJSU’s presence and, I believe, further enhance Spartan pride.

In the meantime, I hope that you are able to enjoy summer’s longer, warmer days, and I look forward to resuming monthly blog posts as we approach the start of the fall term.