Institutional values help elevate SJSU’s “Most Transformative” ranking

At Home with President Papazian sound wave graphic

Last August, we were delighted to learn that Money magazine had ranked San José State University the “Most Transformative University” in the nation.

It is a distinction that makes us all very proud, of course. Our new Transformation Defined website does a wonderful job of showcasing stories that demonstrate how SJSU helps to make transformation happen in the lives of its students and others associated with the university, and we will continue to promote this honor so that others—including prospective students and their families—can come to understand why this is such a special place for so many people.

But what does it truly mean for SJSU to be the “most transformative” university?

As Money’s own narrative touches on—and as U.S. News & World Report also has confirmed—SJSU is firmly committed to the social mobility of its graduates. While we recognize that talent is all around us, we also know that opportunity often lags behind. So we work hard at SJSU to ensure our academic programs are current and aligned with industry and community needs. That, we know, leads not only to our students’ first jobs, but also to their next jobs, fulfilling careers and lasting impact.

But it is not only our students who help define why SJSU is a transformative institution. The fact is, everyone touched in some way by their Spartan experience (students, parents and families, alumni, faculty, staff) likely has their own way of describing what SJSU has meant to them. Money’s editors do a fine job of explaining the ranking system and the high marks given to SJSU, but they only scratch the surface.

Being a transformative institution, I believe, begins with core values. Some of the most enduring at San José State include the following:

  • An unwavering commitment to student success, where all of our endeavors and decisions are guided by the ultimate objective of student achievement; 
  • A commitment to purposeful student engagement, where we work to ensure that our students have the tools to shed light on and impact the issues important to them; 
  • An obligation to educate our students through research and hands-on learning experiences whenever those methods are available; 
  • A commitment to becoming a leading academic institution where faculty and staff are regional, national and global leaders in their fields. 
  • A genuine and ongoing appreciation for diversity and inclusion, demonstrated by our embrace of the variety and richness of cultures, backgrounds and viewpoints at our university while taking steps to ensure all individuals feel respected, safe and welcome; 
  • A strong and enduring connection to our community—including elected officials, civic leaders and regional non-profit organizations—forged to advance the mission and vision of SJSU as a driver of economic growth, social mobility and social change for Silicon Valley; 
  • Doing all of the above through the lens of equity and fairness.

Subscribing and adhering to these institutional values in a consistent manner, I believe, gives us the proper framework to ask the hard questions and make the necessary decisions that lead to transformation. This is why values are so important; they constitute the lodestar that guides our thinking and our actions.Masked SJSU students walking downtown

Change—or, transformation, if you will—has been a constant at SJSU these past few years, and indeed throughout our long 160-year history. We have advanced. We have grown. We have continually evolved to meet the moment. We have become an environment that inspires and drives transformation.

Transformation can be uncomfortable at times. But our adaptability allowed us to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that would have been more difficult had we not had faculty, staff, students and others who possess such a willingness and ability to embrace change. 

Looking ahead, it will be up to SJSU’s educators to remain open to transformational changes in the future, while at the same time protecting those practices and strategies that define our essence and purpose. Again, it is critical that we align any new practices we choose to adopt with San José State values. 

We must ask the right questions when developing our programs and curricula. Are we making the smartest investments, both in the short term as well as the long term? Do our infrastructure and physical spaces align with our educational mission and learning strategies? Are we supporting all of our students as fully as we can?

The answers to those types of questions, I believe, help inform how a university is doing to fulfill its core mission.

If we are to continue our transformational ways at SJSU, we will need to pay closer attention than ever before to how we invest. In doing so, we can continue to do what we do best: enroll talented, compassionate and diverse students who represent our future, while working with industry to ensure that our new graduates enter into key job sectors such as technology, engineering, community service, education and health care.

All of us at SJSU, of course, realize that we have much significant work ahead of us, such as addressing the disparate inequalities and systemic racism that continue to exist here and elsewhere and ensuring the basic needs of our campus community are met. But we have a shared set of institutional values and a shared commitment to tackling these problems.

Though rankings come and go, our values-driven culture leaves us poised to continue, now and into the future, educating the next generation of creative, dynamic and resilient leaders here at San José State University. I am so proud of this campus community and everyone who has helped us become the Most Transformative University in the nation.

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