Fall Convocation 2008: President García Looks Back at Her First Year at CSUDH, Looks Forward to Greater Heights for University
Dr. Mildred García, president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, welcomed new and returning faculty and staff to a new semester on Monday, Aug. 25, at the 2008 Fall Convocation. Her address, to a full University Theatre audience, focused on campus “points of pride” during her first year at the helm, and challenges and possibilities for the upcoming year.
“We will work collectively and [with] one voice as we define to the external publics who we are and what we do best,” García said. “We are quickly losing the title of ‘the South Bay’s best kept secret’ and our communities are learning more about us and [in some cases], becoming reacquainted.”
In reflecting on her first year in office, García expressed her thanks to the campus community for providing “an embracing, educational year for a new president. All of you have taken me under your wing to help me learn about and honor the deep history and traditions at Dominguez Hills. This strong base provides us the platform to leap forward to new horizons.”
Leading the list of Dominguez Hills’ “points of pride” for the 2007-08 academic year is the full 10-year accreditation, the highest possible evaluation to be given an institution by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
García commended the campus’s approach to earning this designation, a five-year process that included the examination, evaluation and implementation of what García said was “the deep and excellent educational academic experience our students encounter on our campus.”
“We were honest about our challenges and at the same time, proud of the transformative nature of Dominguez Hills,” García noted. “We demonstrated that we know how to engage in educational program outcomes and are committed to demonstrating with strong evidence what our students truly learn at Dominguez Hills.”
President García highlighted other campus achievements for 2007-08, including the Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s designation of CSUDH as one of the top 100 universities in the country to confer undergraduate and graduate degrees to students of color for 2008, and the recognition of CSUDH by Excelencia in Education, a Washington D.C. organization that supports academic achievement for Latina/o students, in its June 2008 article on “Modeling Hispanic-Service Institutions: Campus Practices that work for Latino Students.”
She also highlighted the new campus-wide Directory of Awards, Scholarly Work, and Creative Activities, improvements to the campus’s emergency preparedness program, the extensive media coverage of her first year, including her inauguration into office, and the undergraduate and master’s degree Commencements, which featured respectively, keynote speakers Tavis Smiley and State Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-55th Dist.).
“Graduating our students is our grandest accomplishment,” García said. “It confirms to everyone that we’ve done our jobs. You know of the huge transformative power [given] to those who are first-generation college students or come from a lower economic strata when they receive their bachelor’s degree. We graduated 1,565 undergraduate and 908 graduate students, [a total of] 2,473 diverse individuals who become the workforce, the researchers, and the leaders of our community.”
The president addressed current challenges to the university, including its relationship to the Home Depot Center (HDC), the 125-acre sports and entertainment venue on campus. The scheduling of a Chivas game on Sept. 2, the second day of the new semester called for negotiations between university administration and HDC executives in order to minimize difficulty for students and faculty to access the campus that evening. The results were limiting attendance to 3,000 spectators instead of the usual 17,000 and directing them to the HDC’s Avalon Boulevard entrance only. In addition, there will be no advertising of the game and no use of CSUDH parking lots.
“The Home Depot Center is here to stay,” said García. “They have another 38 years in their lease. We will need to continue finding ways of building community with them as a neighbor and building a strong partnership based on trust. I commit to you that I will continue fighting to ensure that we are respected as a higher learning institution and that at the same time we make the best of the situation.”
President García went on to address the university’s goals for the new academic year, focusing on such areas as continuing to celebrate the campus’s “points of pride,” building community, enrollment management, and financial stability.
Among the goals that President García highlighted at the convocation were the searches for a permanent provost and vice president of University Advancement, maintaining a high level of customer service for students, and building external community through media coverage and Dominguez Hills’ presence at events in its service area, as well as offering the campus as a venue for such events.
Enrollment goals and retention were presented by García as key issues that are inextricably entwined with the state and impending budget cuts to education.
“We must deal with our reality that we are an enrollment-driven funded system and as such, we need to pay close attention to the admission, retention and graduation of our students,” she said. “There are only two ways to bring new resources to our university. One is by meeting and exceeding our enrollment targets and the other is by externally raising resources. Staying status quo with our enrollment is in essence a decrease in funding.”
García said that the enrollment team, which includes Dr. Susan Borrego, the new vice president of planning and enrollment management, will be held accountable for the needed increase in enrollment and that college deans will be accountable for examining and maintaining student retention.
“When students come to [our] university they come with hopes and dreams – no one enrolls to fail,” she said. “As an institution, we need to examine why students leave and where we have failed them. Throughout the year we will be examining support programs that work with quantitative outcomes and those that do not. Programs that are not working will need to be improved or eliminated. Our resources are limited and thus we need to allocate resources appropriately.”
The president stated that in order to repair the university’s structural deficit of $2.8 million, the base budget was cut $1.4 million this year, with a projected $750,000 cut in the following two years. She reiterated her promise that tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as essential student support services, would not be cut despite Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts to education.
“Our plan lives up to that commitment,” García said. “Unfortunately we still don’t have a [state] budget. If the budget is passed as the [Governor’s May revision] was presented, we will be facing another $2.2 million cut which will need to be covered by last year’s one-time year-end funds. We will be analyzing our next steps in financial stability once we really know what our budget will be this year.”
In view of dire monetary straits for the CSU, and Dominguez Hills specifically, García underscored the importance of “a strong university advancement team whose goal is to work with us in friend-raising and fundraising. We cannot raise funds in a scattergun approach, hoping something will stick. Through the strategic planning process we will also decide on directions for fundraising and decide on priorities over the coming year.”
García remained upbeat throughout her address, prefacing her words with recollections of the back-to-school season as “days filled with excitement, anticipation, promise and hope.”
“I remain as excited and as hopeful as I was at this time last year,” the president said. “Together we have accomplished so very much in just one short year. Examining, analyzing, implementing, measuring our success and changing when we must is critical and necessary for Dominguez Hills. I look forward to working side by side with you and I ask each of you to join us in this year’s directions for the future. [Working] together, no one can stop us from being the model urban university of the nation.”
For an archived webcast of the Fall Convocation, click here.
- Joanie Harmon