Fall Welcome Address 2011


President Qayoumi's Prepared Remarks

Good Afternoon. Thank you, Professor Von Till, for that warm introduction. I would also like to thank Provost Selter and Associated Students President Kolodziejak for joining me on the stage today. To those of you in the audience, I have asked these colleagues to join me on stage as a reflection of my belief in shared decision making and collaborative university governance. Our ability to make the right decisions and choices for San José State and to work through the major challenges we face depends upon an earnest commitment to faculty shared governance and collaboration.

It is a great pleasure to be here with all of you this afternoon to deliver my first fall address as president of San José State University. The fall address is an important tradition on our campus. It marks the beginning of a new academic year, allows us to reflect on the successes of the previous year, and helps us frame the challenges and opportunities we can anticipate in the year ahead.

The combined attendance of faculty and staff among the audience today signifies our recognition that only by our collective and truly collaborative efforts can we deliver on our core mission, namely student success. In other words, a bona fide community of students, faculty and staff is what underpins and creates the environment for authentic student success and achievement.

This year, this time, is an opportunity for us to get to know each other. Although I have had the pleasure of working with some of you in my prior assignment here at San José State, as well as in other positions in the CSU, I'm sure that many of you are wondering what I will bring in my role as president, and how I intend to lead our university in these challenging times. I am equally eager to learn about all of you: your work, your needs and your dreams for San José State University. I would also like to ask you to think about this question: What kind of future do you imagine for San José State? With this in mind, after my remarks, I would like to take questions. So this forum is not just an address, but also a dialogue.

Let me begin by expressing my heartfelt thanks and gratitude. First and foremost, to President Don Kassing, who has been such a strong, fiercely dedicated leader for SJSU, and whose record of success inspires all of us. Don has been a great mentor and a great friend, and he facilitated many opportunities over the past few months for me to spend time on campus while we worked together to create a smooth transition.

Many thanks as well to the cabinet team, the Academic Senate leadership, the deans, and other campus community members who have been so generous with their wisdom and well wishes. And finally let me thank all of you who have been so welcoming, supportive, and full of ideas. I am honored by how many of you—in meetings, phone calls and personal notes—have reached out to say: "Welcome back, and how can I help?"

Allow me to briefly highlight my background and a few core values. I come from a modest, working family. Like many of our students, I was the first in my family to go to college. I personally experienced the power of higher education in transforming an individual. I profoundly value and embrace the multicultural community we serve and the great education we offer. Moreover, I am deeply committed to pluralism and to celebrating the differences in our community. I am a staunch believer in the thrill of intellectual discovery and scholarly effort; I embrace the university's academic mission and its deeply rooted democratic values. These values inform my understanding of a university president's roles and responsibilities:

  • To lead, govern, and manage wisely
  • To nurture the spirit of the academic community
  • To defend the core values of the institution
  • To pursue our mission through strategic goals and priorities
  • To lead change and continuous improvement
  • To serve as an ethical compass
  • To serve as a model educator leading an academic community

Armed with the above values, let me also share some personal beliefs that have served to guide me throughout my professional career.

  • A strong belief in the saliency of shared governance matters.
  • A deep commitment to transparency and accountability matters.
  • Individual and team performance matter.
  • Shared responsibility for success matters.
  • Agility, nimbleness, and eliminating bureaucratic barriers matter.
  • Healthy relationships across organizational boundaries matter.
  • And finally, for long-term success, striving for sustained excellence matters.

Celebrating Highlights of Success

San José State already strives for excellence in countless ways. The university has a strong foundation because of you. Thanks to the good work of many of you here today, San José State had many significant successes last year. I will mention just a few highlights, but there are many more:

Our faculty, who demonstrated exceptional contributions of international acclaim. Two examples are Natalie Batalha, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, who led a science team for NASA's Kepler Mission that confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system, and Eugene Cordero, Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science, who has been named a Google Science Communication Fellow.

Our programs, which received similar recognition. The SJSU Salzburg Fellows Program was named one of the nation's top ten citizen diplomacy programs in the field of higher education by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy. Our sustainability program received a Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award for our use of recycled water and reducing potable water usage by 50 million gallons a year.

Our fundraising and social awareness efforts. "Acceleration: The Campaign for San José State University" raised $25 million, bringing the total amount raised to date by the campaign to over $150 million. Our celebration of SJSU Legacy Week honored and promoted our institution's commitment to social justice.

Finally, and most importantly, our students, who were simply superb once again. In our athletics program, 107 student athletes received academic all-conference honors, and 2011 graduate Shanice Howard, a Spartans gymnast, was named the Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Top Athlete of the Year nationally. More broadly, our last two graduating classes, for both first-time frosh and transfers, have shown marked improvement of about 5% increases in six-year graduation rates.

The Opportunity of this Time and Place

Think about all these successes, and the fact that these are just the tip of the iceberg, and one begins to grasp the extraordinary momentum that San José State enjoys at this time.

Despite the challenges presented by the current economic crisis, now is the time for us to dream big when we imagine our future. In fact, if we review our nation's history, we'll find that important decisions have been made during times of challenge and adversity. From Abraham Lincoln's work on the Morrill Land Grant Act and the Transcontinental Railroad to John F. Kennedy's drive to reach the moon, many of these developments have arisen as the direct result of intersecting need, innovation, creative thought, and multi-faceted collaboration.

The Venezuelan scholar and socio-economist Carlota Perez has described the relationship between innovation, technology, institutional change and economic development.

Paraphrased, she suggests that technological change is not an engineering phenomenon, but a complex social interaction process involving a mix of technical, economic, social and institutional factors. Simply stated, single inventions do not change the world; widespread waves of innovation do.

I would add to her quote that while inventions may come about by individuals, innovation is a socio-economic development that requires teamwork. In other words, the only way that we can enhance the impact of our faculty and students' great work is to facilitate opportunities where individuals can work across many disciplines. That is how we can transform the learning process and create new opportunities.

We live in an era of extraordinary urbanization and globalization. San José State has always been a foundation, part of the very fabric, in the development and growth of Silicon Valley. Now, more than ever, we need to continue building robust connections to industry, to government, to regional NGOs, and to research facilities in the region. With many urban areas around the globe competing fiercely to become the "next Silicon Valley," we must continue to build our external relationships and prepare our students to succeed in this globalized economy.

Just as the valley has outgrown old boundaries, we must also begin to think about our place beyond the greater Bay Area. Silicon Valley is the world's hub of technological breakthroughs. Combined regionally with San Francisco, a major international financial center, and the Port of Oakland, a global export hub, together we form a "golden triangle" of opportunity. But in order to truly visualize the possibilities of our future, we need to take a good look around, not only to acknowledge our recent successes, but also to take stock of the extraordinary opportunities we have in this region.

Imagining Our Future

All of us here today share a desire

  • to build on the university's strengths and to imagine a better, bolder future
  • to help us move forward together, with a common vision of who we are, what we stand for, and where we are headed. And most importantly, with a shared commitment to our mission of serving our students.

I believe the role of the university president is to honor and celebrate the institution's tradition, while also serving as an effective catalyst for transformation.

All around us, the context of higher education is changing – not only in reduced budget support, but also in increasing pressure from Congress and accrediting agencies for transparency and accountability regarding student learning and student success. We

must be able to demonstrate that students are meeting our learning outcomes and that we are engaged in rigorous quality assurance to ensure academic excellence. Later this semester, we'll be launching an implementation plan to take us through our next WASC accreditation cycle, culminating in 2015. Assuring program quality is everyone's responsibility and I look forward to your full participation.

Let me state quite emphatically: it is not my intent to remake San José State University according to some preconceived model or ideal that I hold dear. On the contrary, as I said earlier, my interest is in answering this question: How do we collectively envision the kind of future we want to have?

To this end I am inviting the university community—all of you—to participate in our university's strategic planning process in September. Forty town hall meetings have been scheduled at varying times of the day in different parts of the campus so everyone will have an opportunity to participate. Every one of you will be able to share with me your dreams and aspirations for the university's future.

We will be working with the Strategic Planning Board that the Academic Senate established, and follow the three core themes of our WASC accreditation process: integrative learning, community connections, and inclusive excellence. The work will be done here on campus by our faculty and staff—not by an outside consultant. To chart our collective future, it clearly makes sense to tap into the great talent, the bold imagination, and the intrinsic commitment to our mission, which exist among us. My desire is to combine the audacity of your imaginations with systematic discipline to drive quality and work toward specific goals. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

My interest is in distilling our collective ambitions, transforming our dreams into a working model—and finally, executing that working model. It's about honoring the past and respecting history, while simultaneously enabling transformative change. This collaborative approach to charting our future is a key element of the transformation process, because it fosters innovation. The result, by the end of the fall semester, will be a strategic planning framework that will guide our next steps: academic planning, strategic planning, facilities planning and planning future fundraising campaigns. It is a framework for envisioning and describing the future of our institution.

In the spring semester, we will use a similar approach in developing our academic plan. Subsequently, framed by the strategic and academic plans, we will develop other supporting plans across the university. Once completed, we will have not only developed genuinely integrated plans that have goals, measures, and targets, but will also be able to tie the university budget to these plans. I believe such a focused approach will help realize our collective aspiration and vision. Our unity of purpose is what binds us.

In conclusion, let me quote a poem from the famous fourteenth century Persian poet Hafez which translates:

"Oh bird of paradise, bless me with resolve and determination, for the journey I have set forth is far and I have just taken the first step."

Thank you for your time today, and for the opportunity to work with such talented students, accomplished faculty, and dedicated staff. It is an honor and a privilege to rejoin this great university.

Again, I thank you for coming here today and I look forward to hearing from you at the town hall meetings. Have a great year.