President's Remarks - 2016 Fall Conference

Sept. 15, 2016

Thank you, Phil. Hello – thank you for coming today. I want to add my personal congratulations to all of our award winners. You inspire us – you make us proud. Thank you. I want to recognize someone else who inspires me each and every day -- my wife, Sharon. I also want to recognize several community leaders: Mayor Jan Marx, City Councilor John Ashbaugh and County Supervisor Adam Hill. We stand ready to work with you to enhance economic development and the quality of life in our community.

Thank you again for being here – I know everyone is busy getting ready for the start of fall quarter. There is a palpable and growing energy on campus and we are all looking forward to the return of our students. That’s not to say that summers are quiet on our campus. Over summer there were faculty and students conducting research side-by-side; maintenance of our buildings and grounds; a host of summer programs, orientations and camps; and all of the work it takes to close one academic and fiscal year and get ready for the next. Thank you to everyone in this room for your hard work throughout the entire year, and for your collective focus on academic excellence on this beautiful residential campus.

Starting tomorrow we will welcome the best entering class in Cal Poly’s history. Nearly 57,000 students applied for admission this fall. That’s a new record. Our entering class also has the highest academic profile ever for both first-time freshman and transfer students. And each year we become a more diverse and inclusive campus. These are all testaments to you. Cal Poly is getting better every year because of your passion and your commitment to your focus on the success of each and every student, to your field, to your research, and to your hard work inside and outside of the classroom.  

When I arrived at Cal Poly in 2011, people told me that faculty and staff have a very high level of engagement with our students. I learned quickly that they were right. I can tell you as someone who has worked at several universities, that the ways in which you support and mentor our students is rare, and it is absolutely critical to their success and the success of Cal Poly. However, we cannot just assume that history will keep repeating itself. Cal Poly’s future – our future – California’s future -- depends on continual assessment, adjustment and focus. It depends on listening to each other and learning from each other. Our future depends on thoughtful and careful planning.

Five years ago, as part of the WASC accreditation process, we were deep in conversations about what it means to be a comprehensive polytechnic university in the 21st century. Back then, the Academic Senate also approved a resolution endorsing a draft strategic plan as, quote, an “emerging framework … to provide planning at Cal Poly,” end quote. Although not itself a plan, the framework was a great start. In 2014, I presented Vision 2022 to the campus, which resulted from many conversations, listening sessions, and consultations, including challenging conversations we had as a campus community about quarters vs. semesters.

By the way, while I stirred the pot, so to speak, by asking the question about quarters versus semesters, I now stand before you as a strong proponent of the academic value of Cal Poly staying on Quarters. We then used Vision 2022 to develop both our academic enrollment plan and our master plan. Finally, last year the Academic Senate passed a resolution about the need for a strategic plan. Today, following all of that planning, I offer to the campus community an initial draft strategic plan, available for comment from everyone this fall.

Your leadership team and I need and deeply value input from all campus stakeholders on this plan. We have created a web site on which you will find both the initial draft strategic plan and a feedback page. Today you will receive a note from me via email with a link to the plan. Please use that page to provide us with your written input anytime during this fall quarter. In winter quarter, after review of the feedback and incorporation of changes, we will hold forums for discussing and improving the plan. In spring, we will invite the Academic Senate and ASI to respond to the plan formally, if they so desire. We will also be dedicating significant time during winter and spring to working with campus stakeholders on a path for implementing the strategic plan, timelines for strategic initiatives and assessing our progress.

To develop our initial draft strategic plan, we began by asking two main questions: 1.  What is the source of our success at Cal Poly?
2. What can we learn from the planning activities to which you have all contributed in the past five years?

The answer to the first question, about the source of Cal Poly’s success, was easy to find. Throughout Cal Poly’s 115-year history, the source of our success has been our Learn by Doing pedagogy. We were established as a residential Learn by Doing institution designed to provide critically needed agricultural education to Californians. There were many hard times in the 20th century for Cal Poly, with the institution nearly closing on a few occasions due to the high cost of Learn by Doing.

However, strong leadership and the selfless commitment of our faculty, staff, students and supporters made it possible for us to endure to become the comprehensive polytechnic university we are today. The draft strategic plan makes this an historic moment. Cal Poly has approved only one strategic plan before, in The initial draft strategic plan I offer you today, in the full spirit of collaboration, is based on the simple premise that Learn by Doing is the wellspring of our success. We have been successful by building our curriculum, policies, practices and identity based on our unique Learn by Doing pedagogy.

With all of this in mind, I had a retreat last winter quarter with your leadership team at which we reviewed all of the divisional, college and unit strategic plans, mission and vision statements, Vision 2022, our accreditation documents and our other planning documents from the past few years. Based on those documents, and the commitment to Learn by Doing, we agreed to six overarching university goals, which are:
1. Nurture the Campus Community
2. Foster Inclusion and Diversity
3. Enhance Student Success
4. Enhance Staff & Faculty Success
5. Develop Financial Sustainability
6. Engage in Capital Improvement/Address Deferred Maintenance/Infrastructure

In spring I then presented those goals to the President’s Leadership Council, which is a group comprised of approximately 100 Cal Poly faculty, staff and students. I asked them to develop high-level objectives, strategies and metrics for each of the university goals. Over the summer, we took their suggestions and working with your leadership team, we drafted the initial strategic plan to prepare it for your input this fall quarter.

I do not want to say too much about the initial draft plan here, because it is important that you review it yourselves, without my interference. There are a few things, though, that I would like to highlight.

First, and foremost, we are a Learn by Doing university. We provide our students with an extraordinary opportunity to fail safely as they learn and then, to succeed. What we offer our students is what so many universities are now saying they want to be able to offer to their students. For this reason, and for many others, it is appropriate that our strategic plan be based on what we have always done so well.

Second, you will notice in the plan that among the many objectives and strategies, we have included language about salaries. I deeply appreciate the unique opportunity I have to serve as your president. I am always humbled by, and take pride in, how much you accomplish in your programs and units. Today, I want to tell you that I will continue to work tirelessly to get you salaries that are not only commensurate with the quality of the programs you develop and support, they are consistent with the cost of living in our community.

One suggestion I make in the initial draft plan is that in your departments and units, you identify peer departments at other institutions and make benchmark comparisons adjusted for local cost of living. There is no single university like ours, as we learned in 2011 when we tried unsuccessfully to develop lists of peer institutions. Consequently, I think we need to look at peer departments and units to make our comparisons, rather than whole institutions.

Also in the initial draft plan is a commitment to housing all first and second year students on campus. We have been tracking the retention rates of students who live on campus for two years versus one year – the research clearly shows that our retention rates improve significantly if they live on campus for both years. We know, in addition, that our retention rates are lower for students that are first generation, low income or STEM majors and we are committed to eliminating this gap.

Consequently, our five-year goal is to house all first and second year students by 2021. Let me be clear, this is not a small objective. However, it is possible through public private partnerships that we can add the over 2000 beds needed to house all freshmen and sophomore students. Please note that this is above and beyond the current project at the corner of grand and slack.

You will not be surprised that also in the initial draft strategic plan is an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. We value diversity at Cal Poly because we value each and every human being. We value inclusion for exactly the same reason. We are not currently planning to grow. Chancellor White has referenced access to quality and completion. Access at Cal Poly is access to a team of faculty and staff dedicated to helping students thrive in their major areas of study and then excel in their professional and personal lives. While we are not planning to grow, we are always planning to provide access to students from all demographics. This diversity requires that we intentionally work together to be inclusive.

I want to take just a few minutes to talk about inclusion and what it means to me. Inclusion is about respecting oneself and others, regardless of our differences. There are many kinds of respect. The kind of respect I am talking about, though, in connection with diversity and inclusion, is a basic respect for others that we owe each other in virtue of the fact that we are human beings. This means respecting what others do and what they say. It means maintaining high levels of self-respect; it means talking and acting in ways that preserve our own humanity and recognize that of others.

Of course there are points at which respecting what others do and say breaks down, such as when someone breaks the law in their words or actions. However, in most of our everyday exchanges in our university community respect is owed, and it is inextricably tied to free expression. Respect requires us to accept that others can and will sometimes say things that we feel must be untrue or we know are unkind. Paradoxically, exercising our free expression and respecting each other for exercising that right often brings our differences to light.

Conversations about diversity and inclusion challenge all of us deeply. I, for one, continue to feel as though I always have more to learn. So please remember that we cannot be an inclusive university if we do not hold fast to our commitment to respecting each other and to our shared right to free expression. Informed by the conversations regarding diversity and inclusion I have had recently with many of you, I have decided that hiring a chief diversity officer is so important to our future that the successful candidate will not only report directly to me and serve on my Cabinet, but she or he will also hold a vice president title. I want you to know that the search is underway and I encourage you to participate in the search process when the committee brings candidates to campus later this fall quarter.

There are many other aspects of the initial draft strategic plan for you to consider. I am eager to learn what you think about it. I do not think you will find any surprises. Instead, in drafting the plan, we simply tried to bring together in one place the results of planning work, which you have completed in the past few years, and which has already influenced decisions.

So, please use the feedback page on the strategic plan web site to submit your input. In winter quarter, please join us at the forums to discuss the plan. Your input is critical for our collective success as the long-term keepers of the shop and for our students, whose relationship to Cal Poly endures long after they graduate and begin their professional lives.

One highly esteemed member of our community who comes quickly to mind when discussing Learn by Doing and diversity and inclusion is Phil Bailey. I would like to take some time to honor Phil, and talk about some of the many ways he has created a culture of inclusion and supported Learn by Doing. As you know, Phil recently announced his retirement as dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. For his faculty and staff, and for all students at Cal Poly, Phil is the epitome of inclusion. I could not admire him more, or what he has done for this university. I am proud to consider him a friend as well. Here are several examples of what Phil habitually does:

For department faculty recruitments, Phil asks explicitly about minority applicants and how they have been considered. He encourages his departments to recruit in ways that grow the number of minority applicants and to expand their final pools to be as inclusive as possible.

He tracks academic probation and disqualification appeals to gather aggregate data that illustrates some of the challenges underrepresented and first gen students face – he shares this aggregate data with his faculty and staff.

Both Phil and Tina do not just help students themselves, they share stories about students in need. A few years ago, Phil shared a story at a Foundation Board meeting about helping students with money for food. That led to the establishment of the food vouchers, which grew to a larger program that includes the food pantry and Cal Poly Cares – funded 100% by all Foundation members through the Foundation Fund for Students.

Phil and Tina’s accomplishments in supporting Learn by Doing are also extraordinary. He championed the studio classrooms and Tina developed them. They integrate lecture and lab, so that students have the opportunity to apply the material they learn about immediately, rather wait for a lab experience. Today, almost all of general chemistry is taught using this format.

Phil made student-faculty research a focus of the college. Student-faculty research, an important feature of our initial draft strategic plan, is written into the expectations and recruitment language for tenure-track faculty in the College of Science and Mathematics. More than 200 students do research with COSAM faculty mentors every summer.

Phil also worked hard to seek donors to support scholarships and research. He knows that vision requires implementation. This is very much like what is needed for our strategic plan.

Phil started and championed the Study 25-35 program for all students at Cal Poly, because he believes in, and is passionate about, the success of all students.

He oversaw the acquisition of the Cal Poly Pier, which brings Learn by Doing opportunities to more than 1,000 students every year and to the thousands of grade school students who have had the opportunity to visit it.

Phil has taken the lead on three campus buildings, with Faculty Offices East being the first. He not only cultivated many of the relationships that resulted in the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics, he also cultivated a relationship with Bill Frost that led to the $20 million pledge for a new building. The science and math section of the new building will be dedicated to undergraduate research. Many leaders are excited to be involved with developing a single new building during her or his career – Phil has been involved with three – not to mention funds for renovations!

While we will all miss having Phil as our COSAM dean, I am happy to say that he will continue to help Cal Poly be successful. Phil and Tina represent the best of Cal Poly. Please join me in thanking them both for their countless contributions to this great university.

While I know Tina and Phil are blushing, it is important that we recognize them at this time.  They are emblematic of each of you. So many faculty and staff care about each individual student. It’s impossible to come up with a number for how many Cal Poly students Phil and Tina have helped over the years. But the number that really matters is one. Phil and Tina helped – and all of you help -- one student at a time. Before closing, I want to share with you one story about one of our students that you all support, Mayra Mejia, a graphic communications major. Hers is just one story, but it represents each and every one of the students that you have helped.


Thank you for sharing your story, Mayra. We are proud you chose to learn here and we are committed to your success.

It’s going to be a great year at Cal Poly because of you, our faculty and staff and because of our shared commitment, purpose, dedication and passion. Colleagues, thank you.

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