2012 Convocation Address

Academic Senate Chair Dan O'Connor


 

INTRODUCTION

Good morning!

I want to thank President Alexander and Provost Para for allowing me to share some thoughts about the upcoming academic year. I want to begin by recognizing the former Chair of the Academic Senate, Lisa Vollendorf, who had a profound impact on the Senate and the broader campus community during her tenure as Senate Chair.

Happy new school year! Like most of you in the audience, I have been involved in education all of my life and have always taken great joy in the opportunity we have to begin again every school year – to re-create ourselves.

COMMITMENT

For you students who are entering this important self-creating phase of your life, for you faculty who are creating your professional identities, and for the whole university community, the question of how we re-create ourselves in order to meet our mission, has become increasingly complicated.

How do we re-create ourselves given the current context?

My message to you students and your parents is that as you discover your path of re-creation, you are in good hands.

You are in good hands because Cal State Long Beach has a President who is a visionary and internationally recognized leader who is deeply committed to student success and to making the college experience as affordable and accessible to as many students as possible. President Alexander is committed to public education as a public good to be shared.

You are in good hands because Cal State Long Beach has a Provost and academic administration that are committed to providing you with outstanding academic programs and who recognize that we are preparing an educated citizenry who will serve the public.

You are in good hands because Cal State Long Beach has a Faculty who are committed to their disciplines, who are committed to the universities mission of student success, and who are committed to honing their craft of teaching.

You are in good hands because Cal State Long Beach has Staff members who are constantly exploring ways to do more with less and who are committed to helping students achieve their goals.

You are in good hands because Cal State Long Beach has a Student body, ably led by Associated Students Incorporated, that is diverse and motivated, a group of students that understands that it is part of its civic duty to make its university and its world a better place.

These are the raw materials with which we have to work and to build the university that we want to be. In re-creating ourselves, we re-create this university.

Two of the most important contemporary phenomena that touch all of our lives are the recent Olympics and the upcoming election in November. Both of these events have captured enormous media attention and have insinuated themselves in many aspects of our lives. The main difference between the Olympics and the political election is that everybody seems to love the Olympics, and everybody pretty much hates politics.

One does not have to look far to hear people complain about how awful American politics is, and California politics is every bit as bad. We hear how government is not the solution, but the problem itself. So, O.K., everybody hates politics, and yet the Academic Senate is the central locus of politics on our campus.

Everybody distrusts government, and yet the Academic Senate is the nexus of shared governance on our campus.

Awkward.

It does not have to be this way – at any level – and I believe that through our commitment to the principle that higher education is a PUBLIC good, we can establish a place for recreating ourselves, and our university. Politics is the act of people coming together to work for common goods. Being political is a good thing.

So, how do we re-create ourselves in these difficult times? How do we provide these students the opportunities for self-creation they so richly deserve? We do this by embracing the political. We will not turn away from politics and the political process; we will lean into it, make it our own. I speak to you today in praise of politics.

HEROES

Watching the recent Olympic games, I was impressed, as I know so many of you were, to learn of the commitment of the athletes, endless hours spent in swimming pools, weight rooms, tracks, practicing their sports. Each of the athletes was committed to being the very best that she or he could be. But in every interview, what you learned was that for all the athletes, the name on the front of the jersey was more important than the name on the back. They were committed to the notion of national pride as a public good, they believed in something greater than themselves.

And for this we call them heroes.

Last week, Long Beach’s own Misty May was on a late night talk show and, while she was happy to talk about the Olympics and the medals and the whole experience, what she really wanted to talk about were her future goals of public service working for foundations that serve the common good. Her commitment beyond herself, to the public good, is what struck me as heroic.

Understanding heroism as the commitment to public goods, we can begin to recognize that there are heroes all around us.

I have heroes like the staff of offices throughout this university, in places like Benefits Services, the Atlas Network, the Ukleja Center, the School of Nursing, and in departments in all of the colleges, who are constantly asking themselves, how can we better serve students? These are my heroes.

I have heroes among our faculty colleagues like Gary Hytrek, who last year was recognized for his work in the Long Beach community, linking his research and teaching on the issues of poverty and race to the local community and striving to achieve social justice, an increasingly underappreciated concept. Heroes like Carlos Silveira, who regularly takes groups of Long Beach students to work and share the wonders of art with children living in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the world, from the former killing fields of Cambodia to the favelas – the slums - of Rio de Janeiro. These are my heroes. Their deeply personal work cannot be understood without the notion of common, public goods.

I have heroes like faculty leaders Teri Yamada and Elizabeth Hoffman who work tirelessly in service to the faculty and to the university as a whole. I especially want to recognize their work towards the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We are in their debt.

I have heroes like Athletic Director Vic Cegles, who daily goes about his business ensuring that our athletic programs give real meaning to the phrase, “Student Athlete.” CAL STATE LONG BEACH has won the Big West trophy for overall excellence in athletics the last two years in a row and three of the last four years.

I have heroes like Associate Vice President Lynn Mahoney who spends nearly every waking hour thinking about how to improve the academic success of our students through her tireless efforts to improve advising across the university and leading such initiatives as the Highly Valued Degree Initiative, General Education reform, and, most recently, the Early Start Program. Her commitment to this university is indeed heroic.

And I have so many heroes among our incredibly diverse student body, individuals who overcome challenges on a daily basis and who are committed to completing their education and serving their communities. Heroes like Doug Leach, a student who began his college career about a dozen years ago, struggled, made some poor decisions, and dropped out. A few years later, Doug turned his life around and committed himself to serving his community. Doug returned to Long Beach, graduated last May after having completed multiple semesters of perfect 4.0 coursework, and is now on his way to becoming a teacher of special education in our local schools.

These are my heroes. You are my heroes.

RE-CREATING OURSELVES

Universities are the repositories of knowledge and wisdom, but knowledge and wisdom are of little use unless they are shared. You understand that, and that is why you are here.

We will recreate ourselves, and our university, by instilling within our students a love of learning, an appreciation for the arts, and an understanding of their need to commit themselves to public goods greater than themselves. We will teach them to be engineers, nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers. We will teach them to think critically, to understand the rigors of the scientific method, and the beauty of the sublime.

We will instill in them the habits of mind of writers, historians, mathematicians, business analysts, and designers. We will teach them citizenship. We will encourage them to read books. We will teach them to teach themselves.

And we will teach them that each of these acts is a beautifully political act.

The role of the Academic Senate is to provide a civil and collegial space for considered debate that allows students, faculty, administration, and staff to build consensus about what is best for our campus, for our commonwealth. The greatness of a university can be measured by the civility of its discourse.

CONCLUSION

This is going to be a difficult and challenging year, but with our commitment to our shared common good – to being political - we will make it a great year for the university. For you students, this IS your shot.

Let’s get to work!