Welcome to the New Academic Year

SDSU President Hirshman introduces his Welcome Back video for 2016-17.

Last year was an amazing year of achievement for our San Diego State community, and I am excited about our extraordinary opportunity for greater distinction in 2016-17. As we begin the new year, I hope you will take the time to learn more in my video message here.

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Qualcomm Stadium Site Provides Opportunity to Advance SDSU

San Diego State is a dynamic and evolving university with numerous recent accomplishments – each one building on our history of excellence and achievement.  To give two examples, the creation of the Susan and Stephen Weber Honors College and the opening of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union occurred at singular moments in time, but they were the results of decades of efforts by our university community.  Similarly, SDSU’s emergence as a nationally renowned research university, while highlighted by a flurry of recent discoveries, reflects the collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, students and administrators over more than five decades.

Today, we have an opportunity that could alter the trajectory of our history for the next several decades.  In a recent blog, I mentioned three touchstones for San Diego State’s continued success in the future – the highest-quality programs, service to students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and financial strength.  While our current campus footprint of 225 acres is sufficient to support our aspirations in the short term, we will, most assuredly, need more space for the long-term advancement of our university’s programs over the next 50 years.

The San Diego Chargers’ recent decision to leave Mission Valley and pursue a downtown stadium creates this critical opportunity.  This decision opens up a host of possibilities for the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site – just eight minutes away by trolley from our College Avenue campus.

San Diego River, west of Qualcomm Stadium

While some might argue that the Qualcomm site should be redeveloped along Mission Valley’s familiar high-density, automobile-dependent pattern, San Diego State supports a low- to medium-density vision focusing on sustainable recreational and educational uses.

We see a future in Mission Valley with community parks and recreational opportunities, low- to medium-density housing, a small number of research/technology transfer facilities and, possibly, a stadium – one on a significantly smaller scale than Qualcomm Stadium – that could be shared by San Diego State, a Major League Soccer franchise and other community partners.  We are eager to join members of our community in discussing this vision.

The excitement and challenge of realizing such a vision will, of course, be in the details.  One especially exciting aspect, mentioned earlier, is that the Metropolitan Transit System’s Trolley provides a rapid, easily accessibleTwo MTS trolleys at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Transit System connection between our campus and the Qualcomm site.  This existing transportation infrastructure is critical to realizing a sustainable, green vision for the redeveloped site and for our entire university.  As just one example, faculty, staff and students residing on a redeveloped site could use the trolley system, instead of their cars, to get to campus.  This would reduce traffic in Mission Valley and in the College Area, as well as reduce our entire community’s carbon footprint and parking challenges on our campus.

These possibilities will, of course, raise many detailed questions.  Who would own the redeveloped site?  Who would be the development partners?  How would the redevelopment be financed?  The blunt answer to these questions at this moment is that we don’t know.

Researcher works in a lab at San Diego State University.It is, however, time for the communal discussion that will help us find these answers. The end point of a great adventure is rarely known, but the possibilities associated with any grand pursuit must first be envisioned.  Let’s dream as a community, knowing that the opportunity to advance the future of our university is before us.


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What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

The classic musical “Bye Bye Birdie” tells the story of rock ’n’ roll star Conrad Birdie (think Elvis Presley) and the mayhem that results when he arrives in a small Ohio town.  Like many depictions of that era, the 56-year-old production features a song, “Kids,” that describes the many flaws of young adults in the 1950s.  The refrain is “What’s the matter with kids today?” and the song describes “kids” as “disobedient,” “disrespectful,” “crazy,” and “lazy.”  In a moment of comedic nostalgia, it asks “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?”

Today’s media seems to be singing a new version of “Kids.”  A recent column by Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post, titled “Liberal intolerance is on the rise on America’s college campuses,” cites a recent research survey in which 43 percent of entering freshman said “colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers.”  Rampell adds that a number of student groups (now about 76) have presented “demands” to their university administration, and several university presidents have stepped down in response to student protests.  Collectively, Rampell views these developments as a shift on campuses in which liberal voices are “muzzling” other voices on campus.  Countless similar articles in the media have focused on related issues like trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and the “coddling” of today’s students.

Like the adults in “Bye Bye Birdie,” the media critics and their analyses are superficial and their characterizations fundamentally inaccurate.  I interact with our students every day.  I see our students at their best and their worst.  I see snapshots of their achievements and hear the extended narratives of their lives. There is so much more than the caricatures presented in the media.

Scene from "Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights," SDSU production December 2015

Photo by Ken Jacques

Our students are ambitious, talented and hard-working. Every day, I meet a student who is pursuing a double major and leading one or more co-curricular groups.  They are students like the young man in our M.A. program in history who has been offered full scholarships to Ph.D. programs at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan.  They are artists and student-athletes who bring their unique talents and extraordinary commitment to our community.  They are the student from our Imperial Valley Campus who recently took a two-hour Greyhound bus ride to the San Diego campus for a one-hour co-curricular activity because “he wanted to learn more.”

Our students are embracing the opportunities afforded by an SDSU education. Over 550 students will be participating in our Student Research Symposium next month, and over 1,000 students are participating in the Aztec Mentor Program. Our ZIP Launchpad and Lavin Entrepreneurship Center are preparing future entrepreneurs, and our students are leading efforts in sustainability and service learning.

Aztecs are adventurers.  Students are coming to San Diego State from across the globe, seeking to advance their educations and their lives.  As just one example, I recently met an enthusiastic young woman from a small town in Minnesota who was brave enough to leave the world she knew to join us here in San Diego.  Our California students are embracing this ethos of adventure, venturing out to prepare for their roles as global citizens.  Over 2,400 students had an international experience last year, and we rank 15th in the nation for study abroad.

To speak directly to students’ desire to ban extreme speakers, it may reflect a noble longing (albeit one pursued through the wrong means).  Our students have grown up in one of the most diverse societies in history.  They have seen it fractured by faction, and they have heard many political leaders say hateful things.  For many students, the desire to ban extreme speakers comes from a well-meaning desire to protect themselves and to bring harmony to our community.  This laudable desire for community also manifests itself in other ways, such as in enthusiastic participation in our One SDSU Community initiative – which brings students from many groups together for community service and dialogues on our diverse communities.

Our students are not constitutional lawyers when they enter SDSU (although they may be someday), and they are not always intimately familiar with our longstanding American tradition of protecting speech, regardless of its content. As an advocate for freedom of expression, I have had extended discussions with many students who come to more nuanced understandings of the implications of banning speakers when they learn more about the historical and constitutional contexts.

This brings me to my essential point.  It is our collective responsibility and privilege to support today’s students and to help them develop into the future leaders of our society.  Our extraordinary faculty and staff support this important work every day, but everyone in our community can participate.  We can join our community to support students who are participating in artistic, cultural and athletics events.  We can provide funds to support scholarships and programming to help students pursue an education for leadership in the 21st century.  We can all make an important difference for our students and for our society’s future.

The question “What’s the matter with kids today?” is, to be blunt, the wrong question.

The right question is “How can we work as One SDSU Community to support our students?”

Every day, members of our community give profound and enthusiastic answers to this question, and for that I am extremely grateful.

SDSU Mechatronics Club members take their first-place winning robo-sub to the pool in the 2015 international competition.


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Internet Reshaping Economy, Redefining Education

Screen shot of Educause ReviewThe question of how developments in information technology are changing pedagogy in higher education is important, but a single-minded focus on this issue is diverting attention from an even more fundamental set of questions:  How are ubiquitous Internet connectivity and widespread access to personal computing dramatically changing the economic structure of our society and, consequently, the educational preparation necessary for graduates to thrive? What are the critical implications not only for how students are taught but also for how broader educational goals and purposes are met?

Read more about this topic in my column in Educause Review and join the discussion.

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A Time to Consider SDSU’s Future

San Diego State University is currently in the process of reaffirming our accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.  This intensive process, which we last underwent in 2005-06, has multiple components.  To date, we have created an institutional report, undergone an off-site review, and received an off-site review report (all available at wasc.sdsu.edu).  The off-site review report presents 12 commendations and four major lines of inquiry that set the stage for the March 22-24 accreditation visit by a distinguished review team.  This team will provide important guidance and counsel regarding SDSU’s future.

While one of the central goals of this process is to reaffirm our accreditation, the process also provides us with opportunities to reflect on our educational mission and the state of our university.  For me, it is an opportunityDome of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University. Photo by Paul Lang to think about the broad outlines of our university’s future and how we will create that future.  This is especially timely for us as we are in the third year of implementing our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence.”

“Building on Excellence” was created in a time of enormous financial challenge – near the end of one of the longest recessions in our nation’s history.  Appropriately and necessarily, it focused on the immediate challenges of the coming three- to five-year period.  Foremost among the plan’s initiatives were very specific efforts to increase revenue and to improve the university’s academic and co-curricular programs.

While the work of “Building on Excellence” is ongoing and these issues remain critical, it is also important to consider a broader perspective on our long-term aspirations.  I believe there are three touchstones that can be part of a broad vision of our university’s future, and my hope is that we can, as a community, consider them as part of the reaffirmation process.

First, maintaining and increasing the quality of our academic and co-curricular programs is essential.  This focus continues the decades-long tradition established by my predecessors Presidents Day and Weber and our dedicated faculty, staff, and students, who have made aspiration and achievement central to our campus’ ethos.  Many may debate the meaning of quality.  For me, the key is that quality academic and co-curricular programs prepare students to contribute broadly to the society they will enter.

Today, quality programs must include a general education curriculum that helps students develop a broad range of abilities and understandings, a major program of study that immerses students in an academic discipline and professional preparation, and exposure to cutting-edge research and the vibrancy of the creative Members of the San Diego State Rocket Project assemble a rocket before launch.arts.  Quality programs must also provide our students with opportunities for holistic development. These include high impact practices such as international experiences, entrepreneurship, internships, mentoring, leadership development, service learning, cultural diversity, engagement at national and international conferences, interaction with national and international leaders, and numerous specialized co-curricular opportunities.

Second, we must be a campus that welcomes students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds, and we must ensure that students from all backgrounds succeed at the highest level – intellectually, personally and professionally.  In doing this, we continue one of our university’s proudest traditions and serve a critical public purpose in our region and throughout California.

Third, we must be financially strong.  We are in an era in which universities – especially public universities – are under enormous and continuous fiscal stress. Nearly every day we read of the financial challenges and controversies affecting universities and colleges across our country.  Our financial strength will provide the resources necessary to maintain the quality of our programs and serve our diverse students.  Our efforts must involve increasing revenues from public and private sources, as well as prudent and effective stewardship of these revenues.

These three elements – a focus on quality, service to diverse students and financial strength – are broad outlines for an enduring and successful university that serves its students and our society.

Each element, of course, raises many questions and can be pursued in multiple ways.  Let’s use this spring’s accreditation review as an opportunity to discuss these broad perspectives and consider how we can use them as guidelines to create the future of San Diego State.








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Why Athletics Is An Integral Part of the Aztec Experience

Something very special happened this past Friday night.  In a match-up of two teams undefeated in conference play,Aztec football players celebrate a score during the team's 48-14 victory over Utah State. our football team defeated a strong Utah State team, 48-14, in front of a crowd of 26,000 members of our community and a national TV audience.  Our team had faced significant challenges at the beginning of the season, and it was wonderful to see the team overcome these adversities.  While the game was a challenging one for our Utah State counterparts, they are a fine team and we know they also will rebound.  For us, we look forward to the remainder of the season, including our next home game – the Homecoming game against Wyoming on Nov. 14.

In many ways, our victory illustrated the best of college football.  Supported by our community, our players and coaches worked together, they persevered through adversity and their hard work and effort were rewarded.  It was great to hear our community’s pride in SDSU’s athletics’ achievements – the women’s soccer team won its fourth consecutive conference title on Sunday – as I traveled throughout the city this weekend.

Members of the women's soccer team hold their trophy for winning a fourth consecutive Mountain West championship in 2015.We are in a time of extraordinary change in college athletics, and this weekend of success and achievement provides an opportunity to reflect on three aspects of our athletics programs – the role they can play in supporting the broader university, the challenges they face in today’s environment and the incredible opportunities they can provide to our student-athletes.  Our tradition of athletics’ achievement is strong at San Diego State, and we are poised to seize these opportunities and to meet our challenges.

Turning to athletics’ broader role, our programs are a highly visible aspect of our university’s culture of achievement and excellence.  In athletics, our aspirations are to contend at the highest competitive level and to conduct our programs with the highest level of integrity.  Our successes are a powerful and tangible symbol of our entire community’s commitment to excellence in our educational programs, our research programs and our creative efforts.  This ethos of achievement is reflected in our university’s countless national recognitions and honors.  Thus, the aspirations of our athletics programs are part of our overall aspirations for excellence.

The primary challenge our athletics program faces in today’s landscape is that, fueled by media revenues, the expenditures of some top-ranked programs have increased dramatically.  For example, Ohio State now spends $114 million annually on its athletics programs.  These spending increases have reshaped the competitive landscape and, in some cases, they reflect a shift in university priorities.  To meet this challenge, we must balance the need to make financial investments to compete at the highest level with the fiscal prudence necessary to sustain the primacy of our educational, research and service missions. Attaining this balance involves generating revenues from philanthropic and other private sources to support our athletics programs, and ensuring that tuition revenues and state support are expended on our core missions. Similarly, we must ensure that our expenditures on athletics scholarships, facilities and personnel produce the greatest possible impact on our student-athletes’ development and our teams’ competitive opportunities – these cannot simply be automated efforts to attain parity in spending with other universities.

Finally, and in many ways most important, we have the opportunity with our athletics programs to reaffirm and dedicate ourselves to the ideal that the personal, professional and intellectual development of each student-athlete is the central purpose of these programs.  We want to be recognized not just for competing at the highest level, but also for providing the greatest possible support of our student-athletes’ personal development and growth.  Given the breadth and diversity of the academic and personal abilities of our student-athletes, this opportunity will mean different things for different student-athletes.  Some will participate in a co-curricular activity like study abroad or research, while others will take advantage of further academic enrichment to prepare for graduate school or obtain an internship to support career opportunities.  Whatever form they take, these opportunities for personal growth will have the common ingredient of helping our student-athletes develop their potential for a productive and meaningful life after their athletic careers end.

We are blessed at San Diego State to have an exceptional Department of Intercollegiate Athletics directed by Jim Sterk, and we are fortunate to have coaches, student-athletes and staff members whose daily focus is moving our programs and our university forward.  I am grateful to them and to all of the supporters in our community who are helping our programs and our student-athletes achieve excellence.

SDSU running back Donnel Pumphrey turns the corner during his 181-yard, two-touchdown game against Utah State.


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Montys Showcase Key Role of Alumni in Providing Quality Education

Last week, we honored our distinguished alumni at the Monty Awards.  This year’s awards were a little different.  We began the evening with a reception in the Lee and Frank Goldberg Courtyard of the Conrad Prebys Aztec SDSU President Elliot Hirshman, left, with 2015 Monty Award honoree Jack Tempchin at the awards ceremony.Student Union and then moved to the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre for a rock concert by The Mighty Untouchables. I told you it was different. Even the president got rid of the tie.

One thing, however, was the same.  The extraordinary achievements of our honorees testify to the renown and distinction our alumni bring to our university.  Among our honorees were business leaders like Andy Esparza, Ziad Mansour, Ed Marsh, and Mike Pack, who have built and led successful corporations and have been extraordinarily generous to our university.  The creative arts were well-represented. Songwriter Jack Tempchin and Hollywood media executive Mort Marcus brought a touch of celebrity to the ceremony.  Our tradition of service was also highlighted with the honoring of Jean Landis’ extraordinary service to our country and Sam Ciccati’s contributions to public higher education.  Last, but certainly not least, Associate Vice President Sandra Cook and alumnus Keith Harris were recognized for their exceptional service in advancing the university. It was a great night.

Eight of the 10 Monty Award winners honored by San Diego State in 2015.

The night also displayed the essential role our alumni play in supporting the future of San Diego State.  In an era in which state support and family resources are limited, the philanthropic support of our alumni is the key to continuing our tradition of excellence.  While the history of alumni giving to public universities in California has been limited, our alumni have, over the last eight years, met the challenge.  We set a goal of raising $500 million in our first comprehensive fundraising campaign, and thanks to the generous support of our alumni and community supporters, The Campaign for SDSU exceeded our initial goal last year and we raised our goal to $750 million.  As of today, the campaign has raised over $630 million.

The best news is that these efforts are just the start.  The potential impact that our over 300,000 alumni can have on our university is extraordinary.  As just one example, if every alumnus donated $100 per semester for student scholarships, we would have enough scholarship funding (over $60 million) to reduce the tuition of every student by over 50 percent.  Thus, 55 years since the inception of California’s historic Master Plan for Higher Education, we can still realize its vision of quality education, but we must include our alumni as full partners to do so.

Our entire university is embracing this historic opportunity.  We have created regional councils to bring together members of the Aztec family who reside throughout California and our nation.  The Aztec Mentor Program is bringing alumni and community supporters together with today’s students.  Internships and corporate visit days are providing opportunities for our alumni to guide our students in preparing for the work world, and the SDSU Strive crowdfunding site provides opportunities for every alumnus to support projects of special interest to them.  Recent graduates and current students are also playing roles.  Last year’s graduates created a $26,000 scholarship endowment, and this year 1,900 freshmen (with the help of 200 sophomores, juniors and seniors) raised $21,500 for scholarships before they had taken even a single class – a wonderful example of our theme that “Leadership Starts Here.”

I am certain we will succeed in our efforts to harness the extraordinary power and philanthropy of our alumni for the good of our university and our students. Anyone who has any doubt of this can simply look to the accomplishments of this year’s Monty Award winners to see the extraordinary things members of the Aztec family can achieve.

Replicas of the "The Aztec" statue presented to SDSU's 2015 Monty Award winners.



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