Category Archives: College of Arts and Letters

Holidays Build SDSU Community Ready to Conquer Challenges

During the holiday season, the days are a little shorter, the light a little less brilliant and, even in San Diego, the temperatures are a little bit colder.  So, as people have done for thousands of years, we gather together to share our warmth, light and generosity.  The last several weeks have been a time for communal gatherings, large and small.  Our Department of Geography celebrated its 100th anniversary.  We came together for our “Get Together, Give Back” event in support of our military and the Monarch School community.Les Miserables production at SDSU in December 2014.Our School of Theatre, Television and Film and our School of Music and Dance collaborated on an extraordinary concert production of “Les Misérables,” and our athletic teams inspired us with a conference title in women’s soccer, a fifth consecutive bowl game in football and a national ranking in men’s basketball.  Add countless department and office celebrations across campus and you appreciate the flurry of activities that accompany the holiday season.

These gatherings illustrate the essential role of community at San Diego State. During the formulation of our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” the theme of community and its many meanings arose again and again.  People recognized the benefits of strengthening our campus community, the necessity of building relationships with our alumni community and the importance of supporting our regional community.  As we have moved forward with implementing “Building Get Together, Give Back event at SDSU in December 2014.on Excellence,” we have initiated the “Get Together, Give Back” program to support faculty and staff morale, the Aztec Mentor Program to bring alumni and current students together, and the Sage Project in National City, in which over a thousand students, faculty and staff work on community projects.

Each of these programs – and others like them – is an important effort in its own right, but each also serves a larger purpose in building our community. Through community, we bring a diversity of perspectivesAztec Mentor Program participants at SDSU. and talents to address our challenges. Equally important, each of our individual efforts takes on a deeper meaning and purpose when it is tied to the common efforts of friends and colleagues in our community. This shared purpose is essential to the Aztec spirit – resolute and indefatigable – with which we meet our challenges, large and small.

The three central themes of “Building on Excellence” are Student Success, Research and Creative Endeavors, and Community and Communication. While we have critical goals in all three areas, our ability to achieve all of our goals rests on our ability to work together as a community.  In fact, given the strength and scope of the Aztec family, no aspiration and no goal is beyond our reach when we concentrate our efforts and work together.  While life presents many challenges, both to individuals and to universities, this fundamental truth, the power of community, is always essential to addressing them.  I look forward to working with all members of our community to continue to make progress and move our university forward in the spring semester.

Best wishes to all for the holiday season and the New Year.

SDSU football team singing the fight song after a victory in 2014.                          SDSU women's soccer team celebrates their conference championship in 2014.


Filed under Athletics, Building on Excellence, College of Arts and Letters, College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, Community, Strategic Plan, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Studies

Global View Strengthens SDSU

In prior blogs, I described some of the experiences of international students at our university and more about our international partners, and here I would like to talk more about why international programs are essential to our students and to SDSU’s future. Xiamen University Day at SDSU 2014

If there were any doubts, today’s global health crises, political upheavals and interconnected economy make it clear that a quality education is one with a global focus and international opportunities.

At San Diego State, our goals and aspirations for international programs are articulated in our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence.”  They build upon foundations created by President Emeritus Stephen Weber and Provost Emeritus Nancy Marlin, who recognized the strategic advantage of our location at the gateway to Latin America and the Pacific Rim, as well as the fundamental role that international efforts play in the success of our educational and research programs.

The international initiatives in “Building on Excellence” have three facets.  First, reflecting our belief that we must prepare students for professional and civic responsibilities in a global future, we have set an ambitious goal that 30 percent of our graduating students have international experiences – 2,100 students studied abroad last year.  We already rank in the top 25 in the nation, and reaching our SDSU student in Veniceambitious goal will place us in the top 10.  More important, our students grow intellectually and personally from these experiences.

Second, we are focusing our research on international challenges.  A broad range of areas, including climate change, economic prosperity, national security and public health, must be addressed from a global perspective.  Our researchers work with colleagues around the world to solve society’s pressing problems.

Third, we are recruiting additional international students, who now constitute 6 percent of our undergraduate population.  These students bring perspectives and knowledge that broaden the education of all our students and help build the bridges of friendship that tie nations together.

These international efforts are already gathering philanthropic support.  Alumni Keith Behner and Cathy Stiefel recently created a $2.5 million endowment to support our international programs with Brazil, a nation with the world’s seventh-largest economy.  This funding will support student exchanges, joint faculty research and strengthened relations between our two nations — advancing all three of our international initiatives. SDSU student in Brazil Alumni Jack McGrory and Terry Atkinson – both members of The Campanile Foundation Board – are among those supporting study-abroad scholarships for students who need financial support. Chinyeh Hostler and her late husband, Ambassador Charles W. Hostler, have made significant contributions to our international programs and to the Charles W. Hostler Institute on World Affairs.

In our 117- year history, SDSU has continually evolved with the times.  Today, carrying out our educational, research and service missions requires us to take an international perspective.  This perspective, in turn, will convey benefits closer to home for our region, state and nation and further our goal to become a top-50 public research university.

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Filed under Building on Excellence, Confucius Institute, International Programs, Strategic Plan

Building the Future

Our recent commencement weekend was one of pride and celebration and a special opportunity to show the beauty of our campus to the families and friends of our graduates.  Our facilities, custodial and landscaping staff do a great job in showcasing the campus and deserve our thanks.

In its grandeur, our campus is a powerful symbol of our commitment to academic excellence and achievement, and this year was a historic one in the life of our physical campus.  We completed construction on the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union and the newly renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler Hall complex.  Two of the largest buildings on our campus, these campus icons are centers of student life and academic programs.

Storm-Nasatir-Hostler halls complex at SDSU

Renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler complex

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at SDSU

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union






This summer, we write another chapter.  We are beginning a top-to-bottom renovation of Zura residence hall, breaking ground on our new Basketball Performance Center with its basketball practice courts and facilities and renovating our College of Business Administration with the addition of the Page Pavilion.  We also will be continuing the work on our heating and electrical systems and the painting and refurbishment of many campus buildings that began last summer.

Two important developments related to campus facilities occurred at the recent meeting of the Board of Trustees of the California State University.  First, the board approved the design for our new mixed use development on College Avenue, just south of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

SDSU's proposed housing and retail development on College Avenue.Featuring an urban greenscape and two six-story buildings, the  complex will house over 600  students and provide retail  opportunities for our students,  faculty, staff and the local  community.  The development also will provide much-needed short-term parking for campus visitors.  All of these features will be a significant step forward for our campus and our community.

Second, the board reviewed Governor Brown’s legislative proposal to shift the responsibility for facilities debt service from the state to the California State University, and CSU Chancellor Tim White voiced his public support for this proposal.  Even though the proposal may not pass this year, the landmark change in California’s financing of campus facilities has already been adopted by the University of California and is likely to pass in the near future.

While this change has raised concerns, it also creates possibilities and, for San Diego State, possibilities have always been more important than concerns.  One of the most important aspects of the legislation is that it would allow our university the flexibility to use operating funds to construct campus buildings.

This changes everything.

By combining operating, philanthropic and state funds, we could move from a passive approach of waiting for facilities allocations from the state to a proactive approach of creating funding models that allow us to pursue our academic priorities.  The new engineering and interdisciplinary sciences building that we have dreamed about for many years could move from dream to reality as fast as we could make it happen.

The landscape for public higher education in California continues to be a rapidly changing one.  Yet, within this turbulent environment, there are profound opportunities for building the future. Let’s take them!

Artist's rendering of new Page Pavilion at SDSU's College of Business Administration

Page Pavilion plan

Artist's rendering of Zura Hall renovation plans at SDSU

Rendering of Zura Hall remodel

Proposed Basketball Performance Center at SDSU

Basketball Performance Center

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Filed under Athletics, College of Arts and Letters, College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, News, Uncategorized

Why Rankings Matter

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the academic year has its own unique seasons and rhythms.  At the beginning of October, the admissions process begins and another notable period, the rankings season, ends – and it has been quite a rankings season for San Diego State University.

Business Insider:  Why SDSU is Soaring Higher in U.S. News Rankings Most notably, U.S. News and World Report named us to its list  of top “Up-and-Coming Schools.”  We were ranked #14  nationally on the list of universities “making the most  promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics,  faculty and student life.”  In an analysis of this year’s rankings,  the Washington Post reported that we have increased our  overall ranking the most of any university in the country since  2011 (31 places).

Other rankings also recognized our efforts.  For example, Washington Monthly ranked us #6 nationally for the economic value of our degrees.  Similarly, individual programs and colleges were also recognized in national rankings.  Our International Business program was ranked #8 in the nation by U.S. News, and our College of Engineering was ranked #15 in a national survey of the economic value of engineering degrees.

This national recognition is a testament to the dedication and passion of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters.  By highlighting the university’s excellence, it will attract new students and add value to the degrees of our current students and alumni. These distinctions are especially noteworthy given the significant challenges that are transforming public higher education in California, and they occasion many questions.  The two I get most frequently are “Do rankings matter?” and “How did we move up?”

My answer to the question of whether rankings matter is a decided “yes.”  Put directly, rankings reflect (and create) prestige – a reputation based on achievement and success – and achievement and success matter to students, their families, our alumni and prospective employers.  The rankings are especially important for students and their families who are not familiar with the university.  Colleges and universities are complex, hard-to-understand places, and attending a college or university requires a very significant investment of time and money.  The rankings try to help students and their families understand the investment they are about to make.  No ranking can fully characterize an individual university or quantify the match between the needs of an individual student and the strength of a specific university, but students and their families find the rankings to be a useful starting point.

The question of why we have moved up in various rankings has been analyzed in detail by Business Insider.  Three factors were cited as critical:  our campuswide efforts to support student success that improved our retention and graduation rates, the growth of our research efforts and their overall impact on our academic programs, and the success of our first comprehensive fundraising campaign which has raised over $425 million to date.  Each of these factors has contributed directly to metrics used in rankings and, indirectly, to the overall reputation of our university.

There is, however, more to it.  Underlying each individual factor is something more fundamental – a spirit of innovation that aspires to make our university better and always seems to find a way to do so.  It is this spirit of innovation that underlies our efforts to improve student success, advance research and build our culture of philanthropy.  This same spirit – this can-do attitude – motivates the ambitious initiatives proposed in our recently completed strategic plan “Building on Excellence,” and I am certain that it will propel us forward as we pursue these initiatives and advance our university.


Filed under College of Arts and Letters, College of Engineering, International Programs, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Studies

Henry Janssen: An Appreciation

Henry JanssenOn Sunday, I attended a memorial service for Professor Emeritus Henry Janssen.  During his 60 years at San Diego State, Henry taught and learned from thousands of students, envisioned and created an honors community, and invested in our university in countless ways.  Henry received teaching awards, the Outstanding Faculty Award, the Mortarboard service award, a Monty and the Presidential Medallion, which I was honored to convey to him.  Our “last lecture” series is named after Henry.  This recitation of awards does not, however, do justice to Henry’s profound influence.

Henry grew up on a small farm outside of Lyons, Kan., during the years of the Dust Bowl – years that sorely tested America’s farming families and communities.  A member of a small close-knit community, his intellectual abilities – particularly his voracious reading – were recognized and supported early in life.  He attended the University of Oklahoma during the Depression and, during this period, his lifelong frugality developed further.  Henry went on to serve in the military in World War II.  During his Army training, he married Marge Trent, and their marriage lasted 59 years.  Supported by the GI Bill, Henry earned a Ph.D. at Cal and, in 1953, joined what was then known as San Diego State College.  On Sunday, we celebrated his 60 years of service at San Diego State.

Even in broad outline, Henry’s life is extraordinary, but there was so much more to Henry.  For me, his infectious spirit, his love of life, his (often times risqué) wit, stood out.  Henry told me a number of jokes over the last two years and, invariably, their content prohibited me from ever repeating them.  I can, however, share one story that reflects Henry’s spirit.  When they were boys, Henry and his brother, Jack, would entertain neighbors with a trapeze act in the loft of their barn.  In the finale, Henry would release from the trapeze, fly over the heads of the audience, and out the door of the loft.  Henry recounted that he enjoyed hearing the gasps of the audience as he flew out the loft door, knowing that a well-stocked hay wagon waited below to cushion his fall.

This story also reflects Henry’s focus on community – a fundamental aspect of his life and legacy.  Whether he was entertaining his many friends, teaching and learning with students, advocating for the Honors College, or visiting with alumni, Henry was building community.  He was building community and supporting others. This was a central theme of his life and a powerful part of his legacy.

We live in a time of great disruption in higher education, and many question the fundamental purposes and practices of our university.  In this environment, Henry’s life and legacy remind us that the fundamental tie between a supportive community and the personal, intellectual, professional and moral development of the community’s members is the essence of all great universities.

Henry understood that it was critical to create small communities within our larger campus, and this is what he did for 60 years at San Diego State.  He created communities of learning, of mutual support, of humor (and some mischief), and, like the Greek city-states he admired, communities of moral purpose – communities that asked questions about what it means to be a good person and a contributing member of society.

Henry’s last act was to donate $1 million to support the development of our Honors Program into an Honors College.  Through his support, we will continue to develop as the community that Henry admired and inspired.  I hope that each member of our community, as their means and capacity permits, will join Henry in supporting our Honors College. (Click here to support the Honors College.)

This year, for the first time in over 60 years, Henry will not be with us on campus this fall.  His spirit – a spirit focused on excellence and inquiry and moral purpose, with just a touch of mischief – will, however, be with us.

For this, Henry’s most lasting gift, we are all deeply, deeply grateful.

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Filed under College of Arts and Letters, Political Science, Uncategorized

Engaging China Benefits SDSU

SDSU Day at Xiamen University, April 2013

Xiamen University

Recently, I went to China for the weekend.  More precisely, leaving on a Friday and returning on a Tuesday, I traveled from San Diego to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Beijing, from Beijing to Xiamen, from Xiamen to Boao, from Boao to Shanghai, and from Shanghai back to Los Angeles and San Diego.  The breathtaking pace of such a trip is a testament to the extraordinary changes that the jet airplane and its associated globalization have produced.

The purposes of the trip were many.  Along the way, I met with friends and supporters of the university, visited with students and faculty on exchange programs in China, introduced San Diego State to potential partner universities and presented an American perspective on higher education to participants at the Boao Forum for Asia.

There is no simple way to describe the extraordinary events occurring in China. Structural reforms have played a dramatic role in the development of Shanghai, a city of over 23 million people.  The Chinese middle class and their aspirations have grown significantly in cities like Xiamen.  Most importantly, there is an urgent need for multilateral collaboration with China on economic, environmental and security issues.

Boao Forum 2013

Boao Forum 2013

China is a nation taking center stage on the international scene.  In a single session of the Boao Forum, I heard the heads of state of Algeria, Australia, Cambodia, Mongolia and New Zealand describe their plans for trade with China. In short, engagement with China is essential to our future.

We are blessed at San Diego State to have developed strong relationships with China.  From our award-winning Confucius Institute, which provides opportunities for our campus and community to learn about Chinese culture and language, to our partnerships with Chinese universities and our American Language Institute where many Chinese students study English, we are prepared to engage the dramatic developments occurring in China.

Looking forward, this engagement will provide extraordinary resources and academic opportunities for our students, faculty and staff, as well as a forum for pursuing the multinational collaborations that are crucial to ensure economic development, environmental sustainability and international security in our shared future.

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Filed under American Language Institute, College of Arts and Letters, Confucius Institute, International Programs, Uncategorized

Meeting SDSU Faculty

As part of my introduction to the university, I am meeting as many students, faculty, staff and alumni – both in groups and individually – as I can. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting individually with Peter Herman and Angelo Corlett, two of our leading scholars in the Humanities. Peter is a Milton scholar who has led a national movement to reconsider classical views of Milton. Angelo is a Philosopher and Ethicist who is grappling with how to apply classical ethical frameworks to contemporary challenges. He is also the editor of one of the world’s leading ethics journals, one of many top journals headquartered at San Diego State.  Both discussions were interesting and wide-ranging, considering a number of issues in the disciplines, as well as broader issues that impact the university. The broad, integrative character of these discussions emphasizes the central role of the humanities, and the many forms of reasoning it integrates, in our efforts to use our research and creative endeavors to address societal challenges.

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Filed under College of Arts and Letters