Though budgetary difficulties loom large at California State University, Stanislaus, Interim President Joseph Sheley focused on the university’s myriad successes in his inaugural fall address, delivered Wednesday.
“We face challenges with our budget,” Sheley said. “We have work to do, that's for sure. But we are still a community that is proud of this university, its history, and its obvious positive impact on both individuals and the region.”
In his first address since joining CSU Stanislaus in June, Sheley repeatedly emphasized that positive impact.
He shared personal stories, explaining how students rarely said hello during his tenure as provost at CSU Sacramento. But at CSU Stanislaus, students routinely flag him down, he said, offering testimonials about the quality of the faculty and the difference the university has made in their lives.
“I was so proud to be part of this institution,” Sheley said.
It’s not just students pleased with the university, Sheley said.
Local governments and non-profits are pleased with the tremendous amount of volunteer hours students provide – 46,000 last year alone, resulting in about $1 million of economic impact. And, in his visits to local employers, Sheley said he’s been blown away by the number of people who say they are CSU Stanislaus alums.
“Employers love our students,” Sheley said. “They're practical, they hit the ground running, they learn fast, they get the job done, and, as one employer said, ‘They're not even cynical.’”
While the university does a good job, doing that job has become increasingly difficult as funding has steadily decreased – down a third, or $1 billion, system wide, despite higher enrollment. Should Proposition 30 fail this November – a measure which would raise sales taxes for all and income taxes on wealthy earners – the CSU faces a further $250 million trigger cut which could be devastating.
“There's really no fat left to be trimmed. We are into muscle, and in some cases, are into bone,” Sheley said. “It's serious.”
Even should Prop 30 pass, the CSU faces a $132 million budget cut, as the proposition requires the CSU rescind a planned fall tuition hike.
Sheley said the university has planned for the worst case scenario, as doing otherwise would be “incredibly irresponsible.” That translates into fewer classes, positions left unfilled, reduced advising, slowed progress to graduation, important projects left undone, and badly needed facilities not built.
“And perhaps, most important, dreams delayed or even lost,” Sheley said.
Sheley urged faculty to be proactive in addressing the budget, rethinking curriculum, required units, and the ration of required courses to electives. He asked staff to find ways to deliver critical services more efficiently and effectively.
And Sheley asked students to knock on the doors of five neighbors, to explain how important CSU Stanislaus is to them, and to ask their support of Prop 30.
In order to ensure CSU Stanislaus is first in line to receive funding when money does return in three to four years, Sheley proposed a massive public relations effort, intended to redefine the university as more than a “hidden gem.”
“We are a gem, no two ways about it. But we cannot afford to stay hidden,” Sheley said.
Sheley encouraged alumni to brag about their university. He asked them to be proud of a beautiful campus with great facilities, employees that care about students, and outstanding degree programs.
That pride is contagious, Sheley said, but the university must also “lead from the front.” Sheley called on the university to become more active in the region, showing local leaders the university’s true value.
“We can make our own luck if we come together as a community, prioritize internally, and make this university more than the sum of its parts,” Sheley said.
The message of community outreach continued Wednesday, as Sheley spent nearly 20 minutes introducing faculty, student, and staff leaders, as well as elected officials and business notables.
“I could take the whole hour (introducing people), no sweat,” Sheley said. “There are literally dozens of others I could be recognizing today.”
Sheley said he knows the challenge he faces in balancing the budget and raising CSU Stanislaus’ stature. But Sheley assured the audience that he’s spending so much time on the issues, he’s even missing his favorite pastime.
“I'm not even watching the Giants, and that is a huge deal for me to miss the Giants’ games,” Sheley said.
Sheley did not take questions at the conclusion of his fall address.