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Stanislaus president asks faculty, students to work with administration on plan for future
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In his State of the University address given on Thursday, California State University, Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani expressed concern about the college’s budget while lauding successes and laying out a vision for the future.

“As we come together today, we share the burden of uncertainties reflected in the California economy, but we also share the strength to look forward with enthusiasm to a new academic year,” Shirvani began his speech. “… We must find ways to sustain and enhance the quality of the learning environment for students, while also preparing for the uncertain fiscal realities that lie ahead.”

CSU Stanislaus entered the 2010-2011 fiscal year facing a $6 million deficit, including $4.5 million in salary costs from the termination of the furlough program and $1.5 million in new unfunded state mandates.  That deficit has since been cut to $4.3 million, through the use of $1.1 million in federal stimulus money and $600,000 in new revenue from higher student fees.

“But this still leaves a significant gap,” Shirvani said, “and if the university’s budget does not include sufficient restoration funding, we will be forced to implement some difficult budget reductions.”

Shirvani said he had reviewed recommendations from the University Budget Advisory Committee, and would accept their proposals – including one which suggested no cuts to permanent staff.  However, given the magnitude of savings needed, Shirvani said the university may not be able to achieve their goal of avoiding layoffs.

Despite the budget hardships, Shirvani found encouragement in many recent events.

Thus far, the university has avoided closing any academic departments or programs, and some departments are even growing. For the fifth straight year, CSU Stanislaus was named one of the country’s best colleges by the Princeton Review, and for the 15th year in a row was recognized by U.S. News and World Reports as among the “Best Colleges in the West.”

CSU Stanislaus was recently granted full accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, with a maximum 10 year extension of the accreditation. The university received an $18 million state grant to renovate the Science I building. Summer Session was an unprecedented success, bringing in $750,000 in new revenue.

To prepare for a brighter future and more successes, Shirvani identified six key initiatives of the Strategic Plan, as approved by the Academic Senate in 2007, which he “encouraged” staff and faculty to focus on. Shirvani asked the university to work on enhancing the program review process and outcomes, refining reappointment, promotion, and tenure policy and procedures, student assessment, student success, technology utilization, and revenue generation.

“I consider all six of these initiatives essential to our wellbeing, both in preserving the quality of what we have already cultivated, and in moving us forward into exciting new areas of growth and development,” Shirvani said.

Shirvani said Provost Jim Strong will work closely with faculty, staff, administrators, and students to formulate goals and objectives associated with these initiatives.

Faculty members in the audience took exception to Shirvani’s promotion of six initiatives over the remainder of the strategic plan. The plan was intended to work as a whole, they said, not as a document to pick and choose objectives from.

“There aren’t more important and less important goals,” said John Sarraillé, professor of Computer Science and president of the Stanislaus Chapter of the California Faculty Association.

The disagreement was symptomatic of the divide between administrators and faculty – another topic of Shirvani’s speech. The two sides have long been at odds, but the dispute has been brought to the forefront by WASC’s recommendation that the university re-establish collegial interaction between faculty, staff, and administration.

“The fundamental element of disagreement is over the issue of shared governance,” Shirvani said. “Some faculty have a much different interpretation than I do as to what shared governance is all about.”

Shirvani said he views faculty input as recommendations, though he makes the final decisions. Faculty members believe Shirvani should follow the recommendations, unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise.

In the future, Shirvani said he hopes to discuss issues with faculty before recommendations are made, so that both parties can come to a “middle of the road decision.” As part of restoring the faculty-administration relationship, Shirvani took questions from the audience at the close of his address and said he will hold further open meetings in October and November to take more questions and update faculty on the budget.

Shirvani looked to address other faculty concerns in his speech as well, assuring the audience there were no intentions to “corporatizate” the campus. But Shirvani did say that CSU Stanislaus needs to produce additional revenues through new programs to meet a CSU Board of Trustees policy of generating 10 percent of the campus’ budgets from outside sources.

Shirvani said that faculty would be in charge of teaching and developing any new programs. The only difference, he said, is that some programs would be offered to students at the full cost of education, given the lack of state support.

“Let me ask you, who are we to say no if the students want and demand these programs and are willing to pay the cost?” Shirvani asked. “Who are we to say they shouldn’t have them? Who are we to deny them that choice and access?”

Shirvani also encouraged faculty to pursue online education for the same reasons – to provide more access to more students. Shirvani said that not everyone should feel as though they have to teach online, however, and that faculty would receive the administration’s full support either way.

As he closed his speech, Shirvani admitted that the myriad challenges facing the university are great, but can be addressed if the whole campus works together.

“While the challenges are substantial, by collaborating together we can ensure that CSU Stanislaus remains a rich community of learners, focused on preserving student access and enhancing student success, while greatly contributing to the social and economic development of our region and the State of California,” Shirvani said. “We must pull together and engage these challenges with understanding and enthusiasm.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.