Tragic news, mid-year thoughts, a holiday offering and moving forward


Dear University Community,

Before I begin this end-of-year message, I would like to let you know and express my profound sadness that a San Francisco State alumna, Donna Kellogg ’10, has perished and a current student, Michela Gregory, remains missing following a tragic fire that occurred at a warehouse in Oakland on Friday night. We continue to work with fire and police officials to get updated information, but for now I ask that you keep the families affected by this terrible catastrophe in your thoughts and prayers. Please be aware there are increased counseling services available, should you need support in this difficult time.

Campus messages at this time of year, sent by university presidents, inevitably address the pursuit of ideas, student success, civil discourse and getting along.  I acknowledge all of that, but my mind is in a different spot. Last year and certainly this year, campus unrest is capturing the attention of higher education leaders, as it should.  Social movement and the US presidential elections have disturbed the very core of a university education. We have seen “narrative” replace facts and “social media” displace truth. The discord created by this has unleashed social forces not seen for some decades, and I continue to think about the impacts on the educational and scholarly experiences at San Francisco State University.

San Francisco State University has a proud history of our community speaking its own mind, encouraging our students to own their own minds and witnessing how this commitment builds special talents and leadership skills as our graduates return to their families and communities. We care deeply about ideas, and we ask our students to link those ideas to action. The ways our alums embed social justice into their careers is a proud point for this university. Higher education and the entire country are entering a new phase where our social and intellectual values will not only be challenged, but sorely needed.   

As I think about this year and the university’s path forward, I find great comfort and confidence in the values expressed in our strategic plan.  Returning to these values helps me think deeply about continually aligning our strategies, actions and decisions within those values.

Courage * Life of the Mind * Equity * Community * Resilience

These values reflect the sentiments and commitments of this university, and I encourage all of us to re-read the strategic plan so that you can bring these institutional values to your own work. They frequently help me think through difficult moments, and they also provide an avenue for me to speak to today and tomorrow:

  • Campus safety remains my top priority. We have already initiated a number of strategies and activities to improve campus safety and community awareness.  As an open campus and a public university, this will continue to be a major challenge requiring everyone’s attention. Community awareness means that when we want to speak our mind, we must be mindful of finding the right balance between challenging and dangerous ideas and fostering productive constructive dialogue.  I believe we are on the right path and I believe our students, faculty and staff are willing and able to show this country that our differences are not barriers.  But instead, they are strengths that seed the creativity and commitment to overcome barriers and will continue to invigorate this campus in unique ways. 
  • Providing a responsive curriculum that promotes and supports our students’ pathway to a college degree is my second priority and is as important as campus safety. The hard work of faculty, staff and campus leadership has led to more than 250 classes being added to the spring curriculum. We have also opened up some impacted programs and we have brought even greater emphasis to improving advising and financial services. Make no mistake, we have lots of room to improve, but I commend everyone for energetically responding to the call to improve student support, enhance retention and promote graduation. 
  • I will continue to support the efforts this year to improve transparency regarding budgets and decision processes. This is quite a cultural change for us, and I am proud of the effort so far. Our commitment to fairness improves our ability to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We will continue our work in Sacramento along with the Chancellor’s office to secure appropriate and adequate funding for the CSU and San Francisco State University.
  • The effort of all VPs, the academic deans and our staff throughout this University means we will make considerable progress in meeting our funded enrollment targets. Many changes are forthcoming and I encourage all of us to accept the obligation that enrollment, retention and graduation is everyone’s responsibility.  I expect us to make up the 5-6% enrollment shortfall (nearly $9 million to $10 million dollars at risk) with a smart and effective plan. You will hear more after census day in Spring 2017.
  • Along with the items above, we must prioritize developing affordable housing for students, faculty and staff. I have asked my team to do their best to cut the time it takes to process and approve our proposals for new housing construction. Achievable? I believe so, and I am confident we can do this. Housing is, without a doubt, a critical issue today and will continue to be tomorrow.

We have an ambitious agenda for spring 2017, but I cannot close this hopeful note without a few comments on specific items that need our collective vigilance to live up to and sustain the values of this wonderful university.  

  • I remain committed and fully engaged in providing our DACA students (Dreamers) the full effort of this university to support them as they seek to complete their education in a safe and protected learning environment. CSU Chancellor Tim White made this clear and I share his commitment to stand with and in support of our students.  The UC and Community Colleges stand with the CSU and SFSU.
  • I want to make clear our commitment to all our international agreements with our international partners. We entered into these agreements because of our belief in the educational value such relationships and exchanges can offer our students and faculty. This belief does not and will not waiver because of external scrutiny and criticism.  
  • I find repugnant the open and public displays of anger and hate directed toward many members of our community and their families. The fear this creates pollutes the essential learning processes that lead us all to a better sense of justice and eventually to peace. The Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ,  anti-immigrant, misogynistic rhetoric and hateful behavior both here and throughout the country, often directed at our own students, faculty and staff, have no place in the world I want to inhabit. I have many friends and mentors who were victimized by the relocation of Japanese Americans to concentration camps during WWII. That a similar idea would even dare to surface in 2016-2017 means that, above all else, we need the collective courage to speak out against hateful rhetoric and to fight it in all its forms. That is why I am proud that “courage” was among the first, and perhaps strongest, value to surface in our strategic plan.

Enjoy the holidays and the special time with friends and family. We will engage these challenges together in the coming months. I look forward to working with you to push this university toward goals and actions that would make our immigrant great grandparents, our grandparents, our parents and our own children and grandchildren proud of our work.  

Thank you for all you do for San Francisco State University.  See you in 2017.

Les Wong