|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, July 19, 2004
San Jose Mercury-News 7-16-04
His mission: San Jose State
Paul Yu, who began his new job as president of San Jose State University on Friday, met with the Mercury News Editorial Board and newsroom editors last week for a question-and-answer session. Here are some excerpts from that discussion.
Q It's been said that one of the most important things San Jose State needs, with your arrival, is a strategic plan. Can you talk a little about that?
A San Jose State has been and is doing a great job. It's a very productive institution making lots of substantial contributions to the valley, to the state and so forth. What it does seem to need is a unifying purpose -- where everyone agrees on its major, institutional importance, and that everybody should be pulling in the same direction to achieve this unifying goal. And that's something I do not think San Jose State has. That's probably our most important goal because that will focus our attention and efforts and give us the goals and strategies that will lead us to even greater heights.
Q Do you feel the campus is too decentralized?
A Decentralization, in the sense of having a lot of different units doing a lot of different things and not always agreeing on the same general direction, that's a characterization of big, complex institutions. It's the question of how extensive that go-it-alone tendency is, and how much does it fail to serve the unifying purpose of the institution as a whole.
Q How will you go about articulating that unifying purpose?
A My general rule of thumb is that it's a bad idea to have a vision and a goal and set strategies for a place before you have even been there for any length of time. There are a lot of subtleties to a campus. The campus is shaped by its history, its set of traditions, by its people and by some interesting subtle forces that you don't even expect. Obviously, I have some ideas about what I think would be good things for San Jose State to do and a path to follow, but I'm not going to do anything until I have checked and double checked that, and talked to a lot of people.
Q So, do you have a process in mind?
A Yes, I do. What I would like to do is draft a position paper, which will guide the strategic planning process; in fact I'm already in the process of doing so. I'm going to make sure the planning process engages a whole lot of people, specifically the [academic] senate. I'm going to invite the senate to be a full partner in this planning process.
Q How long do you think that will take?
A In the usual course of events this is a process that could take anywhere from half a year to a year.
Q Can you share some of your early thoughts?
A One of the very subtle things about American higher education is that it's very stratified. There are, very roughly speaking, four different groups of institutions. There are the research universities, there are the liberal arts colleges, there are so-called comprehensive universities, like San Jose State, and there are the community colleges. What's interesting is that if you look carefully at the four groups of institutions you find only three kinds of missions.
One kind of mission is research and scholarship, one kind of mission is teaching and learning -- especially undergraduate teaching and learning -- and the third is providing massive access to college education. You will notice that these are naturally associated with one of the groups -- the research function with the research university; the teaching and learning with the liberal arts college; the access with the community colleges. Among comprehensive universities there is a bifurcation; some think that their mission is really that of the research university, some think, no, their mission is actually teaching and learning.
I have my own bias, but we'll see how the campus comes down on this one. I think it's very important for a university to be clear about why it exists and how it measures itself.
Q You're coming in at difficult time. The university had to make $14 million in cuts, yet you said early on that your goal is to maintain quality and access. How do you plan to do that?
A Obviously, it's not easy. But I think it's important to understand that, first of all, this condition is not unique to California. I come from a state, New York, which has the same set of problems, same constraints, same budget cuts. If I may, I just left an institution after seven years. And within those seven years, under very tight budget constraints, we were able to accomplish some significant goals: raising student quality, raising academic quality, introducing new directions and so forth. So it's possible. But it's just very difficult to do.
Q Should part of the solution be building partnerships with our businesses here?
A Absolutely. Those [partnerships] are intrinsically good to begin with. You should serve your community. In fact our parent organization, AASCU [American Association of State Colleges and Universities], has already started to talk about public institutions, especially regional institutions like San Jose State, as stewards of place.
The idea is that these public institutions are not only serving the public, but they are specifically designed to serve certain regions. I'm very impressed with how much San Jose State has already done in that direction. But in addition to serving the public good, it's also important for us to understand the need for resources if we're going to support certain aspirations and ambitions. And so partnerships, collaborations, fundraising, are all things that a public institution has to do.
Q Where do you intend to go with Division I-A football?
A An analysis was done, in terms of following the faculty recommendation of withdrawing from I-A football, and the gist I've gotten to so far from reading very hastily is that this is something very difficult to get into and very difficult to get out of.
A lot of people tend to underestimate how difficult it is, once you are involved in a collegiate football program, to actually withdraw from the competition. It's a multi-year process, it means lots and lots of technical and complex arrangements, it has implications for lots of money -- usually negative because you won't have certain monies coming your way, and you still have outlay and expenses.
So, I think this just reinforces my early impression that this is a proposition far too complex to handle by jumping to a hasty conclusion. It's going to need pretty significant and lengthy study by a well chosen group involving faculty, staff, students and probably community members as well. I think that's the direction we should go in. We should have a task force, as the faculty have recommended, which includes well-balanced representation of all constituencies.
Q Sounds as if you're skeptical about pulling out of I-A football.
A Well, I could be wrong because we haven't done the study yet. But certainly the analysis that I've seen suggests it's a very complex proposition.
Q San Jose State has been criticized over the years for its lack of outreach to alumni and its lack of development efforts?
A It's pretty clear that San Jose, given its potential, is not at the level which I expected. We have 100,000 alumni in the region, adding 6,000 or 7,000 a year;, there's a lot of potential. One number that stuck in my mind when I first read the literature is that alumni participation in fundraising is something like 4 percent. That is atrociously low, by any standard.
Q A high percentage of students who go to CSU schools, including San Jose State, need remediation once they arrive. How would you compare students arriving on campus at San Jose State compared with comparable institutions in other parts of the United States?
A I'm going to have to decline to answer that question because I have no idea what the quality is. I can look at the numbers, but numbers are deceptive. For one thing, this is one of the problems with percentage plans. Ten percent, well, 10 percent of what? Ten percent of high school ``A'' is not equivalent necessarily to 10 percent of high school ``B'', depending on the size of the school, the socioeconomic backgrounds and so forth.
Q San Jose State is in the middle of a very important process, and that's its re-accreditation process. Give us an idea of how that's going and if you have any concerns with curriculum review?
Q Good institutions like San Jose State take occasions like this as occasions for massive reassessment, as occasions to develop plans for the future, as occasions for finding out how the university has done in its operations. I will be involved in the continual refinement, the process takes quite a while. Certainly, I'll be intimately involved.
Q Will there be substantial changes?
A As far as I know right now, no.
Q Have you thought about how you might further improve the relationship between San Jose State and the surrounding community?
A By now a tradition has been established, and it's very strong, that San Jose State is a metropolitan university, and that its fortunes are tied up intimately and essentially with the fortunes of the city. And this collaboration and friendship will continue and hopefully lead to more significant projects, like the [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] library.
Q How do you want the community to assess your first half year.
A I would like the community to feel that I have continued the momentum that has been built in recent years, especially the collaboration aspect, and that some very exciting and promising steps are being taken in terms of moving the university forward.
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