By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service
Cal State LA President William A. Covino welcomed the start of an unprecedented academic year with University Convocation 2020, which included praise for students, faculty and staff for continuing to further the university’s mission during the pandemic.
“We start this new academic year keenly aware that it is unlike any other in the history of Cal State LA,” Covino said during his Aug. 20 address, delivered via the Zoom video-conferencing platform. “We see, hear and feel the differences at every turn.”
Faculty, staff and students tuned in virtually to University Convocation, which marks the ceremonial start to the academic year.
During his remarks, the president lauded high faculty participation in professional development seminars on virtual instruction, highlighted immense increases in technological support and usage across the university, and announced that Cal State LA would be welcoming what may be its largest class of Black students in many years. He also discussed expanded virtual services and events offered to students and new campus developments.
Covino acknowledged the backdrop in which the academic year begins, following a summer in which the COVID-19 pandemic has raged and millions across the country continue to protest for racial justice, a movement first sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Today we gather experiencing together a dramatic recalibration of our everyday circumstances, practices and challenges, attuned like never before to the inequities and abuses of power that have been brought before our eyes,” Covino said. “Even so, I am confident that we will rededicate ourselves to our ambitious mission in this new academic year, to transform lives and foster thriving communities across greater Los Angeles and to cultivate and amplify our students’ unique talents and intellect to support their overall success, well-being and the public good.”
“We will emerge with new practices, new tools, new approaches for educating our students and for serving our community. And I am hopeful that our nation will emerge from this chapter with a renewed sense of our responsibility to one other,” the president added.
During the pandemic, Cal State LA has tapped into technological tools to continue educating students and provide enhanced services. Covino discussed several of the university’s technological advances and changes during the transition to remote instruction and telework.
Cal State LA now operates a new cloud-based call center for financial aid, records and admissions that allows staff to continue assisting students remotely. The university’s Zoom meeting participants skyrocketed from 7,000 in February to more than 460,000 in April. In the spring, the Information Technology Services Remote 24/7 Help Desk saw a 39% increase in calls and a 104% increase in online support tickets compared with the same period last year.
Covino was introduced by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs José Luis Alvarado, who stepped into his role at the university in July. Alvarado joined the president in praising faculty for their commitment to furthering student success during the virtual instruction necessitated by the pandemic.
In preparation for the virtual fall semester, hundreds of faculty members took part in the Alt-Instruction Summer Institute and certificate program, professional development sessions offered by the university’s nationally renowned Center for Effective Teaching and Learning. The program aimed to help faculty convert traditional face-to-face courses to virtual environments using effective practices that engage students and build community.
More than 1,430 faculty members participated in the Alt-Instruction Summer Institute and 980 earned the certificate, Alvarado announced.
“I value the contribution that each of you makes to ensure our students have the best Cal State LA experience. That our students are persisting and succeeding during these unprecedented times is a testament to our faculty, staff and advisors,” Alvarado said during his remarks. “You are working tirelessly and in new ways to help our new and continuing students enroll, connect with campus resources and learn. We may be working remotely, but there is no question that you have been fully present for our students at all times.”
At the ceremony, the president, the provost and Academic Senate Chair Talia Bettcher welcomed 54 new faculty members to Cal State LA.
“From across the globe, representing all our colleges, you bring extraordinary expertise, talent and promise,” said Bettcher, associate chair and professor in the Department of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Letters. “We’re so glad you’re here. And we can’t wait to get to know you better—in person—sometime soon.”
Faculty will be teaching what may be the largest class of Black students at Cal State LA in many years. President Covino discussed the progress of collaborative efforts launched in fall 2019 by admissions, recruitment and orientation staff to improve declining Black student enrollment.
“This good news comes in spite of the pandemic and its impact,” Covino said. “And we will continue to build on this progress by working together in a coordinated way to ensure student success. We know that our work does not stop with admitting and enrolling students: Supporting their progress toward earning a degree is our highest priority.”
The president outlined expanded virtual services, events and programming being offered to students in the fall to provide support and create community.
Information and Technology Services and the Office of the Dean of Students have teamed up to acquire and distribute thousands of laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot loans to students for virtual instruction, and the university plans to provide additional emergency grants to students in need in the fall.
Covino also announced a new name for what was previously known as the Mind Matters initiative. Now called WellBeingU, the initiative has expanded over the years and continues to promote physical and mental well-being in the Cal State LA community by providing vital behavioral health services, resources and basic needs.
Cal State LA has continued to further its mission of engagement and service for the public good during the pandemic, Covino said. He highlighted the university’s efforts to provide community food distributions on campus and in Southeast Los Angeles County and a summer enrichment program for youth in underserved communities. Governor Gavin Newsom selected Cal State LA to take part in the Civic Action Fellowship that will send students to serve in underserved and under-resourced areas in the county.
The president announced new campus developments, including dormitory-style student residence halls poised to open next fall, a renovated physical sciences building for student services, and the opening this fall of the College of Ethnic Studies. It is the first ethnic studies college established in the U.S. in 50 years.
“Our commitment is not only to open its doors, but to set it on a distinctive path for success,” Covino said.
At the close of his remarks, the president honored the memory of the late civil rights giant Congressman John Lewis, who died in July. Lewis, whose late wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, was a Cal State LA alumna, spoke at the university in 2016 as part of a moving conversation about the civil rights movement.
Covino invoked the words of the late congressman, quoting from a 2016 commencement speech Lewis delivered to graduates of Washington University in St. Louis:
“I say to you, the wind may blow, the thunder may roll, and the lightning may flash, and the rain may beat down on our old house, but you have an obligation, you have a mission, you have a mandate to stay with the house and hold on to your principles. Hold on to your beliefs. … Call it an American house. Call it a world house. We all live in the same house. Let’s stay together. And never give up. Never give in. Keep the faith. And walk with the spirit of this institution, and you’ll be all right.”
“Let’s all make the most of this historic semester,” Covino said. “Be safe. Be well. And let’s take care of everyone in our house.”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.