President Shares Highlights From Listening and Learning Tour
By Eric Breier
President Ellen Neufeldt has had a purposeful focus since arriving at Cal State San Marcos last July. From the moment she stepped foot on campus, she has set out to gain a deeper understanding of the institution’s culture and hear first-hand from all constituent groups the strengths, weaknesses and greatest opportunities that face the university.
Last week, Neufeldt shared some of the themes that have emerged out of these past 200 days of her Listening and Learning tour to faculty at the Academic Assembly, which kicked off the spring semester.
“First and foremost, I continue to hear from you that people matter,” Neufeldt told faculty gathered in Arts 111. “You value your colleagues, our sense of community and family. Perhaps most importantly, you value our students and their success, with an understanding of their great diversity, including who they are and where they come from.”
Neufeldt’s official Listening and Learning Tour has been both broad and focused. Throughout the fall semester, she hosted five open forums, visited each of the university’s colleges and the library, explored CSUSM at Temecula, toured spaces and facilities, held informal gatherings and formal meetings, and met with regional leaders, community partners and donors – each time welcoming candid conversations about the past, present and future of CSUSM.
While her tour will continue into the spring semester, at the Academic Assembly, Neufeldt highlighted numerous programs and initiatives, shared observations and discussed some of her next steps in leading the university forward.
She praised CSUSM’s teacher-scholar model and ongoing commitment to community-engaged learning.
“You are bettering our community by supporting regional needs and solving regional problems, and you do it by bringing our students along every step of the way,” she said. “You are teaching students to apply what they learn to better themselves not only as lifelong learners but to better their communities as well.”
Neufeldt shared that she has heard from faculty countless examples of student success at CSUSM, including through career and mentoring programs, volunteer and internship opportunities, undergraduate research and immersive learning experiences. She said the university will continue to focus on developing a student life cycle model that stretches from first point of contact to post-graduation success.
“This is a campus that takes its mission to serve students very seriously,” she said.
Neufeldt also emphasized the importance of building infrastructure, following CSUSM’s remarkable three decades of growth, to ensure that the university continues to thrive in its mission and forward-thinking innovation.
“As we look to the next 30 years, I want to make sure that I support you in ensuring we have the foundation, freedom and stability to not only innovate but sustain your good work,” she said.
Part of that stability, she noted, includes retaining employees and continuing momentum during periods of economic uncertainty. She acknowledged that many faculty have expressed frustration with “bureaucratic red tape,” citing redundancies in processes that prevented or slowed the faculty’s ability to act or move forward.
To help address and resolve those issues, Neufeldt tasked Finance and Administrative Services, in consultation with Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, to develop a streamlined travel authorization process, which will be rolling out within the next few weeks. Neufeldt said the university also is taking a closer look at processes to identify duplication and decrease bureaucracies while maintaining fiscal accountability – a top priority for the president.
“When it comes to travel, we are adding additional guardrails so that we are making the right decisions with the resources entrusted to us,” she said. “It’s critical that we remove the barriers so that we can create the foundation you need to innovate and thrive. But it’s also important in these moments that we balance our needs with creativity, compliance and care.”
Neufeldt also shared progress updates regarding inclusive excellence initiatives. Three workgroups have been charged with examining staffing and resources for the Office of Inclusive Excellence; reviewing and updating the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan; and following up on Academic Senate’s “Resolution on University Police Department’s Use of Force & CSUSM’s Critical Incident Response.” Neufeldt anticipates those reports will be ready from the workgroups later this spring, and then shared with the campus community. In addition, a plan is in place for faculty fellows to join the Office of Inclusive Excellence to provide additional support on projects and initiatives.
“We know that a diverse faculty is critical to student success and creating and maintaining a culture of inclusion on our campus,” she said. “You have my commitment that we will be looking at how we can improve the recruitment, onboarding and retaining of faculty that reflect the students and community we serve.”
Innovation is already a hallmark of Neufeldt’s presidency, and she has already charged a committee to help CSUSM capture an institutional identity around innovation and entrepreneurship as part of her commitment to helping students have capacity to reinvent throughout their lives.
That cross-disciplinary faculty committee, led by Hamill and physics professor Chuck De Leone recently submitted a report to Neufeldt that highlights the multitude of ways that faculty engage in innovation and entrepreneurial activities. The committee also looked at how CSUSM might create an innovation and entrepreneurship hub that brings resources, education and support together in one central location, serving as another important gateway for the campus and community.
“This includes a focus on social innovation and how we approach educating our students to become more socially conscious leaders,” Neufeldt said. “I know our students are going to be the change we so need in our world.
“It’s exciting to talk about this because it’s reflective of who we are as a campus and the qualities that have been exhibited since our founding.”
While CSUSM isn’t the first to establish an innovation hub, it is among the first to consider how it might be launched at the intersection of inclusion, diversity and student success.
“This is exciting work, paving our way for our next 30 years,” Neufeldt said.
Neufeldt also highlighted several new and ongoing initiatives that are taking shape at CSUSM, including:
- Creation of a workgroup, which is being led by professors Fredi Avalos and Laurie Stowell, to move forward on an innovative proposal called Faculty, Advocacy, Care, Engagement and Support, or FACES, which will aim to create spaces for faculty care, support, training and engagement. Plans call for a similar resource hub for staff.
- As part of an ongoing commitment to safety, the University Police Department will provide emergency resource briefings at orientations, Academic Senate meetings, and college and department meetings to ensure that the campus community knows about the varied safety services available.
- Beginning this spring, UPD will offer monthly active-shooter trainings for any faculty, staff and students who would like to participate.
- Continuing to build a culture of care that values how the campus community cares for one another and students while also caring about the university mission.
As she concluded her remarks, Neufeldt emphasized the importance of ensuring that CSUSM has a “common road map in place” in looking to the next three decades. This spring, she plans to formally launch a university-wide strategic planning process.
“As we start the first semester of the decade, it’s time to think about what our campus looks like 30 years from now,” Neufeldt said. “Our work, our students, our programs, our challenges – we must lay the foundation now for what tomorrow will be.”
President Neufeldt will be scheduling a similar Listening and Learning Tour report for all CSUSM staff this spring. More information will be shared once a date and location is confirmed.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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