With the onslaught of news this summer dealing with the budget crisis, it was a somber gathering at the annual convocation address to faculty and staff on Aug. 20. President Jolene Koester spoke of the challenges facing CSUN.
“We have no file on how to do furloughs,” Koester said. “The only positive of furloughs is that they protect jobs, health care benefits and are more humane.”
Koester also encouraged everyone to resist the urge to blame, calling it “easy but ultimately empty.”
Jennifer Matos, a biology professor and faculty president, gave the opening remarks to several hundred faculty and staff members that gathered near the South Lawn in front of the Oviatt Library.
Associated Students President Abel Pacheco and provost and vice president of Academic Affairs Dr. Harry Hellenbrand joined President Koester on stage.
Koester’s introduction of Hellenbrand garnered an animated response that included applause and a catcall from the audience. That was symbolic, Koester said, of how admired Hellenbrand is among faculty and staff members.
She also had high praise for A.S. President Pacheco, who has been in office only a couple of months. She said Pacheco “has displayed a tremendous maturity and he is a student leader at a time when students are feeling the pinch.
“The strength that is this campus will endure in these difficult and trying times,” Koester said.
Previously the convocation address would take place near the steps of the Oviatt Library under tents. This year, in an effort to save money, the university moved the venue under a natural canopy of trees near Cleary Walk.
This change was symbolic, Koester said, of how the university plans to approach the upcoming academic year.
“This change is exactly the kind of change we must pursue and strive for — reducing costs, while maintaining quality,” Koester said. “This is difficult, yes; impossible, no.”
Having received praise from Koester, Pacheco offered compliments of his own in return.
“I thought the President delivered a great speech today,” Pacheco said. “We have spent the summer building a relationship and she definitely understands the student perspective with everything that’s been going on.”
Although the main focus of the address was centered on faculty and staff, Pacheco and Matos were aware of the challenges students face as a result of the budget crisis.
To address those concerns, they will be hosting town hall meetings open to students, faculty and staff members on Sept. 8 and Sept. 11.
“Obviously, I think students are upset and rightfully so, with the state budget crisis,” Pacheco said. “The complexity of my job is to relieve the pain and fear and help them as best as I can. But it is also important that we help them enjoy the university experience and their time at CSUN.”
For Matos the upcoming year presents many challenges.
“I think that faculty are suspicious and fearful when it comes to furloughs which is why one of the best things the administration did was allow for people to designate their own days,” Matos said. “There are many individuals who are hurt by the furloughs, from our senior faculty members to our junior ones.”
Matos realized that this is an extremely tense environment for faculty and staff but said that “classes will be taught and people continue to work very hard, now for less pay.
“The frustration of students is very understandable, especially with not being able to get the classes they need,” Matos said. “Unfortunately, we as faculty have no control over the number of students we can have in a class.”
Koester said that CSUN’s “unique history of resilience positions us well to respond to the challenges.” The fragility of the budget and the consequences for the university remained on everyone’s mind.
In an attempt to end the address on a positive note, Koester emphasized some of CSUN’s academic, sports and cultural achievements of the last year.
Having labeled herself a realist, Koester said, “Even though it sounds like a bleak picture, optimism stems from understanding and knowing CSUN has made necessary and crucial changes. Focus on the future, because it is in the future that the path to optimism lives.”