Prior to USF opening its (figurative and literal) doors to new and returning students, faculty and staff were officially reunited to hear President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. speak on the state of the university at the faculty convocation held at the beginning of every year.
“As I stand here for the third time now, I am so happy to see so many familiar faces gathered here today to begin again the new academic year, so welcome back, all of you,” said Fitzgerald in his opening remarks to the group gathered in McLaren Conference center on August 18. He then went on to explain the more physical changes the University had undergone during the summer months.
Although Cowell Hall received much needed window replacements and McLaren got a fresh coat of paint with a matching carpet, the bulk of this summer’s structural upgrades were for the improvement of athletic facilities. This past spring semester was particularly eventful, bringing the anticipated opening of the newly renovated Benedetti Diamond which has ushered in a period of upgrades for the athletic department.
A new artificial turf surface was installed at Negoesco Stadium, the home of the men and women’s soccer teams, which replaced the eight year old former artificial surface. Work on renovating War Memorial Gym also began into a modern events center has also begun this summer, thanks to the $15 million donation from Silicon Valley philanthropists John and Susan Sobrato. Phase one of the Sobrato Events Center at War Memorial Gym is almost done, with upgrades including: a new elevator in the southwest corner, a complete overhaul of its bathroom facilities, the replacement of the eastside ventilation units, and a seismic retrofitting process that will help bring the entire building up to current codes. Phase two of the project begins next summer.
Being in one of the most environmentally conscious regions in the country means that USF has a responsibility to its students and staff to curate a campus to the needs of the world and the concerns of the students.“Speaking of frugality and responsibility allow me to take just few minutes to talk about sustainability,” said Fitzgerald, who is a recurring advocate of environmentalism. In the past he was welcomed as a guest speaker at The Commonwealth Club to talk on climate change, and what role religion and youth play in that. At the time Fitzgerald said, “At USF, what we’re trying to do is to create a whole culture where, as we graduate our students, they gain this habit of being environmentally sensitive. I hope they would then choose pathways that would help inform the citizens, whether it is in the business world, public policy, going to science and healthcare but always looking for ways to lessen our carbon footprint.” He proceeded to affirm USF’s position of sustainability by claiming at the panel that USF would become entirely carbon neutral by the year 2050.
At convocation, Fitzgerald doubled down on the promise, claiming that “we’re well on our way.” He also assured faculty and staff that the school’s investment committee, who handle the endowment funds, has taken several steps in support of environmental issues including fossil fuel divestment, something student climate activists have identified as a moral issue here on campus. “We are no longer making any new direct investments in coal companies… and only have a few remaining [investments] in coal that are locked up in complicated instruments which will mature in the next five years. When they mature, we cash out and walk away,” said Fitzgerald. Who added that the University has instead decided to invest in clean energy vehicles such as wind, solar, and biomass that spur the industry so it becomes more competitive while also providing a nice return for the University.
Fitzgerald also noted the important work that professors were up to while school was out of session. “Faculty were much at work during the summer months, as indicated by $1.9 million in new grants awarded,” said Fitzgerald, with contributors including The Department of Education, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation, among others. Some of the research projects funded include Prof. Alessandra Cassar’s study entitled “Improving Education in Disadvantaged Communities and Decreasing the Gender Gap,” as well as Prof. Judith Pace’s study titled “Preparing Teachers to Teach Controversial Issues – A cross-national study.”
Many professors also paid close attention to what Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald E. Heller had to say about the largest, and one of the most diverse, undergraduate classes USF has ever seen. Heller said he expected 1,570 new freshman on campus by the time move in weekend concluded, and this number does not include the other 405 new transfer students and 1,320 new graduate students. Heller caveated the figure by stating that the official numbers would not come out until Census Date on Sept. 9. “All of these are pre-census calculations, in other words they’re based on students who have accepted our offer of admission and sent in a deposit, but we don’t know if they’re actually going to show up [move-in] weekend, although we believe most will,” said Heller.
The freshman class will also include a record number of African-American and Latino students, evidence to support Fitzgerald’s assertion that recruiting efforts are purposefully meant to pull together a diverse community of faculty, staff, and students. It appears that administration has taken the list of demands submitted last December by USF’s Black Student Union (BSU) very seriously by making visible changes in such a short amount of time. Since BSU sent their list of demands, Heller and Fitzgerald have made strides in hiring people from traditionally underrepresented groups, and recruiting black students to attend the school with funding packages. In addition, work has begun exploring the creation of an African-American living and learning community in one of the on-campus residences.
“When we consider intersectionality we see that each of our students is a unique tapestry woven of several different strands and threads of identity to be met, engaged, cherished, and affirmed. We want to be that shining example of that city on a hill, a shining example of inclusive excellence,” said Fitzgerald.