Fresno State faculty says ‘diversity doesn’t go far enough’ during the 2023-2028 Strategic Planning Town Hall


Sal Rinella, a consultant with AASCU, leads the 2023-2028 Strategic Plan Town Hall at the Fresno State Satellite Student Union on Jan. 19. (Diego Vargas/The Collegian)

By Jiselle Cardenas

On Jan. 19, faculty and staff gathered in the Satellite Student Union (SSU) for Fresno State’s “2023-2028 Strategic Plan Town Hall,” where students and staff alike were invited to conceptualize the university’s expectations for the next five years.

There was a lack of student representation Thursday and the day before during the student town hall. The same dilemma occurred last semester as well, with students feeling unheard from administration. Only two students attended Thursday’s event. 

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval welcomed the audience with his opening remarks to start the town hall. 

“We have to be unique from the other universities,” he said. “What are we going to do in order to invest our resources in building up the brand of Fresno State?” 

The emphasis of this meeting is to draft the strategic plan, which is the framework of how Fresno State will attract new students and how to adhere support for the current ones. After the town halls, subcommittees will form to carry out that plan. 

Sal Rinella, a senior associate with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Consulting, and Sergio La Porta, associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, led the meeting. 

The attendees were divided into groups, gathering in different tables, and given ample time to review the drafted core values, mission statements, and vision of Fresno State. 

The university proposed that the next core values for Fresno State should be “Diversity. Discovery. Community.” 

Faculty had grievances with those three words, saying those are not being met at the university.

Denise Seabert speaks on behalf of her table and voicing concerns at the 2023-2028 Strategic Plan Town Hall. (Cesar Maya/The Collegian)

“We felt that diversity doesn’t go far enough,” Denise Seabert, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said on behalf of her table. “We need something that implies inclusion or belonging to go beyond diversity. We talked about the word equity, perhaps being the word choice.” 

“And if we’re going to change one of the three words, we need to change all of the words,” she added.

Seabert said the plan was only representative of what the university is currently doing, not a representation of the next five to 10 years. 

Furthermore, Seabert addressed concerns surrounding the university’s preamble and mission statements, comparing it to 1970s Wall Street jargon because it sounds vague, not authentic and outdated. 

She touched on how Fresno State needs to make an impact globally, not just the Central Valley. 

“Exploration, equity, and excellence was our alliteration that we came up with,” Seabert said. “We need to produce a generation of culturally competent… very forward-thinking about what we’re creating in terms of our leaders.” 

The table of directors chose Richard Verducci, director of development for the Lyles College of Engineering, as their speaker.

Verducci elaborated on the core values incorporating the support structures that students use to navigate their university experience. He explained that, apart from research and teaching, basic needs like services for students with disabilities, the Fresno State Student Cupboard and more resources should be acknowledged under the proposed “Discovery” or “Community” core values. 

In addition, Verducci brought up how Fresno State alumni give back to the community, so it should be incorporated and endorsed under the proposed “Community” core value.

“We thought that having community be, not just how we engage in the community, but how we ask our students, and our alumni and our community to invest back into Fresno State,” Verducci said. 

He circled back to the “Diversity” core value and addressed that cultural differences and history should be acknowledged. 

The town hall is one of ways the 2023-28 Strategic Plan will get its data, according to La Porta. 

La Porta said the feedback and information is also gathered from a series of things: 

  • President Sandoval’s listening tour
  • The Areas for Improvement 2016-2022 meeting 
  • The California State University systemwide goals 
  • WASCUS reports 
  • Regional Economic Plan: Fresno Drive Initiative 
  • Results from previous town hall meetings and previous town hall surveys.

One of the surveys included responses from over 1,000 Fresno State students, La Porta said.

Although Fresno State continues to get low student attendance during the town halls, Rinella feels confident about the students that have been able to participate. 

“I think that there was a lot of enthusiasm, [and] a lot of really terrific ideas that came out today, that came out of yesterday… That suggests not only a dedication to the university, but that everyone is really interested in moving the institution forward and being an even better version of itself.” Rinella said.