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As the Fresno State campus at Shaw and Cedar avenues enters its 62nd academic year since moving from its original site on Van Ness in 1956, the University will embark on a plan to upgrade and modernize older areas including a dozen high-use classrooms, Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro said Thursday, Aug. 17, at the annual Faculty/Staff Fall Assembly.

The University’s nearly 1,500 faculty members returned to work this week when the semester officially began Aug. 14 in preparation for class instruction beginning on Aug. 22. They join about 1,000 staff in fulfilling the University’s mission “to boldly educate and empower students for success.”

The fall semester’s projected enrollment is nearly 25,000, the president reported.

“Educating the next generation of leaders through teaching, research and public service is what Fresno State does best,” said Castro, a Hanford native who enters his fifth year as Fresno State’s eighth president, the first born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Our efforts in this area have resulted in widespread national distinction over the past year alone from U.S. News and World Report, Washington Monthly, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Public Land Grant Colleges and Universities among others,” he said.

Declaring that a critical ingredient to the University’s success “is to preserve and upgrade our physical and technological infrastructure,” Castro announced an investment of $26 million in new funds during 2017-18 to support infrastructure projects.

This will include $10 million to modernize the North Gym and South Gym to support academic and athletic programs and $5.1 million to modernize eight of the oldest and most important teaching spaces on campus.

He also announced that a new plan to upgrade teaching and learning spaces extends through 2019 and will include a total investment of about $11 million ($5 million this year and $6 million next year) to modernize 12 of the most widely used classrooms.

Castro noted that since 2013, the University has invested about $100 million in improving its physical and technological infrastructure.

The University is also investing in its people, as the president recognizes that even after significant investments made during every year since he has been President, employee concerns still remain particularly in regard to compensation and professional development opportunities.

“The good news is that virtually every new permanent dollar received from the state in the past four years has been used for faculty and staff compensation,” he reported. “In addition to salary, we each receive a generous benefits package that includes essential health insurance for us and our eligible dependents.”

He noted total compensation and benefits for staff and faculty at Fresno State have increased the past four years from $50 million in 2013 to $80 million today. For each individual employee, benefits represent an average cost of 40 percent of total salary.

“This investment is made with great pride because we know that an investment in you is an investment in achieving our mission of student success,” Castro said.

Castro also addressed freedom of speech and how universities are places where a wide range of ideas and perspectives can be discussed and debated.

“Fresno State has an opportunity to model for our Central Valley and beyond how freedom of speech — in a civil and respectful way – leads to a stronger teaching and learning environment,” Castro said. “As a thoughtful member of our campus community, I urge you to be boldly open-minded and to take the time to listen to and respect the perspective of others while sharing your own perspective. This is especially important on occasions when you might disagree with someone else’s point of view.”

To enhance the leadership skills of campus, Castro announced the establishment of the President’s Leadership Academy, a new professional development program that is “uniquely designed to prepare a new generation of leaders for our University. I am optimistic that many future deans, directors, associate vice presidents and vice presidents will be graduates from this program.”

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