Theme I. Demonstrating Commitment to Social Justice and Civic Engagement

Historical Context

In October, 2009, the university community celebrated the 40th anniversary of the events in 1968-69 when students of the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front, staff and faculty, as well as members from the larger Bay Area community, organized and led a series of actions to protest systematic discrimination, lack of access, neglect, and misrepresentation of histories, cultures, and knowledge of indigenous peoples and communities of color within the university's curriculum and programs. Their actions led to the establishment of four departments – Asian American Studies, Black Studies, La Raza Studies, and Native American Studies – and the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies, still the only college of its kind in the nation. These events remain a signature of the University.

Mission and Strategic Plan

SF State continues to pride itself on its identity as an institution that values social justice, equity, and civic engagement. [CFR 1.5] This identity permeates the University in mission statements and strategic planning, addresses by administrators, and curricular design. In his preamble to the SFSU Bulletin, President Robert A. Corrigan highlights engagement as one of our "… proudest characteristics. San Francisco State has been a strong community partner for more than 100 years [and] has achieved national recognition for its success in building community service into its academic program." The Commission on University Strategic Planning (CUSP II) also emphasizes this commitment in Goal I of its strategic plan [CFR 4.1, 4.2]:

San Francisco State University demonstrates commitment to its core values of equity and social justice through the diversity of its students and employees, the content and delivery of its academic programs and support systems, and the opportunities for both campus and external constituencies to engage in meaningful discourse and activity.            – CUSP II Strategic Plan 2005

Institutes and Centers

The focus of research efforts at many of our institutes is indicative of this identity. The Cesar E. Chavez Institute studies and documents the impact of social oppression on the health, education, and the well-being of disenfranchised communities in the United States. The Institute for Sexuality, Social Inequality and Health initiates basic research, educational, and social policy initiatives regarding the effects of social inequality on sexuality and health. TheInstitute for Civic and Community Engagement provides opportunities for civic engagement and leadership development for students, faculty, and community members. The Institute on Disability advances research on the nature of disability while also introducing the topic into the curricula campus-wide. The Center for Integration & Improvement of Journalism develops a means of increasing the recruitment, retention, graduation, and placement of ethnic minority journalists with the intent to bring diversity to the country's newsrooms while promoting an improved and balanced coverage of our multicultural society. The Health Equity Institute integrates research, curricula, community service, and training programs that address health disparities in the United States. [CFR 2.8, 2.9]


In the fall of 2005, the Academic Senate created the Graduation Requirements Task Force (GRTF) and called for an assessment of "the appropriateness and value of the university-wide baccalaureate degree requirements currently required of all SF State undergraduate students." [CFR 2.7, 4.6, 4.7] In Spring 2010, the Academic Senate passed the final report. Social justice and diversity issues are infused throughout the new curricular design. Of the six overarching Baccalaureate Learning Goals (BLG) of the program, two speak directly to diversity and engagement goals. To achieve appreciation of diversity, graduates will "know, understand, and appreciate multiple forms and variations of human diversity, both within the United States and globally. Graduates will respect themselves and others. They will have obtained a historical perspective about the development of our diverse nation and will be able to engage in informed, civil discourse with persons different from themselves in intellectual and cultural outlook." To develop the quality of ethical engagement, graduates will "recognize their responsibility to work toward social justice and equity by contributing purposefully to the well-being of their local communities, their nations, and the people of the world, as well as to the sustainability of the natural environment." These goals are further infused throughout the new lower division curriculum package with specific student learning outcomes on diversity, social justice, and civic engagement specified for each area of the curriculum. [CFR 2.3, 2.4]

In the upper division, the proposed General Education options[2] include a choice of nine "topical perspectives." Students will choose one topic and will take three courses from that topical area. Of these topics, two, Life in the San Francisco Bay Area and Social Justice and Civic Knowledge/Engagement, specifically involve opportunities for engaged learning. In the former, courses might address subjects such as "urban and other communities, neighborhoods, social-cultural characteristics, government and politics, progressive or populist movements, and social activism." In the latter, students will "explore their responsibility to work toward social justice and equity by contributing to the well-being of their local communities, their nations and the people of the world." Other topical areas intersect with the civic mission as well. For example, in Personal and Community Well-Being, courses might address environmental sustainability and community revitalization, and in Human Diversity, courses will encourage a respectful "appreciation of differences among individuals and groups." For further information regarding the new General Education package, see Essay III of this report.

In addition to the new design for General Education, the undergraduate curriculum will continue to include an American Ethnic and Racial Minorities requirement which recognizes "race" as an historically and socially constructed category that has created racial minority populations that have been "excluded from sustained influence on, access to, and participation in structures and institutions and the privilege and power deriving from such exclusion."

In summary, San Francisco State remains a campus conscious of its activist past and continues its dedication to progressive approaches to addressing the disparities and inequities between social groups. It is this context in which we have chosen social justice, equity and civic engagement as a WASC theme and have raised the capacity issue stated in our Institutional Proposal:

Capacity Issue: To what extent does the institution's infrastructure support issues of social justice, equity, and civic engagement?

In the face of the current budget crisis in California, this issue has become critical for the campus. As one student remarked in our recently conducted WASC survey, "I was involved in my own community and had to stop. Working full-time and going to school full-time is all I can do." Faculty members echoed this sentiment as well. One wrote:

I came to SFSU because of its commitment to social justice and because of the university's commitment to ethnic students … I am afraid that the budget crisis will be used as an excuse to move away from those commitments. I hope that is not the case.


In examining institutional capacity, the subcommittee on Social Justice and Civic Engagement drew data from multiple sources, including institutional surveys and focus groups of students, staff and faculty. The sources used for this analysis are:

  • NSSE 2007 and 2008 survey
  • Degrees of Preparation survey
  • Assessment of the Social Justice Strategic Planning Goal
  • PULSE survey
  • Faculty Perceptions of Institutional Barriers to and Facilitators of Community Engaged Scholarship at SFSU[4]
  • Student, Faculty, and Staff WASC surveys
  • Student and Faculty focus groups

Commitment to Social Justice, Equity, and Civic Engagement

SF State is renowned for its commitment to social justice and civic engagement. In 2006, SF State was one of only 62 U.S. colleges and universities selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for the new Community Engagement Classification in both the Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnerships category. The designation recognized the university's substantial commitments to "teaching, learning and scholarship which engage faculty, students and community in mutually beneficial and respectful collaboration."

For three subsequent years, 2006 through 2008, the university was a recipient of the President of the United States Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Award with Distinction presented by the Corporation for National and Community Service, in recognition of the university's community service efforts.

Beyond institutional recognition, SF State's reputation is well established among faculty who seek employment here. In the WASC Faculty Survey conducted in 2009, faculty were asked, "How important was SF State's commitment to social justice in your decision to seek a position here?" More than 55% of the respondents indicated that the commitment was either "very important" or "important" in their decision. In the WASC Student Survey, students were asked whether or not they agreed with the statement, "SF State demonstrates its commitment to social justice and equity through its policies, practices and procedures." Again, nearly 57% strongly agreed or agreed.

Engagement Activities

Within this commitment, the University provides an array of curricular and co-curricular activities to support engagement leading to the development of civic and social justice values. [CFR 2.5, 2.11] Several of the university's survey instruments were examined to determine who participated in these activities and what types of experiences they encountered. In the NSSE 2007 survey, freshmen and seniors were asked whether or not they "had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity" than their own. Sixty percent of freshmen and 66% of senior respondents indicated that they had.

In Figure 1 below, responses to a similar question on the extent to which the institution emphasizes and encourages "contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds" are compared between SF State respondents and those at other (a) urban universities, (b) comparable universities, and (c) all NSSE participating universities. The analysis indicates that SF State has significantly greater emphasis and encouragement than institutions in each of the other categories. [CFR 2.6, 2.7]

Figure 1:Institutional Emphasis on Diverse Perspectives

Bar Graph Showing Institutional Emphasis on Diverse Perpectives

Q10C: To what extent does your institution emphasize the following: Encouraging contact among students from different economic social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds? (Results = Very Often + Often). Seventy-one percent of freshman respondents and 54% of senior respondents believe that the University encourages contact among students from different backgrounds.

The Institute for Community and Civic Engagement (ICEE) coordinates campus service learning, collects data on faculty and student involvement, promotes faculty and student participation in civic engagement, and conducts research regarding the educational impact of these activities. Last year, an internal survey conducted by ICCE indicated that during Academic Year 2008-2009, SF State students enrolled in 527 course sections in which community service learning was an integrated course element. These sections enrolled a total of 11,261 students or 38% of the total student population. Those who opted to participate in a community service learning course provided more than 506,000 hours of service. Included in this number are the nearly 100,000 hours that social work students provide to hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters, and other programs. Many students earn educational awards for their stellar service. During AY 2008-09, SF State placed #1 out of 89 higher education institutions in California by awarding $147,000 in Students in Service educational scholarships for performing 51,000 hours of service in their communities. [CFR 2.6, 2.7]

In addition to community service and interaction with others in the classroom and beyond, SF State has made great efforts to encourage students to vote in public elections. During 2008, for example, the voter registration efforts assisted more than 5,000 SF State students to register and vote. The success of these efforts has led to the campus becoming its own voter precinct. SF State also ranks 16th in the nation among all U.S. colleges and universities for the number of Peace Corps volunteers it has inspired.


The combination of the institutional mission of social justice, faculty dedication, and community engagement can be seen in many ways. In 2009, San Francisco State ranked 12th nationally after awarding 2,700 baccalaureate degrees to minorities during the 2007-08 academic year, an 11% increase from the previous year. In the sciences, SF State has a particularly noteworthy record for successfully graduating underrepresented students. In July 2009, Biology Professor Frank Bayliss received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama for his work with the Student Enrichment Opportunities (SEO) office that Dr. Bayliss founded nearly 20 years ago. The office provides financial support and mentoring to students in the sciences from the undergraduate to doctoral level and now helps send 20 to 25 underrepresented minority students from SF State to doctoral programs each year. Several of our surveys provide meaningful analysis of the effectiveness of the undergraduate program on raising students' abilities and involvement. In the PULSE 2010 survey, 72% of the students rated their SF State coursework as Good or Excellent. Figure 2 below, taken from the Degrees of Preparation survey, indicates a significant increase in the effectiveness of civic skills from freshman year to senior year in several categories. Students were asked to self-rate their frequency and effectiveness in each of the categories shown. All differences between freshman and senior year are statistically significant (n > 1300).

Figure 2: Effectiveness of Civic Skills from Freshman to Senior Year

Bar Graph Showing Effectiveness of Civic Skills


Though proud of our accomplishments there is room for improvement: our analysis has led to eight recommendations that will help build capacity to support the campus mission. These recommendations fall into three categories: recommendations for the institution, recommendations for students and courses, and recommendations for faculty.

Though proud of our accomplishments there is room for improvement. Our analysis has led to eight recommendations that will help build capacity to support the campus mission. These recommendations fall into three categories: Recommendations for the institution as a whole, recommendations involving students and curricula, and recommendations involving faculty.

Recommendations for the institution as a whole:

Recommendation 1: Campus decisions regarding budget cuts must go beyond financial considerations and examine the impact on the university mission. [CFR 3.5]

The budget crisis within California has had a major deleterious impact on the campus budget. Student fee increases will impact the poorest students the most. Layoffs of lecturers and gaps in staff hiring may have a negative effect on programs that support equity and access. As discussions on the budget cuts move forward, the University should include the impact of budget cuts on social justice and diversity goals in its considerations.

Recommendation 2: The University should adopt and communicate a common definition of social justice for the campus community. [CFR 1.1, 1.2]

Throughout the deliberation and survey processes, we have discovered that there are no single definitions of social justice or civic engagement that are used commonly throughout the campus. The Graduation Requirements Task Force report passed by the Senate offers a good starting point with the description of the curriculum in the social justice/civic engagement category. However, in order to focus scarce resources and to determine whether or not the objectives of these goals have been achieved, refinement of these definitions will be useful. Multiple definitions may be adopted as appropriate, and the campus will benefit from prominently displaying the definitions on website banners. The following recommendation is in a similar vein.

Recommendations involving students and curricula

Recommendation 3: Where appropriate, course syllabi should indicate how learning objectives align with the university mission. [CFR 2.3, 2.4]

While course syllabi are currently required to show the alignment between the course outcomes and the program outcomes, they are not required to show the alignment between courses and the Baccalaureate Learning Goals or the university mission. The requirement for including the alignment of mission and Baccalaureate Learning Goals in course approval packages and on course syllabi will ensure learning in mission-related areas. This change will create alignment between strategic goals and student learning at the course level and will become an important issue in the Educational Effectiveness Review.

Recommendation 4: The University should consider and determine whether to award academic credit to students for community-based learning. [CFR 2.1, 2.2]

Many of the community service learning, problem based learning, culminating experience, and other courses require students to perform 60 to 100 hours of work in the field to complement traditional classroom-based learning. Often students perform these activities and the corresponding reflection without earning additional course credit and without being paid. Departments should be charged with examining the credit allocation in these courses to determine whether the awarding of credit is equitable. In order to accomplish this change, the Academic Senate should determine the appropriate committee for implementing this change and the administrative process for maintaining the academic records.

In the student survey, students were asked whether or not they knew where to find more information about opportunities to participate in community service both related and unrelated to courses. Surprisingly we found that many students did not know how to do this. Thus, we are led to the recommendation below.

Recommendation 5: A task force should be created to recommend ways to increase awareness of civic engagement opportunities for students. [CFR 1.2, 2.2]

The 2010 student PULSE survey raised the issue of how often students experienced or observed insensitive behavior or discrimination. The table below summarizes the responses.

Figure 3

On campus, how often have you experienced or

observed insensitive behavior or discrimination?

  Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent
Never 1100 32.6 32.6
Rarely 1517 45.0 77.6
Occasionally 636 18.9 96.5
Frequently 119 3.5 100.0
TOTAL 3372 100.0  


As presented, more than 20% of students have experienced or observed these incidents. These data motivated the suggestion to establish an office where students, faculty, and staff can go to discuss these problems when they arise.

Recommendation 6: The University would benefit from an ombudsperson or office specifically designed to handle discrimination-related issues. [CFR 1.5, 2.13]

Recommendations involving faculty

The following two recommendations concern steps the University should take to strengthen and recognize the work of faculty related to its mission.

Recommendation 7:The University should develop definitions and standards for recognizing accomplishments in the area of community engaged scholarship. [CFR 2.8, 2.9]

Recommendation 8: Departments should develop criteria in their RTP policies that allow for the recognition of work related to social justice and civic engagement within the three RTP categories (i.e. teaching, professional achievement and growth, and service). [CFR 2.8, 2.9]

Faculty opinions in this area were expressed often and emphatically in the focus groups.

[2] The GE requirements will include three options – topical perspective or integrated study or study abroad.
[3] In addition to the Graduation Requirements, the Academic Senate has added a new "sustainability" requirement.
[4] Internal report written by Juliana van Olphen, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Education, Connie Ulasewicz, Assistant Professor, Department of Consumer and Family Studies/Dietetics, and Dave Walsh, Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, 2008.
[5] Some of the increase is attributable to the interest in the 2008 election by young voters.

Gearld Eisman in interviewDr. Gerald Eisman: Interview, Social Justice and Civic Engagement

Dr. Gerald Eisman, Director of the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement and Chair of the WASC Subcommittee on Social Justice and Civic Engagement, discusses the research and analytical processes the subcommittee undertook to explore how SF State is maintaining its commitment to social justice, equity and civic engagement.

Supporting Documents

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