Since 2004, San José State University (SJSU) has changed presidents nine times. Although each of these university heads was probably politically correct, the new president, Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, is far more ideologically driven and intends to march us all, lockstep, into a future of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This shift includes mandatory language and behaviors that together abandon the previous mission of SJSU.
Teniente-Matson began her efforts by engaging in a “strategic recalibration” of the university’s mission statement, a process that involved adding vision and value statements. She has argued that the three new statements in question—mission, vision, and values—must unify the university and provide the “fundamentals of our purpose.”
The university’s DEI shift includes mandatory language and behaviors that together abandon the previous mission of SJSU.In part, this action has been driven by the outcome of SJSU’s latest WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation report, which came out in July 2022. The report flagged issues having to do with campus climate, including faculty fears concerning retaliatory action. These problems are likely associated with the criminal actions of former director of sports medicine Scott Shaw, who sexually abused dozens of female student athletes; retaliatory actions by former director of athletics Marie Tuite against whistleblower coach Sage Hopkins; and inaction by former president Mary Papazian, which allowed Shaw to continue his abuse and protected Tuite against allegations of retaliation. Papazian resigned after this scandal, which started before her arrival, spanned more than a decade, and ended with an FBI investigation and Shaw’s arrest.
Surprisingly, this sex-abuse scandal was not even hinted at during Teniente-Matson’s April 24, 2023, campus summit to discuss the university climate and a reworking of its mission, vision, and values. Rather, Teniente-Matson decided to point the finger of blame elsewhere (at the 14:31 mark of the summit video):
You might be wondering why this is important. Well, let me share with you a quick side note. […] Like many places, we have challenges. Our campus has a history of narratives that might be based in historical inequities and discrimination, and from time to time these actions lead to hurtful and dismissive behaviors and the sense that some people feel unseen and unheard.
While Teniente-Matson was saying these words, she showed a slide with three images that presumably illustrated the “inequities and discrimination” in question. The first photograph was of an older, white, formally-dressed, bearded male looking as if he is about to shout. The third was of the events that inspired SJSU’s “Victory Salute (Olympic Black Power)” statue. Most interestingly, the middle image was of a white female sitting at a desk with a skeleton to her left, an anatomical model to her right, and a skull in front of her. I can only assume that this center picture was a thinly veiled attempt to blame the poor campus climate on a similar photograph of me holding a skull in a 2021 tweet.
That tweet—and a variety of other factors, such as my Mercury News op-ed on the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—had previously led to former president Papazian locking me out of the curation facility, which held skeletal collections of Amerindian remains and other research materials. These issues had made the front page of the Mercury News, and it had taken the university 10 months to provide me access to even non-Amerindian collections, despite the fact that I was the collections coordinator at the time, in charge of the curation facility. Provost Vincent Del Casino had also sent a campus-wide email condemning my actions. Although I had reached out to him for discussion, he had decided not to meet with me and had posted my written response.
By placing blame where it doesn’t belong, the new president is addressing campus climate in ways that will surely backfire.Ironically, the university had previously posted similar photos of me in promotional materials. Some of these still hang in Clark Hall, just a few floors down from the Office of the President. As a result of these and other actions, I filed a lawsuit against SJSU for violations of freedom of speech. This lawsuit was recently settled in a manner that enables me to retire with full benefits and gain emeritus status.
Unfortunately, by placing blame where it didn’t belong, the new president had decided to address campus climate in ways that will surely backfire. Redefining SJSU from an educational institute to a social justice re-education camp will not lessen student or faculty fear of retaliation. And that is precisely what Teniente-Matson proposes to do.
Currently, the university mission statement reads as follows:
In collaboration with nearby industries and communities, SJSU faculty and staff are dedicated to achieving the university’s mission as a responsive institution of the state of California: To enrich the lives of its students, to transmit knowledge to its students along with the necessary skills for applying it in the service of our society, and to expand the base of knowledge through research and scholarship.
The draft of the new mission statement is this:
As the first public university in the west, we proudly serve Silicon Valley. Inclusion, creativity, and innovation drive our teaching, research, and service in an experiential learning environment where all students belong and become leaders and contributors to a globally diverse workforce transforming our community and the world.
The terms “inclusion,” “belong,” and “diverse” are defined in the Campus Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s Action Plan Framework. According to this document, inclusion means that “we strive to use language that does not replicate trauma.” This statement alone should be seen as an ominous sign for the university’s dedication to free speech.
Nowhere in the new mission statement do we find the words “freedom,” “truth,” “skills,” or “knowledge.”Since the new mission and vision statements may not be sufficient to bring about the desired changes to the campus climate, Teniente-Matson has added value statements. She notes that SJSU needs to clearly articulate values that align with diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in order to make the statements and our commitments to them actionable. In the draft values statements, the third and fourth “purposes” address equity and inclusion. The third states that “we are visionary and disruptive” and asserts that this includes agitating “industries and paradigms” and being bound “by a commitment to social equity and inclusion.” The fourth includes the assertion that “we celebrate our indigenous roots.” I am not sure what indigenous roots are being referred to here.
In the mission, vision, and values statements, social-justice terms such as “equity,” “belonging,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” appear multiple times. Nowhere do we find the words “freedom,” “truth,” “skills,” or “knowledge.” This is the future SJSU is building.
Elizabeth Weiss is a professor of anthropology at San José State University, a faculty fellow at Heterodox Academy, and a soon-to-be board member of the National Association of Scholars. She is the co-author (with James W. Springer) of Repatriation and Erasing the Past (2020).