San Diego State University will deepen its efforts in research, develop a satellite campus and sharply focus on matters of social justice, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, the school’s new president said Thursday during her first major address.
Adela de la Torre also told a crowd of 800 in Montezuma Hall on campus that, “I support our faculty, staff and students in accessing the American dream, regardless of your immigration status.”
Her pledge drew sustained applause, and comes as President Trump and Congress are debating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that has provided some protection to people who illegally entered the U.S. as minors.
California State University trustees hired de la Torre last week to succeed Elliot Hirshman, who led SDSU to an important crossroads in its 121-year history.
The university conducted a highly successful $816 million capital campaign. But it needs more money to develop a satellite campus in Mission Valley, and to find a way to increase enrollment, which now stands at about 35,000. SDSU also wants to become one of the nation’s top 50 public research schools, and to improve its standing in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
De la Torre is an economist who has been serving as vice chancellor of student affairs and campus diversity at UC Davis. She has comparatively little experience in major fundraising campaigns, although SDSU boosters say they’re confident she can handle the challenge.
During Thursday’s 14-minute speech, de la Torre praised SDSU for what it has achieved, and pointed to the future, especially in research and social responsibility.
“We have these wonderful NSF/NIH grants — we can get more,” de la Torre said. “We’re a Hispanic-serving institution — we can get more.
“We have an opportunity to partner with (University of California campuses) with strategic doctoral programs so that the pathway of graduate education is not for a unique few but for many. San Diego State can be an innovative leader in these areas.”
De la Torre also praised SDSU students for performing community service on both sides of the border.
“They’re providing health services, they’re providing community support, they’re feeding, they’re clothing individuals who need clothing, they’re creating opportunities for housing,” she said.
“This is critical in a bi-national region. We need to build bridges, not only in a sense of understanding but in terms of creating the kind of world that will allow for diversity of culture, diversity of perspectives, diversity of experience.”
De la Torre briefly mentioned SDSU West, a proposal to acquire the SDCCU Stadium property in Mission Valley and use it for a satellite that would feature a stadium, space for academics, research and housing, and commercial development. The proposal will be on the November ballot and is competing with an initiative by FS Investors of La Jolla.
“We will build a world-class university campus, with a research center, and stadium venue that will spur new discoveries and economic development,” de la Torre said.
Before her speech, de la Torre mingled with the crowd, gently taking people’s hands with two hands and leaning in to listen.
“She has a strong personality, and she does her homework. I’m very excited,” said Margaret Iwanaga Penrose, who served on a citizens advisory committee during the search for the new president.
De la Torre also impressed Joyce Gattas, dean of SDSU’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts.
“I have a mantra about the arts serving the public good, and we had a bit of a discussion and she immediately tuned in to our role,” Gattas said. “She is very warm, very gracious, and she listens. With all these other people trying to get her attention, she stays with you.”