Remarks at the One Linda Vista Community Forum

May 3, 2017

Welcome to the University of San Diego and the One Linda Vista Community Forum. This is an exciting time of the year where we reflect on the academic semester we are completing and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals and the university that highlight our commitment to our mission.

This afternoon I will share with you some of the work we have done with regard to our commitment to our local community but also to share some ideas of the ways we can build upon this impressive work and someday become a national model for how a university engages in reciprocal, democratic partnerships that address humanity's urgent challenges in our own backyard.

First, I wish to thank our friends at the Bayside Community Center and Thrive for co-hosting this special forum. I also wish to recognize the Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, with a special call out for Dr. Zachary Green’s graduate students from our School of Leadership and Education Sciences. I also wish to recognize Montgomery Middle School and all of our distinguished community leaders who have joined us today.

As President of USD, I am deeply humbled by the level of commitment I have witnessed from local businesses, educators, non-profits, law enforcement and many others who work tirelessly on behalf of the Linda Vista community.

As many of you know, the University of San Diego is one of only 40 universities in the world designated as an Ashoka U Changemaker campus, and we are so proud of three of our alumni, in particular, who are also hosting this forum. They certainly represent change-making in action—First, the soon to be Dr. Corey Pahanish, executive director of the Bayside Community Center; Dr. Nicole Tempel Assisi, CEO of Thrive; and Dr. Stephanie Brown, principal of Montgomery Middle School, who is serving as our emcee.

Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate that colleges and universities are the best places in society to develop and foster responsible citizenship, and that by becoming anchor institutions in their local community and tackling society’s toughest issues, universities can be beacons of hope and great forces for change. This, however, only happens when they engage the community in deep, democratic and meaningful partnerships with a shared vision.

Fortunately, we live in a time when there is a growing number of institutions nationally, that have embraced this critical component of their mission and have paved the way to inspire others who have embraced this mission.

A little over a year ago, we had Dr Ira Harkavy, from the University of Pennsylvania on our campus, who has been a national leader in this work. In his address to our university community, he outlined several steps that USD needed to take in order to fulfill its promise to its community. 

Recently I traveled to the University of Nebraska, Omaha with Dr Harkavy, to meet with leaders in that community to better understand what they did to transform their local community through this work. I was amazed at what I saw. Not only is UNO engaged in the community in the ways you would expect a university who embraces an anchor strategy, such as hundreds of service learning courses, community clinics, and other outreach efforts. They have also mobilized the local philanthropic community to help fund a $25million dollar on campus center where members of the community can meet to foster greater collaboration, build trust and find solutions to Omaha’s greatest challenges. UNO started on this journey more than 15 years ago, and today they are modeling some of the best practices for anchor institutions nationally. In addition to modeling some best practices, they also have cultivated the next generation of leaders on their campus, who understand and embrace this concept.

One of those leaders is the current Dean of Arts, architecture and music, Dr. Gail Baker, who I am pleased has accepted my offer to be the next Provost of USD. She will be joining a team of equally passionate leaders here that have created an exciting blueprint for what USD could be by the time we reach our 75th anniversary in 2024. 

In an effort to formalize our priorities for the future, the University of San Diego developed Envisioning 2024, a bold new strategic plan approved by our Board of Trustees in September that capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns new strategic priorities with current strengths, including building on some of the long standing partnerships right here in Linda Vista.

Two of the exciting pathways identified in Envisioning 2024 include further developing our role as an anchor institution and enhancing opportunities for the expression of engaged scholarship in research, teaching, and service. Yes, USD is known for its global presence, opportunities for study abroad and our international student body. Our new plan seeks to build upon that reputation and continue to find new ways to increase our global presence.

But we also know that in order to become a great global university, we must first be a great local university. From health and wellness initiatives and the many sustainable community gardens, to the research of our faculty, to all the collaborative activities that enhance the education corridor throughout Linda Vista, we deeply appreciate the relationships that we have already forged through these community partnerships, and we are committed to expanding and deepening these relationships to the benefit of the Linda Vista community and the University of San Diego. That’s why we are here together today.

As you well know, Linda Vista is one of San Diego County’s most diverse communities, with more than 25 languages and dialects spoken by local residents. Understanding the needs and identifying the community’s various priorities requires our constant presence and active engagement in the daily lives of our neighbors.

I see that we have here today many members of our Linda Vista Anchor Institution Board, which we created last year and now meets quarterly. The board includes residents, community organizers, school administrators, teachers, faith leaders, and the local CDC. It is wonderful to see how well this group works side by side as one community, where we truly get to know each other and build meaningful relationships. This board has identified three priority topic areas for our collaboration, which include education, housing that fosters economic development, and health and wellness.

In the area of education, USD is building upon a solid foundation that started more than 30 years ago with educational access programs representing more than $300,000 in annual education-focused investment in the Linda Vista community. Today, USD undergraduate students serve as education partners supporting K-through-12 students in the classroom and in after-school programs, including the Bayside Community Center Cooperative Leadership Program. Through this program, local residents take graduate-level classes in USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. The goal is to help develop community-based leaders who will remain in the community and lead important change initiatives. 

With regard to economic development, USD is exploring how best to support the economic engines of Linda Vista, such as the San Diego County Office of Education, Francis Parker High School, Montgomery Middle School and other large employers in the Linda Vista area. Our School of Business is currently investigating whether we can even house a small business development center on campus to help incubate new businesses in Linda Vista. We are also investigating how we do business as a university by developing a new set of protocols to support more local business by building the capacity of smaller, local businesses to “scale up” to meet the needs of the USD campus community. We plan to focus more attention on promoting the USD “Turn Left Initiative,” which encourages students and employees to patronize Linda Vista businesses. And, we also are encouraging USD faculty in the School of Business to use Linda Vista businesses as case studies for classes and academic reports.

Another important initiative is Morena’s Moment, an event which showcases local organizations and programs. We firmly believe that Morena, with a new transportation hub and new traffic patterns, has great potential for us to model best practices in assisting with growth and development of that area, just below our campus.

The Impact Linda Vista Initiative is another educational and community engagement program designed by the University of San Diego’s Changemaker Hub to help students apply what they learn in the classroom to create economic and social value in the Linda Vista community. This includes conducting research on social issues raised by the Linda Vista community, and creating sustainable solutions in collaboration with community members. USD wants to further collaborate with the community on housing issues, including potentially redeveloping older apartments and other dwellings in cost-effective ways that keep our valued residents in the local area. We also wish to engage in the regional efforts to address the very urgent challenge of the growing homeless population as well as the related issues of food and housing insecurities.

In the important area of health and wellness, all of USD’s graduate schools offer programs where students and faculty enjoy reciprocal benefits as they contribute to and learn from the Linda Vista community. For example, USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science offers multiple healthy living programs at the Bayside Community Center. USD’s School of Law offers a free legal clinic, and the School of Leadership and Education Sciences offers many programs to help strengthen local teachers and school administrators.

The University of San Diego is focused on how all of these entities in the neighborhood are working together to ensure that Linda Vista maintains its identity while continuing to thrive economically, socially, and culturally.

These are just a few examples of the many ways in which we want to build upon our relationships with this unique and diverse community that possess such a rich culture and proud traditions. 

We certainly have the right people in the room with the skills, talent and know-how to accelerate our collective progress. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to it. Now is the time to create a vibrant, thriving community. Now is the time, to create, reciprocal, democratic partnerships that are sustainable, and seek to advance our community beyond the vision of any one leader or organization.

I firmly believe we are in a special moment in Linda Vista’s history and that our best days as a community are ahead of us because of the people gathered here tonight. I thank you for your commitment to Linda Vista, your willingness to work with USD and other partners to address issues and your enthusiasm and belief that we can accomplish a great deal if we work together.

I will end with a favorite quote from the Anthropologist Margaret Meade: 

“Never doubt.”

Please know that USD is fully prepared to address humanity’s most urgent challenges today, right here in Linda Vista. I am excited to be part of that journey and pledge my support going forward.

James THarris III, DEd