Sac State celebrates President Robert Nelsen with departing roast

Event replaced annual spring address


Alyssa Branum

President Robert Nelsen sits upon his throne at his roast Jan. 20, 2023, in the Union Ballroom. The roast was hosted by his fellow administrators and was set in place of a spring address.

Emma Hall

In the University Union Ballroom Friday morning, President Robert Nelsen sat on a large lime green velvet throne as he listened to administrators, alumni, and members of the Sacramento community spout off pre-written quips about his cowboy boots, his Texas roots, and his baldness. 

“When I first saw Robert’s office, seeking his motivation for him being [at Sac State]. Of course, I was excited to find out it was a saddle from Calamity Jane rode on that is actually in his office is what inspired him to be an educator,” said Barry Broome, President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Council. “And I said ‘oh great,’ he should fit in perfectly in California.” 

In lieu of a traditional spring address, Sacramento State hosted the roast of Robert Nelsen as he enters his last semester as university president. 

Typically a semester address follows the university’s strategic plan for that term, however, an email sent by Sac State stated the 2023-2028 Strategic Plan was “almost finished,” and needed more feedback.

 Nelsen, who said he came up with the idea of a roast instead, explained the choice was to “lift the emotions out” and “celebrate being a family.”  

“We’ve been through two years of hell and it’s been hard,” Nelsen said. “We’ve had all of our emotions inside of us for so long and haven’t been around each other.” 

Roasters included, but were not limited to, administrators, alumni, Sacramento politicians and two students.

Selected roasters, while making light jabs at Nelsen, also thanked him for service as president and, said they’d miss him, praising his character throughout the event. 

Sage Beamon, a 24-year-old master’s student pursuing Communications, joked Nelsen’s retirement came because “there aren’t many jobs available for seniors these days.”

Instead, she suggested Nelsen come to the Career Center to get a job as a University Transportation and Parking Services officer or as in a niche seasonal job that requires an “old man with rosy red cheeks and a plump belly.” 

“You ever seen him at Homecoming? He knows how to ride a slay.” she said. 

Roasters shared their favorite stories associated with Nelsen. Adam Rechs, chair of the Faculty Senate, talked about a particular one-on-one Zoom meeting, where Nelsen was working remotely from Texas. During that meeting, he said he noticed Nelsen was distracted, smiling off to the distance. Nelsen later shared that he was watching a group of ducks attacking two alligators, which later prompted Rechs to tease Nelsen about his tendency to not smile publicly.

“Smiles are elusive to him as a long term provost on his campus,” he said. 

In response to concerns about the Spring semester moving forward, Nelsen told The State Hornet the university will be addressing campus safety by releasing a plan through a Sac Send in “just a couple of days.” 

Nelsen added the university’s lighting survey, which was sent to students in December, is done, and the university has “gone through and worked on the blue lights.” 

Among those attending the event were representatives from Sac State’s California Faculty Association. Kathy Jamieson, the faculty rights co-chair for the CFA at Sac State, said the roast “[felt] like a management party.”

“Faculty are faced currently with having classes cut, having loss of pay, and having to fight for every basic right and resource to do their jobs.” Jamieson she said. 

Emily Bukowski, a lecturer in CFA geography department representative and lecturer at Sac State, was among the faculty who expressed this concern. Bukowski said she received an email the morning of the roast, she received an email that two of her classes were canceled due to lack of enrollment. 

“The juxtaposition of getting an email this morning saying ‘my classes were canceled’ versus [Nelsen] getting raises —, he’s retiring, he’s gonna go live in this dream life,” she said. “…It’s hard to swallow the celebratory aspect of great work when the actual functioning of the university is really struggling.”

Nelsen told The State Hornet the 2023-2028 Strategic Plan, once released, will address faculty concerns.