Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - November 10, 2021

November 2021 Board of Trustees Meeting
Chancellor’s Report (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
November 10, 2021

Thank you, Chair Kimbell.

It’s wonderful to address you all face to face here in the Dumke. It’s been a long time coming and it is truly a pleasure. And it’s only appropriate that I begin my first in-person Board Report with an update on the repopulation of our campuses.

It was almost a year ago – December ninth, 2020, to be specific – that Chancellor Emeritus White and I jointly announced the CSU’s intention to return to delivering courses primarily in person starting with the fall 2021 term.

Well, although it’s been anything but a smooth ride since then, and I have to admit there were moments when COVID-19 case surges had me wondering if we would be able to achieve our goal, I am pleased to report that almost 70 percent of students systemwide are currently enrolled in courses offered fully or partially in person. The vibrancy is returning to campus life – I’ve personally felt the electricity in the air on my campus visits. In addition to increased in-person instruction and revitalized faculty and student research activities, welcome weeks, student engagement fairs, traditional fall sports, concerts and performances, picnics, blood drives, talent shows and other events across our campuses are exceeding expectations for attendance and participation.

Enabling these events – and assuring their safety – is our campus communities’ compliance with our vaccination requirement. Actually, “compliance” is probably the wrong term. The Cal State family – students, faculty and staff – has stepped up to do its part with a collective will that’s left me utterly inspired and deeply thankful.

Consider this: our latest data indicate that almost 427,000 students and more than 50,000 employees systemwide have certified that they are vaccinated – that’s 95 percent of students attending in-person campus activities and 96 percent of those who are working on campus. Only about 4 percent of students and 3 percent of employees have requested religious exemptions to the requirement, while another 1 percent of students and employees have requested a medical exemption.

That’s truly remarkable, and an unmistakable demonstration of solidarity. And, as a result, our campuses are among the safest environments in the regions they serve. Again, my thanks to the entire Cal State community – this should be a point of pride for all of us.

Looking toward the spring term, it is too early to make any estimates regarding the percentage of in-person classes and activities, and if we’ve learned anything over the past 22 months, it’s the futility of making bold predictions in the midst of a global pandemic. But, barring a significant surge in cases, we can expect a continued increase in the number of in-person activities, with the ability to flex toward virtual modalities if circumstances require. However, even as public health conditions improve, we will continue to offer virtual and hybrid options for our students – not just in instruction, but in services such as advising, EOP support, career services and behavioral health – to be responsive to the shifting preferences of our students, who increasingly appreciate the access and flexibility these virtual options provide.

A moment ago I spoke of the electricity in the air on our campuses. That was certainly the case at an extraordinary celebration I had the privilege of attending at Dominguez Hills last month along with Chair Kimbell and several other trustees; President Parham and campus leadership, faculty and staff; elected officials; generous and visionary donors; and other valued friends of the university. It had been almost 20 years since the last building – Welch Hall – was constructed on the Dominguez Hills campus. On October 15th, we simultaneously cut ribbons to celebrate the opening of three buildings at once! The Science and Innovation Building houses the chemistry, biology and physics programs, as well as the Toyota Center for Innovation in STEM Education. The Innovation and Instruction Building will be home to the College of Business Administration and Public Policy, as well as distance learning and events spaces – and much more. And the beautiful new Student Resident Housing complex – adorned with eight, awe-inspiring 47-foot-high murals by acclaimed LA-based artist, iris yirei hu, will be home to more than 500 students. And as if that weren’t enough, we also celebrated a new esports innovation lab, which will serve as a critical element of the campus’s student engagement strategy and a pipeline to internships and career opportunities in this growing field.

It was an extraordinary event – one for the campus archives, as President Parham noted. And – taking in these spectacular modern buildings – it was a time to reflect on the campus’s historic beginnings. Relocated from Palos Verdes to Carson in the wake of the Watts Uprising. Situated there with great intention to help make higher education more accessible to those who had historically been deprived of access, to bring the transformative power of higher education to communities that had long been denied power.

Dominguez Hills has delivered on that vision. And, under President Parham’s leadership, the campus and its talented and diverse students are clearly poised to reach even greater heights. Congratulations to all!   

In addition to Dominguez Hills, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Cal State Long Beach, San Francisco State, Sonoma State, Chico State and Sacramento State since my last report to you, bringing me to the midpoint of my tour of our 23 campuses. As always, each visit was as instructive as it was inspirational.

Long Beach was my first in-person visit and it was great to be back on a CSU campus, especially in my new hometown. I was particularly struck by my meeting with the academic senate. At Long Beach, the senate is comprised not only of faculty, but of administrators, staff and students, as well. It felt like a true, all-campus team and reflective of the inclusive, collaborative campus climate that makes Cal State Long Beach such a dynamic place.

Unfortunately – due to a campus emergency handled quickly, capably and safely by university police – my visit to San Francisco State was transitioned by necessity to a virtual one at the last minute. But it remained an enjoyable and informative visit, and the campus’s remarkable spirit shone through – the steadfast commitment to teaching, learning and the academic mission combined with an irrepressible passion to bring about social justice and positive change on campus and off. Another common theme was the difficult challenge San Francisco State faces, in one of the most expensive cities in the nation, to provide affordable housing options for students, faculty and staff. I want President Mahoney and the broader campus community to know that I am committed to working with you – and with our elected officials in Sacramento – in finding solutions to this pressing issue.

Like anyone who sets foot on Sonoma State’s campus, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the place, the campus facilities as well as the spectacular natural setting. The Greene Music Center is among the most impressive performing arts buildings I have seen on a college campus. The students’ obvious passion and pride for the school were infectious – I enjoyed listening to their stories of why they were so happy with their college choice. It’s clear they will be wonderful campus ambassadors, inspiring many future Seawolves to enroll.

At Chico State – another campus blessed by natural beauty – I was so impressed with the progress they’ve made to strengthen shared governance under President Hutchinson, such a foundational component of campus success and achievement. Like every institution in our system and across the country, Chico State faces challenges. But I know they will continue to find solutions, with faculty, staff, students and an administration that are highly engaged and that share not only goals and priorities, but also a genuine respect for one another.

I left Sacramento State a week ago inspired by the remarkable progress the campus has made to accelerate student success. Graduation rates continue a steep ascent for students from all backgrounds. But as impressive as those success measures are, what really brought it all home for me was a lunch I had with an extremely diverse group of student leaders. Each one was able to describe a program or initiative – started since President Nelsen’s arrival – that has helped them personally to achieve their academic goals. It was a great reminder that behind every metric, every data point, are stories like these. Of bright futures and of lives transformed.

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organizing these visits, which is no small feat. And I look forward to resuming my systemwide tour in December, with visits to CSUN and San Diego State.

Before I leave the topic of excellence and achievement on our campuses, I also want to recognize and congratulate Fresno State, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State, which – just two weeks ago – were awarded the prestigious Seal of Excelencia certification for their innovative strategies – and demonstrated results – in accelerating the success of Latinx students. These three campuses join CSU Channel Islands and Sac State, which earned this distinction in 2019 and 2020, respectively. I am extraordinarily proud that five of the seven California institutions to have earned the seal – awarded by Washington, D.C.-based Excelencia in Education – are Cal State campuses. Well done! And I hope that all Cal State campuses are inspired to attain this significant and respected certification.

I want to close this morning by recognizing two departing presidents.

As you know, and as Chair Kimbell noted in her remarks, President Ochoa will be retiring from Monterey Bay effective June 30th, 2022. I’ll have much more to say about his remarkable service as that date nears, but for now, I will simply thank Eduardo for his keen intellect, his unique perspective as a national leader in higher education policy, and his unwavering commitment to improving opportunities for students from all backgrounds. Monterey Bay and the CSU are more vital institutions for your service.

You are also aware that President Papazian has announced that she will resign from the presidency at San José State at the end of the fall term – a difficult decision that reflects her wholehearted commitment to the university moving forward. Under her leadership, the campus has instituted a wealth of innovative educational services – and San José State students will benefit for years to come from her dedication to educational equity, excellence in teaching and learning, and building vital research partnerships in the Silicon Valley and beyond. I got to know President Papazian well through our service on the Mountain West Board of Directors, and it was a true pleasure to work closely with her on both academic and athletic issues. Mary, thank you for your service to San José State and the CSU.

Chair Kimbell, that concludes my report.