"State of the CSU" Address

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
State of the California State University​​
Long Beach, California
January 22, 2019 


Thank you, Chairman Day. Good morning, everyone.

On behalf of the California State University, let me be among the first of many to welcome the newest members to our Board: Eleni Kounalakis, our new lieutenant governor, and State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond. Tony’s schedule precludes him from attending today but he is planning to be here tomorrow. We are honored and delighted to have you as part of the CSU community. As you participate with us over the coming years, you will quickly discover the passion and commitment of your fellow board members – indeed, everyone associated with the Cal State University. The great things I’ll share with you this morning are a direct result of the work our people around us and on our campuses, and I am just fortunate to be a part of it, and now… you are, as well. And while he couldn’t join us, we also welcome Governor Newsom as our Board President.

So each year as your Chancellor I’ve used the January board meeting to report on the state of the CSU. Today I share with you my sixth such address.

I wish to speak a bit about the confluence of vision, about relentless efforts and good fortune that has led to a special moment for the Cal States, the role we have in seeking truth and in bring compassion to our work, and how dreams materialize that serve the past, the present and the future.

I am pleased to characterize the state of the CSU as strong, but that does not begin to tell the story as I see it.

In many respects, 2018 was our best year ever. Over the past year, and again today, you will hear reports that highlight the progress we are making, the growth that we are experiencing and the strength we are exhibiting.

For example, our unified focus on the Graduation Initiative resulted in the highest number of graduates in the history of the California State University. Our four-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen increased six percentage points. Our two-year graduation rate for transfer students from the community colleges increased seven percentage points. Now listen: This progress is only happening because faculty, staff and administrators are taking intentional and courageous steps to focus campus-wide efforts on student achievement in a high-quality and rigorous academic environment.

Equally, if not more important, we made meaningful progress in closing the equity gap. The graduation gap between under-served students and their peers decreased by nearly two percentage points. It’s worth noting, however, that equity gaps themselves are smaller than previous years, while at the same time we’ve enrolled a greater percent of under-served and Pell-eligible students.

Please understand this is not some “check the box” goal of ours. This focus on closing the achievement gap is recognition of our moral responsibility to do the right thing. It is a big lift, and I am encouraged by our progress. We are heading in the right direction.

And as we succeed, the solutions to the challenges facing our great state will come from this wellspring of diversity that we are so proud of welcoming and nurturing.

Closing the equity gap has been – and will always be – a primary focus, partly because it reflects my personal commitment to equity and partly because it represents the very foundation of the mission of the California State University: bringing educational opportunities to all Californians.

As you know (and the Chairman mentioned earlier on) we faced some extraordinary challenges in 2018 – but, by working together and pulling together, these struggles seemed to make the state of the CSU even stronger. We had a lot of work to do on our budget last year; fortunately, advocacy paid off in large measure. I have spoken with you before about the wildfires and personal tragedies that impacted our campuses and members of the CSU community. Nonetheless, I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the role these challenges played in shaping and strengthening our university, and in the extraordinary ways in which Cal State University responded to these events.

While the state of the CSU is strong, it is even more accurate to reflect that the state of the CSU is optimistic.

Just a few weeks ago, Gavin Newsom was sworn in as our fortieth governor. I was fortunate to be there, as were many in this room. I noted and was gratified by how closely his vision for California mirrors our mission. If you’ve not had a chance to read his inaugural address, I encourage you to do so.

I was particularly struck by his call for unity and solidarity, for compassion and courage, and for California to be a beacon for the world. As he said, and I quote:

“Now more than ever, America needs California. It needs the guiding light of our values and the progress they make possible. This is where America’s future is made.”

I couldn’t help but think his words are equally true for the Cal State University:

“Now, more than ever, California needs the Cal State University. It needs the guiding light of our values and the progress they make possible. This is where California’s future is made.”

The Governor also stated: “…it is up to us to renew the California Dream for a new generation… and that California’s brighter future isn’t in front of us – it’s inside each and every one of us.” Think about that!

I offer that California’s dream is embodied in the 487,000 students enrolled in our campuses, in the 105,000 graduates who earned bachelor’s degrees last year and others who earned one of our 25,000 graduate degrees. It is embodied in our faculty, staff and leadership. The California Dream is found in the 3.6 million alumni across our state and nation, and in the ever-growing numbers of applicants seeking entry to this extraordinary university.

Make no mistake. Our quest to increase access and success for our students, to do our share of closing the bachelor’s degree gap facing California over the next 11 years is much more than one-million more bachelor’s degrees… it’s about a million DREAMS!!

Dreams of Californians who were born here or are immigrants, students who come from wealth or poverty, from a wholesome family and community or ones that are challenged. It is the million dreams of parents and families. It is about the experience of a lifetime, which occurs on a Cal State University campus and that enables our alumni to fulfill big dreams for self, for family and for community.

My optimism was magnified just three days after his inauguration when Governor Newsom put forward his budget recommendation.This proposal will enable us to expand our work, to welcome more students to our campuses, enhancing our efforts to ensure their success, and aiding their launch into graduate programs and careers that will impact our state’s economy and its citizens in myriad and wonderful ways.

And in response to his visionary budget, I will not bring forward any request for the Trustees to consider a tuition increase for our 2019-20 budget. You heard me correctly: Tuition is off the table.

As you might imagine, we will be working closely with our friends and associates in Sacramento to ensure they understand this fundamental truth, and that is: The CSU is the key to California’s brightest future and vital to the policy objective of the new administration in Sacramento.

Nearly a half-million CSU students are currently preparing for that future, pursuing their dreams, discovering their passions and becoming – as Governor Newsom wished for – “pioneering optimists who look to the future…with creativity and boundless energy.”

So while I am pleased to report the state of the CSU is strong and optimistic – I’m not done – it is also aspirational.

Being the key to California’s future isn’t solely about being an engine of California’s economic future. Our responsibility includes moral imperatives as well.

In November I called on the CSU community to make compassion a fundamental part of our lives and, indeed, of the life of the Cal State University. I asked us to think about our institution as California’s compassionate state university. But I am by no means the first to make this clarion call. Let me explain.

Like one or two of you in this auditorium, I am old enough to consider myself a child of the sixties.

Indeed, there are days like yesterday, where we paused in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. It reminded me of the brilliance of the past – in a life cut too short by an assassin’s bullet almost 51 years ago – but a brilliance that can inform the future.

At MLK, Jr’s last staff meeting, he spoke against building walls and for building bridges – in this case the context was Germany. Dr. King believed that we must choose bridges over war, and reconnection over rejection. He wanted to choose love over hate… hate induced by fear and ignorance. He said, and I quote: “Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness.”

Now I remember campuses in the 60s and 70s. I was at Fresno State, East Bay, and Berkeley at the time. They were cauldrons of intense conversations, demonstrations and debates. Some saw that as detrimental, but in the long run, in the grand scheme of things, those campus clashes often served as the crucible in which multiple perspectives were voiced, debates were sparked, and leadership was born and nurtured. Yes, leadership.

Recall that the campus protests at San Francisco State grew into the historic student strike of 1968. There were many voices, including a young African-American woman who found the courage to speak up, to demand change, and become a leader. She also became the very first of the student protesters to be arrested.

The combined actions of the protestors eventually led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State. That alone would be a noteworthy accomplishment, but Ramona Tascoe was far from finished living her dream.

After graduating from San Francisco State, she went on to earn a medical degree from UC San Francisco, a master of public administration degree from the University of San Francisco, and a divinity degree from Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. In the years since, Dr. Tascoe has worked as an internal medicine specialist in Oakland and led medical missions to Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, India, Sri Lanka and Haiti – and this alumna remains a vibrant committed member of her California community.

I’m sure there were those in the sixties who saw student protests as just so much noise, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare would say. But history suggests otherwise. Courageous individuals found their voices, and in the process, changed society – and, indeed, with compassion and commitment continue to change society today.

I am very pleased to let you know that Dr. Tascoe – that vigorous student protestor of the sixties – has graciously accepted our invitation to serve on the advisory committee for the search for the next president of San Francisco State. She demanded change over fifty years ago, and she remains an agent of compassionate change today.

Universities are designed to be a vigorous marketplace of ideas. A place where research and discovery, analysis, curiosity and critical thinking are among the tools we use in a relentless quest for truth and knowledge.

It takes great courage to listen to opinions that do not match our own, and discuss those sentiments with openness and with respect. But becoming well-informed citizens is never a bad thing, especially if we seek for understanding, for commonalities and for insight – especially when we welcome dissent, and learn from it.

By encouraging and allowing exploration here, we empower our graduates to share what they’ve discovered and learned there… wherever there might be: their workplace, their home, their community. And in that process, we help our alumni become the key to California’s brightest and most hopeful future.

Yes, we are strong. We are optimistic. And yes, we are aspirational.

But when one considers all those characteristics… I ask you to join me in concluding that the California State University is emboldened. Emboldened to lead, to do the right thing, even when the right thing is hard to do. The good news is that we are well positioned to move forward with strength, optimism and boldness. The even better news is that now is the time for us to redouble our efforts. Our time has never been more important, nor more possible, than now.

We have made good progress in our efforts to improve student success – and we must do more. The Graduation Initiative is working, and courageous faculty, staff and administrators are relentlessly exploring new ways to challenge and support students, coupling new policies with new ways to imagine teaching and learning. I am proud and impressed to learn from our faculty about these innovations that keep the Cal State in the forefront of higher education.

I’m eager to share our progress with legislators, supporters… and with critics… to help them understand the strength it takes to let go of the old and embrace the new. Now is the time for us to move forward boldly, implementing recommendations from our graduation initiative work groups and sharing best practices, promising practices and innovations across our campuses.

We have made strong progress in our commitment to inclusivity and diversity – and we must do more. It takes a bold spirit to attend college, especially if you are the first in your family to do so, or a veteran returning from military service, or someone balancing work life and home life and student life. The breadth of coursework, the jargon and language of academia, the pace of campus life – all these can be as daunting as a journey to the Moon for someone new to a university. Let us become even more known for welcoming every student to our campuses, especially those who have traditionally not found a welcoming home in higher education. Let us boldly invite all who seek a brighter future to join the CSU family, and then commit ourselves to helping them succeed.

We must maintain urgency with these efforts, swat away any harbingers of complacency, embrace the queries of efficacy, and not let a desire for perfection impede the power of thoughtful and principled actions that enable student achievement.

We are at a pivotal time in the history of the Cal State University. A point of confluence where visionary leaders in our state government, courageous presidents and faculty across our 23 campuses, committed administrators and ​​staff, passionate alumni, consequential trustees, generous donors and friends of the university, and hundreds of thousands of students and their families are coming together and doubling down to envision and advance the future, to really get things done.

Now… NOW is the time for us to invest further in students in a major way, ensuring that a high-quality Cal State education remains affordable and accessible to all who are prepared, eager to achieve and ready to contribute to the success of our great state and nation. The result of such an investment will be both immediate and far-reaching. More Californians will be admitted; more will graduate. More bright minds – diverse in thought and characteristics, but united in hope and purpose; studying a wide range of disciplines and professions in the arts, humanities, sciences, along with engineering, architecture, agriculture and many other professional fields – this will power our state’s economy and society for decades to come.

They will become the energy that keeps the California dream flourishing.

The CSU is a product of vision, of faith, and most of all, of courage. Bold men and women almost sixty years ago proposed an audacious approach to higher education that transformed California into one of the most influential societies in the world. This is why what we are doing right now, and in the future, matters so much.

As I prepare to close and as I said earlier, we are well positioned to move forward boldly and with optimism. We are discovering our abilities to innovate and explore, to invite and welcome, to inspire and create. Our mission has always been to lead, to be in the forefront, to blaze a trail and show the way – daunting as that role can be.

Indeed, this is our reason for existing – to help students dream of a different tomorrow, just as we did with Ramona Tascoe many years ago… and as we do today.

Stop with me for a minute and consider the dream of Edmundo Perez, Jr. and his parents. Edmundo is a senior at Cal Poly Pomona, who is benefiting from our graduation initiative efforts.


When I hear stories like Edmundo – and the voice of Maria and Edmundo Senior… notice the word “dreams” appeared in everything they had to say in Spanish – and I think of the tens of thousands of our students whose stories are similar even though the facts differ, I am reminded that what we are doing here is compelling, is powerful and a transformational endeavor.

Our work is both noble and vital. We are creating opportunities for progress, preparing hundreds of thousands of Californians for successful lives and careers, and creating leaders who will bring new vision and strength to their communities, to California, and indeed, to our nation and world.

We are made of the stuff that helps birth and shape dreams, and then provide the knowledge and skills to reach them. We might consider ourselves DreamWorks… but alas – someone else has already taken that name! But in the process of dream making and dream achieving, we are making a lot of parents very proud of their children – and a lot of children very proud of their parents.

Chairman Day, that concludes my report on the remarkable state of a strong, optimistic, aspirational and emboldened California State University, one designed and positioned to serve California, the nation and the world.