Report of the Chair

Remarks by Rebecca D. Eisen
Chair, CSU Board of Trustees
Report to the Board of Trustees
Long Beach, CA
July 19, 2016
I was told that in order to do a July Chair report, it wouldn’t take a lot of effort because I think it was said to me that not much happens in the summer. That’s not exactly accurate, at least not this year. A great deal has happened in my view.

During and after our last meeting in May, we were all in the midst of our graduation ceremonies. These continued into June. They are just the most remarkable tradition that we have. So many of us got to participate in them… and they are a joy every single time. I read that a tradition is a physical activity imbued with enchantment… and I think that’s a pretty good description of our graduations.

We confer and we bestow and we honor and we congratulate, but when we get to hear the stories of our students at our graduations, that’s when the enchantment really kicks in.

These stories of their journeys to college and journeys through college are always remarkable. Our former trustee, Kelsey Brewer, gave such a speech and it was a wonderful thing to hear.

I think a lot of you probably heard the story of a particular student at San Francisco State, who, as it turns out, was born in a dormitory to a student who was unable to care for her. She was adopted into a wonderful family and 31 years later, she graduated from the very university where she was born.

I was lucky to be in attendance at her graduation because about 25 years ago another child was born, also to parents who couldn’t care for him. He too was adopted into what I hope he thinks was a good family… my son Eli… such a cute kid… also graduated from San Francisco State. That was a wonderful ceremony for me.

These represent only two of the more than 105,000 stories…105,000 graduates from the CSU this year. A truly amazing accomplishment for our new alumni, for their families and communities, and for our campuses.

While we are acknowledging accomplishments… I want to switch topics and congratulate Sacramento State which got a gold star rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education… and those of you who know me know how keenly interested I am in sustainability. This award puts Sac State into a select group of universities in California and around the world to have received such a high rating.

I don’t want to stop there. I know that all of our campuses are engaged in tremendous efforts toward sustainability, and I understand that we will be hearing much more on this on our meeting agendas later in the year.

Since we last met, we have had two holidays – Memorial Day and Independence Day – and they put me in mind of a couple of things.

First, our veterans… and even today I’ve heard a couple of comments on these remarkable veterans programs that we have on our campuses. I know that three of our campuses… San Diego, San Bernardino and San Marcos… have been rated by Military Times as the best of the best in terms of their veterans programming… and again, I know all of our campuses have excellent programs specifically designed to assist veterans.

I wanted to take just a moment to thank the Presidents and their teams for serving so well those who have served us so well.

The other thing I think about because of these holidays and in this particular point in time is our democracy… while we are in the throes of this presidential election…. We are all thinking about our democracy.

You need not worry that I’ll now launch into a Ken Burns speech here, but I do want to retweet… I think that’s the word I’m supposed to use now… I want to retweet what was said by Aristotle and by Thomas Jefferson and what in a 2006 Harvard study actually proved… and that is there is causal connection between education and the strength of a democracy. That is no longer a theory… that is a fact.

And we are very privileged to be part of an institution that has as our mission education, and therefore, everything we do hopefully is strengthening our democracy.

We have suffered several losses since we last met. Since we’ve last met, we’ve lost two real champions of social justice. The first one… Mohammad Ali. Look at this photo… isn’t it incredible? This is Mohammad Ali speaking at Cal State L.A. in February 1968.

Not everyone in this room is old enough to remember 1968… I was a freshman in college… and it was a tumultuous time. He was a great champion in the ring, but was also a great champion with his words.

I know the esteemed Henry Louis Gates Jr. referred to Ali as the Shakespeare of linguistic pugilism. And he was so mean he made medicine sick.

So here he is speaking at Cal State LA, and it was a great loss.

The other champion of social justice that we lost in the last couple months was Elie Wiesel… a remarkable person whose story is well known.

He once said that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.

And I think about that a lot, because in the last two months between our meetings, we have experienced the terrible tragedies in Orlando, in Baton Rouge, in Minneapolis and in Dallas… all in the last two months.

I think about Elie Wiesel’s statement… and what the gentleman earlier mentioned… that our campuses are sanctuaries… places where people come together.

This doesn’t just happen because it just happens… it happens because of the good work of our students, faculty, staff, campus presidents and the Chancellor’s Office… who actively create opportunities on our campuses for people to come together, to dialogue, to resist indifference and to resist hate.

Again, I want to thank everyone in the CSU for helping to make these connections happen.

And there have been a lot of changes in this very room since we last met….

We have a new Chair of the Academic Senate, Dr. Chris Miller, a professor at Sac State – who will be giving her own first report in a minute. And also a new President of the CSSA – David Lopez, attending Cal State East Bay – who will be doing the same. I certainly look forward to working with you both in the important work that lies ahead for the CSU.

Maggie White is our new voting student trustee – congratulations, Maggie.

And we are also now officially joined by alumni Trustee John Nilon who has taken up the challenge of filling the big shoes as Alumni Trustee. As is our tradition, I’m happy to yield the floor to John for some brief comments.

[Trustee Nilon’s comments]

Thank you and, again, welcome!

We will soon have to say goodbye to some folks as well.

First, we have said goodbye to Lou Monville, but I have been told that he is in the building… so lucky for us he was willing to come back to this meeting so that tonight we can roast and toast him the way he has accustomed us to do. So, I am very excited for that opportunity.

Lori Lamb, a very sad goodbye for all of us… her talents, charms and ability to think and speak clearly on very important issues has been a remarkable thing for all of us in the last couple of years. We’re going to really miss you, too, Lori.

And… I don’t know what it is with the “L” names, but we’re also going to lose Lupe Garcia, who has been appointed to be a superior court judge in a court that I used to practice in… Alameda County... and luckily, I don’t have to anymore.

Judge Garcia… Her Honor… will not need to worry about her wardrobe from now on, as she’ll simply just put a robe over everything… so all of those employee discounts at The Gap will do you no good anymore.

You know, Lupe has been an amazing voice for this board. She and I were inducted at the same moment and we’re going to miss her terribly as well.
One last thing… on the report we heard from Executive Vice Chancellor Blanchard at the end of our meeting.

When the Chancellor first came here he said that our goals of affordability, access and excellence were certainly critical goals, but he added that they were not sufficient goals – not for this great institution. We need to focus on completion.

He said that without timely completion and the elimination of achievement inequality, we cannot say that we have done all we could and should for our students and for California.

We’ve heard today that we are embarking on a renewed and laser focused effort to improve our graduation rates, and to eliminate the achievement gap. This is the critical work that we must all lean in to in the coming year. Everyone – particularly our students – benefit when barriers to their timely completion of their degree – barriers that we as an institution can do something about – are identified, addressed and removed.

The new graduation rate goals will help us focus our efforts and allow us to measure how effective we are in alleviating those barriers. This is going to be hard work without a doubt. But as the Chancellor once said, we cannot allow the size or complexity of the task paralyze us into inaction.

I want to thank the Chancellor for his leadership on this issue stretching back to his first days here, and I want to thank Executive Vice Chancellor Blanchard and the entire Advisory Committee he has assembled for their work in launching this renewed initiative.

I am truly invigorated at the prospect of what we can accomplish – for our students and for the State of California – as we work as a team towards these goals.

And with that, I conclude the Board Chair’s report.