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

December 2021 Board of Directors Meeting
California Chamber of Commerce Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
December 10, 2021

Thank you for that gracious introduction, Chair Lucas. And good morning, esteemed CalChamber board members!

It's both a pleasure and a distinct honor to address you today, for the first time since beginning my service as the California State University's chancellor almost one year ago. I was looking forward to speaking with you at your September meeting, but when that convening was transitioned to virtual due to the surge of the Delta variant, President Zaremberg and I decided to postpone until today. And as disappointed as I was to do so, in retrospect, I am glad we did: it is wonderful to be with you in person this morning!

And Allan, I would be remiss if I didn't congratulate you on your retirement and thank you for your decades of consequential leadership on behalf of the California business community, and for your consistent and vital support of the CSU. I wish you the very best for all that is next. And President Barrera—a proud CSU Bakersfield alumna, I must point out, go Roadrunners!—congratulations on your new role. I look forward to working closely with you for many years to come.    

Since I am new to so many of you, I thought I would begin by sharing a bit about my background. As Donna mentioned, I am the first person of color and first native Californian to serve as chancellor. In fact, my family's roots in this great state go back almost a century.  

My great grandfather came to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico to help build the Santa Fe Railroad. He and his family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather remembered that experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.

My family eventually settled in a small, agricultural town called Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. I was raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my single mother, who was a beautician. They worked hard, dreaming of a bright future for their son and grandson. Certainly, they had the intelligence and drive to succeed in college, but never the opportunity.

But thanks to their hard work and resolve, I did.

I attended UC Berkeley as part of a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the valley and from modest financial means. It was at Berkeley and later at Stanford – as I saw my own life being transformed through my college experience – that I discovered my passion for educational leadership.

And throughout my career, I've had the privilege of seeing higher education transform the lives of so many talented and diverse students. Students who grew up in circumstances similar to my own.

This is why I am so humbled and inspired to now serve as the CSU's chancellor, with the opportunity to continue to positively impact lives at a scale that only the CSU can provide as the nation's largest, most diverse and – I firmly believe – the most consequential four-year university – almost half a million students, nearly 56,000 faculty and staff, and more than 4 million global alumni strong! It's my professional life's highest honor, and its greatest responsibility.

Today – one year into my tenure and as we continue to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic – I am pleased to share that the state of the CSU is strong. Last spring, we celebrated the largest graduating class in the history of our university, with almost 133,000 students earning a Cal State degree. Graduation rates are also at all-time highs for students from all backgrounds.

This fall, vibrancy began to return to campus life, thanks in large part to the success of our vaccination mandate. In fact, for the fall semester, 95 percent of students attending on-campus activities and 96 percent of faculty and staff working in-person certified being vaccinated. As a result, our campuses are among the safest environments in the regions they serve.

Almost 70 percent of Cal State students systemwide attended courses offered fully or partially in person, with fall sports, concerts, performances and many other events exceeding expectations for participation and attendance.

And looking forward to the spring term, barring a significant surge in cases, there will be 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 expand and enhance many of the virtual learning and support services that proved so effective through the pandemic, to be responsive to the shifting preferences of our students, who increasingly appreciate the access and flexibility these virtual options provide.

Of course, there is much work before us. Given the CSU's size and scope, we will always be advancing hundreds of initiatives and working toward an equal number of worthy goals across our 23 campuses. But I have identified five overarching priorities as guideposts to inform our work moving forward.

They are, first, eliminating, once and for all, the equity gaps that exist in graduation rates between students of color, low-income students and first-generation students and their peers. And that will remain a priority until every Cal State student has the equal opportunity to earn the lifelong and life-transforming benefits of a Cal State degree.

My second priority is supporting the physical, mental and emotional health and well-being of our talented and diverse students. I know you are all aware of how the stresses and isolation associated with the pandemic have exacerbated an already alarming rise in mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, especially among our nation's young people.

Third, we must meaningfully address tech equity to help our most vulnerable students bridge the digital divide until the day comes when technology is an accessible, essential and invaluable tool – and not a barrier – for all of our students. In fact, tech equity is priority 1 on the Cal State Student Association's 2021-22 policy agenda.

We must also redouble our efforts to diversify our faculty and staff. It is extraordinarily important to me that our students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who authentically understand their lived experiences because they've walked a similar path and are uniquely able to inspire the very best in our talented students.

And finally – and perhaps most relevant to this convening – I look to inspire additional public and private support and partnership, especially among California's business community.

As we all know, the success of the CSU's students, California's employers and our great state are inextricably connected. California's skilled workforce has long been one of the business community's great competitive advantages. And the CSU is proud of the leadership role it has taken in providing that talented and diverse workforce. In fact, we produce nearly half of the state's bachelor's degrees and a third of the master's degrees. That includes:

  • More than half of the state's bachelor's degrees in business, engineering, public administration and criminal justice;
  • Nearly half of the degrees in the life sciences, nursing, media, culture and design, and;
  • Almost three out of every four degrees serving California's iconic agriculture and wine industries, and more than 90 percent of the state's hospitality degrees.

All in all, one out of 10 California employees is a Cal State graduate, including many of you here today.

As impressive as those percentages are, the raw numbers really drive home the degree to which the CSU and California's employers rely upon one another. Let me share just a few with you now: United Airlines, Albertsons and Southern California Gas each employ more than 500 Cal State graduates. Over a thousand CSU alumni work at Ernst and Young, and at State Farm, Blue Shield, Chevron, Oracle and Triple A-affiliated companies. Three thousand-plus work at Disney, as well as at each of Cisco, Google and Intel. And Northrup Grumman, Wells Fargo and Apple each employ more than 5,000 CSU grads.

These statistics are a point of pride for the CSU. But we know the status quo will not stand. The need for a diverse and educated workforce continues to grow, and the skills your businesses require will continue to evolve with the fast-changing future of work.

The CSU is committed to partnering with you to meet those needs, whether by working together to ensure that our academic programming reflects current and future workforce demands, collaborating on research projects to develop solutions to specific industry challenges, or strengthening career pathways through internships, mentorships or career counseling – especially tapping into talent in historically underserved communities.

Everything's on the table and I invite, welcome and value your input. I want to learn about your specific challenges and needs and how we can help you address them. I want to hear about what we are doing well. And perhaps most important, I want to learn what we must do better. Please know that I am always available to you.

In fact, we can get started this morning. I know Donna has a few questions for me and I look forward to taking questions from the audience, as well.

But before we transition to Q&A, I want you to know how much I value the dynamic, capable and forward-thinking partners the CSU has in the CalChamber and California's business community. On behalf of the entire Cal State community, please accept my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation:

  • For the mentorship, experiential learning, internships, networking opportunities and jobs you provide our students and graduates;
  • For your insight and leadership – on our campuses and in the communities they serve;
  • For your generous philanthropy, and;
  • For being champions of the California State University, our students and our alumni.

Again, thank you.

Donna, shall we begin our discussion?​​