Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – April 20, 2021

CSU-ERFSA State Council Spring 2021
Opening Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
April 20, 2021

Thank you for the kind introduction, President Pasternack. It’s truly an honor and a pleasure to be with all of you this afternoon: members of the CSU Emeritus and Retired Faculty and Staff Association. An honor to be among folks who have dedicated years, often decades, of their lives in service to generations of Cal State students. I won’t name names, but I know there are people in attendance today who have shared their professional and personal gifts with CSU students for more than 50 years!

And it’s indeed a pleasure to have the opportunity to thank you for that consequential service – service that has elevated lives, families and communities and that will benefit the state of California for many decades to come.

Of course, I am not here to thank you merely for your past service. I also want to acknowledge and express my appreciation and support for your ongoing work to advance the CSU mission.

You and your colleagues remain a valued and indispensable part of the CSU family:

  • Tutoring and mentoring students;
  • Offering guest lectures;
  • Participating on advisory boards;
  • Serving on vital and forward-thinking campus committees;
  • Through your philanthropy and generous support of student scholarships;
  • Through advocacy; and
  •  By lending your experience and expertise through volunteer work on campus.

The list goes on and it is far too long for our limited time today. But please accept my deep appreciation and heartfelt thanks for all of the valuable and necessary work you do for the CSU and its students. And I want you to know that I am always available to you and welcome your thoughts, your concerns and your ideas for how we can better support you as you share your extraordinary talents and wealth of experience with current and future Cal State students.

Of course, one of your most important continuing roles at the CSU is that of ambassador. And that requires that you remain informed about matters of significance at the campus and system levels. So it is in that spirit that I will use the remainder of my prepared remarks (before we spend some time in Q&A) to provide updates on a few matters I am sure are of interest to you.

First, I am extraordinarily pleased to share with you that – as the CSU begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and arguably the most challenging year in the university’s 61-year history – student success measures are at all-time highs. During the 2019-2020 academic year, pressing on through the pandemic, CSU students earned nearly 129,000 degrees, including more than 109,000 baccalaureate degrees. Both of these are record totals.

And when the 2020-21 academic year began, we welcomed nearly 486,000 students to the CSU – the largest student body ever.

Persistence and graduation rates are also at all-time highs across the board, including Pell-eligible and first-generation students, as well as students of color.

And while there are a number of reasons for these remarkable statistics and encouraging milestones – beginning, of course, with the ingenuity, adaptability, resilience and resolve of our talented and diverse students – I want to acknowledge and express my deep appreciation and admiration for our faculty and staff who so heroically stepped up to meet the challenges of our massive pivot to online learning and support – one that saw the CSU transition more than 80,000 ongoing classes to virtual delivery, along with a full range of holistic support services in approximately two weeks.

Last summer alone, across our 23 campuses, more than 17,000 faculty members (about 60 percent of our total teaching force) engaged in nearly 250,000 (a quarter million!) hours of professional development programming offered by the CSU. This programming not only focused on best practices in virtual teaching and learning, but our faculty and staff also took deep dives to explore how online course design and virtual support services can promote equity, and how outcomes can be assessed in better, more authentic and equitable ways.

I’ll forever be grateful for the efforts of your colleagues – done with enthusiasm and a sense of intellectual curiosity – and an unwavering commitment to the CSU mission.

It’s important to note that the improved student success measures I referred to earlier – including completion and persistence rates – apply to all CSU students from all backgrounds. However, stubborn equity gaps between low-income students, first-generation students and students of color and their peers remain. Closing those gaps is among my highest priorities as chancellor and it will remain so until they are permanently eradicated.

To that end, we have formed a new Graduation Initiative 2025 steering committee comprised of a diverse group of faculty, administrators and students from across the CSU. The committee’s charge is to make sure we are doing everything we can as a system to not only sustain, but accelerate our progress toward our ambitious student success goals and to ensure that every student from any background, zip code or household income has the opportunity to achieve the security, prosperity and purpose that come with a CSU degree. It will require a new level of accountability, creativity and synergy across our campuses. And it will take a big-picture look at how we target our resources for maximum impact. But we will get there – we won’t rest until we do.

Of course, achieving our GI 2025 goals will also take the support of our partners in Sacramento, and I have some positive news to report regarding our budget. As many of you may know, in February, Governor Newsom, Pro Tem Atkins and Speaker Rendon committed to fully restore the $299 million dollars in recurring cuts to the CSU budget. We are deeply appreciative of this forward-thinking – I believe heroic – act and we continue to strongly urge our elected officials to follow through and ensure that the agreement is ultimately codified into the final Budget Act.

We also remain appreciative of the Governor’s January proposal of $144.5 million dollars in additional recurring funding and $175 million dollars in one-time funds to address deferred maintenance needs.

Of course, in this historic moment in time, we stand ready to do more to help drive the state’s recovery and sustained economic vitality. So we seek an additional $66 million in recurring dollars above the Governor’s January proposal. This would fully fund our GI 2025 request – an investment that has a powerful and proven return in the form of increased student success, more equitable outcomes and more talented and diverse graduates equipped to meet the state’s workforce needs.

And we ask for a total of $1.2 billion in one-time dollars to fund academic facilities and renewal needs. This investment will create jobs and stimulate the state’s economy as it enhances our students’ learning and discovery experience and makes our campuses safer, more energy efficient and more sustainable.

I am confident that our legislative officials and administration in Sacramento are prepared to act boldly on our budget ask. But I urge the entire CSU community – including all of you and your colleagues – to continue to support our advocacy efforts, telling our remarkable Cal State story in a unified, powerful voice to help us secure the best possible outcome for our students, their families, their communities and for California.

I also want to share a few words about our federal advocacy priorities. Earlier this month, we conducted our “District Week” advocacy campaign, during which delegations of CSU campus and system leaders, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and – most important – students shared the Cal State story with our federal legislative leaders and staff. It was my honor to kick off the week by leading the CSU delegation in a conversation with new U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, during which he outlined his vision as secretary and expressed in broad terms his support for the CSU’s federal legislative priorities. Those priorities include doubling the maximum Pell Grant and reinstating the annual cost-of-living increase to restore some of the Pell Grant’s eroded buying power, which we know will promote access to higher education, enhance student persistence and improve completion rates and basic needs support for students from modest financial means. And we seek legislative action to protect and support Dreamers, including a clear pathway to citizenship and access to federal aid. It is our moral imperative to act on behalf of these deserving individuals who, like all of us, are eager to contribute their talents to our communities and simply desire a better life for themselves and their families – one that a Cal State degree can provide.

It was a successful and productive week, highlighted by a terrific visit with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spent a highly engaged and thoughtful half-hour with the group; a good meeting with Representative Judy Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which provided an opportunity to discuss CSU efforts in support of our Asian American and Pacific Islander community; and a positive discussion with California’s new senator, Alex Padilla, who has a strong knowledge of and interest in the CSU.

I look forward to answering your questions and hearing what’s on your minds, but before we move to Q&A, I wanted to provide a brief update on the fall 2021 term.

As some of you may know, when we began to see positive trends in the control of the virus this winter, including an increasingly efficient statewide distribution of vaccines, Chancellor Emeritus White and I announced in early December our intention to deliver courses primarily in-person starting this fall. Thankfully, our optimism has largely carried forward, and Governor Newsom’s recent announcement of the state’s June 15 reopening has reinforced our planning approach.

So our campuses continue to work toward the goal of returning the majority of courses and activities to in-person delivery this fall, while implementing protocols for face coverings, sanitation and physical distancing while encouraging vaccinations. Of course, we will continue to work closely with state and local public health officials and adjust our plans if needed.

We also look forward to refining and expanding the great wealth of virtual instruction and support strategies that worked so well during the pandemic and using them to enrich the CSU student experience moving forward.

With that, it’s time for me to hear from you and answer any questions you might have. Barry, will you please moderate?