Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - February 5, 2021

Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Chancellor’s Office Leadership Development Program
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)
February 5, 2021

Thank you, David, and good morning to all of you. It’s a special pleasure to be with you today – I am among my people this morning!! Folks who share my passion for educational leadership!

Before I begin, a quick housekeeping note: I look forward to answering any questions you might have at the end of my remarks. David and his team ask that you please submit them via the chat function as they occur to you, and I will be happy to answer as many as time allows.

I want to thank the people who are responsible for this innovative and comprehensive program: Vice Chancellor Evelyn Nazario, Joan Torne, Sheila Owens, Jennifer Wicks, David Kervella and today’s facilitator, Martin Lowery. 

I also want to thank all of the participants from the Chancellor’s Office. Our nation is in desperate need of leaders who are informed, ethical, compassionate, and competent at understanding and interacting among diverse cultures and perspectives. That’s the kind of leader I will strive to be as your chancellor. And the more all of us at the CSU can live out those qualities and ideals, the more effective we will be in educating the bold future leaders that will make our state and nation stronger for decades to come.

Your participation in this program will not only advance your professional development, it will help make the CSU – the nation’s largest, most diverse and most consequential university – better at delivering on our worthy mission… and that’s not an overstatement. So thank you again for your participation.

I should probably follow up all these thank you’s with an apology. I think I may be responsible for adding to your homework responsibilities for this program. I understand you’ll be reading a book that’s a personal favorite of mine and one that I recommended to Vice Chancellor Nazario a couple months ago: “On Leadership,” by John Gardner. It’s one that I re-read on an annual basis.

Dr. Gardner was a truly remarkable man and a powerful voice for social reform. He is one of very few people in American history to hold prominent leadership positions in the public, private and non-profit sectors. He served as Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under LBJ and helped form so many social programs that we are all familiar with today. Medicare and PBS are just two examples. One of my favorites is the Senior Corps, which empowers older Americans to engage in community service, including mentoring at-risk youth – with life-transforming benefits for the kids and the seniors alike.

Dr. Gardner was a mentor of mine when I was completing my doctoral work at Stanford.  He was so generous with his time, happy to meet with me on a weekly basis. He would give me readings, I’d come back a week later and we would discuss the topic of the day and he would answer my questions. It was an invaluable experience for me – one that has profoundly influenced my approach to leadership and one that I will never forget.

In my opinion, his book is timeless. It’s filled with wisdom and insight. But to me, it can be distilled to his unwavering belief that leadership – at its best – is about inspiring others to follow a vision and to see themselves as part of something bigger.

Here at the CSU, we’re lucky. Our mission is to transform the lives of people from all backgrounds through the power of higher education. Our core values include social mobility, inclusive excellence, equity in all its dimensions, holistic personal growth, and the relentless pursuit of truth and understanding. When an organization’s mission and values are this consequential, this worthy, people are drawn to it, they want to be a part of it. As leaders, it’s our role to embody these ideals – to live them out every day. I understand that you will delve deeper into this topic later in today’s session.

When I face challenging leadership situations – when I encounter difficult or controversial decisions – these are my guiding principles and I hope they might be helpful to you. I avoid whenever possible making these decisions in the moment. I take time to reflect on our mission, our core values and my personal ethics. And when I do that, the noise around an issue tends to quiet – and its essence, and the correct path, become clear. Unfortunately, it’s often not the easy path forward. But knowing that your approach will advance the mission and is consistent with your personal ethics, you can move forward – even on a difficult path – with a sense of calm, clarity and confidence.

While I am not here to lecture to you today – although I could happily talk about this for hours – I’d like to leave you with one more thought on leadership. Never stop listening. Never stop learning. Be proactive in seeking out alternative ideas and diverse perspectives.

One of the reasons I am so thrilled to speak with you today is that the very fact you have enrolled in this program tells me that you already understand this. You work so hard for our students, putting in long hours and – this year – under very challenging conditions. And yet here you are – stepping out of your comfort zone to seek out new perspectives, consider new ideas and sharpen your skills. You are my people!

But I need to warn you, there’s a trap out there you need to avoid. A leadership trap. It’s complacency. Self-satisfaction. The belief that you have it all figured out – and it will mark the end of your growth as a leader.

Perhaps this sounds a bit obvious, but it is very real, and I have seen more than a few great leaders fall prey to it. 

So I urge you to be vigilant. Be intentional, be proactive about seeking out and engaging with others and authentically listening to their viewpoints, even when – and perhaps, especially when – those viewpoints are in opposition to your own. Almost invariably, you’ll find some nugget, some practice, that you can adopt and incorporate to strengthen your own work.

In closing, I want to thank you again. For y​our skilled and dedicated work for the CSU and our students. For your initiative. And for your current and future leadership.

I have time to answer a few questions. David, you and your team have been fielding questions as I’ve been speaking. Could you please lead the Q&A?