Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - July 12, 2022

Meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees, July 12, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Chancellor's Report (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong. And thanks also to President Junn and her team for putting together that wonderful video presentation. I am truly inspired by the students' stories and by the remarkable, transformative work that's occurring every day on the Stanislaus State campus.

Chair Fong, thanks also for your commitment to shining a spotlight on each of our campuses as part of your service as chair.

In May, during my first report to this board, I outlined my goals and priorities for my tenure as interim chancellor. And as Chair Fong noted in her report a moment ago, we are aligned in those goals:

To restore trust with and among the board and our campus presidents, as well as faculty, students and staff.

To collaboratively assess and make appropriate improvements to our structures and processes within the Chancellor's Office, as we highlight and support the transformative work – indeed, the magic – that takes place on our campuses, as President Junn's video so powerfully conveyed just a moment ago.

To lay the groundwork for the next regularly appointed chancellor by responding to the CSU's most critical operational and strategic challenges.

And to collectively and powerfully advocate for the resources necessary to advance our academic mission. 

Also at May's meeting, I asked you to join me in this work – setting aside that which divides us and inspired by that which so powerfully unites us – our commitment to our mission and to our students.

The response – from trustees, presidents, Chancellor's Office staff, and faculty and staff from across our 23 universities – represents a collective commitment not only to clear-eyed self-assessment, but to taking action, and to making meaningful change where necessary.

I'll share just a few examples.

I want to begin by commending our board. Not only did the board take immediate and decisive action in response to troubling revelations earlier this year by addressing problematic employment practices and commissioning a systemwide Title IX assessment, among other actions – and as Chair Fong noted a moment ago, our trustees have also commissioned an external review of many of the board's own structures, roles and practices. I applaud the board for its demonstrated commitment to self-reflection and continuous improvement.

The campuswide Title IX assessment I alluded to a moment ago is now underway. As many of you know, June 23rd marked the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX. On that anniversary, I issued an open letter to the CSU community to clearly communicate to our stakeholders what that assessment would look like and to underscore the values and principles that will inform and guide our efforts.

Knowing that many of you have read that letter, I won't review all of its points now, other than to again emphasize that the assessment is far more than a bureaucratic exercise to make sure we dot our I's and cross our T's when investigating and adjudicating cases of sexual misconduct. The assessment and the firm leading it – Cozen O'Connor – recognize that meaningful change in this realm is much bigger. It is more comprehensive. Indeed, it is cultural.

This work is difficult. It will take diligence and persistence over time. But we have been called to action, and we will answer that call.

I also want to express my appreciation and gratitude to our campus presidents and Chancellor's Office senior leadership for informing and embracing my goals and priorities with enthusiasm and collegiality, as well as intelligence, creativity and resolve.

Last month, we gathered for a retreat to focus intently on the work before us. We have created planning groups to begin preparing actionable strategic plans to achieve our shared objectives, including: developing systemwide and campus approaches to enrollment planning; recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse and world-class human resources; and accelerating our progress toward meeting our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals, particularly to eliminate equity gaps.

It was an extraordinarily productive and profoundly enjoyable convening, during which we made significant progress toward building a glide path for the next regularly appointed chancellor to address these and other crucial issues. And there is more work to come.

In a critically important step toward ensuring the fair compensation of our valued and mission-driven employees, we have reached tentative agreements on successor collective bargaining agreements with multiple key employee unions. I want to thank the CSU's collective bargaining team as well as union leadership – both sides stretched and found common ground. I will stop short of saying the pay increases included in the agreements fully and adequately compensate these dedicated employees – we are constrained by limited resources as I will address in a moment. But while they are not everything we had hoped, the increases are important; they are significant, and they reflect our deep respect and appreciation for all our employees have done and will continue to do for our university and its students.

And I want to take this opportunity to announce that we will also be providing our MPP and confidential employees salary increases aligned with those provided to our represented faculty and staff. On this point, I must credit and thank our campus presidents. Equity and parity in compensation increases for all Cal State employees was an essential priority for our presidents – despite the fiscal challenges it will present them.

Finally, I want to thank all those from across the Cal State community who advocated so powerfully on the CSU's behalf throughout this year's budget cycle. More specifically, I want to recognize our student and faculty leadership, our union partners and our alumni council leadership. And, of course, I want to express my appreciation to our dedicated Budget and Advocacy and State Relations teams. Again, thank you all.

As all of you know, the legislature and the governor's administration have reached a final budget agreement for fiscal year 2022-2023. Executive Vice Chancellor Steve Relyea and Assistant Vice Chancellor Ryan Storm will review the agreement in detail tomorrow, so I will be brief in my remarks.

I am grateful for this significant investment in the CSU, which reflects the governor's and legislature's continued belief in and support of our work, and which will allow us to advance important university priorities.

However, at the same time, I am disappointed that the agreement does not include additional unallocated funds beyond that which were proposed in January.

My disappointment is rooted in the reality that the resources allocated to us – specifically, the 5-percent increase to our state general fund (or 2.8 percent of our operating fund) represented by the multi-year compact – are not sufficient to meet the CSU's essential needs, particularly when that increase is so dramatically outpaced by inflation.

“Not sufficient to meet our essential needs." Those are vague words, but make no mistake: they carry very real, very concrete consequences. As I noted earlier, we are still not able to fully and adequately pay our skilled, dedicated and deserving staff. Our campus leadership is not going to have the resources needed to achieve certain campus or systemwide strategic goals. That is simply a reality. For years, our presidents and their teams have done an extraordinary job, running lean and doing more with less – and student success measures have continued to soar. But there is a limit. We can only “efficiency our way out of our fiscal challenges" to a point.

We are at that point.

But we will never stop advocating for the state's full investment in the CSU, its people and its mission.

Before I close my remarks this afternoon, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge our inaugural biennial Juneteenth Symposium held June 15th and 16th. While this student-inspired event had been in the works long before my tenure began, its fundamental purpose and mission are consistent with a throughline of my remarks today: a commitment to earnest self-reflection and to meaningful action based on that assessment, action to bring about real and lasting change.

I, along with the more-than 2,500 attendees, was given the extraordinary gift of seeing critical issues related to race through the lenses of the symposium's speakers and panelists and participants – with the benefit of their brilliance, passion and lived experience. I must admit it was – at times – uncomfortable to confront the ways in which the CSU has fallen short in addressing racism and race-based inequities. But I saw attendees leaning into and authentically embracing that discomfort. And that, to me, is the source of great hope and optimism. Because it's in the discomfort where we will find the seeds of real and sustained change. I look forward to learning of the “ACT" initiatives to advance access and success for African American students that are being developed across our system and campuses in conjunction with the symposium, and that will serve as its legacy.

I want to thank President Parham and his team at Dominguez Hills for a truly outstanding job in hosting this consequential event, as well as co-chairs Dr. William Franklin and Judith Millsap for everything they did to bring the symposium to life. Well done, all. We will look forward to the next gathering in 2024.

Chair Fong, that concludes my report.