Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - January 8, 2023

CSU Auxiliary Organizations Association Annual Convening, January 8, 2023
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Keynote Remarks (as prepared)

Thank you, Sharleen [Lowry Krater]; not only for those kind words, but also for your outstanding leadership of the CSU's Auxiliary Organizations Association over the past year.

And Rasheedah [Shakoor], I am certain that AOA remains in capable hands this coming year. Please know that I am always available to you and your leadership team as you begin your tenure as AOA president.

Good evening! It is wonderful to be with you tonight. And I am especially pleased that we are able to gather in person!

And, what a treat it is for me to be able to once again speak in a keynote setting to your organization. I had the privilege of addressing this organization in January 2014 as a retired president of CSUN. I enjoyed that opportunity enormously. And, I must say that in many ways it is surprising – yes, even startling – to be back here in my role as interim chancellor.  I am no longer surprised on a daily basis of my role or its responsibilities, but frequently there are reminders – such as the opportunity to speak to you today – of how unexpected this professional endeavor is to me.

This evening I would like to cover three different but related topics with you:

  • First, I want to offer my assessment of the role of auxiliaries in the CSU.
  • Second, I want to take this opportunity to bring you up to date on some key systemwide challenges and initiatives.
  • And finally, I will close by returning to the topic of my 2014 speech to the AOA – leadership matters – but this time from the perspective of serving as the chancellor – interim – of the CSU. 

The Role of Auxiliaries

So let me begin with what is most central to my understanding of the contributions of the organizations you work for and your individual contributions to the work and mission of the CSU.

My deep appreciation for your work – the work of the CSU's auxiliary organizations – has grown over my four decades of service to the CSU.

During my previous Cal State incarnations – at Sacramento State for 17 years, ultimately as provost, and then at CSUN, where I served as president from 2000 to 2011 – it became clear to me that the work of auxiliaries is absolutely integral to student success.

That is manifest in tangible, direct ways, including the provision of holistic services to support our students' academic journeys, such as:

  • Food services and student organizations combining to help students who are food insecure.
  • Bookstores working to lower the total cost of attendance through textbook rentals or affordable learning solutions.
  • Experiential learning or student leadership opportunities made possible through philanthropic support, sponsored research grants or Associated Students…among many other examples.

But it is also manifest in a less tangible, but equally important way: Together, auxiliaries help provide the rich texture so unique – and essential – to life on a university campus. It's almost ineffable…It's the ease and grace and wonder and celebration and excitement that adds the magic to the learning and discovery experience on a Cal State campus. It's that magic that transforms lives and ripples through families and generations and communities throughout our great state.

And as a president and certainly now as interim chancellor, I've seen increasingly – and grown to better appreciate – how the auxiliaries are there for us when we are at our biggest and boldest…

SDSU Mission Valley is a great example. This will be an extraordinary community asset, and it will expand the university's educational, research, entrepreneurial and technology programs with housing, a hotel, retail, parks, open space and, of course, Snapdragon Stadium.

The scope and impact of this extraordinary project would never have been imaginable – let alone achievable – without the support of auxiliary organizations.

Or at Chico State, where Associated Students – recognizing the urgent and fast-growing need for holistic mental and physical student health support – has created The Well. An extraordinary 8,500-square-foot space dedicated to promoting self-care, encouraging positive informed choices and cultivating a healthier and more balanced lifestyle, The Well opened in August and will support campus counselors and mental health staff by encouraging students and giving them a wealth of modern resources to practice effective self care throughout their academic journeys and throughout their lifetimes.

And, of course, Cal State's auxiliaries are there for us in times of great challenge or crisis. This has never been more powerfully demonstrated – or more necessary – than through the darkest and most trying days…and months…and years…of the pandemic. Allow me to elaborate:


With compassion, adaptability and resolve, you partnered with your campus colleagues to develop creative solutions to continue to provide services to our students and meet their needs despite extraordinary and unprecedented challenges. Those solutions took many different forms:

  • Food pantries quickly converted to contactless distribution, and safe housing options were made available to housing-insecure students.
  • Dining services developed safe meal-distribution methods – even hand-delivering meals to quarantined students in many cases.
  • Bookstores worked with campuses to ensure that students had access to course materials, laptops and other equipment as we pivoted to virtual learning.
  • You worked with campus risk-management teams to help students continue their research and stay on track to program completion. Amazingly and to your great credit, there has been no systemwide financial impact for research and sponsored programs during the pandemic. Instead, the support continues to increase.
  • Child development centers stayed open with safety modifications.
  • Rec centers implemented safety measures and quickly developed online health and wellness programs.
  • Our philanthropic organizations raised funds to supplement federal aid so that all students – including Dreamers and international students – could receive much-needed financial relief; and to help those students impacted by the “digital divide" receive the equipment and technology necessary to maintain their academic progress in a virtual instruction environment.
  • And across the CSU, auxiliaries did everything they could to maintain or prolong employment to mitigate – to every extent possible – the pandemic's financial impact on both student and professional employees.

There are many other examples – as varied as the many services you provide…and underscoring your commitment to the CSU's mission and to our students' success. And giving me every confidence in your ability to wrestle to the ground the daunting challenges that stand before you today:

  • Inflation and soaring energy and construction costs.
  • The financial impact of the minimum wage increase.
  • Supporting the mental health and well-being of your staff and students.
  • Challenges associated with recruiting, retaining and fairly compensating outstanding employees.
  • And declining enrollment and its related fiscal impacts.

Of course, these are shared challenges, and we will meet them together, with the ingenuity, creativity, adaptability and resolve that has seen us through the past three years.

You are an essential part of the California State University. We rise to higher education's most formidable challenges. We have throughout our 62-year history. And we will do so again, demonstrating campus- and systemwide collaboration and developing innovative solutions that will serve as models for colleges and universities nationwide.

Systemwide Challenges and Initiatives

Given the significance of your roles as leaders of Cal State auxiliaries, I want to update you on a few matters of critical importance to the broader CSU community, including several of the challenges I mentioned a moment ago.


I'll begin with our enrollment circumstances, which Executive Vice Chancellors Steve Relyea and Sylvia Alva will also touch upon during your morning session tomorrow.

According to fall census figures, all CSU campuses are forecast to see a year-over-year decrease in enrollment or be below their enrollment target in 2022-23.

Systemwide, the CSU projects that it will be more than 25,000 full-time equivalent students – or 7% – below its funded 2022-23 California resident target at the conclusion of spring 2023. This includes the 2.5% or 9,434 FTES increase that was added to the CSU budget for 2022-23.

The declines, particularly with transfer students, reflect national trends, pandemic effects and regional differences. A sustained decline in enrollment throughout the CSU system presents fundamental and significant threats to our mission, the viability of our universities and the future of the communities we serve.

Significant financial repercussions are already being felt at the CSU universities that have experienced substantial enrollment declines over the past several years.

We are in the process of introducing a framework for new enrollment resources contemplated in the governor's budget compact that will gradually reallocate resources to align with actual student enrollment – all with the goal of supporting systemwide enrollment growth and increased access for California students. 

Indeed, it is unquestionably a time for urgent and immediate action. But it is not a time to panic. I don't panic! And neither do any of those in senior leadership roles in the CSU. 

Quick and decisive steps to spur enrollment have already been taken by our presidents and their leadership teams and Chancellor's Office staff. And they are already yielding promising results.

In fact, our enrollment of first-time, full-time students is now back up to pre-pandemic numbers, and fall 2023 applications for these students is up significantly over last year, although transfer applications continue to lag.

While I am heartened by some of the positive signs our work has produced, it must be repeated: a sustained enrollment decline represents a fundamental and significant threat to our very mission. So we need all constituents – on the system and campus levels, and those in this room – to be a part of the work to both attract and retain students.

We will get there. But we must get there together.


My update on our 2023-24 budget outlook will be brief. There's not much point in my prognosticating tonight. The governor will be releasing his budget proposal before this convening concludes on Tuesday.

But I will share that our conversations with state officials have been positive.

Despite a significant softening in state tax revenues, with the state forecast to be down at least $25 billion, the CSU has not been approached by the administration to identify any projects or programs that could be swept back by the state. And we fully expect that the governor's administration will continue to support the promises made last year in the CSU's multi-year compact. But stay tuned…we don't have long to wait!

Chancellor Search

I will close with a few remarks on leadership, and I'll begin with comments regarding one very particular – and very important – leader…the next regularly appointed chancellor of the California State University.

The search for the CSU's next leader officially launched last week, with the goal of announcing our new chancellor at the July 2023 Board of Trustees meeting. And you are also essential to the search.

We will be soliciting input from the broadest possible cross section of stakeholders – from across our universities and the communities we serve – to define the qualities that will be most important in the CSU's next leader. 

This will include surveys, listening sessions and open forums beginning in February at various locations across the state.

I can't emphasize enough that we invite, encourage, need and greatly appreciate the participation from everyone here tonight. We value your input and it will inform our search. Please watch for updates in the coming days with more information on how you can participate.

This is an extraordinary moment for the California State University system. 


So tonight, I leave you – the leaders of the CSU's auxiliary organizations – with a few thoughts on leadership. Appropriately, and as I mentioned at the onset of my remarks this evening, some of these comments are reprised from a keynote that I gave at this very convening almost one decade ago.

“Leadership Matters": That expression carries a couple of different connotations, and that is by design. My comments are about the “matters of leadership" but as well, my comments are meant to instill in all of you the realization that your leadership matters. I emphasize that leadership – your leadership – matters. Indeed – for the university system we all love – it has never mattered more.

Emerging from a global pandemic of historic proportions, one that required us to adapt and innovate and reimagine our institution - and ourselves - like never before in our university system's history…Having met those challenges and delivered on our mission for the benefit of the students and communities we are so privileged to serve…Only to find new and daunting challenges on the horizon that will require similar ingenuity and resolve.

Above all, it will require leadership. Authentic leadership. This is what I am asking of myself, those working with me in the chancellor's leadership team, and those who serve as presidents and senior leaders on each of your universities.

Tonight I will discuss the matters – the elements – that comprise effective leadership, in my experience.

Leadership requires knowledge and constant learning.

When I spoke with you almost a decade ago, I offered three elements of effective leadership.  First, that leaders had knowledge, expertise, and were always learning.

This may seem trite or obvious. But unfortunately, some individuals think they can become leaders without this key element of the matter of leadership. Perhaps you've met a few…

Over my decades as a leader in the CSU – as a department chair, an assistant, and associate vice president, a vice president and provost, as a president and now as interim chancellor – I've learned that leadership is fluid. What is most essential in one leadership role is different than what is required by the next, and effective leaders are always growing and changing. I was a different leader as a president than I was as a provost, and I am a different leader as interim chancellor today than I was when I took on the role in May.

I have had to work to learn at each of the roles. My successes never came because I simply waltzed into a role and did it right. I have sought help; I have corrected myself; I have disciplined myself to do the job in the best possible way. I have read, asked questions and hired consultants. And, wow, let me assure you that serving as the interim chancellor has required me to learn anew, grow anew, make mistakes anew, and work differently.

And the real battle is complacency and self-assuredness. True learning is about curiosity, learning new things, and a daily commitment to do the work better.

This is the kind of leadership that I am asking from each of you. Each step, no matter its outcome, elicits discovery, growth – and a reserve of wisdom.

The second element is context. Leadership requires adaptation to the context, making leadership fit given the particular role or place.

Each place, each time, each set of circumstances demands a different approach to the work.

The leadership literature and research frequently refer to the importance of “fit" to being an effective leader.   

Sac State was a different leadership context than CSUN was. I have always thought I lucked out in becoming the president at CSUN when I did. That university benefitted from our clear focus on a defined set of priorities that guided what we did for over ten years.  We - those who worked in partnership with me - set goals and incrementally made changes that needed to occur.  We worked with others in key stakeholder groups, rather than directing change.  The university at that point in its history fit my strengths and approach to leadership. 

The question you might legitimately raise is, how does the context for my service as interim chancellor shape my leadership?

I came to the chancellor role at a time of turbulence and instability for this university system.  Nothing more needs to be said about this aspect of this leadership context. Obviously, my leadership choices have focused on addressing that organizational uncertainty and to do so in a way that includes restoring trust with and within key parts of the system - trustees, presidents, chancellor's office executive staff, faculty, students, staff - and yes, those of you who serve the CSU through work with our auxiliaries.

Thus I have set and frequently communicated clear priorities - goals and tactics that guide what I do every single day.

But I've also maintained the required flexibility and creativity to meet clear and imperative exigencies: enrollment, budgets, and supporting the human beings that do the work of this system.

Being a chancellor is also different than being a president. I used to describe being a president as knowing how to move in a three-dimensional chess game. Being a chancellor required work in four dimensions.

I am asking you to provide leadership to the CSU and to your university and the auxiliary you serve that adapts to the continuing challenge of today's circumstances.

But there is a third element to leadership matters and that is the constant: Part of it is about you. Your core values and beliefs. Your personal and professional ethics. How you treat others.  Values for me are the core of leadership.

A core leadership value for me is to recognize the wisdom in the counsel of many.  I may be serving as chancellor but I do not have infinite truth.  We need others to help guide and decide.

For me it has always been important to cultivate an environment where respectful constructive feedback is encouraged. This is sadly missing in so many leaders' repertoire these days. Value those who speak “truth to power." Ultimately, you will come to recognize them as some of your greatest allies.

While I worked at CSUN, most who shared leadership with me knew that I wanted folks working with me to “worry their work." 

And, you must recognize – and remind yourself – that it is not about you; it's about the role.   This can be difficult, especially true for the role of the president. You get so much attention and praise that it is easy start to think that it is about you. But I eventually came to understand that the praise was really about the institution marking what is important to it, what is important in terms of what it stands for and accomplishes – and what could be sustained after I was no longer president.

And, finally, for me and I hope for all of you, the value that drives and sustains me in doing this work is my fundamental belief – my awe – at the role of the California State University system.  Since arriving at Cal State Sacramento as an assistant professor of communication studies in 1983, I soon began to understand the power and impact of the system and its universities. This is a power that is unique. We frequently use the work “transformative" to refer to the impact of the CSU on individuals and their families. But I also see the CSU system as transformative of the state that we live in.  Without the CSU the state of California would not be the state that it is.

These values informed one of the most momentous decisions of my life – to return to the CSU, the university I love and whose core values are aligned so closely with my own: inclusion, compassion, trust, collaboration, and a wholehearted belief in the transformative power of higher education.

As integral members of the Cal State family, I know you share these values, as well.

I ask for your continued leadership. The CSU needs you. Your presidents need your work and commitment. Frankly, I need you. And, our students and the society that will work in and support need you.

I hope that these reflections on “leadership matters" might prove useful to you on your own professional journey as together, we rise to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow…and lead the nation's most consequential university to its brightest future.

Thank you.