Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - February 16, 2021

​Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Facilities Management Virtual Forum
Chancellor Castro Remarks (as prepared)
Via Zoom
February 16, 2021


Thank you for your introduction, Vi, and good morning. It's great to be here today!

I'd like to start by thanking the team responsible for organizing this important convening, including Vi, Amy Forte, Facilities Operations Chief Shawn Holland and Executive Vice Chancellor Steve Relyea. And I also offer a heartfelt thanks to you, the women and men of our facilities management teams, for your resilience, dedication and leadership — especially through the past year. Please accept my deepest appreciation for all that you do for our students, faculty, staff and the communities we serve. You have provided, and continue to provide, vital and effective stewardship of the facilities across our 23 campuses – collectively, one of our state's greatest and most important assets.

Since I'm new to many of you, allow me to begin by sharing a little of my background. As some of you may know, my great grandfather came to the United States from Mexico almost a century ago to help build California's railroad. I was raised in Hanford, a small town in the San Joaquin Valley, by my grandparents and my single mother, who taught me the value of honest, hard work and grit. Thanks to their vision and their own hard work, I was the first in my family to have the opportunity to go to college. And it was while I was a student at UC Berkeley that I began to discover the transformative power of higher education and its awesome power to elevate individuals, families and communities.

You have – quite literally – kept this power on through a difficult and disruptive year across the CSU. Indeed, you have shown your resolve, even during the most challenging of times, to “Lead Through Change."

It is my firm belief that the work of our facilities management teams sets the foundation upon which the success of our university is built. That belief has been reinforced time and time again — first during my nearly eight years as president of Fresno State, and now in my role as chancellor.

The past 12 months have been full of extraordinary challenges we couldn't have anticipated just a short time ago. A global pandemic. Social unrest. Economic uncertainty. Deep and bitter division along political lines.

I know the going has been tough. And yes, things currently look quite different on our campuses – they have never been quieter. 

But you have continued to ensure our campuses are clean and beautiful.

That our facilities are operational and efficient.

That our students, faculty and staff are safe. 

And that our campuses continue to serve as vital hubs of learning, innovation and transformation.

And make no mistake – they do.

Last year we celebrated the largest graduating class in CSU history, awarding nearly 110,000 bachelor's degrees and almost 129,000 total degrees to the next generation of bold leaders who will make our state and nation stronger for decades to come. Our current enrollment of almost 486,000 talented and diverse students is also an all-time high. Graduation and retention rates have never been stronger – for students from all backgrounds – and we continue to narrow equity gaps for historically underserved, first-generation and low-income students.

And, because of your work, the CSU's positive impact extends far beyond our campuses by providing essential support to surrounding communities, including serving as evacuation centers for residents fleeing wildfires. Your teams have stepped up – quickly, efficiently and effectively to provide essential high-quality services throughout the pandemic – hosting COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, and pandemic response centers.

And yet the reality is that your hard work often goes unseen. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Here's just one example that reflects how even routine duties have taken on additional urgency and complexity during the pandemic, requiring a new level of teamwork and dedication.

Tony Cabeca has worked at CSU Monterey Bay for two decades. As facilities projects supervisor, Tony organizes and schedules workers on campus projects. One of those recent projects was a remodel of an old warehouse — a vestige of Fort Ord, the decommissioned army base on which the campus now sits — into modern offices. The remodel began just before the pandemic, and required extensive work in plumbing, lighting, restrooms, electrical and painting. 

It's a complex project — with many moving pieces — and it's critical to the campus' long-term success. Through careful planning and close collaboration across departments, Tony led his team to keep the project moving forward safely and efficiently through the pandemic. Today, despite the challenges of the past year, the new offices are nearly complete – and ready for occupants. The work may have been unseen, but it will soon be noticed — and appreciated.

And — as I'm sure will ring true for all of you — Tony's other work hasn't stopped. Facilities need to be repainted. Leaks need to be repaired. Dorms need to be renovated. And, of course, there are always unexpected challenges, to which I am sure all of you can relate. For example, because of a change in paper towel vendors, Tony and a colleague now must personally replace 400 dispensers across campus. 400!

With tools in-hand, Tony is not just supervising work from afar — he is on the front lines, working hard so the campus will be ready when the students return.

And thanks to Tony and his team, it will be. 

Again, while this is just one example, it is reflective of the leadership, dedication and perseverance that is being demonstrated each day across our campuses by you and your teams — and which will ensure the CSU remains strong and vibrant for generations to come. You'll hear many more inspiring stories of service and leadership on our campuses during tomorrow's session.

As we look to the future, I want you to know that we remain committed to our December announcement to return to a majority of in-person activities on our campuses for the fall 2021 term, and we continue to plan with that goal in mind.

However, we must acknowledge that new considerations about the pandemic continue to emerge. There is much we still do not know, including the impact of emerging virus variants and the extent to which new vaccine distribution strategies will overcome the fact that initial state and federal goals and projections for the roll-out have not been met.

In the face of these uncertainties, we will continue to follow the science. If the course of the virus, the data, vaccine availability, and the medical and public health experts indicate that our planning approach is no longer feasible, we will adjust. And, as we have in the past, we will announce our intentions as early as possible, to give our students and their families – as well as our staff and faculty– ample time to plan.

The CSU's remarkable and continued success through the pandemic is powerful evidence that virtual learning and support have worked – and they will continue to play an important role long after the pandemic subsides. But it's also clear that the demand for a CSU degree is stronger than ever and will continue to grow. Our physical campuses must be ready to meet this demand.

It's also abundantly clear that our campuses will play a critical role in driving California's recovery and sustained economic vitality. We must continue to plan for the sound, functional, sustainable and welcoming campus environments that will serve our communities well into the future.

Governor Newsom's 2021-22 budget proposal released in January bodes well for that future. It includes 369.5 million dollars for the CSU, representing a number of student-centered, equity-focused investments that complement our mission and core values. The budget proposal also includes 175 million dollars in one-time funding for deferred maintenance across the CSU.

With this funding, we can continue to address our critical facilities and infrastructure needs, build upon the over 1 billion dollars the CSU has funded to reduce our deferred maintenance backlog and provide our students with the learning and discovery experience they deserve. You will indeed be busy… and for that I am sure we are all grateful!

And thanks to our prudent management of the resources entrusted to us and the strategic use of reserve funds through these challenging times, I will not be recommending a CSU staff furlough program this year, and I am optimistic that we will not have to lay off any additional permanent faculty and staff due to a lack of operational funds, provided our assumptions for state and federal funding hold.

And while we have already begun an aggressive advocacy campaign for a full restoration of the CSU's budget, Governor Newsom's budget proposal represents a welcome reinvestment in our university and reflects the administration's understanding that the future of California will be made in the CSU.

To fulfill that responsibility, we must continue to work together, leveraging the awesome “Power of the 23." 23 campuses. One university. The nation's largest, its most diverse and its most consequential.  

I look forward to meeting many of you and seeing your vital work up close. Starting this month, I will visit each of our campuses. These visits will initially and by necessity be virtual, but will hopefully transition to in-person visits by the fall. I ask that you share your experiences, insights and perspectives with me, especially if you believe that the CSU can do better to support your critical work…and our students' success.

I say this because the two – your work and student success – are inextricably linked. You not only provide the safe, modern facilities our students deserve, you create spaces for learning, discovery and intellectual and personal growth. Your work allows our students to thrive in their years on a CSU campus – getting every ounce out of an experience of a lifetime where passions are discovered, dreams are formed and bright futures made.

I know that, when our students return to in-person learning, our campuses – our university – will be ready. And it's thanks in large part to your mission-critical work.

With that, let's get to the questions. Vi, I turn it back to you.