CSU Alumni Council Convening Remarks - February 4

Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Alumni Council Convening
Remarks (as prepared)
Via Zoom
February 4, 2021

Thank you, Michelle, and good afternoon to all of you. It’s a great pleasure to be with you today.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that it is rare that a day goes by without me hearing an alumni success story – or a moving account of how our alumni are giving back to their campus or local community so that the next generation of students is able to enjoy the lifelong benefits of a Cal State degree. Hearing these stories is one of the great joys of my new role as chancellor.

So, reflecting with pride on our alumni is a daily occurrence for me. But I have to admit that last month’s inauguration day ceremonies were something special. The Celebration of America event was a virtual parade of Cal State alumni, from our nation’s first-ever Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (a Northridge alum) to fellow CSUN grad Eva Longoria, Sac State’s Tom Hanks and East Bay’s James Monroe Inglehart. But the highlight may have been Captain Victor Glover – a proud Cal Poly San Luis Obispo alum – checking in with his team to congratulate our new president from the International Space Station more than 250 miles above the surface of the earth. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Long Beach alumni Eduardo Cisneros and Asjia Garner who will serve the Biden Administration as COVID-19 Intergovernmental Affairs Director and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s communications specialist, respectively.

It was a powerful and exciting reminder that the impact of CSU alumni extends coast to coast and around – and above – the world, and across every professional sector.

And it reminds me of how thankful and appreciative I am to have generous and skilled people like all of you to help us engage and leverage the power of this global network of nearly 4 million.

It’s important for you to know that I don’t see your work as a helpful supplement to the core mission of the California State University. Far from it. Your work is not only aligned with our mission, it is essential to it. The CSU is the nation’s largest, most diverse and most consequential university – but we will never fulfill our truly remarkable potential without a fully engaged alumni base – one that supports our students’ success and helps us eradicate opportunity gaps for students of color, first-generation students and students of modest means.

Your work is so vital to students from all backgrounds, and takes so many critical forms:

  • Mentorship – formal and informal, in and out of the classroom, one-on-one or through participation in industry alliances and other professional networking groups;
  • The provision of jobs, internships and experiential learning opportunities – where practical skills are honed and dreams for the future are formed.
  • Scholarships and other visionary philanthropic efforts that remove educational barriers for so many gifted and deserving students who just need a fair chance;
  • Advocacy – whether it’s in the office of an elected official in support of our fiscal needs or policies that advance our mission – or through the work of your new advocacy committee, which shows such enormous promise.

Or perhaps in informal conversations with a local business leader whose workforce would benefit from the skills, drive and grit of a few CSU grads. Or maybe with prospective students who need to hear how the Cal State journey of learning and discovery can transform their lives and propel them to a brighter future.

On behalf of the entire university, thank you so much for the consequential work that you do – work that now has a global impact, thanks to your international events, which are proving to be both popular and effective, and I look forward to participating in upcoming virtual events with alumni in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Of course, we can – and must – do more. We are at a historic moment in time – a nation bitterly and deeply divided. The pandemic has brought about incalculable suffering and great economic uncertainty, with disproportionate impacts to the most vulnerable among us.

But I am optimistic. The CSU is uniquely poised to be a powerful force for healing, reconciliation and recovery – for our students, our state and our nation.

We will meet the moment. But we need your help. I look forward to working closely with you in the weeks, months and years ahead as we expand existing efforts and develop innovative new strategies to support our students and to close equity gaps. I look forward to those discussions, but I want you to know that I am always available to you and welcome your ideas for how we can utilize your particular talents, interests and resources to better serve our students.

With my remaining time today, I want to provide you with two important updates.

First, regarding our approach to fall planning, you may remember that, on December 9, 2020, Chancellor Emeritus White and I issued a joint statement announcing the CSU’s anticipated return to delivering a majority of classes in-person for the fall 2021 term. We remain committed to this goal and – at the CO and across our campuses – we continue to plan accordingly. Of course, there will be variabilities based on local circumstances.

I understand that many members of the CSU community – and the public at large – have questions and concerns about whether our approach remains feasible. I appreciate these questions and concerns – and I understand the associated anxiety. New considerations have emerged since our announcement, and there is much that we do not know at this moment in time, including the impact of the 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 time to plan – and to give our faculty and staff ample time to continue to incorporate all the best practices we have learned that have made the CSU virtual learning experience so robust. Virtual learning has worked, and it will continue to play an important role in the Cal State journey of learning and discovery – long after the pandemic subsides.

I also want to update you regarding our budget. The governor’s 2021-22 budget proposal – announced about one month ago – represents a welcome and necessary reinvestment in the CSU – and we are grateful and appreciative.

In fact, thanks to the proposal – and to our own prudent management of the resources entrusted to us and the strategic use of reserve funds through these challenging times – I was able to announce last week that we will not raise tuition for the next academic year. In addition, if our assumptions for state and federal support hold, I will not support a systemwide furlough program, and I am optimistic that we will be able to avoid additional layoffs of permanent CSU staff or faculty due to a lack of state funds.

And with the state’s reinvestment, we will prioritize our flagship student success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025, to not only sustain, but accelerate our progress toward our ambitious goals. We know that GI 2025 is an investment with a proven return – persistence and graduation rates are currently at all-time highs for CSU students from all backgrounds.

Of course, we stand ready to do more. I believe the current moment in time demands it.

Led by our Advocacy and State Relations team, we have already launched aggressive advocacy efforts to fully restore prior cuts to our operational budget. With that funding, we will be able to help thousands of additional students from all backgrounds to secure the lifelong benefits of a high-quality CSU degree.

Of course, the budget process is both long and unpredictable. And even though the ultimate results are uncertain – I can say this with absolute certainty:

The CSU is resilient, we are resolute, and we are strong. Together, we will lead California and the nation to and through a period of healing, recovery, reconciliation and greater understanding, as we continue to graduate bold, talented, ethical and compassionate future leaders, and drive our Golden State toward a bright and prosperous future.

With that, I am happy to answer a few questions. Aaron, will you please moderate?