Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - January 24, 2023

Meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees, January 24, 2023
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Chancellor’s Report (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong.

I want to echo Chair Fong's poignant and thoughtful remarks on the passing of Trustee Emeritus Gowgani, whose tenure on the board roughly paralleled mine as president of CSUN. I'll forever appreciate his principled and values-driven work on behalf of the CSU and its students, and I will always remember his collegiality, humor and warmth.

Sadly, we recently lost another member of the Cal State family. On January 2nd, Molly Corbett Broad passed away at the age of 81. One of America's most skilled and influential higher-education leaders, as well as a trailblazer, she is best known nationally as having served as the first woman to lead the University of North Carolina system and the first woman to have been appointed president of the American Council on Education. But many in this room will remember her best for her work at the CSU, where she served as senior vice chancellor for Administration and Finance from 1992 to 1993, and as executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer from 1993 to 1997.

Working closely with then-Chancellor Munitz, Molly was a brilliant and forward-thinking administrator, and a groundbreaker in improving and integrating information technology systems throughout the CSU. She also introduced new policies and procedures to help our universities more efficiently refine existing academic programs and develop and introduce new ones; and she was a champion in diversifying our university system at all levels. Her legacy has impacted many thousands of Cal State students, and it continues to this day.

Before I begin my remarks, I would be remiss if I didn't recognize Presidents Tom Cropper, Ellen Junn and Fram Virjee, each of whom have announced their pending retirements since our last meeting…and each of whom have led their respective universities – Cal Maritime, Stanislaus State and Cal State Fullerton – to unprecedented heights of success. We will celebrate your outstanding service at a future meeting. For now, I will simply state the obvious: you will be greatly missed, as will other CSU presidents whose well-deserved retirements are pending.

These presidents have all led with distinction during an unprecedented, uniquely challenging and uniquely stressful moment in the CSU's history…through a 3-year global pandemic that demanded the very reinvention of higher education in real time…and through multiple transitions in system leadership. In several cases, presidents have delayed retirement plans to see their universities through these formidable challenges. So it is understandable and appropriate that they choose the end of this academic year – as we look forward to the beginning of the tenure of the CSU's next regularly appointed chancellor – to begin their lives' next chapter. And they leave the CSU having positioned their successors to build on the undeniably positive momentum established during your tenure. Thank you all.  

I have one additional preliminary note. This morning in closed session, the board approved the appointment of Leora Freedman to serve as vice chancellor for Human Resources for a term of two years. This appointment will come before the Committee on University and Faculty Personnel tomorrow for the approval of compensation. I congratulate Leora, and extend to her my deep appreciation for stepping up to serve as Acting Vice Chancellor since July of last year, and I look forward to her continued outstanding service to the CSU and its employees in the coming years.

Today marks the midpoint between the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the beginning of Black History Month. It leads me to reflect upon the pledge I made at our July meeting of last year, which followed the CSU's inaugural Juneteenth Symposium held in June.

On behalf of the entire CSU, I announced a commitment to earnest self-reflection and to meaningful action based on that assessment; action to bring about real and lasting change to advance access, success and well-being for our Black and African American students. Paraphrasing the incomparable eloquence of Dr. King, together, the CSU is committed to doing the hard work to “bend the long arc of the moral universe toward justice."

This afternoon, I am pleased to announce an action that underscores that commitment. The CSU – after collaborating with all of our unions to make the necessary changes to collective bargaining agreements – can and will now observe Juneteenth as an annual holiday, starting June 19, 2023. I have also requested that modifications to Title 5 be brought to the board for approval so that non-represented employees may also observe this consequential holiday, beginning this year.

Juneteenth represents the momentous day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were belatedly told they were free; news delivered nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became law.

But the true import of the day is perhaps best captured by President Barack Obama, and I quote: “Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible – and there is still so much work to do."

The Black Student Success Chancellor's Strategic Workgroup is an example of that work. Led by Executive Vice Chancellor Alva and Presidents Parham and Jiménez-Sandoval, the group's work will culminate in a retreat in March, after which it will issue recommendations to position the CSU as a nationwide leader in Black student recruitment, enrollment, persistence, retention and graduation.

But as I await the results of this forward-focused effort, I want to highlight an ongoing initiative that has been proven to be an important first step toward a transformative college experience for Black and African American students across our state.

February 26th will mark the CSU's 18th annual Super Sunday event. Our presidents and other representatives from all 23 universities will join me as, collectively, we visit more than 100 predominantly African American faith-based organizations across California to deliver the message to aspiring students and their families that a Cal State education is for all…and that they will be warmly and enthusiastically welcomed and supported on any of our campuses. In addition, outreach teams will be on hand to answer questions, and to share information and inspiration.

Since Super Sunday's inception, more than one million aspiring Black and African American students have heard the message directly from CSU leadership: “College is for you…and college matters." May all of our work on behalf of Black and African American students systemwide honor Dr. King's legacy.

A moment ago, I mentioned the Black Student Success workgroup, and in past reports, I have reviewed the work of other strategic workgroups focused on the CSU's greatest challenges and most critical operational priorities, including developing a more sustainable financial model, advancing innovative and effective enrollment planning and accelerating our progress toward achieving our GI 2025 goals, particularly to eliminate equity gaps.

Today, I want to provide an update regarding our most recently convened Faculty and Staff Excellence workgroup, which is led by Presidents Cropper, Junn, Quiñones and Zelezny, and by Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Leora Freedman.

Across our universities and at the system level, the California State University aspires and works diligently to recruit, hire and retain an exceptional and inclusive workforce that reflects and connects with the students we serve. Our continued aim is to build and sustain a world-class and richly diverse team that is essential to advancing the university's mission.

However, and as you all know, we face significant and unprecedented challenges that have become increasingly complex, as universities across the nation compete for talent, the cost of living in California continues to soar and the world of work evolves at a breakneck pace.

The Faculty and Staff Excellence Workgroup is charged with tackling these challenges head-on. More specifically, and with input from subject matter experts from inside and outside the CSU, the group will evaluate and prepare recommendations in the following interrelated priority areas:

  • Expanding professional development opportunities for our faculty and staff, both to optimize the efficacy of our organization and to ensure opportunities for growth and fulfillment for our valued employees.
  • Exploring creative solutions and partnerships to overcome economic barriers unique to California to provide affordable housing options for faculty and staff, and
  • Better promoting the personal and professional benefits of working for the CSU and within the state of California, to recruit exceptional, student-focused leaders from outside the state to augment and complement the CSU's outstanding homegrown talent.

The workgroup will provide recommendations for action by May 1st…recommendations that, together with those from the other strategic workgroups, will provide a glide path for the next regularly appointed chancellor, enabling her or him to undertake quick and effective measures regarding matters vitally important to the CSU's future.

I will close my remarks this afternoon by addressing two closely related matters that can only be described as “vitally important to the CSU's future" – our budget and our current enrollment circumstances.

As most of you know, on January 10th, Governor Newsom announced his 2023-24 budget proposal. I am deeply appreciative that he intends to honor the commitments made pursuant to the multi-year compact announced last year, proposing an unallocated ongoing state general fund increase for the CSU totaling 227 million dollars. And he does so despite the state's current fiscal challenges – including a budget deficit of over $20 billion and the necessity to cut or delay funding for many other state priorities. This underscores the administration's firm commitment to higher education and its unwavering belief in the CSU's mission, and for that I am grateful.

But I am also clear-eyed in the realization that the funds provided by the compact are most accurately viewed as an important safety net to protect the CSU from economic fluctuations like those the state and nation currently face. They will not meet all of our needs. We will advocate assertively and continuously for the trustees' budget request. But we must also prepare for the reality that we will face formidable constraints in our ongoing efforts to advance some of our most important priorities, like expanding the work of GI 2025, addressing critical facilities and infrastructure needs, and providing competitive salaries and benefits to our outstanding faculty and staff.

I must also emphasize that while the governor has chosen to honor the compact despite our current enrollment circumstances, our obligation to grow enrollment under the terms of the compact remains. And, as I indicated in my report to you at our November meeting, our enrollment projections are unprecedented and deeply concerning.

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.

Should the enrollment decline become sustained, it will present a fundamental and significant threat to our mission, the viability of our universities and the future of the communities we serve.

What was once a campus issue is clearly now a system issue, demanding a strong, coordinated, systemwide response. Difficult choices must be made and clearly communicated…for the long-term fiscal and operational health of the CSU…and so that we can deliver on our obligation to the state to expand access, opportunity and success for California's students. To accomplish this, Chancellor's Office staff must step in to serve as the enrollment manager for the Cal State system.

Working in close collaboration with our university leadership, CO staff has already outlined a series of systemwide and university strategies. Perhaps most significant is the Enrollment Target and Budget Reallocation Plan, which will gradually reallocate the CSU's resources across the system according to actual enrollment…and more effectively incentivize future growth across all 23 universities.

Because of the urgency of this matter and its broad implications across system and university operations, I requested that Chair Fong consider convening a special meeting of the Joint Committee on Educational Policy and Finance to begin our business today, so that we might present to the Board an overview of the systemwide response to our enrollment and resource allocation challenges.

I thank Chair Fong for agreeing to my request, and I turn it over to her to convene the Joint Committee.