Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro - January 27, 2021

Dr. Joseph I. Castro – January 27, 2021
Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Board of Trustees Meeting
Plenary Session (as prepared)
Via Zoom
January 27, 2021

Thank you, Chair Kimbell.

It is both a great pleasure and an enormous privilege to address all of you this morning in my first report to this board as chancellor. I want to begin by welcoming President Sandeen and interim presidents Jiménez-Sandoval and Yao. And President Beck, while Channel Islands and the CSU have benefitted from your leadership for years, I welcome you as well, in your new role as president of CSUN.

I am excited to work with all of you and hope that the transition to your new positions has been as seamless and as ably supported by talented and dedicated staff as mine has been.

As Chair Kimbell so eloquently noted, this is a consequential and historic moment in time​ for our nation, which is deeply and bitterly divided. America's most sacred democratic institutions have been threatened… first through reckless language and rhetoric and then – almost unimaginably – through literal, physical violent attack. And, still, a pandemic rages – one that has wrought global suffering on a massive and heartbreaking scale, and one that has disrupted our lives, brought about great economic uncertainty and disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable among us.

And yet, despite all of this, I remain optimistic with a whole-hearted belief that we are at an inflection point, one that will mark a turn toward healing, reconciliation and recovery. And as the nation's largest, most diverse and most consequential university, it is our great privilege and responsibility that we don't have to hope for an inflection point, we can be the inflection point. Chair Kimbell is right; never has the transformative power of higher education been more clear and more necessary. It's a power to change lives and a power to help drive our state's recovery and sustained economic vitality.

Thank you, trustees, for the privilege of serving as your chancellor at this historic moment in time.

More than ever, our nation needs and deserves bold leaders who are informed, ethical, compassionate and understanding of diverse cultures and perspectives. I say this for two reasons. I mention this because it is the type of leader I will strive to be as chancellor of our beloved university. And I say it to remind us that these are the sorts of leaders – whether they enter public service or pursue careers in the private sector – that the CSU is educating now, so that our state and nation will be stronger in the decades to come. That is our mission.

To fulfill that worthy mission, we must continue to come together to work as one – that is when the CSU is at its very best, whether it is through collaborative research endeavors like the Agricultural Research Institute, sharing data and best practices to enhance student success as we do so effectively in our Student Success Analytics Certificate Program or when our campuses and staff join together to provide resources, aid and support during natural disasters and times of tragedy, which have impacted our campuses far too frequently in recent years. These are but a few examples.

One way I can help the CSU leverage our great power as a system is simply to listen. I assure you that, as chancellor, I will listen to and respect diverse perspectives before making significant decisions. And I ask that you share your perspectives with me, especially when you believe that the CSU can do better.

To that end, I will be visiting each campus, starting next month. The visits will, by necessity, be virtual at first, but hopefully in-person starting in the fall and I very much look forward to meeting with students, campus leadership, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the communities we serve.

I want to again express my appreciation to Governor Newsom for his proposed budget and welcome reinvestment in the CSU. And while we will advocate strongly for a full restoration of our budget, I restate – because it bears repeating – that we will not raise tuition for academic year 2021-2022 and that, if our assumptions for state and federal support hold, I will not support a systemwide furlough program, and we will do all that we can to avoid additional layoffs of permanent CSU staff or faculty due to a lack of state funds.

With the state's reinvestment, we will – after covering our mandatory costs – prioritize our flagship student success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025, which has produced record-high graduation rates for CSU students from all backgrounds.

But of course, we can – and will – do more.

We have formed a new GI 2025 steering committee comprised of a diverse group of faculty, administrators and students from across the CSU. The committee's charge is to ensure we are doing everything we can as a system to not only sustain, but accelerate, our progress toward our ambitious goals. The committee will identify and recommend proven strategies to further improve retention and graduation rates and to close equity gaps, while ensuring that analytics and reporting systems are in place to guide our efforts and provide accountability. Complementing the steering committee's work, our Academic and Student Affairs team has recently developed a predictive modeling tool that accurately projects each campus's progress toward closing equity gaps for low-income students and students of color. Those projections will soon be provided to each campus, along with three tailored strategies to assist them with eliminating those gaps.

I am excited by this work, and its remarkable potential to transform lives through higher education. It is work that is profoundly meaningful and personal to me.

As many of you may know, my great grandfather came to the United States from Mexico almost a century ago to help build California's railroad. He and his family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather – who raised me along with my mother and grandmother – remembered that experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.

My family eventually settled in a small, agricultural town called Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. I was the first in my family to go to college, attending the University of California, Berkeley thanks to a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the valley and from modest financial means. It was at UC Berkeley – as I began to see my own life transformed through my college experience – that I discovered my passion for educational leadership.

And throughout my career – and especially the last seven years I've had the honor of serving as the president of Fresno State – I've seen higher education transform the lives of so many talented and diverse students who grew up in circumstances similar to my own.

This is why I am so humbled and inspired to have the opportunity to work alongside all of you to continue to positively impact lives at a scale that the CSU alone can provide. I consider it my life's highest professional honor and responsibility. Thank you again for that opportunity.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the tradition instituted by Chancellor Emeritus White of delivering the State of the CSU address at this meeting. I plan to continue that tradition, but believe it is appropriate for me to defer those remarks until I am a few more months into my tenure.

However, although my time in service as your chancellor has been short, I have every confidence in providing this sneak preview:

The state of the CSU is resilient, it is resolute and it is strong. And it leaves us poised and ready to serve as an inflection point, helping to lead California and the nation to and through a period of healing, recovery, reconciliation and greater understanding, as we continue to graduate talented, ethical and compassionate future leaders and drive our Golden State toward a bright and prosperous future.

Chair Kimbell, that concludes my report.