Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White- September 23, 2020

Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Board of Trustees Meeting
Plenary Session (as delivered)
Via Zoom​
September 23, 2020

Thank you, Chair Kimbell.

Indeed, today, September 23rd, is a momentous day for this university, and in a couple of additional ways for me personally. As I reflect on our moment as a university and as a nation, I recall that when I delivered my State of the CSU address before this board back in January, I took a moment to look toward the university's future.

I asked that “the CSU continue to be committed to courageously doing the right thing… to stay the course, but don't stay the same."

Our current circumstances have led me to reflect upon those words.

I announced recently that the CSU would continue with primarily virtual instruction for the academic term beginning January 2021. We will also continue to approve limited exceptions – differing across the system on a campus-by-campus basis – for in-person instructional activities that cannot be accomplished virtually and that can be conducted within rigorous standards of health and safety.

This decision was simply the only responsible one available to us. And it is the only one that supports our twin North Stars of safeguarding the health, safety and well-being of our faculty, staff, students and communities, as well as enabling degree progression for the largest number of students. And we are imploring everyone – faculty, staff, students, trustees – to get an influenza shot before the end of October…I have had mine…and this is true whether you are on campus or participating virtually.

As we did in May when we announced our virtual approach for this fall, we communicated our decision almost four months before the start of the term. We did so for pragmatic operational concerns, including the need to publish our course offerings for the new term and the requirement by our accrediting body to seek advance authorization for courses offered virtually. But primarily, we announced our decision early to give students and their families, as well as our faculty and staff, time to plan appropriately.

Although we have received broad support for our regrettable-but-necessary decision, like our announcement for fall, it was unpopular among some students and their families. I acknowledge and understand that perspective…and agree our goal is to repopulate campuses and offices as soon as safely possible. But I see this decision as evidence that we – collectively – are “courageously doing the right thing."  

And, unquestionably, we are not “staying the same."

And with the bold leadership of Chancellor-select Joe Castro, I am confident the CSU will not stay the same and settle for business as usual in the years ahead.

With my remaining time this morning, I wish to focus on the third element of my January remarks: staying the course. Or, put another way, continuing to advance our mission for the benefit of our students and the great state of California, the nation and world.

You've heard me mention faculty and staff taking advantage of our early announcement to participate in professional development so that we deliver a robust and engaging virtual learning experience.

Allow me to be more concrete.

This summer alone, across our 23 campuses, more than 17,000 faculty members – about 60 percent of our total teaching force – have engaged in nearly 250,000 – a quarter million – hours of professional development programming offered by the CSU.

This programming has not only focused on best practices in virtual teaching and learning – our faculty have taken deep dives to explore how online course design can promote equity, and how learning outcomes can be assessed in better, more authentic and equitable ways.

This massive, ongoing effort has been and will continue to be a game changer for our university, and our participating faculty have enthusiastically embraced this emphasis on continuous improvement.

Consider the remarks of this veteran professor from Cal State Bakersfield, and I quote: “This was the summer I fell in love with the craft of teaching again."

Campus advising teams have mastered a variety of academic technology enhancements – using them not only to advise students, but to conduct orientations, assist students on academic probation, help students who need technical support in their classes and to make seamless referrals to library services, disability services, mental health professionals and other critical campus resources – all virtually.

One student-success tool links administrators, faculty, staff and advisors in a coordinated virtual care network – and it has shown particular promise. “Navigate," as it is called, has been fully implemented on 18 CSU campuses and more than 400,000 students have been served to date. During the 2019-2020 academic year alone, more than one million student-support interactions were performed with this tool.

I am especially proud of how the CSU has stepped up to help address the digital divide – the lack of access to computers or reliable internet connections that disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color. Since our pivot to mostly virtual instruction, our 23 campuses have distributed more than 21,000 new laptops (including tablets and Chromebooks) and more than 10,000 mobile WiFi hotspots to our students – at an investment of more than $18 million.

That's in addition to the thousands of laptops and tablets already on hand – in libraries, learning centers and labs – that our campuses have made available to students, socially distanced and face-masked of course – valued at almost $4.5 million.    

And true to Cal State's core values, we are supporting the broader communities we serve across California. The CSU Professional and Continuing Education Program's COVID-19 Courses for Causes program offers free online classes for first responders and health care workers, as well as working adults and other community members impacted by the pandemic. The courses are designed to help adult students gain advanced certifications or obtain new skills and explore new career options to weather the economic downturn – and to help meet California's changing workforce needs.

More than 6,200 adult learners have enrolled in the program, with more than 1,300 courses completed and 208 certificates awarded to date.  

These examples – and so many more – show an institution that is staying the course and delivering on its mission. With ingenuity. With foresight. And with compassion.

And if you need any more reasons to be as bullish on the CSU as I am, I will close by leaving you with two additional items.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, pressing on through the pandemic, CSU students earned a total of 128,925 degrees, including 109,450 baccalaureate degrees. Both of these totals represent all-time highs.

For fall enrollment, the numbers are not yet finalized. However, with a few exceptions, enrollment is strong across the system. In fact, if the trends and projections hold, our system-wide student body in 2020-2021 will be the largest in the history of the university.

This is our California State University. Committed to courageously doing the right thing. Staying the course with grit, resilience, innovation, courage and compassion – while not staying the same.

Chair Kimbell, that concludes my report.​​