"State of the CSU" Address

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
State of the California State University
Long Beach, CA
January 26, 2016

Thank you Professor Cominsky.

We will hear more about this wonderful professor and her exemplary colleagues during the Wang Awards later today... however, I want to briefly acknowledge her tremendous accomplishments.

She is indeed a leading educator and researcher, as well as the founder and director of Sonoma State’s Education and Public Outreach Group – a partnership with public schools and community colleges to develop tools that better prepare students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

She is also a passionate advocate for women in aerospace... beginning with engaging young women – indeed girls – in the STEM fields early in their education. Professor Cominsky lives the principle of seeking and achieving excellence by being inclusive and by having high expectations of herself, her students, and all around her.

Thank you again, Lynn, for all you’ve done and continue to advance the fields of physics and astronomy in the CSU… you’ve empowered our students and your fellow faculty.

The State of the University is an opportunity to pause and reflect… to think on the year that passed and the year ahead. So, today, I have three goals in mind:

  1. To reaffirm what I believe is our core principle:
    achieving excellence through inclusivity
  2. To celebrate our shared successes from 2015
  3. To preview future challenges and opportunities that I think are in front of us

Professor Cominsky might tell you that as a scientist, one often begins by defining terms – to ensure a shared understanding.

So what is inclusive excellence?

Our higher education colleagues spend a lot of time thinking on this...

Much of the focus in these settings is about process… recognizing that a university’s success depends on valuing, engaging and including a rich diversity of campus voices.

I believe that this focus – on inclusive excellence in our academic and operational programs, along with informing our policy discussions and planning processes – is the way we successfully meet the needs and growing demands of a global pluralistic society.

Yet, the words inclusive excellence also intimate and suggest something more profound. Inclusive excellence is the empowerment of achieving success through quality matched with opportunity.

And we have much to celebrate in our successes of this last year… successes that in many ways defied conventional wisdom of what was possible… successes made by the work of all of us.

For example, we again broke records of philanthropic gifts received… with $315 million in new, non-state resources supporting scholarships and academics, research, libraries, athletics and many other vital areas.

While the topline number gets the headlines, my favorite part of the report are the donor stories… Stories like that of Bruce Johnson, who marked his mother’s passing by continuing her legacy of generosity – adding to the gift she established in his father’s name… while setting up another gift annuity for the creation of a music scholarship.

Bruce knew that a scholarship at Cal State Dominguez Hills would benefit first-generation college students – like his mother… a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, who attended Los Angeles City College.

Bruce, like Professor Cominsky, is empowering inclusive excellence.

Additionally, the CSU fulfilled another goal last year by officially surpassing our target set for the Graduation Initiative 2015, where the goal for freshmen students was to increase six-year graduation rates from the baseline by eight percentage points. We surpassed this goal… graduating record numbers of students as we achieved a nearly 11 percentage point improvement… for a total of 57 percent earning their degrees in six years or less… the highest in the CSU’s history.

Stated another way, we actually bested our own goal by a third.

And not only did we exceed our six-year graduation rate goals, we also reached a record four-year rate – 19 percent – for the students who started in 2011.

To put this in context… the improvement in these graduation rates meant that we graduated around 5,500 more students than we otherwise would have. This is comparable to the same number of bachelor’s degrees earned by last year’s class at Sacramento State.

This is tremendous progress and a good sign of things to come with Graduation Initiative 2025 – which you may recall was launched at last year’s State of the CSU address.

However, these four and six-year rates are calculated by federal standards that assess only first-time full-time entering students. This approach can lead to inappropriate conclusions as it leaves out the grit and success of over half our students today – so many students with work, family and community obligations who cannot take fifteen credits per semester. We simply must, and will, be inclusive of these students going forward.

A final example for 2015 is that the CSU community stood together in 2015, including leadership from the California State Student Association, the Academic Senate, the Alumni Council and our faculty and staff unions – strengthening the resolve of California’s elected leaders as they stood with us.

As a result, the CSU received its first full budget request in a decade… funding enrollment growth and critical investments in faculty and staff positions and pay… while beginning to chip away at critical infrastructure needs.

Now, it is important to recognize this fully funded budget still does not bring us back to pre-recession levels. That said, it was a significant accomplishment and a testament to a united effort; for which I am truly thankful, and I call on us to again this year repeat it.

As trustees, you directed $38 million of the state’s new investment in 2015 to Student Success and Completion Initiatives.

Here is a small sample of how those dollars were spent:

At Humboldt State University, a portion of those dollars was used to expand the Academic and Career Advising Center… In fact every Humboldt student – within the next year or two – will be assigned a professional staff member as an advisor during their first two years of college.

Cal Poly Pomona expanded the PolyTransfer program – partnering with local community colleges to connect prospective and incoming transfer students to academic and student support services… while building a transfer-friendly culture.

Channel Islands launched the University Experience Associates – a mentor program partnering high-achieving Channel Islands students with freshmen and transfer peers.

These three programs – and dozens like them across the system – will be critical to reaching the goals of Graduation Initiative 2025. They demonstrate that the work of our excellent staff and students complements the work of our excellent faculty – and by investing in faculty, and in staff and students we generate the conditions for success.

And we continue to invest in our faculty… as a critical factor in achieving our shared goals. Last year, total CSU faculty levels reached all-time highs… as we continue tenure-track searches. In fact, the CSU hired 742 new tenure-track faculty in the 2014-2015 academic year… the most of any year since before the recession.

I meet many exemplary faculty members during my campus visits. Professor Narayanan is one, who co-directs Cal State Monterey Bay’s computer science degree in three years or CS-in-3 program – dually enrolling students at Monterey Bay and nearby Hartnell College from day one… Eliminating one of the biggest barriers to success that community college transfer students face… And providing enhanced opportunities for success to students of the historically-underserved Salinas Valley.

These programs at Humboldt, Pomona, Channel Islands and Monterey Bay demonstrate inclusive excellence… they combine opportunity with quality, that leads to success. These programs exemplify what has been achieved already… and the platform we are building for the years ahead on all of our campuses.

We are also continuing our efforts to ensure students thrive in environments that are conducive to learning. Indeed, you should expect to hear more in 2016 about efforts we launched last year, including:

  • Action on Title IX protections from sexual abuse and aggression
  • And support for mental health issues… including programs such as the Red Folder – which is an innovative digital tool to help faculty and staff recognize symptoms of student distress and identify resources to support student mental health

To ensure the progress we are making is not lost in future years, we must provide a broad base of resources for our academic and student support programs.

That is what you will find in the Sustainable Financial Model Task Force Draft Report that we will discuss at this meeting… deep thinking on how we continue to provide the platform on which our faculty, staff and students build and succeed.

This report identifies potential ways to best leverage the resources we have – whether through enhanced investment strategies, better economies of scale or the careful use of partnerships.

And I appreciate the effort of the trustees, students, faculty, presidents, provosts, business officers and student affairs vice presidents who contributed to this forward-looking, forward-thinking, forward-leaning report.

I also want to thank the system staff who supported this effort. It was a Herculean task to incorporate input from numerous taskforce members, open forums and stakeholder consultations.

You know, universities are institutions that are meant to stand for generations… and indeed the CSU has…

Long enough to have a chancellor who was once a student. Longer still if we count the 158 years that San José State has existed.

Proudly, I see a new generation emerging. However, there is a conflict between old and new concepts of social justice… and the future holds many uncertainties.

Some of that uncertainty is understandable. After tragic events – as we’ve seen on college campuses throughout the world, and in the Paris and San Bernardino attacks – it is easy to become distrustful about the world around us…

And I mourn with our campuses of Long Beach, San Bernardino, Pomona and Fullerton – as well as my previous home, UC Riverside – for the student and many alumni we lost recently.

Even for a story that ends positively – like that of Sacramento State student Anthony Sadler with his two friends who subdued a gunman on a Paris-bound train in August – it is still easy to fixate on what might have happened.

As a result of both our size and nature – as the country’s leading comprehensive university – CSU students, faculty, staff and alumni are in the midst of these world events.

I believe we must make a choice in times of upheaval… Do we give into the chaos or rise above?

The CSU rises above. And for inspiration I look to Cal State Dominguez Hills… Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Watts Rebellion… and those aware of that piece of history can attest to the close connection between the rebellion and the placement of the campus in Carson.

The campus was specifically moved and located to serve the African American communities that were among California’s most underserved and neglected in the 1960s… I view that as confirmation that the CSU’s core principle is inclusive excellence… It shapes our history… It is part of our DNA…

President Obama, during his State of the Union address, referenced another point of triumph from that earlier era: the moon landing… a defining moment of shared commitment in American history.

The State of California and the California State University is in need of its own shared commitment that joins us together to meet the imperative of our time.

Our ongoing Graduation Initiative is a vital effort toward this imperative.

Yet… these goals, however noble, are only steps in the right direction. Our goal, our moon, must be a quality bachelor’s degree for every Californian willing and able to earn it – with an achievement gap of zero.

That means the same opportunity to succeed for every student. That is how we empower the disenfranchised… That is how we achieve both inclusivity and excellence.

But to do so, we must recognize the realities of where we are today.

Our President said of the early years of the space race… “When the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program.”

Well, the CSU has long acknowledged the existence of an achievement gap – but we should not be… and are not… satisfied that only half of our undergraduates from underserved communities graduate within six years. That is simply not inclusive.

Nor can the state ignore the clarion calls of the Public Policy Institute of California – among other experts – that project massive shortfalls in the educated workforce in the years ahead. An undereducated society is not a society poised for excellence, but rather poised for greater inequality, less hope, more disillusionment and proliferation of social problems.

Now a graduation achievement gap of zero is possible. It has been accomplished… We have CSU campuses that have closed the gap.

But, I do not hold illusions that taking this step as a system is easy.

Rather, I am acknowledging Sputnik. I am acknowledging that empowering historically-underserved, low-income, first-generation and English-as-a-second-language communities demands more of our time, attention and resources. It requires our best thinkers and best doers.

The CSU has much of what we need to reach our destination – we have engaged students, an excellent faculty and a first-rate support team.

But for the CSU to succeed, we also need the people of California committed to our goal. To achieve inclusive excellence, we must all work together to accomplish three objectives:

  • First, a continuous pipeline from preschool to a bachelor’s degree – with state support for growth with quality at all levels along that pipeline
  • Second, better-prepared high-school graduates and transfer students who are ready to succeed at the university level
  • Third, readily available resources and timely interventions for current and future students attending the CSU

The three objectives I just mentioned are critical to closing the achievement gap… and also to hitting our overall goals for six-and-four-year graduation rates… as well as achieving our metrics for transfer students.

In fact, the intersection of the steps to achieve these multiple goals is intentional.

The only way the CSU and California continues to make consequential progress on any of our goals is to empower those who have been disenfranchised… and provide those previously excluded from quality educational opportunities with the tools needed to earn their degree.

It is hard to overstate the importance of California achieving our goals. Not only does California have the largest state population and the largest economy, but our changing demographics foreshadow changes across the country.

What we learn in addressing the needs of our students will become the blueprint for those states that may be a generation or two behind us.

The commitments we are making will therefore influence generations to come… well beyond even the considerable scope and reach of our alumni.

Yes, we are reaching for the moon… not for ourselves alone… but for all who watch from afar and follow.

This will be achieved only if all of us reconsider our effort and our approach. We will need to change the input in order to change the output.

I ask us all to go about our specific tasks and responsibilities differently…to further enhance a welcoming community in physical, intellectual and emotional ways.

I ask faculty to rethink the curriculum, especially general education, and to ask the question if we are informing enough about difference, power and discrimination.

I ask those who appoint search and hiring committees to appoint people who reflect the rich diversity of our students and to hire the best out of a rich and diverse pool of applicants, to add to our cadre of distinguished, insightful and passionate faculty and staff.

This is not about coddling our students. It’s about challenging our students to stimulate their intellectual and professional growth and development – and also provide support and encouragement so the global leaders of tomorrow emerge from the halls of this amazing university.

Now I do not dispute that we are in interesting times, but these moments of tumult are when we test our mettle… these are the touchstone eras. And great opportunity to shape the future lies alongside and embedded in the challenges.

I look around this room and see represented those who will answer today’s challenges with opportunities… I am optimistic because of you. I am motivated and I am inspired because of you.

  • Our students – whose voices speak loudest and clearest about the imperative of our time
  • Our faculty – who are closest to the students and most directly shape their opportunities
  • Our staff, administrators and trustees – who ensure that students and faculty are supported with the necessary tools, facilities and resources
  • Our alumni – who serve as our greatest champions and who represent the mission of our university on a daily basis
  • Our business and community partners – who supply an added margin of excellence and serve as our advocates
  • And our elected leaders – whose decisions determine how our state and nation’s resources are prioritized… and where this generation chooses to direct its public effort

This call to action is for the entire CSU community. To reach the moon, we must each do our part to promote the very principle that makes the CSU a leader in the world today… the principle of achieving excellence through inclusivity. It is our shared responsibility to chart the course…which closes the achievement gap…that enables ANY Californian with the will and intellect to reach the moon’s Sea of Tranquility... to earn a degree at the CSU.

It is also our responsibility to act now.

If not the CSU to lead America… then who? If not the people in this room and the 3.5 million people we represent… then who?

The answer is clear. It is the people of the CSU, aspiring and achieving together, that enable a better world by graduating the global leaders of tomorrow. Thank you very much.

Learn More about Inclusive Excellence