CSU Council of Chief Research Officers

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
CSU Council of Chief Research Officers
Long Beach, CA
May 9, 2016

Thank you Jeff Thompson for the kind introduction and for your work at San Bernardino.

I’ve heard a bit about Cal State San Bernardino’s partnership with Riverside County schools to strengthen early mathematics preparation for English-language learners.

There will always be a special place in my heart for Riverside, so I am so proud that the CSU has engaged with the diverse and widespread communities of that county.

And tackled such a critical issue…

Math is an essential gateway subject for students. The problem with gateways is that they can become barriers without key skills and guidance.

Cal State San Bernardino is empowering the next generation of students, in addition to empowering those already enrolled.

And I know the same can be said of all our campuses.

I also want to acknowledge Zed Mason.

Zed is an exemplar of what it means to be a scientist and educator. Zed built his academic career at Cal State Long Beach – advancing the biological sciences in the lab and advancing his students’ futures in the classroom.

For the last several years he has worked to empower others as scientists, researchers, scholars and educators. And – as you all know – Zed has spent the last two years at the system office helping to advance the work we do together.

Zed has been trying to retire for a few months now… but we’ve kept holding on.

Don’t worry Zed… June 20th will be here before you know it!

That brings me to the next victim… err… the next person I want to acknowledge and welcome.

Ganesh Raman, I’m happy that you will be joining us next month as the CSU’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research.

Maybe not as happy as Zed, but still very excited.

Ganesh brings a wealth of experience from his time at the Illinois Institute of Technology – as well as tremendous experience building partnerships in mechanical, materials and aerospace engineering.

So again, welcome.

And a warm welcome and thank you to everyone here. I know that today is a great opportunity for discussion, for sharing best practices and for addressing common opportunities and challenges.

This is critical work, so I will try to be brief… which is often a dubious claim, but I intend to hold to it.

Today, I do want to address three things:

  • How research and other scholarly activities connect to our university mission
  • How the CSU way of conducting these activities is appropriately different
  • And how we continue to expand the range of options and opportunities for these pursuits

I know we speak a lot about the University of California as a research institution… and it is… I can vouch for that. So too is the California State University.

This does not compromise our educational mission…

Rather, the pursuit of new knowledge and understanding is a critical component of what it means to earn a degree of substance… a degree worth having.

Students must be engaged in research and other scholarly activities in order to learn teamwork and critical problem solving… while also gaining the technical skills required to be successful in their future studies and careers.

One of the most valuable life lessons learned in the lab is how to deal with ambiguity. As every scientist knows, it is rare to get a clear yes or no answer to a research question.

Often the answer is maybe… and the real tenacity of research requires continually refining your methods… testing your assumptions.

Sometimes your original hypothesis was wrong. But being wrong isn’t the end of the process… it is a new beginning.

Students gain from the challenge of meaningful research. Students grow from the experience.

And they apply those lessons as successful alumni.

Faculty also thrive in an environment that promotes continual learning.

Our faculty must remain active contributors in their fields of expertise in order to provide our students with a solid academic foundation.

Consider this… in the four years since our current seniors started college, researchers have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson and of gravitational waves.

In fact, CSU faculty and students across the system contributed to both of these discoveries.

Physical laws may be immutable – at least for those of us who are not working on a quantum level – but our understanding of Physics has changed immensely in our lifetimes.

The academic pursuit of knowledge never ends… and it never should.

This does not mean that we will always pursue knowledge in the same way as our colleagues in the UC or other R1 universities.

Sometimes we need to get a little creative.

In our upcoming research publication – which I know you are working on with Zed – the CSU will feature two student researchers.

These San José students, with direction from their faculty advisor, discovered the densest known galaxy… and another object that was so dense it needed its own name – a hypercompact cluster.

There were a lot of possible jokes about the densest objects in the universe… but I was advised against all of them.

Back to the students who aggregated and analyzed data collected from a huge number of observational sources for their research.

This data mining moved our understanding of the universe forward in an important way. For me, two things jump out from this example.

First – the students were undergraduates. The opportunities the CSU provides to undergraduate students… in particular… is amazing.

Few universities provide as many opportunities for students in bachelor’s programs to participate in advanced research. Even fewer programs give undergraduates the level of faculty attention and mentoring provided in CSU research settings.

Second – these students worked from data gathered by various observational facilities across the globe… and even space-based.

Compared to these assets, CSU facilities have certain limitations. That is our reality.

But many of tomorrow’s discoveries will come from finding novel ways to interpret the flood of data now available.

This does not diminish the importance of providing access to facilities and tools required for discovery… and required to remain current – and relevant – in our academic fields.

I appreciate the tremendous work you all do to help secure those facilities and research tools through grants and partnerships.

And I particularly want to call out the way you facilitate the involvement of students, faculty and staff in community-based projects that are rooted in robust research… while making an immediate difference in the communities surrounding our campuses… in fact, often making a difference for our global community.

I want to pause and reflect on three key measures of research in our system.

  • Half a billion dollars are expended every year for sponsored programs.
  • Cumulative assets from grants and contracts total between two and three billion dollars.
  • CSU scholars publish more than 7,500 academic publications per year.

In sum, these points demonstrate that we are a community of explorers… discovering more every day about the human condition and the world around us.

These opportunities will only expand as time goes on. And, I know that many of the topics you will address today – and in the coming months – will help realize those opportunities.

You are helping us address the complex academic, administrative and legal issues around intellectual property rights.

You are helping us address thorny regulatory issues – for example, in the area of drone use for research – balancing powerful new tools with privacy rights, safety and other legitimate concerns.

You are helping us better track our research and scholarly activities. This is not tracking for tracking’s sake… but, rather, something that will enable us to better tell the story of research in the CSU.

In these, and so many other ways, you are paving the way to a new era of discovery at the CSU.

I want to end with a personal thank you. To you, and to your colleagues many years ago.

It may not be readily apparent to the students attending campus today, but their lives are being changed… as my life was changed.

My academic career – as a researcher and professor of human biodynamics – was only possible because I experienced – at Fresno State and Cal State East Bay – what it was like to do real empirical research.

And with that spark, my passion for discovery was ignited.

So… the students of today may not know where these unique experiences will take them… but, I can tell you, from experience, that you are providing the spark they need to be successful.

Thank you again and best wishes for your conference.