Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
HACU Latino Higher Education Leadership Institute
October 23, 2013
Good afternoon. Thank you, Antonio (Flores) and thank you to all for that kind welcome. It is a privilege to be here, and it is a pleasure to see so many familiar faces.
With Humboldt State University about to be officially certified an HSI, the CSU will soon have 15 Hispanic-Serving Institutions—and it is the only comprehensive bachelor's and graduate program system that qualifies as an HSI. We are proud of this achievement, as it provides increased hope and opportunity for our students and communities.
We are also proud to be home to many respected HACU leaders, including President Alex Gonzalez of CSU Sacramento, President Emeritus Milton Gordon of CSU Fullerton, and President Emeritus Tomás Arciniega of CSU Bakersfield.
And of course our current HACU governing board members include CSU San Bernardino President Tómas Morales and Cal Poly Pomona president Mike Ortiz. And as Tomás is vice chair, si se puede, Tomás. In other words, no meter la pata. ("Don't screw it up.")
In this vulnerable time for education, we understand the importance of strong, principled leadership. And that's why identifying, preparing, and guiding new leaders for higher education is one of our most important jobs—one that we each have responsibility for.
Every now and then, we may come across that rare individual who has known forever that he or she wants to be a university leader.
But more often than not, the "pipeline" is a multi-year process that involves identifying potential, nurturing talent, providing mentors, offering encouragement and financial support, taking risks, and seeing a candidate through to the next level of achievement.
When I think about recruiting, preparing, and mentoring future leaders for higher education, it is analogous to water flowing from the mountains.
The water cycle begins with a snowpack on a mountain top. As the snow melts, the water travels down the mountains and into lakes, fields, and streams. Along the way that water may nourish our crops, provide drinking water for people or animals, and may even provide hydroelectric power.
Some of that water will run into rivers that then flow into the ocean. As the water is evaporated and builds into storm clouds, the cycle renews.
It is much the same for our students, who begin as a cluster—a "snowpack"—in one seemingly homogenous group. But just like the individual snowflakes that make up the mountain's snowpack, each and every student is different.
Over time, their interests diverge and their various talents emerge, they choose different paths as they spread out across California, the country, and the world. And, as in the case of water, there are dams and policies, as well as political and social attitudes that create forces to block or divert students from discovering, let alone fulfilling the journey they are most suited for and passionate about.
Once they come through the journey, they enrich our communities through advocacy and non-profit work; some seek to heal others; some engage in international commerce; some teach, build, discover, and invent. And some, because of the aforementioned factors, are marginalized. And America won't succeed in the years and decades ahead if we don't give every person with the intellect and willingness to do the work an opportunity in higher education at all levels—first year student to president.
But in order for the entire cycle to continue we need to find and direct those individuals who will thrive and flourish in educational leadership positions—who will find that stream that will take them to a river, that will take them to the ocean—so that they may then begin the cycle all over again by helping those behind them in time or accomplishment.
I'll give you my own example to illustrate that point: As an immigrant from Argentina, I was a modest student at best. I had people tell me that I wouldn't amount to much. And I was the first in my family to venture educationally beyond high school. When I first got to college, I was part of the "snowpack."
But it was my experiences at Diablo Valley Community College, Fresno State and Cal State East Bay (which we used to call Hayward), and UC Berkeley—that helped shape me and give me direction. Because people—faculty, staff, coaches—gave me a chance.
And it wasn't just one single person or one experience that set me on this path. It was the sum total of professors, mentors, advisors, colleagues—and even chance encounters along the way—that helped me find the stream that became a river that led to the ocean.
Today it seems fitting that my window in our Long Beach office looks out at the point where the L.A. River empties out into the ocean. I can tell you right now that there are some days when it's not pretty. But I understand the importance of keeping that water flowing—and I certainly understand the difficulty and sacrifices of the journey that it has taken to get there.
As we work with thousands of students, we cannot know in advance which individuals are going to emerge as an effective leader in the decades to come. That is why we must endeavor to give them all a chance to prove themselves.
That's why we have to keep our eye out for talent and give our students and young faculty many opportunities to shine. We also have to offer many different avenues through which we can engage those up-and-comers, ranging from early outreach, to leadership programs, to providing role models and clear pathways to success.
It puzzles me—there is a large interest in best practices for undergraduate recruitment, retention, and completion. Yet there is much less so in higher education leadership. Yes, there are good programs at HACU, ACE, APLU, AASCU, etc.—but not as widespread and grassroots as with students.
For students we engage and offer experiences, peer mentoring, advice and encouragement and counseling, leadership development with clubs, student government, athletics, fraternities, and undergraduate research. Where are the campus parallels for faculty? We need to remove barriers and create more diverse search committees.
At the CSU we start the pipeline with early outreach and working with partners.
For example, our nine-week PIQE parent education program helps parents learn about creating a home learning environment, navigating the school system, financial aid, encouraging college attendance, and supporting children's emotional and social development.
These classes currently take place at more than 115 schools in California. Last year PIQE added a STEM module for the parent training sessions so parents can support their children in taking math and science courses.
Our Es El Momento college fair events are also geared toward young people and their families. We hold these events in partnership with KMEX, Univision's flagship Los Angeles station, to give Hispanic parents and students resources to help them succeed in California's educational system.
Recently at CSU Dominguez Hills our event drew more than 25,000 students, parents, educators, and community members. We did one at CSU Sacramento in August, and we are planning a third event at a CSU campus this spring. This education fair is conducted primarily in Spanish so we can communicate directly with the parents and not through their children.
Although these represent just two of our early outreach efforts, they demonstrate important things about our audience. Students and families are hungering for early information and assistance, and when we can provide it, we put them in a much better position for success at the university level.
After students graduate from our bachelor's and master's programs, we keep close eye on promising students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree:
Many students who participate in the Pre-Doctoral Program also participate in the Doctoral Incentive Program. That's one of the important ways we can provide connection and continuity.
One of our newest Doctoral Incentive fellows, Mario Giron-Ábrego is a Cal State L.A. graduate who specializes in the study of Mayan archaeology. He's an up-and-comer who has been widely recognized for his promising academic career and who came to us through the Pre-Doctoral program. His accolades include the CSU Trustees' Hearst Award, the Golden Eagle Award of Excellence, and the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. He was recently admitted to a Ph.D. program in archaeology at Boston University, with a focus on Mayan civilization. But they can keep their hands off—We'll get him back at the CSU.
Where can those fellowships lead? One of our other standouts is Rita Rodriguez, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State.
She earned a spot in the pre-doctoral program while she was a student at San Francisco State. Later she transitioned to the Doctoral Incentive Program, while she pursued a Ph.D. at Stanford. And now she is back where she dreamed of being—faculty at San Francisco State. Even more impressively, she is now a mentor as well—her mentee went on to a summer program at Harvard and then to a doctoral program at UCLA.
Once these future faculty members earn their degrees, we want to keep them and help them succeed. And we aim to provide for them an environment where they have role models and can envision a promising future.
At the CSU, 8.7% of our faculty is Hispanic.
At the departmental level, 8.7% of department chairs are Hispanic (76 out of 878).
And at the most visible end of leadership at the CSU:
If you're a young Hispanic faculty member looking for a role model, chances are you won't have to look far at the CSU.
In fact, one of the best examples of an individual rising through the ranks at the CSU is one of the faces you know well: Alex Gonzalez, a graduate of Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, started as a department chair at Fresno State and later worked his way to provost, and of course he is now president at CSU Sacramento—his second successful CSU presidency.
We also encourage not just training within the institution, but training that sends our upcoming leaders to other institutions—such as the ACE Fellows program, which has been an important resource for many of our leaders.
Also AASCU has a dynamic leadership program for future presidents of color and women called the Millennium Leadership Institute.
The faculty are mostly Latino and African American presidents and the mentors are also mostly presidents of color. One outstanding alumna of that program is our very own Millie Garcia, now president of Cal State Fullerton.
Last but not least, I want to mention that for us to do our best work as Hispanic-Serving Institutions and as places to groom future leaders...we have a special responsibility to keep our universities affordable and to make sure that our students are not saddled with a heavy burden of debt.
An amazing 42 percent of the CSU's 350,000 undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients. These are students who are here at great personal effort, because they want to be here and they want to do well.
That's why we all need to stay vocal about President Obama's college affordability plan, which would provide additional funding to institutions that serve large numbers of Pell students.
We also need to talk frankly about successful completion, which hasn't been part of our emphasis in the past and absolutely needs to be part of the public policy discussion going forward.
As Hispanic-Serving Institutions—and for all institutions—we need to embrace the goal of completion, with quality, the willingness to be accountable for results and the commitment to advocate for resources for the institutions that do the high volume work in this area.
We need to think in terms of access, affordability, quality, and completion. So in other words, not just a three-legged stool, but a four-legged solid oak bench that is an unbreakable foundation for all that is next.
When our universities have all the tools they need to succeed, we're able to do our jobs better, and we can become a better training ground for future leaders that are reflective of the beautiful and powerful mosaic of American society.
I want to finish with the words of my good friend Juan Felipe Herrera, the poet laureate of California and a poetry professor at my former university, UC Riverside. He is the son of migrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley.
When he described university life, he called it,
"...[v]erse by our students written in many alphabets of breath, cultural meters and social stanzas, lines that amble and rhyme; stories of humble homes and hard work familias, narratives jeweled with radical landscapes and multi-colored registers."
It's hard to think of a more colorful or poignant way to describe life at our diverse and multi-faceted universities. We must treasure that narrative, and nurture it, and find ways to build strong connections for our students and future leaders.
And let's remember that it's not just one connection, or one avenue alone that can provide success. It's the sum total of all of our efforts—and each of us must participate—that creates a strong university and community...that creates the streams and rivers that help future leaders sail on toward successful careers in higher education…and helps us build the academic leadership that reflects the new America.
Before I close, let me prompt you to consider more deeply why, really, that matters.
Yes, of course there are noble, moral, and social imperative reasons—of fairness, equality, opportunity, prosperity, and quality of life.
But our core business is:
To enable this process, let alone enrich and enhance it, we must have campus faculty, staff, students, and leadership reflective of America's great asset of heterogeneity—a diversity of people, programs, and places.
Indeed, for America to continue to succeed going forward in our global and digital society, all people need to participate at all levels.
And those early in age and accomplishment need to see and have confidence that the "elders" who inform policy and provide leadership beyond self...look like and have journeys equivalent to theirs.
Thank you so much for giving me time to speak with you here today.