Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, The California State University
Leadership Champion Award
May 6, 2019
Thank you, President Beck, for your kind introduction and for your thoughtfulness in nominating me for this award. Thanks also to everyone at Leadership California for this wonderful recognition.
Thanks to my loving wife Karen for everything that matters.
I am deeply honored – and a bit baffled – to stand this evening with these esteemed awardees – Gloria Gray, Lucy Jones, Bernice Ledbetter and Monica Lozano. Each of them are so extraordinarily deserving…but what the heck – I’m up here now and I have the mic!
I accept this distinct honor with humility and yes … with distinct pride. I only do so, however, on behalf and in appreciation of so many others at the California State University…trustees, presidents, vice chancellors, faculty and staff, many here tonight… who, like me, believe we can only achieve at the highest levels when our university and system leaders – indeed, all employees – reflect the remarkable diversity of our students and the communities we are so privileged to serve.
Since I first arrived in this position six and a half years ago, I have – with seriousness and great intentionality – done my best to see that extraordinarily gifted and dedicated academic professionals – like the women presidents of the California State University – advance to executive leadership positions within the CSU system. Their talents, along with the other 11 presidents and six vice chancellors…their skilled and capable leadership…are at work 24-7-365 to enable our campuses’ success. And when that happens, the California State University succeeds… and California… and Californians… benefit.
I do understand the significance of this moment. It’s consequential… and nationally noteworthy… that the country’s largest four-year public university system – one that educates 481,000 students and has more than 3.7 million alumni around the world – now has a majority of presidents who are women.
The insights, perspectives and work ethic these women bring to their tasks every day enrich each of the campuses they lead in myriad ways.
Importantly, these insights and perspectives also broaden and enrich the conversations of all of our campus leaders when we gather to discuss the critical issues affecting Cal State students today…whether it’s graduation rates, matters of equity, academic quality, student well-being, emerging disciplines to support the changing future of work – you name it. Changing the demographics of the presidents has made these conversations more robust, more comprehensive, more insightful and more valuable – for the benefit of all 23 Cal State campuses…and their students.
As President Beck noted, it’s also consequential that our students increasingly see themselves in the CSU leadership – in terms both of gender and ethnicity. We know that’s an important and influential factor in welcoming and motivating the nation’s most diverse student population… inspiring them to stick with it, graduate and to boldly seek leadership positions of their own.
The influence of these women leaders extends beyond Cal State campus boundaries and into the broader communities they serve. They are building and strengthening partnerships with elected officials, business leaders, local school districts and other community groups to help lift the local and regional economies – indeed, the state and national economies – and to increase educational access and opportunity for all.
Their ability to inspire not only extends beyond campus boundaries – it spans generations.
I’d like to quickly share a story I mentioned in my remarks at President Lynnette Zelezny’s investiture ceremony at Cal State Bakersfield this past Friday.
Lynnette was shopping at her local grocery store in Bakersfield a few months ago. Of course, she was proudly wearing her CSUB Roadrunner – the campus mascot – lapel pin. (I’m told she’s rarely seen without it.)
She was in line next to a mother who was accompanied by her young daughter. Noticing the pin, the mother asked Lynnette if she worked at the university. Lynnette told her yes. When asked what her job was, she told her, “I’m the university president.” The little girl’s eyes widened a bit at this. Lynnette then took off the roadrunner pin and handed it to the girl as a gift.
They said their goodbyes and parted ways, but not before Lynnette heard the girl proudly proclaim: “One day, I’m going to be a university president!”
Indeed, Cal State’s women presidents are inspiring generations.
Before I close, I offer a few words specifically to the California Issues and Trends 2019 class of women leaders who are gathered here this evening…
I urge you to be bold. Be courageous. Be curious. Be compassionate. In your lives and in your careers, you will encounter headwinds. The most successful leaders have the conviction and clairvoyance, the skills and – importantly – the attitude to turn headwinds into opportunities. Headwinds may force you to momentarily change direction. But never allow them to alter your course.
In closing, it is my sincere hope that this is not an isolated moment in time for university leadership across America, but rather… evidence of an overdue and necessary evolutionary step.
I’m reminded of a quotation from Robert F. Kennedy’s famous speech delivered at the University of Cape Town in 1966: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
May the ripple propagate across America, not only in higher education but in all sectors.
Thank you again for this wonderful honor.