Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - August 14, 2020

Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Alumni Council Convening (as delivered)
Via Zoom
August 14, 2020

Thank you, Michelle, and good morning to all of you. As always, it’s a great pleasure to be with you, albeit virtually.

Preparing my remarks for this morning gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the remarkable work that this council has accomplished during my tenure as Chancellor.

The Class of 3 Million campaign during the 2014-2015 academic year came immediately to mind – a campaign that reconnected 60,000 existing alumni to their campus alumni associations and one that saw 11,000 additional alumni contributing – a 15-percent increase over the previous year. It was a stirring example of CSU alumni pride in action and of the sheer power of our alumni base when we all work collaboratively and collectively.

I reflected on our seven successful international networking events – in London, Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo – bringing together almost 1,200 alumni and powerfully demonstrating the CSU’s global reach and influence. February’s alumni gatherings in Asia were among the first CSU events to be canceled due to the coronavirus. The magnitude of the virus’ potential impact was little more than a gnawing feeling in the pits of our stomachs at that point. I know we all look forward to the day when we can safely resume these popular and successful gatherings.

I also thought about – with great appreciation – this council’s ongoing work to support the CSU’s flagship student-success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025. The creation of a toolkit of best practices to guide campus alumni associations in their efforts to support the Graduation Initiative – largely through career development and the provision of basic needs – was a particularly effective strategy.

And all of this is in addition to your ongoing work as a council – as a powerful and compelling advocate for the CSU, providing guidance and professional development to our campus alumni associations systemwide, and promoting this wonderful university and engaging its more-than 3.8 million global alumni. I offer you my heartfelt thanks for this extraordinarily impactful work.

3.8 million alumni! Just think about that for a moment – if our alumni were the population of a state, it would be the 29th largest state in the U.S.!

Cal State!

You know, I first made that joke during my State of the CSU address in January and it drew big laughs. You are all muted, so I am just going to assume that it got the same reaction this morning.

I am pleased that you will spend much of today’s meeting focusing on ways to support the student experience for both continuing and incoming students during our current global public health crisis. I thought that using the balance of my remarks to discuss some of the CSU’s actions in response to the historic events of the last six months might provide useful context for your discussion.

In March, when the scope and scale of the pandemic started to become apparent, the CSU took action. But first, we identified twin North Stars to guide our decision making. They were (and continue to be): ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and the communities we serve; and maintaining our students’ progress to a high-quality degree.

And since that time:

  • The CSU transitioned more than 70,000 classes – together with academic and student support services – to virtual modalities in less than one month – a truly herculean task;
  • We’ve maintained on-campus housing and essential services for students who had nowhere else to call home;
  • To address the “digital divide,” we’ve provided safe WiFi hotspots on our campuses. We’ve also purchased and distributed laptops and tablets to our students – more than 5,500 pieces of new equipment with a value of more than $4 million. This does not include the thousands of items of equipment already on hand – in libraries, learning centers and labs – that have been loaned to students in need;
  • We’ve continued to meet our students’ basic needs, with no-contact food distribution and emergency housing services for students who are food and housing insecure;
  • We’ve transitioned campus counseling services to virtual delivery, serving students with a variety of mental health issues during this crisis.

And when U.S. Department of Education guidance limited eligibility for federal CARES Act emergency grants – leaving thousands of our students without relief – we augmented those funds with campus resources to create the CSU Cares Initiative so that all our students in need due to COVID-19 – including DACA and international students – could receive much-needed financial support. More than $262 million in direct relief will be distributed; in fact, over 90 percent of those funds is already in our students’ hands.

And – as I’m sure you’re aware – on May 12th, I announced that the CSU would plan for a primarily virtual fall, with limited exceptions for in-person activities that cannot be conducted virtually and that can be performed within rigorous standards of health and safety.

In the intervening 60 days, all 23 campuses have stepped up to develop – in consultation with campus stakeholders – detailed plans for the fall, consistent with Chancellor’s Office guidance. This was a truly remarkable and well-coordinated effort, and I am extremely proud of how our campus communities came together to make it happen.

I’ll share a few high-level statistics:

The number of in-person, on-campus courses for fall 2020 averages less than seven percent of those offered in fall 2019. Approved courses are primarily laboratory experiences and art, music and theatre courses that require specialized spaces or equipment. At our three campuses that offer specialized programs – such as those that require professional licensure or accreditation (as at the Maritime Academy) or that provide substantial environmental, forestry, agriculture, healthcare, architecture, engineering and other physical- and life-science-based lab instruction and experiential learning programs – the number of in-person courses is higher. Systemwide, approximately 14 percent of forecast enrollment is expected to attend some form of in-person instruction or off-campus clinical experience during the fall 2020 term.

Of course, COVID-19 is not the only disruptive force challenging our country. In May, America watched in horror and justified anger as George Floyd was slowly choked to death as a police officer knelt on his neck. In the days that followed, I promised the CSU family that, as our society and our nation are pulled apart by the powerful forces of hatred, bigotry, ignorance and greed, the CSU – and its faculty, staff, students and alumni – will continue to serve as vital and essential wellsprings of the forces that will hold us together.

And I pledged that we would take immediate action to advance systemic change in pursuit of equity and justice. I am proud to confirm that we have done just that.

Within days, the police chiefs of our 23 campus police departments pledged their commitment to adopt the recommendations of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – the first major university in the U.S. to do so. These recommendations are designed to help communities and law enforcement agencies build trust and collaboration, while continuing to reduce crime and promote safety and security.

In June, the CSU pledged its support for Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which has since passed the Legislature and will appear on the ballot in November as Proposition 16. If passed by voters, Prop 16 will help more of California’s historically underserved students – especially those from our African-American communities – reach their educational goals. It will do so by allowing the CSU to use proven strategies to improve equity in education, as well as completion outcomes for vulnerable students – strategies like focused student recruitment based on race and ethnicity, focused recruitment programs for faculty of color and externally funded scholarship programs based on race and ethnicity.

And at our July meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the first change to CSU General Education in 40 years. Beginning in 2023, every CSU undergraduate will be required to complete one three-unit course in ethnic studies and social justice. Importantly, while the requirement is anchored by ethnic studies as it is historically defined, it also makes room for the voices and experiences of other oppressed and marginalized groups, and it shines a light on the institutional barriers and systemic injustices that still confront so many in our society.

These are bold actions in response to the exigent circumstances of the day. But as the Chancellor of this university, I certainly don’t highlight them to take a bow or a victory lap. Indeed, the challenges we face remain daunting and are ongoing – for example, we project that we will continue to endure the negative fiscal and budgetary impacts of the pandemic for another three years – at a minimum. No, I emphasize our actions because they demonstrate the strength and resilience of our institution – and they demonstrate its heart.

The disruptive forces we face are powerful. They threaten to dismantle – and have dismantled – longstanding institutions across our nation and around the world.

But not this institution.

The CSU’s mission is sound and our people are absolutely steadfast in their commitment to living out that mission every day.

As my going-on eight years in service to this institution have demonstrated to me again and again:

We will adapt.

We will innovate.

And we will be undeterred in our mission.

And the CSU will emerge stronger, more capable and more resilient than ever before.

Once again, I thank you for all that you’ve done – and continue to do – to advance the CSU’s mission. With that, I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

Aaron, will you please moderate?​