Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - June 15, 2020

Chancellor, The California State University
CSU Foundation Board of Governors Meeting (as delivered)
Via Zoom
June 15, 2020

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.

As always, it’s a great pleasure. And thank you for your ongoing commitment to sustaining and enhancing the world-class quality – and life-transforming power – of the Cal State educational experience.

Listening to Ron earlier as he reviewed the power of generous philanthropy from you, foundations, and other visionaries who believe in us was inspiring.

I will begin today with an update regarding the CSU’s budget. As we stand right now, the legislature and the governor have not agreed upon a state budget. The senate and assembly have reached a two-party agreement and the administration is advancing its own plan.

Both frameworks contemplate two scenarios: one where the state receives additional federal relief funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic and one where no such funds are forthcoming.

Let’s assume, for the sake of optimism, that the state does receive federal funds in the hoped-for amount. In that case, the legislature’s plan will provide the CSU with a budget increase of $199 million over the current year. Under the governor’s plan, there would be no change – the budget would be flat.

Now assume for a moment the more pessimistic scenario – no federal funds. In that case, under the legislature’s plan, our 2020-21 budget would be cut by $200 million versus the current year. Under the governor’s framework, the cut would be $400 million.

That is where we stand – we think! While negotiations continue, we are in a wait-and-see mode. What we do know is that today, as I speak to you, the senate and assembly are voting on their two-party agreement. So you are likely to hear about that in the media. But again, the legislature and the governor have yet to reach agreement.

Clear as mud?

As I prepared to speak with you this afternoon, it occurred to me that it was at your meeting last December that I first publicly addressed my plans for retirement. I confided that it really wasn’t a matter of my being ready to step aside – my love and enthusiasm for this job and this university had (and have) never been stronger. Instead, I noted that the CSU was ready, emphasizing that transitions in leadership were best made in times of unprecedented stability.

“Unprecedented stability.”

I guess some of my speeches age better than others.

Today, just a little more than six months later, it’s difficult to imagine a more obsolete description. Or at least half of it. We are indeed in unprecedented times. But they are anything but stable.

A global public health crisis of historic proportions – one with the power to bring a previously thriving economy to its knees.

Another senseless, tragic, heart-wrenching death of an African American man at the hands of law enforcement, triggering justified, righteous and ongoing protests on a scale not seen since the civil rights movement of the ’60s – with millions demanding justice, equality and fundamental fairness.

A series of powerful, necessary demonstrations, but with many marred in the early days by acts of violence and destruction.

And soon, the Supreme Court will issue its opinion determining the fate of DACA – one that will impact thousands of Cal State students and staff. All indications are that the decision will not be favorable.

These are powerful disruptive forces that threaten to dismantle – and have dismantled – longstanding institutions across the nation and the world.

But not our institution.

The CSU mission is sound. And our people are ingenious and adaptive, skilled and dedicated – and they’re committed to living out our mission every day.

The CSU will emerge from these challenges stronger, more capable and more resilient than ever before.

Guided by our North Stars of safeguarding the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff – and the communities we serve – and of maintaining our students’ progress to a high-quality degree, we are planning for a mostly virtual fall, with some exceptions for in-person activities that can be conducted within strict standards of health and safety. And it will be a rich educational experience, with robust academic and student support. Dr. Blanchard will recap our pivot to virtual learning this spring and provide more details about the fall in just a few minutes.

Regarding our fiscal outlook, as I mentioned earlier, our budget remains unsettled. We are appreciative of the support of our partners in Sacramento and there is potential for a far better outcome than we could have anticipated just a few weeks ago – especially if additional federal relief funds materialize. However, even in the best-case scenario, belt-tightening remains inevitable. But here’s another inevitability – we will weather this fiscal crisis, as we always have. We will act prudently, deal effectively with our economic realities and continue to fulfill our mission for the benefit of our students and the state of California.

And regardless of any budgetary issues, we will take action in the face of racism, bigotry and injustice. The CSU will continue to serve as a vital and essential wellspring of the centripetal forces that will hold us together and lead to critical discourse, resolve, action and healing. We will take deeper action that promotes justice in its full breadth across racial, economic, health and social domains.

As an example, last week we announced our support of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5. ACA 5 allows voters to repeal provisions of Proposition 209 that have had a negative impact on access to higher education, as well as retention and degree completion, for historically underserved students in California, particularly those from the African American community. If passed, ACA 5 would open the door to proven strategies to improve educational equity and degree completion outcomes, such as focused student recruitment programs based on race and ethnicity, focused recruitment programs for faculty of color, and externally funded scholarship programs based on race and ethnicity.

And, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on DACA’s fate, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to support Dreamers and to work with our legislative leaders to develop a permanent solution to protect their well-being and assure their path toward a brighter future.

It is important that I emphasize here that CSU enrollment and tuition policies are not tied to any student’s DACA status and are unaffected by this decision. Similarly, there will be no impact to state-based financial aid and other funding provided pursuant to the California Dream Act.

Our police chiefs last week, being responsive to the continuing horrors of racism and bigotry across the nation and on our campuses, committed, with my vigorous support, to implementing the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and to prohibit and not train the carotid control technique. The President’s Task Force, colloquially referred to as The Obama Policing Report, focuses on six pillars: building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, officer wellness and safety, community policing and crime reduction, and training and education.

The challenges we face are powerful headwinds indeed. But as my seven and a half 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.

Headwinds may cause us to momentarily change direction. But they will never force us to alter our course.

In closing, I want to again express my heartfelt gratitude for all that you do – in philanthropy and advocacy – for the California State University and, more importantly, for our students, alumni, faculty and staff. And I look forward to meeting with all of you at least one more time – hopefully in person – at your meeting in December. 

With that, I am happy to answer any questions you might have. You may want to hold questions regarding our transition to virtual learning, since Dr. Blanchard will be addressing that topic in detail momentarily. And I would be interested to learn some of the ways in which you are meeting these headwinds in your businesses and in your communities – given that we are all aligned in our broader mission to elevate individuals, communities and our state.

Aaron, will you please moderate?