Chancellor's Recent Speeches

CSU Quality Improvement Symposium
San Francisco, California

Good morning, and thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak here today.

I want to commend all of you - especially the Quality Improvement Facilitators and Function Chairs from the California State University - for devoting your time to the important task of quality improvement.

I also want to extend a warm welcome to all of our participants from other universities and organizations: The University of California, Penn State, Rutgers, SUNY…I'm impressed that so many of you traveled all the way to San Francisco to join in this discussion.

I understand that many of you were involved in yesterday's workshop run by the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education (NCCI). I hope that workshop gave you some good background for today's discussions.

Today's discussions will focus on leading an engaged and accountable university.

To warm up for that topic, I want to discuss accountability efforts at an entirely different organization - the Ritz-Carlton.

Around this time last year, the Ritz-Carlton reached a key milestone. It became the only service company to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice.

I happen to be familiar with the Ritz-Carlton because I have worked with them before. Several years ago, when I sat on the board of an HMO, we hired the Ritz-Carlton to help us with our customer service operations. With their help, we went from a 60 percent customer service satisfaction rate to a 92 percent satisfaction rate. So we know that they bring customer service to a higher level.

But after they won the Baldrige award last year, I was even more impressed to learn about their quality improvement operation. Customer satisfaction is absolutely the top priority for the Ritz-Carlton. To improve customer service at all levels, the Ritz-Carlton set a goal to eliminate all customer problems, no matter how minor. They dissected their key operations to identify points at which errors may occur.

Here's the amazing part: The Ritz-Carlton determined that there are 970 potential instances for a problem to arise during interactions with overnight guests.

This got me thinking: If we applied the same scrutiny to our operations, how many potential problems could arise during a student's four, five, or six years at the CSU?

A million? Ten million? A hundred million?

If so, we have our work cut out for us.

Fortunately, we're not just providing hotel service. We're building a total experience for students that will last over a lifetime, not just a night or two. But the Ritz-Carlton example is important because it shows us how it is possible to break down every single operation we perform.

We can look at each piece of each operation. And we can ask ourselves, "How can we improve this piece?" Or, "How can we better integrate this piece into the larger task?" Or, "Does this piece contribute toward the greater goal of serving students effectively?" Or even, "Does this piece allow us to keep a student-centered focus?"

This process of giving every operation a thorough evaluation is incredibly important. It's important for the Ritz-Carlton, and it should be important for us too. It's a critical part of becoming an engaged and accountable university.

That's where our quality improvement programs come in.

At the California State University, our strategic plan known as Cornerstones cites university accountability as one of its four central policy goals. The accountability process linked to Cornerstones calls for "Institutional Effectiveness." We measure our institutional effectiveness with quantitative and qualitative data that we get through performance measurement, process mapping, and surveys of customer satisfaction.

Clearly, there is a direct link between our central mission as defined by Cornerstones and our quality improvement programs. Our quality improvement programs allow us to form a strategic alignment between the Cornerstones goals and the work of our campuses and our system. Over time, our quality improvement programs also help us increase our efficiency while maintaining educational quality and effectiveness at each campus.

In September, we released our initial report on Cornerstones accountability. That report was important because it gave us information we never had before. It also gave us a benchmark from which we can measure future progress. I'm looking forward to annual reports on our progress in each of our priority areas.

In the meantime, our quality improvement teams continue to look or ways to help us do our jobs even better than before. At today's Quality Expo we are showcasing innovative examples such as:

Customer Satisfaction Surveying: Cal Poly Pomona's Student Affairs division has enlisted students to serve as "phantom shoppers." This helps them identify best practices and opportunities for improvement.

Process Improvement: CSU Stanislaus has integrated its Accounts Payable and Procurement departments into one team, where team members perform the functions for both departments.

Process Mapping: San Diego State's Foundation used process mapping tools to reduce turn-around time for fund requests from three days to one day.

These are just a few examples of the many innovative quality improvement efforts that you will see at the Quality Expo. I am glad that we have the opportunity to showcase these important efforts.

As I have said before, I strongly encourage each campus to participate in quality improvement by:

  • Continuing to seek quality improvement through measuring, mapping, and customer surveying.
  • Broadening the base of involvement in quality improvement across the campus.
  • Setting achievable goals to improve performance and service.
  • Learning from each other's "best practices."
  • Establishing more cross-functional and cross-divisional collaborations.
  • Using all of these strategies to improve our current functions and prepare for future projects, such as CMS.

Quality improvement should be a campus-wide responsibility, and it should be an ongoing effort. As a university, our quality is all we have.

I want to thank those of you who have devoted your time to quality improvement at the CSU and elsewhere. Simply put, your work helps the CSU work better.

I want to close with a story about a true test of accountability. I recently started sending e-mails on CSU issues to our 40,000 faculty and staff. I invited everyone to respond to these e-mails with comments or questions.

You can imagine what my in-box looks like. Let me just say that it's not all fan mail.

But after just two months of these e-mails, my staff and I have learned a lot about the issues that concern faculty and staff, and how we communicate information to them. For instance, we received plenty of questions about information that should have been widely available. That tells us that we need to do a better job of communicating information internally.

We also received several messages calling our attention to campus-based concerns. I shared those responses with the campus presidents because I thought they deserved immediate attention.

But the most interesting thing was the large number of e-mails simply thanking us for opening up this avenue of communication. Most faculty and staff members seem to appreciate the updates and the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.

This project has given me a first-hand opportunity to learn what all of you know about quality improvement: When you open your work to scrutiny, you open yourself up to plenty of opportunities for criticism.

For instance, I could come in to work one morning and find 40,000 e-mails telling me that I made a big mistake. Or a Ritz-Carlton staff person could have 970 potential opportunities to mess up in one night. But it's only when you open yourself up to that kind of examination that you're able to improve what you do.

This is why I have such great respect for all of you.

Quality improvement is hard work. It involves a lot of details. It requires persistence and thick skin. It requires a willingness to be accountable.

But I know that with all of your efforts, we are well on our way to fulfilling our mission and carrying out our top priorities. We are well on our way to building an engaged and accountable university.

I thank you for all that you do, and I encourage you to keep up the good work.

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