Chancellor's Recent Speeches

State Student Association National Conference
Los Angeles, CA
2/23/01

I want to begin by saying that this student association - the California State Student Association of the past two years - is the best student group with which I have ever worked.

They have a win-win strategy for working with the administration:
On the outside - we support each other.
On the inside - If we have problems, we sit down and work them out together.
We agree to disagree, but if we disagree, we work it out amongst ourselves.

That strategy has served us well time and again. We've had a great deal of success in Sacramento with our budgets, our policies, and with new legislation. As a result, we have been able to build a stronger university and a better place for our students.

The California State University

Before I talk more about our relationship with the CSSA, I want to take just a moment to describe the California State University.

The CSU has 23 campuses and roughly 370,000 students. It is the largest senior system of higher education in the country. We are primarily a teaching institution, as opposed to a research institution. It is our mission to provide California's students with access to a high-quality baccalaureate education. That makes us a student-focused university. It also means that ensuring access is one of our top priorities.

The students that come to the CSU tend to be older. Lots of them hold down jobs or have to support families. Many of them are first-generation college students. In many cases, our students have made sacrifices to put themselves through college. That means that they want to make the most of their college experience.

Our student leaders represent many of those qualities. They are serious, responsible, and fully engaged in university issues.

Building a Cooperative Relationship

So - how does such a large, diverse university system manage to have such good relations with student leaders?

In our experience, the relationship works because of several important principles.

1) We operate with a rule of "no surprises." We do a full consultation on all issues that the CSSA brings to us. If we have problems, we work them out together. We keep the lines of communication open - and we don't air our dirty laundry in public.

2) We maintain a presence at each other's events. CSU administrators and CSSA leaders attend each other's major meetings and have the opportunity to learn about current issues and concerns.

3) We have a policy of full involvement. CSU students sit on systemwide policy committees, such as alcohol issues, year-round operations, degree completion, and community college articulation. Students bring an important voice to these discussions - the voice of first-hand experience.

4) We support each other before the governor and legislature. In Sacramento, the CSSA has given us critical support in terms of giving favorable testimony and registering support for important legislation. They have supported our substantive legislation, such as an effort to let the university pay its own bills rather than going through the state controller's office. Even more importantly, they've supported the CSU budgets. This year, we're requesting an additional $12 million to improve student services.

5) We work together as one university. This is perhaps the hardest step of all, especially in a university system that has so many different kinds of campuses and is spread out over such a massive geographic area. But when different groups splinter off to pursue different agendas, it becomes extremely difficult for the university or the students to work for the greater good. That's why we're fortunate that the CSSA understands just how important it is for our university to represent itself in Sacramento, and even nationally, as one university, with many members working together as a team.

I should add here that we've been lucky enough to have outstanding student leadership. Shaun and Stephanie and their colleagues have been very effective leaders - responsible, articulate, and always professional. We have a good working relationship that I hope will continue in the coming years.

For those students who might not have such a close relationship with their administration, I would say that communication is an important first step. Establishing an open line of communication like this builds trust and understanding. Start by letting them know what you're working on. Invite them to some of your working groups. Spell out your concerns carefully. And present a unified front.

Before I close, I want to share one final set of ideas for dealing with policymakers and administrators. Last year, when I spoke to a group of university presidents about getting engaged in the political process, I gave them a list of rules for political engagement. I think these rules can apply to anyone who gets involved in any kind of political process. Whether you're dealing with legislators, policymakers, or administrators, the same rules apply:

  • Always tell the truth.
  • Don't tell different stories to different people.
  • Don't take an hour of their time when you only need two minutes.
  • Don't feel the need to impress them with how smart you are.
  • Tell them what they need to know, as simply as possible.

And finally, remember that "politics" is a lower-case "p." It's not about being Democrats or Republicans, it's about getting out there, getting to know the people involved, and helping them understand what you are doing.

I want to thank CSSA once again for inviting me here today.

I wish you all best of luck in your work with your administrations, policymakers, and legislators.

Thank you.


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