Chancellor's Recent Speeches

ACE Fellows Workshop at American Council on Education Conference
San Francisco, CA

Good afternoon.

Before I say anything else about the topic of external demands and expectations on colleges and universities, I think it's important for me to say a few words about unity.

September 11 was a devastating day for our country. But one reason our leaders were able to respond so quickly and so successfully was that for once we had real unity in this country. We were united in spirit and in purpose.

Now consider the challenges that higher education is facing. On one end, we have a resource challenge. The outlook for state and federal budgets are going from bad to worse. On the other end, there's a demand challenge. Thousands of people are out of work, and record numbers of them are turning to higher education. Plus higher education is in the middle of a student population boom known as the "baby boom echo." In fact, the CSU grew by 20,000 students last year.

During this challenging time, we need the public to understand and support the significant role that higher education plays for this country's citizens and for its economy.

But we are fractured. We're presenting a fractured front.

Many of you saw some of my "welcoming committee" outside today. That's just one example of how higher education shoots itself in the foot. We cannot even talk about what we want to accomplish as universities until we recognize that faculty, staff, administrators, presidents, and chancellors are all in this together. We have to agree on that much before anything else can happen.

It reminds me of the old proverb: "A canoe is paddled on both sides."

That says a lot to me about the importance of having unity before you can get where you want to go.

Responding to Public Needs / External Demands

With that as a backdrop, I'd like to talk more about the need for universities to balance their many external demands with their internal challenges. I have six ideas I'd like to discuss:

1. Universities must stay united

Universities can only have impact in the external sector if they have a cohesive and clear message and internal agreement. All of the different constituent groups need to realize that if they are fighting among themselves or lobbying for different priorities, they will only confuse policymakers and the public.

I know that ACE fellows spend a lot of time talking about leadership in higher education.

In times like these, it helps to have a strong leader who can be an effective voice for the institution.

2. Universities must seek and embrace accountability and credibility

We are all experiencing greater external pressure for accountability from our governors, our legislatures and from the public.

But accountability can help us — if we use it as a starting point for quality improvement.

We need to publicly declare our goals and visions and our willingness to be accountable for them. We need to establish intervals throughout the year when we report on our progress. For example, at the CSU we report annually on the remedial education needs of our incoming students.

This kind of public accountability must become deeply ingrained in our university culture, and in everything we do.

We must be able to show that we add value to everything we do.

In the end, quality is all we have in higher education. We are a value-adding organization.

3. Universities must be more closely connected to the economy and workforce

We need to educate our students to become contributing members of our society and our economy.

Of course the university experience is more than simply job training.

But we have to keep our offerings relevant.

We need to help students learn:

  • The ability to work in teams
  • Communications, written and oral
  • Critical thinking
  • Adaptability/change
  • Technology literacy
  • Community responsibility, i.e.. helping the schools, informing voters
  • Global citizenship, i.e. recognizing that we are part of a larger world and learning about economic/environmental/social justice

We must show that adding value to information equals knowledge.

We must keep up with industry and technology advances.

And we need to adequately support those high-cost programs — health care and nursing, computer science, engineering, biological sciences — for which graduates are desperately needed by employers.

4. We must stay focused on the larger mission of the university

Often we spend too much time focused on the immediate needs of our individual divisions or departments.

For faculty, their loyalty is often stronger to the discipline than to the university itself.

It's no wonder — the reward system is set up wrong. We need to find new ways to reward faculty, staff, and administrators for helping to fulfill the university mission of serving the public, improving the lives of our citizens, and helping the people close to home.

For instance, we need some meaningful way to reward faculty who spend time working with the public schools.

At the CSU, nearly 800 of our faculty members participated in our K-12 outreach efforts last year. We may need to change our reward systems in ways that allow us to continue encouraging this kind of service.

This means that we need to ask tough questions of ourselves, reconfirm our mission, and reassess our priorities.

After all, our role as a university is to meet the needs of our citizens.

5. We must be selective about getting involved in social issues

We can't be all things to all people.

We didn't have the capacity before, and with all of our current budget problems, we certainly don't have it now.

We can't solve poverty or homelessness, for example. But we can have a positive effect in important areas of public concern that overlap with our work, such as the public schools.

We can help ensure that young public school students can read by the 3rd grade.

6. We must devote more resources to improving public education

Higher education needs to strengthen its focus on improving the public schools.

For instance, universities have the responsibility to prepare more and better teachers.

We also need to build more partnerships.

This may require a real change in focus and priorities for many of us. For instance, it needs to be an effort that involves not just the college of education, but all faculty and staff members in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

If we can provide the outreach that will help the public schools succeed, we will succeed as well.

Students will come to our universities with better preparation, and will get more of out their college education.

The CSU put out what we call a "steps-to-college" poster that helps middle and high school students understand what courses they need to prepare for college. That poster has been such a success, we have printed 300,000 copies and we keep getting more requests. Other universities in Nevada and Pennsylvania have used ours as a model to hand out to their students. That's the kind of assistance that helps our future students in the short run and in the long run.

Public/Political Outreach

I'd like to finish by pulling this all together with a few words on political engagement.

There are a few basic rules for political engagement that apply to just about everyone. I have shared these rules with presidents and students alike.

The first rule is this: "politics" starts with a lower-case "p."

It's not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It's about getting to know people and helping them understand what you are doing.

Going back to the point about unity, we are all in this together. Ultimately, every politician — Republican, Democrat, or any other party — believes in the importance of education.

The second rule is "No surprises." It is important to work through the right channels.

Many universities, like ours, have state and federal relations offices. The people who work in those offices are the experts. They know the legislators, they know the staffers, and they know how to work with them.

Let them know you are in town when you go to D.C. or your capital city. Let them know what you are doing. Let them help you. They don't like surprises — and neither do legislators.

Then next few rules are pretty simple for successful work with legislators:

  • 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 your intellect.
  • Don't tell them everything you know — tell them what they need to know, as simply as possible.
  • And last — when you've finished making your case, know when to leave.

I think that pretty much sums it up, so I'll take a page from my own rulebook and end right here.

Thank you again for asking me to speak with you today.

I will be glad to answer any questions now.

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