Chancellor Timothy P. White's remarks at CSU Alumni Council Annual Meeting, March 22, 2013 | Chancellor's Speech | CSU

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Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
CSU Alumni Council Annual Meeting
Monterey Bay, CA
March 22, 2013

Thank you, Guy (Heston, Alumni Council president).

Good morning.  I am feeling:

  • Privileged to be here

  • Proud to be a CSU alumnus

  • And excited to be in the presence of so many people like me, who have a great story to share about the CSU.

Indeed, you are my people.

I hope this is just the first of many opportunities for us to discuss the CSU experience that we’ve shared.

The CSU Story

When I tell people about the CSU, I sometimes start by telling them about me…not because it’s me…but because I am the reflection of so much of what the CSU represents.

As an immigrant to Northern California when I was 8 years old, I did not come from a family of means. And in high school I was told I was OK, but wouldn’t amount to much.

Those searing words made me look inside myself and become even more determined to succeed.

Indeed, I was the first in my family to venture beyond high school.

I found my bearings because of my experience at Diablo Valley CC, at Fresno State and Cal State East Bay (at the time we called it Hayward), and UC Berkeley – and because of support from my family and my community.

Now I am in a position to give back to a state where I’ve had a chance to live my edition of the American Dream.

If I can be pulled up and then launched by the CSU… and go on to have an interesting life and contribute to society…then anyone with aptitude and a work ethic can as well.

Each of our graduates has the potential to help California succeed in an increasingly competitive, complicated, global environment where the skills learned in higher education will be the basis of our competitive edge.

That to me is the true value of our alumni. And we multiply that value by 100,000 times a year, which is the rate at which we graduate students.

If the CSU sows the seeds of prosperity for our future economy…then our alumni are the lush plants, flowers, and trees that add color, depth, and character to our communities.

We alumni have an amazing story to tell.

We need to tell people that story – our stories – of hope, determination, and overcoming great odds. A story of pride in our campus or campuses. A story of inspiration and perspiration to succeed in school, and all that follows in life and the work place.

CSU System

I’m learning that our 23 campuses have commonalities as well as uniqueness and differences. From time to time I have been asked the question –

  • Why do we need a system?

  • What value does a university system add? 

  • Why can’t we just be a loose federation of campuses that share an HR system?

  • Which is the best campus?

It is profoundly clear to me that as a university system we have a unique strength that we do not have individually, and that is a big part of our value proposition.

Let me try and explain.

My new job affords me a unique perspective – a new view on California.  But this isn’t from my office on the 6th floor of Golden Shore. 

It’s my other office, typically a window seat on a bright blue and orange Southwest Airlines flight, as I head from Long Beach to Sacramento or a campus. 

This window seat gives me a moment to reflect on the power and promise of the California State University from 37,000 feet.

And as I look out over this diverse patchwork of California, I realize this diversity of terrain is more than the changes in geography of our state, it is a diverse patchwork of our communities and that make California vibrant and strong.

Take a moment and think about a beautiful quilt… 

  • Squares of fabric each with a deep color, texture and feel that come together in a way that produces a beautiful blanket with richness, quality, strength and value that cannot be achieved by a single piece of fabric.

In very much the same way the individual campuses of the California State University all have a color, texture and feel that make them unique. 

But when properly harnessed, our competitive edge comes from the way in which the 23 campuses  - or patches - come together to produce the quilt that is the California State University.

  • From Accounting at San Diego State to Zoology at Humboldt. 

  • From desert studies in Zzyzx to navigating the waters of the Pacific with the Golden Bear from Cal Maritime in Vallejo.

The California State University covers the diversity of academia and the diversity of our state in a way in which no other university in California, the United States or the world can.

Yes, the CSU is powerful based on sheer numbers alone…

  • We are the largest four year university, with 23 campuses, 427,000 students, nearly 3 million alumni. 

It is the power of our 23 campuses combined that allows us to answer the confluence of challenges – and opportunities - that California faces this century.

Role of Alumni

So what does it mean to be a graduate of one or more of our institutions? And where do alumni fit into this unique and beautiful tapestry?

I see our alumni as the voice of experience – as an inspiration for those yet to be on a campus, and as a powerful advocate for why CSU matters. Alumni are:

…the ones who breathe life into the CSU story, who make it real…

…the ones who bring tangible meaning to our catchphrase “Working for California”…in fact I think we need to change it to, “You Have No Idea How Well We Are Working For California”…

…the ones who provide that valuable two-way link between our campuses and our communities…

When you graduated, the official words were something to the effect of, “…hereby confer your degree with all of the rights, responsibilities, and privileges thereunto pertaining…”

One of the responsibilities is continuing to be our voice in the community and with elected officials. Alumni are the ones who share their experiences and help us bring awareness of the incredible value of the CSU, the opportunities in front of us, and the challenges we were meant to find solutions to.

For example, demand exceeds capacity.

Next fall, over 320,000 students seek admission – a growth in demand of 8 percent. By increasing enrollment, we still only admit well under ½ that number (124,000).

We must integrate technology more into the faculty, minimize bottlenecks, decrease time to degree and increase completion rates.

We must gain more operational efficiencies, such as shared purchasing, common applications, etc.

But I also seek our alumni to be our “eyes and ears” in the community. You can help us answer the questions:

In what ways we can build a stronger presence?

What opportunities exist for new collaborations or partnerships that we can explore?

How can we improve conversations between alumni and current students to foster ongoing relationships, to create internship and employment opportunities, for example?

I want to hear what we can do to make our university/alumni relationship a more meaningful and impactful one.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, we have many new opportunities.

On the public policy front, Governor Brown has recognized that California will benefit from the investment of state funds into higher education.

This is an important step in the right direction. 

But I remind us that we are digging out of a deep hole that in fact decreased access, affordability and challenged quality. 

Even after massive tuition increases and the proposed investment for next year, we are still about a half-billion dollars less than where we were five or six years ago, and yet we have 23,000 more students.

And I remind us all that next year’s budget isn’t done until the legislature acts and the governor signs it in June…time for lots of mischief between now and then.

It is now more important than ever for us to make the case for the vital mission of the CSU. We need to put a spotlight on the public value of higher education…by telling our story.

Higher education will be the incubator for our state’s future recovery and growth – actually, there will be 23 incubators. The CSU will be central to that recovery.

And our alumni stand as living reminders of how the CSU will be a key to our future.

Thank you all for what you do for the California State University – today and every day. I hope that today will be just the start of our ongoing dialogue about the value of the CSU and the role of our alumni.

I will be happy to take any questions you have.