Volunteer Summit

President Jolene Koester's address from the inaugural volunteer leadership summit at California State University, Northridge

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Reflections on the Future of California State University, Northridge

Inaugural Volunteer Leadership Summit (December 3, 2011)

I. Introduction

President Jolene KoesterThank you, Earl, and thank you, Linda, for your magnificent leadership of this Summit. And thank you all for being here today for this historic gathering.

My task this afternoon is to talk with you about the future of our UniversityΗthe University for which we all have connection and affection—and to ask each of you to consider a renewed and redefined role in that future.

This afternoon’s program was an overt demonstration of two aspects of this University—first, our mission, and second, our excellence. Wasn’t that an inspiring combination of energy and intelligence?

Many of you have heard me describe the mission of California State University, Northridge as one committed to the needs of the region—with applied research, scholarship, and teaching that uses the intellectual expertise of faculty and students to address regional needs. Throughout our history as a university, Cal State Northridge has been ready and able to tackle the issues and problems facing this region.

Certainly, you saw that demonstrated today:

You have seen our mission and excellence in action. You have seen how the University takes on the most critical issues, applies intellectual expertise to the most significant problems, and expands the promise of the region we serve. And you have witnessed that, as we solve problems here, we contribute to a national dialogue, as we all know California is often the first state to face the challenges of our time. Our work here serves as a model for other universities and communities in the nation.

Amidst the pride and the glow of excellence emanating from how well we fulfill our mission, I am also starkly aware that we gather together at a time of profound change for public higher education in the state. With this profound change comes both challenge and opportunity for California State University, Northridge and the people we serve.

Let me describe the challenges we face—financial and moral—and then turn to the abundance of opportunity that I think awaits us.

Over the past several years, the University has faced enormous challenges from both a financial and planning perspective.

The University’s planning and decision making process is out of sync with state decisions about budget and ultimately enrollment. The complex rules and planning environment that we operate under were designed for a much simpler time. What this means is the University must, going forward, change and do multi-year planning and be less dependent on annual allocations of state resources.

The University operates with state contributions that have been reduced by about 30 percent since 2008-09. Students now must pay higher tuition to help make up the difference but overall we have less money to educate more students. We have been more and more challenged to do more with less.

For most of our first 50 years the state of California bore the overwhelming majority of the cost of our students’ education. Public higher education was viewed as a public good—embraced by the people as a whole through their government as a necessity for the future well-being of the state and the nation.

Two years ago, for the first time, the University’s revenue for our core teaching and learning activities along with the institutional support for those functions came not from the state of California, but from student tuition and fees.

This change wasn’t entirely abrupt. Over the past decade, tuition for full-time undergraduate students increased fourfold from about $700 per semester in 2000-01 to about $2,750 per semester this year. Just two weeks ago, in mid-November, the CSU Board of Trustees approved yet another potential nine percent increase for the 2012-13 academic year, if the state of California doesn’t “buy out” that tuition increase with additional state dollars to the CSU budget.

After five years of severe budget cuts, the state appropriation to the CSU is now back at the 1998-99 level, and as a system we are educating 58,000 more full-time equivalent students and turning away others.

But I also maintain today that California public higher education is facing not just a financial challenge but also a moral challenge. Our mission, the mission of public higher education, is to ensure access to education for the people of our region, the people of California—to guarantee for the future an educated workforce and an educated citizenry. This is an important mission, a vital mission —and if we don’t continue to fulfill our mission, California is in trouble.

Support for public higher education has always been grounded in the recognition that higher education produces not only a private good, but a public good. California State University, Northridge, and the rest of the CSU system, has throughout its history acted to protect the public good in the region and in the state. But the social contract has been frayed—torn asunder is a more apt description—and the public benefit that Cal State Northridge provides is in danger of being eclipsed by a focus on only the private benefit to the individual.

It is the goal, the mission, the moral imperative of public higher education to deliver America’s promise. The people of this region deserve to have access to the American dream.

How many of you came from families without means? How many of you could not afford to seek your education at a private university? How many of you didn’t discover yourself in high school and consequently might not have been eligible for admission to a selective private or even the UC?

Public higher education institutions like Cal State Northridge deliver the promise of education for the personal and professional betterment of individuals who receive an education, and for public good as well as private gain. We deliver on the promise of educational opportunity, access, and affordability, which results in personal, societal, cultural, and economic benefits to all. The opportunities we create for today’s and tomorrow’s students, the education we offer, advances our region’s economic progress and cultural development. We educate the workforce that makes California and the nation work.

Over the next years and decades, new levels of private and volunteer advocacy, leadership and philanthropy by all of the University’s stakeholders will be required to deliver our mission of a public good or the promise of educational excellence, opportunity, access, and affordability; to allow Cal State Northridge to continue to deliver this public good, this promise.

My hope for California State University, Northridge as I now leave it is that everyone here in this room today will join together in a shared vision of the possibilities for a society which nurtures and enriches us all.

II. The Pathway to the University’s Future

When Cal State Northridge began as San Fernando Valley State College in 1958, it was a quintessential public institution – pure and simple. In its earliest years little was done to actively engage alumni and those in the region who benefitted from the University’s presence. For many years little was done even to collect the names and addresses of our alums – in retrospect a huge oversight! The University did not fully recognize the critical importance of the loving caress, broad vision and passionate commitment of alumni, civic leaders, and donors.

But little by little the University began to build important roles for volunteer leadership.

With us today we have volunteer leaders who have been advancing the University for decades and have seen it all, and I know they can tell stories of volunteer leaders who preceded and inspired them, as they have inspired me.

Over the past 20 years, as Cal State Northridge has matured, the University has increasingly recognized the critical importance of engaging stakeholders and has begun to establish the infrastructure necessary to accomplish that engagement.

We now have well-established advisory boards in many of our colleges and divisions, and we are creating new boards in other areas and building strength throughout our volunteer core. We’ve had terrific support through the Task Force on Engagement and the Summit Steering Committee. Several of our college-based boards are gaining momentum, and those of you attending today's event represent the full array of volunteerism in the University.

But our critical pathway to the future is through even more stakeholder engagement. Indeed, our success requires it! We need you and others like you—now more than at any time in the University’s history.

Today’s Summit, the very first one in the university’s history, advances this progression. It is the first time that we have gotten together as a whole to celebrate what we have become, to support each other in our commitment, and to begin to envision what we can yet accomplish together.

When I first arrived on campus I found people with pride about their part of the University, but it didn’t extend to pride about the University as a whole. Individuals knew their part of the University was great, but didn’t think of the University as a whole as great. But that’s changed. Excellence at the program level now reflects on the excellence of the University as a whole.

I suggest that central to the maturity of the volunteer leadership is pride in the whole. I celebrate all that you do for a college or other academic unit, or athletics, or the Alumni Association, or the Foundation. In these roles, you are essential to our success. But I encourage you to think even bigger and more broadly.

Cal State Northridge is coming of age—into its full maturity like our university neighbors across town did 40 or more years ago. As I see it, and following their example, we will meet our fiscal and moral challenges only with shared pride, mutual support, and a comprehensive shared vision of the future.

III. How to Embrace the Future

So how do we build the future of which I speak? What do I hope you will do specifically? There are four things, and I will conclude with them:

First, bring the University as a whole into better focus. Connect an understanding of the local excellence you know and believe in with an understanding of the excellence of the University itself. Become familiar with the University’s accomplishments, like those on the back of your Summit Program. When you talk about your area of interest on campus, frame it within the full narrative of an institution that has been highly successful and is clearly on the move.

Second, build the identity. Help us in furthering the University’s reputation within your circles of influence. Your voice is critically important in instilling other voices to speak out about the University’s excellence and accomplishment. Help us in breaking down the barriers of “unvoiced pride” and “unspoken good will.” We know that alumni and the community in general think very highly of the University, but they are far too quiet about it. I want you to be loud and proud! I want you to remind everyone you know that this is a highly responsive and dynamic university making a difference in the lives of its students, their families, the surrounding community, and the region; a university admired for its inclusion and collaborative spirit in preparing students for success; and a university poised to meet regional needs and adept in finding solutions. Say that loudly and proudly!

Third, build more and deeper connections. Make introductions, bring alumni and friends to campus and connect them with whatever their passion may be. Help us in building as one member of the Task Force on Engagement put it, “an army of true believers” or, as I like to say, in building “a community of diehard fans.” Urge alumni, civic leaders, and those with philanthropic resources to join us with their time, their talents, and yes, their treasure.

Finally, view yourself as a full partner in mission. I invite you to consider sharing with others what it really means when you volunteer for this University. See through the activities—of coming to meetings, providing expertise, and helping us with fundraising – to the core of what you are really doing, which is helping students find and prepare themselves for their own and our collective futures; and for a much larger purpose—delivering on the promise of public higher education for individual and public good.

Thank you again, Linda and Earl, for your leadership and commitment. And thank you all for being with us today, and for all you have done and what I know you will accomplish for the Cal State Northridge of the future. Your active engagement and volunteerism has set an exciting prologue for the future of this great University. With your help, it will remain and grow as a place of great abundance for our students and region for generations.

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