President's Office

From the President's Desk December 12 1995


In various ways, and with increasing frequency, I have been asked to state my "position" or the University's "position" on affirmative action and related policy deliberations in California and the country. Those requests, as stated, seem to me to be fundamentally unsound in their expectations.

The University, as the rest of society, comprises many voices and points of view. That's as it should be. I have encouraged robust discussion about these matters on the University campus, in classrooms, in forums, in debates - and will continue to do so - because what the University "stands" for, in addition to its fidelity to the law, will be expressed in the commitments and values of its faculty, staff, students, and administrators.

I have very strong personal views on the subject, which I will share with the University community in this publication. But I do so not to declare a fixed and inflexible point of view, which is how I define "a position," but to add to the dialogue that is taking place on the campus and to respect the requests I've received for a statement on the issue.

At the heart of my conviction about the importance of laws to ensure fairness and inclusion is my own life experience. At the end of my junior year of high school, two friends and I decided to apply for summer waitress and cashier jobs at the local Howard Johnson's Motor Inn. I was, as you might imagine, a college preparatory student, a member of the National Honor Society, an elected officer in the student government, a cheerleader, a writer for the school newspaper, and an active community volunteer. My friends were hired; I was not. When my favorite teacher called the Motor Inn to question why I had not been hired, the manager changed his mind and agreed to hire me as a kitchen worker, explaining that it was company policy that Negroes should not come in contact with customers. I didn't work at Howard Johnson's that summer. Nor was there any legal requirement or incentive for the Motor Inn to view my qualifications fairly.

That experience followed right on the heels of my high school guidance counselor advising me to take typing my senior year, so that I would have opportunities for a good career as a secretary.

In the 1970's I was asked to join two colleagues as a consultant to a foundation in Pittsburgh. I went to the lobby of the Duquesne Club to meet my colleagues, as we had agreed, and was almost immediately approached by the bellman who told me that I had to leave because women were not allowed to stand in the entrance to the Club (or become members either!) Neither my Ph.D. nor my position as an Associate Dean at Harvard University was sufficient to guarantee that I would receive the same treatment as my white male colleagues.

My career, which has been rich, rewarding and successful by most standards, was made possible by the principles and spirit of affirmative action. Affirmative action enabled me to compete for opportunities which would previously have been closed to me. But it did not, and has not, eliminated racism or sexism as a factor in my personal or professional experience. After I was hired in a senior administrative position in one organization, a male staff member quit rather than work for a woman, as he put it; when I went to work at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the newspapers reported fears within the university and the community that my appointment would bring large numbers of "Detroit" students to Dearborn; at CSUN a former faculty member referred to me in class as Whoopi Goldberg.

My personal experience as an African American woman has taught me that one can be victimized without becoming a victim - a lesson, I trust, that we can impart to our students. In sharing this perspective with you, I also cannot help but recall the words of George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

No significant social progress has ever been achieved in American society without legal interventions against prejudice and discrimination. Laws which prohibit discrimination are essential, but not sufficient. They are, as most legal processes, cumbersome, expensive, protracted, and most effective against only the most blatant acts of discrimination.

Voluntary policies of affirmative action, on the other hand, by requiring institutions and organizations "to act affirmatively" began to challenge the subtle and invidious kinds of prejudice that are immune to legal remedy. Affirmative action is an extraordinary legal invention. By mandating behaviors, it taught us how to reach out to underrepresented populations and it forced us to learn that we could work side by side and learn from one another.

Much of the criticism of affirmative action today is in response to the way policies have been implemented, rather than a rejection of the principle. The public perception that affirmative action has provided unfair preferences for minorities and women is too frequently fueled by the disingenuousness of those who comply with the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and then claim that they were forced to hire less qualified minorities or women because of affirmative action requirements. These practices undermine the moral intent of the law and perpetuate a negative stereotype of women and minorities.

The fact of the matter is that neither anti-discrimination laws nor affirmative action policies reach to the core of the American dilemma. The strongest argument for maintaining affirmative action policies in colleges and universities is that these are the places where ignorance and prejudice are challenged by the truth. A diverse university community, learning and working together, will inevitably confront the truth of individual differences, the truth of cultural experience and the truth of our common humanity. If colleges and universities are to prepare the next generations to be citizens in an intra-national society and an interdependent world, our fidelity to the spirit of voluntary affirmative action must be preserved. Diversity is essential to quality in higher education; it enriches our learning and ennobles our mission.

I share the view of those who argue that, if there are imperfections in how we've implemented this ideal, we should fix it, but not abolish it. I hope our campus will continue its dialogue about current laws and regulations and seek to develop a new consensus about how to foster inclusiveness in a fair and honorable way.


On Friday, December 1, more than 150 faculty, staff, students, and administrators participated in an intensive all-day retreat focused on the draft statement of Mission and Values that has been distributed to all members of the University community. The debate was rich and intense. As soon as the comments of the workgroups can be compiled, they will be placed on the World Wide Web and distributed throughout the campus to encourage everyone to share in the continuing dialogue.

Our strategic planning consultants have reminded us that strategic discussions, by definition, create tension. That is because they have to do with change, because they require choices among many worthy views and values, and because they challenge the prevailing assumptions and habits of the organization. By that definition, we are surely having strategic discussions!

Please do not let the tenor of the debate obscure the critical issues of substance. We are committed to listening, revising the draft to achieve reasonable consensus on strategic directions, and to adapting our process and timetable so that we achieve a workable strategic plan.

In listening to the discussions at the Retreat and feedback from others on the campus, there are several areas that need to be addressed in our continuing planning:

What is wrong with the mission statement in the catalogue?

Nothing is wrong with it. I've studied the catalogue statement recently, as have many of you, and am pleased to note that most of it is perfectly congruent with the draft of the strategic mission and values.

We are a comprehensive university, as defined by the Master Plan, the Board of Trustees, our Faculty Senate, and the traditions of the academy. The mission statement in the catalogue enumerates very well the assumptions and values we hold dear. They remain the foundations of this University and there is no intent within the Strategic Planning process to violate them in any way.

Then why do we need this new mission statement?

The major difference between the two views of "mission" (besides the linguistic confusion which we also need to address) is that the purpose of each document is different. We are confronted with the quite awesome challenge of meeting different, and more strident, public expectations with limited resources. The past several years have made it clear that we must emphasize those specific features of the University that will enable us to respond to these changes.

Why do we need a strategic mission and plan? Because without it we will be at a distinct disadvantage in the competition for students and additional resources. Failure to plan an exciting, focused future for this campus will result in diminished financial strength, a weakened capacity to maintain excellence in our programs and activities, and continued criticism from the publics whose support we require.

Strategic Planning is a process of deciding, among multiple values and commitments, which should receive additional energy, creativity and resources. As I've outlined before, a strategic mission is more of an assignment to ourselves than a description of what we do. It is a charter for setting specific priorities and taking concerted action that will enable the University to excel in the future.

The Strategic Planning Committee has outlined four areas of potential distinctiveness - becoming an example of an inclusive, diverse community; creating effective alliances with schools, businesses, and other organizations; serving as the major contributor to the intellectual, cultural, and economic life of the Valley; and securing recognition for Centers of Excellence. The draft values statement, similarly, focuses on aspects of the campus culture that would create a more positive environment for learning and working.

The Strategic Planning Committee will consider how to reconcile the terminology of the two documents. What is more important now is hearing from you whether these directions and these values are something you can commit to for the next five years.

The draft mission statement and values are general and ambiguous. What do they mean?

In a recent communication to the Strategic Planning Committee, the following questions were raised:

"What does increasing ties with business mean? This could mean getting funding from business in terms of grants and such. It could mean an increase in internship programs for our students in businesses. It could mean more co-op education where students get credit for apprenticing in a business. It could mean free labor for business. It could mean that the University will allow businesses to have a greater role in deciding curriculum and majors."

These are precisely the kinds of questions our dialogue should generate, because they are a way of testing whether the proposed mission is a workable guide for planning and action. At the University level, the statement is purposefully general. During the next stages of the process each school and division will determine how it can contribute to that direction. Some areas of focus may be more relevant to some Schools than to others; different schools and departments will obviously support the mission in different ways.

In response to the questions about ties with business, I would suggest that the draft mission statement would encourage our schools and divisions to develop local plans that achieve greater funding from business, or increase internship and co-op opportunities. In fact, such activities are already taking place on the campus.

However, the draft mission and values statement would not support "free labor" or business intrusion in academic policy decisions, because those activities are not consistent with our concern for the well-being of students, the centrality of the academic program, or the connotation of a "genuine" alliance in which the partners are equals.

The Division of Student Affairs has recently published core values/goals that all members of the Division are being asked to discuss and comment on in the development of the Division's strategic priorities. The list provides a good example of the way in which local school, division and departmental planning will contribute to a focused University effort while respecting local autonomy:


  •  Maintain a campus climate that promotes community/unity while affirming diversity; user friendly and service-oriented;
  •  Provide support systems to (a) assist students in their transition to the university, (b) help students deal with barriers to success while providing opportunities for them to enjoy University life, and (c) assist students in their transition to the world of work;
  •  Maintain a work environment that rewards creativity, productivity, and excellence;
  •  Create a student centered environment where working with students is viewed as the primary role of university faculty and staff; and
  •  Become a community which externally serves as the hub of the San Fernando Valley and internally cultivates community/unity and affirms/celebrates diversity, promotes partnerships and encourages collegiality.

Other units have also begun local planning that complements the elements of the draft mission and values statement. The reorganization of the School of Communication, Health and Human Services into a College of Health and Human Development; the plans for the Communications Departments and the School of the Arts to plan a new College starting this spring; the recent creation of a touch-tone system in Cash Management to enable students to pay their bills by telephone; increased community service activities in Student Affairs - all represent "strategic" responses to changing fields and needs within our comprehensive university vision.

Each school, department or unit will answer the question "What does it mean..." in its own way.

The draft mission statement seems too vocational in its emphasis on "career goals," "the acquisition of knowledge and competencies," and a "successful life."

Speaking for myself, I think that is a criticism well-taken. While I admit to some surprise that "successful life" is viewed mostly as making money, this dialogue suggests that we should consider a revision that says what we mean better.

One faculty member has offered the following revision:

"CSUN exists to enable students to realize their intellectual and career goals by helping them acquire the academic competencies, professional skills, and liberal arts perspectives needed to succeed in a democratic society and in a changing, interdependent world."

What are your thoughts about it?

The draft mission statement seems to place student interests above those of the faculty. Does it mean that we will simply pander to student interests?

The mission statement quoted above, perhaps better than the earlier version in the draft, broadens the essential role of the faculty in defining "the academic competencies, professional skills, and liberal arts perspectives needed to succeed in a democratic society and in a changing, interdependent world." Students have goals, we believe; chief among them is having the University help them learn what they need to learn to achieve their goals. It is University faculty who determine what and how the students' goals are fulfilled.

The draft mission statement refers to this concept in two parts: in defining the quality of the academic program as central to the University, and in supporting professional development for faculty, staff and administrators.

I found two relevant references in the catalogue statement: "This University has a responsibility to provide opportunities for students and faculty to challenge their abilities and to examine critically the values of culture and society." And, "...the University offers a choice of courses, majors, minors and professional and career curricula to meet the needs and interests of its students".

For me the essential result to be achieved from the Strategic Plan is to place the campus in a position where we will be able to secure necessary resources to improve the quality of worklife for our faculty and staff. We need to make new investments in equipment, technology and professional development and training. Through this process of defining our priorities and committing to excellence, we can improve our prospects for gaining additional resources, and the political support that will make those kinds of investments possible.

I'd appreciate your comments.

The use of the word "scholarship" means that the University plans to de-emphasize research!

The use of the word "scholarship" means that the University plans to de-emphasize teaching!

During the past five years or so, the Carnegie Council on Teaching and Learning, headed by Ernest Boyer, has published very important books on college and university life, the role of scholarship and changing roles of faculty members. Dr. Boyer argues that scholarship should be defined broadly to include traditional research, but not to exclude pedagogical scholarship and creative works among other forms of intellectual inquiry. The use of the term "scholarship" within the draft mission/values statement was intended, I believe, to encourage schools and departments, PP&R and me to define research/scholarship broadly as well.

By way of comparison, the catalogue statement reads,

"California State University, Northridge recognizes teaching, research and public service as its major responsibilities. Of these, undergraduate instruction has first priority."

"Research that advances and encourages learning is integral to all instruction and is supported by the University."

I don't think there is any substantive disagreement here either. In assuming that the traditional obligations of a comprehensive university were understood, the commitment to research, teaching and undergraduate education were also assumed. Are we willing to commit to honoring scholarship? Should "undergraduate instruction" or "teaching" be explicitly stated?

Suggestions for revised language are welcome.

Why are you circumventing the traditional governance processes by not requesting approval of the mission statement by the Educational Policies Committee, the Educational Resources Committee and the Faculty Senate?

This is a very perplexing issue for me. I will ask the Faculty President to make this a subject of a conversation with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate when we return from the holiday break.

I have no desire to circumvent or undermine the traditional faculty governance process; we have sought and encouraged participation from members of the Senate and have benefitted greatly from their perspective and leadership in the process.

On the other hand, the essence of effective strategic planning is that it seeks "ownership" and "buy-in" from all members of the organization. (We have also consulted major external constituencies whose good will and support are important to our future.) We know that Cal State Northridge is perceived to be a high quality teaching institution with a campus climate that often seems alienating, unfriendly, and divisive. If we are to correct our weaknesses and work toward the same ends, all of us, including students, must share some of the responsibility for our success.

The Strategic Planning Committee and I have done everything conceivable to provide opportunities for everyone to understand the challenges the University is facing, to become educated about strategic planning as a tool, and to participate in this dialogue about the draft mission and values. I appreciate that this view of consultation and inclusion is very different from the inherited patterns of governance and decision-making on the campus. Our belief has been that wide-scale consultation - honestly attended to - would not only improve faculty and staff morale, but would provide the best thinking about the directions we should pursue.

I don't know how to reconcile this commitment to an inclusive, community-wide process with the patterns of governance that exist on the campus. The Faculty Senate, the Educational Policy Committee, the Educational Resources Committee, the Academic Councils of the Schools - each of these bodies has requested to be, or been suggested as, an appropriate group to vote on the University mission/values statement. I would greatly appreciate your advice and counsel on this critical issue.

Let me close where I began. Do not avoid the tension that is inherent in these discussions. We are interested in your comments and your concerns and will revise the draft to reflect broad consensus, as we hear it.



As we approach the new year, and the second anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake, I'm pleased to report that, thanks to your great effort and fortitude, we have turned the corner on the recovery process. While much remains to be done, I believe it is in the best interest of the University to absorb the recovery effort into our regular institutional structures.

Since my last report to the Board of Trustees on the status of funding requests, Jane Chatham, Chuck Happe and Handel Evans, assisted by DMJM/JGM consultants, and many of you, have made tremendous progress in completing the documentation of our expenses and needs. I am, therefore, formally dissolving the Disaster Recovery Office, changing its duties and structure and establishing the Campus Reconstruction Support Office, under the supervision of Vice President Arthur Elbert.

The Campus Reconstruction Support Office will be responsible for coordinating the approval process with the state Office of Emergency Services and FEMA; assuming responsibility for all related financial operations, including purchasing, accounting, record keeping and compliance matters; and monitoring the reconstruction of major campus facilities, scheduled, we hope, in June 1996.

Vice Chancellor Handel Evans will remain as our official liaison with state and federal agencies, as well as being responsible for the day to day management of the Campus Reconstruction Office. Because of the significant size of the reconstruction effort, construction management will be a partnership between our own facilities management staff, and the Office of Physical Planning and Development in the Chancellor's Office, with continuing contract management assistance from DMJM/JGM.

This change has immediate effects on the assignments of several staff in the Disaster Recovery Office. All accounting staff, for example, have been advised of their new reporting relationships within the Division of Administration and Finance; similarly the State Controller's Office staff, who perform pre-payment audits and the construction management consultants, will now report directly to Mr. Evans. Very shortly, we expect to initiate a search for a full time attorney who will supervise contracts, provide legal advice and supervise any appeals that may be necessary.

I want to take this opportunity to extend special thanks and recognition to Jane Chatham for providing the leadership for the Disaster Recovery Office, without which the campus would not have been able to achieve the rapid progress that advances us to this next stage. Ms. Chatham will assume new duties in the Division of Administration and Finance, including serving as the campus liaison to the Rand Corporation in their design of a financial data base which will facilitate more sophisticated analyses in our budgeting and planning processes.

This announcement also provides another opportunity for me to acknowledge the continuing support of Chancellor Barry Munitz and his staff in providing expertise and staff support, as well as continuing encouragement.

Much has occurred since that fateful day in January of 1994. I am optimistic that we will continue to move forward with campus reconstruction. As has been our practice, reconstruction priorities will be discussed with the Faculty Senate before the end of the spring term and, we will ask faculty and staff to participate in project scheduling and planning. We are grateful for the support of the campus community and look forward to achieving our goal of complete recovery together.


Blenda J. Wilson

December 12, 1995