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State of the University Convocation, 2012-2013

President F. King Alexander
(Friday, August 24, 2012)

Thank you, Provost Para, and welcome students, faculty, staff, 49er Foundation Board Members, Board of Governors, Alumni Association Board of Trustees and honored guests to the 2012-2013 academic year at The Beach. I first would like to thank our new Chair of the Academic Senate, Professor Dan O'Connor, and Provost Don Para for their timely remarks and for working collaboratively with shared purpose and vision to move our university forward despite the external fiscal challenges that have become far too common for all public education in California.

It also is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the 2012-2013 California State University, Long Beach Convocation.  Convocation always gives me an opportunity to share with you some of our recent and notable achievements while also attempting to forecast what we should expect in the coming academic year, which even Las Vegas odds-makers refuse to bet on.  

First, however, I would like to welcome our new cohort of tenure-track faculty, visiting faculty and lecturers who bring to us very impressive academic credentials, backgrounds, and diverse talents.  Please know that all of our dedicated faculty and staff will certainly do our best to ensure that you get off to a great start in your new careers at The Beach.

I also would like to welcome a small cohort of new staff members to our campus family.  Our people, our faculty and staff, are the reason over 78,000 students applied to our campus this year.  And it is our faculty and staff who are the reason why we continue to set new graduation records each and every year.

I also would like to use this opportunity to invite you to our campus “move in” day tomorrow morning.  On this special day we will welcome and help more than 2,500 of our residential students and their parents relocate to their new campus homes.  We will start around 9 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m.  If you join us, you too will find yourself mesmerized by witnessing how six to eight car loads of junk get crammed into these little dorm rooms.

This year also is going to be very special for our residential campus students because we are initiating a new Residential College system much like that used at Oxford, Cambridge, Rice, UC San Diego, and SUNY Binghamton.  This new Residential College system, where students will be members of either Beachside College, Hillside College or Parkside College, will provide our students with many new governing, athletic, academic and public service opportunities.  Each of these colleges will compete with the others in a variety of learning-based programs further linking our students to many additional college and university-based opportunities.  As we all know, learning on a university campus is not confined to the classroom but occurs at all hours of the day wherever our students reside.

The Year in Review

Prior to getting into our current budgetary situation I would like to briefly highlight some major accomplishments by our university faculty, staff and students.  Before this, however, and before I share with you some of these important numbers and data as I usually do, I would like to warn you, as I have done on previous occasions, that since this is a major presidential election year, and I did grow up in the state of Florida, that there are three kinds of people from the state of Florida: those who can count and those who cannot.    

Looking back at last year I would like to first begin by expressing my sincerest gratitude to all of our and faculty and staff members who helped our university set a new record in external grants and contracts through their research and research-related activities.  In 2011-12 we generated nearly $50 million in external research funding, which is nearly 15 percent more than previously generated.

I would also like to thank our development and university relations staff and the thousands of donors who raised nearly $28 million in private philanthropic dollars for our campus.  As we continue to proceed with our first capital campaign, last year's gifts pushed us over the $200 million mark and has allowed our university endowment to exceed $45 million.   

Due to a continued pattern of rapid state funding disinvestment in California, which I will talk more about later, external funding in the form of research grants and contracts and private giving support will only increase in significance.  This is one reason why Provost Para and I decided to reallocate more funding to promote faculty research activities this year.   

I would also like to thank all of you for your continued commitment to our campus’ “Highly Valued Degree Initiative” which places our students at the center of attention as we all collaboratively work to ensure that they have the best possible opportunity to graduate.  We embarked on this initiative over six years ago and the results speak for themselves.  Despite our horrible state budget, we have maintained our highest graduation rates in our history and continue to graduate some of the largest graduating classes in our 63-year history.

It was because of your commitment, collaboration, and sacrifices these last couple of academic years that our university was named by The Education Trust organization in Washington D.C. as one of only five colleges and universities in the nation for our affordability, graduation success, and continued commitment to low income students.   

Furthermore, our graduation success, low comparative tuition and fees, and our very low student loan indebtedness, which ranks among the lowest in the nation, allowed Cal State Long Beach to be invited with only six other public universities to meet with President Obama and Secretary Duncan.  On December 4 we met in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing to advise the President about new policies that could reward campuses such as ours while also putting federal pressure on other institutions that do not prioritize graduating students, remaining affordable, and keeping students out of debt.  Last year, student loan indebtedness was $1 trillion and surpassed total credit card debt in America.             

This avenue to work with the President, Secretary of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Staff, which has been going on since December, has given me a degree of optimism that many federal higher education reforms are on the way and campuses such as ours could very well be at the center of the new solutions.

From my perspective, it really does not matter to me if we are closely working with Democrats or Republicans on the Hill.  If they want to promote the kinds of federal policies that help the Cal State Long Beaches of this nation to continue forging forward with our public mission, while also putting federal funding pressures on states to remain engaged in their public education funding responsibilities, then we welcome their efforts and support.  

Without your hard work, we would not be at the table or in a position to help shape new federal policies.  More importantly, though, it has been your dedication and hard work that has changed tens of thousands of lives.  It is a moral and economic imperative that we help our students understand the lifelong significance of their degrees.  Despite what some politicians and columnists have recently stated about how going to college is not a universal need, reducing educational investment in future human capital restricts not only access, but lifelong opportunity.  Anthony Carnevale at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce stated in a recent report, The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm, “College has proven to be the best umbrella in this historic economic storm and the best preparation for the economy that is emerging in recovery.” So thank you for all your efforts and commitment.

Furthermore, there are a couple of other areas that I would like to recognize for their efforts this past year.  First, I would also like to thank our university police and security officers for keeping our campus among the safest in the nation.  Also, we are grateful to all of those working in an ongoing capacity to make our university “greener” and more environmentally friendly.  For our ASI and the new water bottle stations to our bike rental stations and new bike paths to the nearly 9,000 students, faculty, and staff who utilize the free UPASS through Long Beach City Transit, we are all grateful.  Imagine 9,000 more cars coming and going from campus each day.  For my office, that means 9,000 less parking complaints.    

Finally, I am also pleased to recognize for the fourth consecutive year that our Intercollegiate Athletic Program was one of a very small number of public universities in California to have every one of our 18 athletic teams meet the NCAA's Academic Progress Ratings standard.  This measures a team's progress toward graduation and has become the "gold standard" academic measurement used by the NCAA.  Not only did our student athletes excel in the classroom, but we won six of 18 Big West Conference championships and for the third time in four years brought home the Big West Commissioners Cup which is given to the most successful university athletic program.

Also, I must congratulate our three Long Beach State graduates who brought home one gold and two silver medals.  Overall, 79 nations won medals in London. If Cal State Long Beach were considered a country by itself, we would have tied for 41st in the world medal count, above countries like Greece, Portugal and Saudi Arabia.        

As for the London Olympics, I must also add that thanks to an early rather controversial federal law more commonly known as Title IX, the women of the U.S. Olympic Team by themselves won enough medals to finish third in the world in overall medal standings.

The New Academic Year 2012-2013

Prior to discussing our university and state budget, I want to share with you a couple of improvements that should benefit most of our campus this year.  First, our day care situation has been stressed some for many years and due to our new collaboration with the VA Medical Center and their director Isabell Duff, we will be opening a new day care center that they have constructed and we will manage through our College of Health and Human Services.  This center will provide nearly three times the day care spaces for the children of our faculty and staff that are currently available.  This project also ushers in a new model of collaboration between the VA Medical Center and Cal State Long Beach that is unprecedented.  We share the same campus, why don't we share everything else?      

Also, some summer campus construction projects will make walking and biking through campus easier, and eventually make teaching in the LA buildings safer and more technologically advanced.  Forty percent of the university's classes are taught in our LA classrooms and with seismic and other upgrades, the teaching and learning environment should improve significantly by the end of this academic year. 

As you probably already know as well, in July the CSU Board of Trustees officially endorsed the Governor’s Tax Initiative, Proposition 30, and will possibly adopt some additional measures in September that could help to mitigate the funding hole that will be created if this initiative does not pass.  We also believe that in September the Board will ratify the new contract agreement with the CFA that was recently agreed upon.   

As for our new academic year, the 2012-2013 academic year, we start as we have begun four of the last five years, without knowing the full extent of our state budget. 

As usual, there are many balls still in the air and we continue to work collectively to plan for the possible worst case scenario which is another major mid-year reduction, a $250 million cut to the CSU and around a $30 million reduction for our campus.  The best case scenario, which is a much lower reduction but still a $132 million budgetary reduction to the CSU and over $10 million reduction for our campus in the form of a student fee give back, is also a possibility after November. 

We do not know which of these scenarios will play out and they hinge on a November 6 vote by the citizens of California on Proposition 30, the Governor's Tax Initiative.  As you know, I cannot tell you to vote yes or no as a state employee.  But I can tell you that a “yes” vote certainly protects our budget better than a “no” vote.     

Then as we move into the mid-year, January will bring an entirely new state budget and a new federal budget with substantial ramifications for higher education. This tax referendum that will slightly raise the state sales tax and increase taxes on the wealthiest Californians—or millionaires as some have called them, or the “job creators” as others have begun calling them—has and will continue to gain significant attention in the coming months. 

With reference to the term “job creators,” all I know is that it was not Mr. Peabody’s coal train or Mr. Buck Duke’s tobacco wagons that led my grandparents out of Noy Hollow, Kentucky.  It was public education and an opportunity to attend a public university with a mission very much like ours. 

What can't get lost in this discourse of the day is that the CSU has already been cut $750 million, or 30 percent during the last 16 months. 

Overall, for our university alone, we have witnessed a decline in state support from $205 million in 2007-08 to $131 million this fall with the potential of losing $31 million additional dollars if the Governors Tax Initiative fails.  This means we have gone from receiving nearly 42 percent of all our revenues from the state in 2007-08 to 24 percent this fall, and with the potential of this dropping to 19 percent this November.  Although student tuition and fees have helped to mitigate these draconian reductions, student contributions have only replaced a bit less than half of these state cuts.   

However, despite the urgency of this immediate issue, we can’t lose sight of the more macro-considerations at stake here.  The fact that California, like many other states, has decided to abandon its previous commitments to public higher education and affordable access is the major challenge for all of us.  Currently, based on its tax effort or the wealth of the state compared to previous years, the last time California spent less on higher education was 1965.  For the nation, however, it was 1966.  Californians everywhere should be discomforted to know that this state now spends less on higher education in tax effort than Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, West Virginia, Alabama, and North Dakota.     

In fact, if these trends do not change, states will be out of the higher education investment business entirely by 2045.  Colorado will be the first to not spend a single penny on higher education or its students in the year 2022.  California is following a very dangerous national trend that is leading to its own economic demise.

You see, as Carnevale's “The College Advantage” report indicates, “nearly 200,000 jobs for workers with at least a bachelor's degree were added during this last recession, and 2 million jobs for college-educated workers have been added during the recovery.”  In other words, “more than half of the jobs created in the recovery have gone to workers with a bachelor's degree or better, even though these highly educated workers make up just a little more than only one third of the labor force.”  Or as The Economist stated in the late 1990s and you have probably heard me say, when asked does Horatio Alger exist in America today, the response was yes, “but Horatio has to go to college first.”

We must continue to fight together to help society fully understand what is at stake here.  Do we really want to be a part of the first generation in U.S. history to leave the next generation with less economic and educational opportunity and a lower standard of living?  We all play a role in working to ensure this does not happen.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to thank you again for your commitment to our students and your dedication to public education.  These are not easy times but I do remain optimistic because the detrimental trends that we are living through are not inevitable and are simply based on societal choices.  If we can put a dune buggy on Mars that shoots lasers through rocks, as a society we can easily choose to reinvest in our children and students.  We have the wealth as a nation and the knowledge.  In fact, how did we get the Mars Rover to Mars safely?  Education, that’s how!

From my perspective, the wealthy or millionaires of this country have been mislabeled by some as “the job creators.”  The real job creators are in our kindergartens, middle schools, high schools, and all of you in this room. You are the real job creators!  

This room is full of this nation's job creators because you believe that the greatest natural resource of any nation is its human capital and the ability of an educated person to build and create new ideas, economies, and advanced societies.  This is not a new concept. 

Let me finish with this point.  On July 2, a little over a month ago, I joined around 60 other public university presidents at the Library of Congress in Washington to place a wreath at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in our caps and gowns later that afternoon.  You see, July 2 marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the great 1862 Morrill Act, or the Land-Grant Act as it is more commonly known. This federal legislation created a federal/state partnership whereby the federal government grants thousands of acres of land to each state to be used to generate funding to build new public universities.

For most states, these became their first public universities which led to the creation of hundreds more in decades to come including the Los Angeles/Orange County State College—or Cal State Long Beach.  It took federal pressure to force states to build public higher education institutions and we should all call on the federal government to place the same kind of pressure on states, like California, to keep them from abandoning these important public obligations.

If you recall, in President Obama’s State of Union Address this past January he stated “that we are putting colleges and universities on notice” regarding their tuition and fee escalation, but he also stated “that we are putting states on notice as well with future federal funding penalties to those states that continue to abandon public higher education.”

For those who say these are too difficult times economically to reinvest in public higher education, let me remind them that these times are nothing compared to what President Lincoln and the Congress faced in 1862.  In fact, just two months prior to the Morrill Act’s passage, 24,000 U.S. citizens lost their lives on the Shiloh battlefield and just one day before this monumental educational Act was passed, 36,000 U.S. citizens died in the Seven Days Battles in Virginia.  And during the next year, two months prior to Gettysburg, the Act of Incorporation was signed into law which created the National Academy of Sciences.    
You see, these are simply choices we can make as a state and nation, and we are going to need all of your help to get us back on the right track.  Abraham Lincoln believed in the power of human capital as one of our nation’s greatest natural resources, and in public higher education’s ability to transform our economy. 

Never forget that you are this nation’s real “job creators” because you believe in the human mind, which is every nation’s greatest natural resource.   

Thank you for your dedication to our students and to public education.

Good luck this year and thank you for your patience.

Go Beach!

F. King Alexander
President