|February 5, 2004
Volume 34 Number 7
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
From the President's Desk
Working Hard, Working Together
There is probably no matter more immediately worrisome for all of us at CSU, Chico (and for all public higher education in California) than the condition of the state's economy and its implications for the university's budget. The governor's January budget message brought the disappointing, but expected, news that we will continue to face tough fiscal challenges in our ability to deliver on our mission. At stake are resource questions that fundamentally threaten the promise of public higher education in this state: to provide higher education that is affordable and accessible and characterized by high quality and sound service to help meet the needs of California's people.
The fiscal challenges we face—the erosion of state support, the pressure to hold down student fees and indirect costs, soaring infrastructure and health benefits costs, increased competition for private dollars, to name just a few—make it clear that we have to develop our financial future in very different ways than the CSU has largely been accustomed to. We must build stronger partnerships with those who depend upon our success to accomplish our primary goal: to educate and prepare students to be lifelong learners, informed and engaged citizens, and effective workers. Notwithstanding the arguments for state support that we must constantly press, we must also bring our case and needs more aggressively to our students and their parents, our alumni and friends, our corporate partners and supporters. The Chico "story" is worth telling, worth celebrating. We need to emphasize to our audiences that their stake is our future.
As Chico has already recognized, universities can—and must—do more than simply muddle through bad budget times. My confidence in Chico's ability to do this is rooted in my deepening awareness of what makes Chico tick. With a powerful sense of place and purpose and pride, the university community has worked hard to achieve what it has become. They have worked hard together, and they have worked hard at working together. The connectedness and interdependence of our roles and work and hopes—and the spirit of that engagement—are the keys to ensuring that we will weather this storm in a manner both successful and exemplary.
I bring some clear expectations and understandings to the conversations we must have as a community. First, our conversations must be open and inclusive. In fact, one of the most telling features of institutions characterized by both high quality and high morale is the extent to which governance is shared and leadership participatory. To be sure, there are different roles and responsibilities for different institutional players. But defining institutional direction and purpose—and determining resource allocations as a result—cannot be an isolated exercise with surprising results. I believe that administrative leadership, in particular, should set an example for listening and asking, and that begins with me.
Second, it is critical to demonstrate that we can allocate (or reallocate) resources in terms of clearly articulated priorities. We must demonstrate that those priorities will make Chico more outstanding than it now is in terms of teaching, academic reputation, student achievement, and service. These demonstrations are important to remind and encourage us that a record of distinction already marks the university and that this record underscores our case with respect to both state funding and private support. Donors, especially, want to know that the university is committed to high performance, that it knows what it is doing, and that it uses its resources (and their gifts) wisely.
Positioning Chico for greater distinction and focusing its resources to this effect are principal aims of "The Strategic Plan for the Future of CSU, Chico." There is a lot that is clear and compelling in this document, but no element more so than its declaration that student learning is the heart of the university's mission and the key measurement of its success.
This is how it should be. Nothing we do is more important than ensuring an environment that enables our students to discover the joys of learning and to become contributing members of their communities. All facets and operations of a university must be justified and measured in terms of their support of the teaching/learning process, or of their direct support of other critical institutional missions and functions, such as research and service. To this effect, we must ask ourselves if academic excellence is the first priority of the university. And we must have a clear and concurrent sense of what the hallmarks of such excellence are. For this awareness will give us needed focus to maintain the highest academic quality where it now exists and to address key areas where academic quality and support for student learning and personal development are critical and can be improved.
I look forward to a great deal of communication with you on academic excellence, student success, and the many other matters that define and engage us. I anticipate that these conversations will be rich, spirited, open, and inclusive. Let me conclude, though, with one further point about resources and choices.
There are hard choices ahead of us and frank conversations that we must have in order to make them. This is the case no matter what our budget looks like. But if our values and priorities are clear, and if our conversations are respectful and honest, we will organize and marshal our resources effectively and wisely. I have no doubt that the university is committed to this approach. And I have no doubt that this commitment and the obligations and expectations to translate it into concerted action will characterize our work together for the future of CSU, Chico.
—Paul J. Zingg
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