A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
September 9, 2004 Volume 35/Number 1

From the President
An American University

Since the founding of the colonial colleges—Harvard College was the first in 1636—American institutions of higher education have been committed as much to the development of character and the quality of the mind as to the building of community. Those early colleges were envisioned as a social investment, focused largely on preparing new generations for democratic leadership and participation. As such, they were instruments of direct service to an emerging nation.

The establishment of land-grant colleges in 1862 sharpened this sense of service. What emerged was the vision of a marriage between the intellectual and the utilitarian. For late nineteenth-century America, this meant applying knowledge to solve the daunting problems confronting the country in an era of rapid social, technological, and economic change. Across the spectrum of American higher education—public and private, rural and urban, land grant and liberal arts—a proud service mission matched the mood and needs of the nation. A strong consensus of public policy and institutional engagement formed to underscore the critical role of higher education in serving the needs of a democratic national community. For faculty, in particular, public service increasingly became regarded not only as legitimate work, but privileged.

We at Chico State and throughout the California State University are the inheritors of this tradition. Building upon the common mission of the CSU—to provide high-quality, affordable higher education to meet the ever-changing workforce needs of the people of California—Chico State has articulated service as a fundamental tenet of its identity and strategic plan. Moreover, we emphasize not only the obligations of service, but also the value of service to others in defining our institutional character. As such, we recognize that the congruence of individual and institutional goals and values is a hallmark of a high-quality and high-morale educational community.

Meeting the workforce needs of the people of California is a specific obligation of the CSU, but it is only one expression of Chico State’s service record. Through CAVE and CLIC and other voluntary service organizations, for example, our students provide thousands of hours of service each year to local and regional clients. Our fine and performing arts programs, our several lecture series and symposia, all so enrich the cultural and intellectual climate of our campus and community that it is difficult to imagine what a vastly different place the university and surrounding area would be without them. Through the effective use of technology and innovative partnerships, such as the Northern California K–16 Partnership, we deliver instruction throughout the North State and collaborate with other higher education providers and promoters to encourage greater college participation among the region’s residents. And the largest portion of the nearly $30 million of grant and contract activity in which our faculty are engaged each year is focused on improving the quality of life for North State residents.

All of these engagements underscore two key, interrelated elements of effective service. First, service flows not only from the inclination to serve, but also the capacity to do so. Our institutional capacity is predicated on the expertise of our faculty and staff and their ability to bring that expertise to bear not only in teaching and supporting our students but also in addressing the needs of the university’s local and regional communities. For faculty, especially, their effectiveness in helping the university fulfill its mission of teaching and service builds on the broad associational ties of their disciplines and the opportunities for discourse within them. The bottom line is clear: the university must invest in the currency of its faculty as a means to strengthen the capacity and credibility of its service through them.

Second, a regional service emphasis is far from implying a provincial academic outlook, identity, or reputation. Even though the 12 counties of the North State, an area as large as the state of Indiana, constitute the largest service region for any campus in the CSU, the basis of our ability to serve well this region extends even further. It is built upon the strength and breadth of the faculty’s professional engagements, a cosmopolitan orientation that enables their participation in the most current conversations of their national and international disciplinary communities. Although faculty research and scholarship at an institution like Chico State is not principally focused on establishing the frontiers of knowledge in one’s field, faculty should at least know what is happening at the edges of their disciplines. Moreover, in seeking to connect and apply that knowledge to the communities we serve, faculty should be confident that such work matters in the overall scheme of their careers and the academy’s reward structure.

Connecting faculty work to the needs and quality of a democratic society effects a powerful affirmation: we are an American university, and we are the university of the North State. Our future is tied to the traditions of the former and focused on the obligations of the latter. Our future is rooted in the very idea of the American academy and its most distinctive element—the promise of service. Our future is in this mission and in this community.

—Paul J. Zingg

 

 

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