A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Nov. 5, 2009 Volume 40 / Number 2

  Photo of President Zingg behind his desk

From the President's Desk

Beyond “As Usual”

Whether you have been in California public higher education for a short or long time—for me, it’s been almost two decades—you have unlikely experienced an academic year begining amidst so much uncertainty and frustration and contradiction as this one.

In order to address partially a huge budget deficit and to save jobs, the California State University initiated a system of furloughs for almost its entire workforce. Yet, despite good intentions, furloughs have only marginally accomplished their stated goals. It is not just the cynics among us who have concluded that furloughs are simply a pay reduction by another name.

As part of a systemwide strategy to effect greater alignment between state support and enrollments, our campus has been directed to reduce our California resident student enrollment by almost 2,200 FTES by the end of the 2010–2011 academic year. But we started this year with near-record enrollments, the consequence of such positive developments as high average course loads for our students, high yield rates on our offers of admission, and high continuing student numbers. In other words, amidst success in attracting students and serving them, we must now restrict access.

And as the first quarter tax revenues for the new fiscal year reveal for California, the state is already under its modest estimates by over $1.1 billion. There is no indication that this will be other than another year of budget gridlock in Sacramento and difficult advocacy on behalf of our university.

Yes, this is a formula for weary cynicism. Even more so because it does not require genius to see what must be done—the reaffirmation and restoration of the California Master Plan for High Education and its transformative promise for our society and citizens through access, affordability, and quality.

The issue is how to do it, an effort that has not witnessed much success lately. The efforts, such as they have been, bring to mind the forlorn lament of the former Russian prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who said, “We tried to do better, but everything turned out as usual.”

To be sure, the challenge of bridging the gap between awareness of what is to be done—even awareness founded on broad consensus—and how it is to be done, is daunting. But all around us there is evidence—compelling, clear, urgent evidence—that we are taking matters into our own hands and not settling for things “as usual.” Consider these examples:

We are witnessing a major effort to re-imagine and reconstruct General Education on our campus. This involves not just the content of a GE curriculum, but also its delivery and the measurement of its goals.

We are painting an unvarnished picture of the challenges we are facing to our alumni, the parents of our students, our advisory councils, and donors. Their overwhelming response has been engagement, not avoidance. They ask, “How can we help?” In the face of a poor economy and the withering conditions we face at Chico State to serve our students, Vice President for University Advancement Rick Ellison reports an extraordinary first quarter of fund-raising in our new fiscal year and some of the most successful fund-raising weeks we have ever had out of our calling center.

We are enlisting the enthusiastic support of our local friends and neighbors to challenge the enrollment reductions we have presently been assigned by the Chancellor’s Office. How successful we will be in doing this remains to be seen. But the most important and gratifying aspect of this matter is the willingness of so many key leaders of our business and civic communities to stand up for Chico State.

Most important, we remain focused on our mission-driven priorities to foster student success and to serve our region and state. Strengthening GE does this; raising private support does this; forging stronger town/gown bonds does this. And so much more.

It is easy to permit obstacles to block our vision and to check our resolve. It is also easy to expect or wait for someone else to make our case for us. But that’s not how we will succeed. For the task at hand is not just knowing what is to be done, or, even, knowing how to do it. It is getting on with it. Our story is in the transparency of our goals and our performance.

Paul J. Zingg, President