In his first State of the University address Tuesday, California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro painted a picture of a dramatically changed system from the one that existed 18 months earlier.
“This public health crisis has disrupted our lives in previously unimaginable ways, and it’s brought about great economic uncertainty, and like so many hardships, has disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable among us,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “Compounding this tragedy over the past year and a half have been horrific acts of injustice, violence and hatred. Our nation continues to be deeply and bitterly divided.”
But despite the pandemic and racist attacks against Black and Asian Americans this past year, Castro said the 23-campus community has shown remarkable courage and resilience.
“Our return to relative normalcy has been and will continue to be in fits and starts, but that return is inevitable,” he said. “This is certainly one of the most challenging times in the CSU history, and while the pandemic may not be through with us quite yet, we can’t let our guard down.”
Castro indicated that despite these problems, early data indicates that almost 133,000 students earned degrees in the 2020-21 academic year, which would be “an all-time high,” he said.
He also applauded the start of significant changes happening across the system like Humboldt State University beginning the transition to becoming CSU’s third polytechnic university; CSUCCESS, an initiative to narrow the digital divide by providing Apple products to more than 35,000 new and transfer students; and a new science, technology, engineering and math hub at CSU Northridge to close opportunity gaps, particularly for Latino students.
But Castro, who took over as system chancellor in January, said the system could and should be doing more for students and faculty.
“The voices of the pandemic cry out to us to be more inclusive and equitable,” he said, adding that one of his highest priorities as chancellor includes ensuring “that our diverse students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who authentically understand their lived experiences.”
Today, 45% of CSU staff identify as a person of color compared with about one-third of people about a decade ago, said Castro, a Latino who is the first person of color to serve as chancellor.
Among instructional faculty, only 35% identify as a person of color, he said, adding, “We must do more.”
But the CSU should have done more to support faculty and students in the past 18 months, said Charles Toombs, president of the California Faculty Association, the union representing CSU faculty members, in a video response to the CSU’s status report.
“A lot of faculty needed training and support, and when the CSU pushed back, we stepped up and secured us more money to be properly trained to convert classes online,” Toombs said. He also chided the CSU system for ending additional Covid-19 paid sick leave which forced the union to advocate for Senate Bill 95, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed. That legislation offers Covid-19 paid sick leave but only through Sept. 30.
And despite its rhetoric, the CSU hasn’t offered clear guidelines on how it will provide training so faculty members have a better understanding and can more effectively communicate with students and other staff from different cultural backgrounds despite allocating $10 million in its budget to do so, said Aparna Sinha, a professor at Cal Maritime.
Sinha told CSU trustees that she leads union-sponsored workshops on anti-racism across CSU and, “I … constantly see and hear about the gap in understanding around anti-racism and equity practices across the campuses. Our faculty need professional development training around social justice, and it is time our administrators start valuing it.”
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