California State University, Long Beach
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Conoley Asks, “What’s Next?”

Published: September 1, 2015

CSULB President Jane Close Conoley began her second year in office on Friday, Aug. 21, when she welcomed back the campus community to the Carpenter Center during the university’s annual convocation.

Conoley wondered, what’s next?

“The question I think about…often while watching squirrels and eating…is what are we going to do now to ensure our university’s viability over the next 66 years?” Conoley asked. “I raise this question because we’re in a struggle for the survival of U.S. public higher education, as it exists today. Obviously, nothing lasts forever in a frozen form, but there are significant threats to the best parts of our existence as an urban land grant university. More on this later as I ask you to plan with me to excel in what’s now called a VUCA environment, i.e., Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.”

View the 2015 convocation in its entirety here.

The president pointed to the campus’ need to be responsive.

“Despite the wise advice to not fix things that are not broken, I think, number one, we live in changing times that demand responsiveness on our side, that is the VUCA environment I mentioned earlier—volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.

“And number two, that built into our university realities may be processes and norms that do not enable success in the 21st century, for example, disciplinary silos that limit our ability to focus on the grand challenges of the day which include health care, water, climate change, terrorism, immigration, poverty/racism, energy, globalization, sustainable economic development, political corruption/gridlock, and other matters of national and international concern. Land grant universities were created to work on societal challenges as they emerged–and we certainly have some in this century.”

Conoley pointed with pride to the success of the university’s Declare Campaign that saw the campus raise more than $225 million on three foundations—unequalled access, transformation and greater community.

“Until recently, I have thought of these pillars as associated mainly with our students’ opportunity, education and futures,” she said. “I’ve started wondering how we might ensure everyone in The Beach family is included in these goals. That is, what does faculty and staff unequalled access, greater community and transformation look like?”

Conoley looked to a future of private support.

“In the 21st century (with thanks to Michael Crow and his ASU colleagues), we must prepare to be increasingly privately supported while remaining publicly accountable; and, be willing to take major responsibility for the well-being of our region–we have so much to contribute from each of our colleges and divisions,” she said. Crow is the president of Arizona State University.

Organizational issues loom large, according to Conoley.

“I think we should ask ourselves if we are organized and/or hire new faculty and staff in ways to reach new levels of achievement for our students, faculty, staff and alumni,” she said. “Do our traditional departmental structures make the most sense? Should we begin to organize ourselves in ways that bring the power of the sciences and humanities together; the research in social sciences and health more connected to the realities of diverse populations; better leverage the expertise of both our student affairs and academic affairs professionals for student development, the ingenuity of the engineer with the creativity of the artist; the performance/communication skills from our Cole Conservatory paired with the planning and business acumen from our business school–all supported by our vast library and electronic resources?

“In addition, I think we should work to translate the excitement and commitment generated by our exceptional athletic programs, including club and intramural sports into the everyday experience of most of our students,” she concluded.

After years of tight budgets, material rewards may lurk in the new term.

“I have asked the provost to work with faculty leaders, deans and department chairs to develop strategies for addressing faculty compensation challenges such as compression and inversion while, of course, working hard to match the market in total compensation for every one of employees, and meeting our collective bargaining obligations,” she said.

And, the president noted, the campus has a destiny to face.

“We have a charter and destiny to serve our community having been founded on an urban land grant,” she said. “We have world-class faculty and staff whose work at The Beach can add to their reputations as well as our university’s prestige. We are innovative and entrepreneurial enough to develop compensation improvements for our hardest working and most accomplished community members. Most of us are in teams that are the basis of our success and whose viability and effectiveness we treasure. We can optimize them.”

As campus progress rises, so does campus spirit.

“We are poised to continue our evolution as an urban land grant university,” she said. “One that parleys local action into global recognition; creates budget models that buffer against volatile state budgets and political swings; values student learning and creates and evaluates innovative pedagogies to ensure it, and takes responsibility for the economic development of its region. Tall order. So go Beach!”