How do we best serve our state, our students and our nation as a public university in a rapidly changing world?
CSUN President Erika D. Beck joined a distinguished panel of higher education leaders on Nov. 16 to address this question during a one-hour session, “Delivering On The Public University Mission in The New Now.” The panel was part of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Annual Meeting, conducted this year on Zoom.
The discussion was moderated by Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who will serve as the first woman president of Northwestern University when she takes the helm there in summer 2022. Also participating in the panel were Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University; Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston; and William F. Tate IV, president of Louisiana State University.
The university leaders discussed the expectations and demands that public universities face coming out of the pandemic, and they explored a range of issues, including equity gaps, sustainability and economic development. They also shared ideas and examples of what their institutions were doing to drive lasting, transformational change.
“We are connecting our hubs of innovation and knowledge creation with our community business and industry partners through the greater integration of research with education training and entrepreneurship,” said Beck, sharing the university’s efforts to help develop the state’s economy. She cited CSUN’s NASA-sponsored Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM — which supports underserved students pursuing science, technology, engineering, arts, humanities and math — as a great example of the university’s multidisciplinary approach.
Beck also highlighted CSUN’s leadership in sustainability efforts.
“We’re integrating sustainability into our operations, infrastructure, outreach and education,” she said. “One of the cool things we’re doing pertains to faculty-student research collaboration in food production. We’re looking at the fact that with climate change and population growth, we need to focus on sustainable agricultural practices without further destruction of farmland. We are also committed to a zero-carbon footprint.”
Asked to share her thoughts on communicating the value of universities in the midst of challenging times, Beck spoke about the value of a CSUN education.
“I have always grounded those conversations in the fact that we are at the top of every national list in advancing the social mobility of our students,” Beck said. “We are incredibly grateful to be located in a state that has a governor, a legislature and a populace that deeply values and invests in the advancement of knowledge and public higher education. But we also have worked very hard to ensure that level of confidence is there.”
To end the session, Blank, chair-elect of the APLU Board of Directors, asked each leader to share one sentence on what universities need to do to deliver on their public mission.
“Harnessing the intellectual capital that we have as a collection of educators, leaders and colleagues — that will really allow us to envision that future moving forward,” Beck said.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The theme of this year’s annual meeting was “The New Now: The Promise of Higher Education in a Rapidly Changing World,” and featured a host of other prominent speakers and educators, including keynote speaker Eric Schmidt, technologist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and former chief executive officer of Google.