City Club Speech

anuary 29, 2010

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Thank you Madame Chair, Members of the Board of the City Club, members of the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees, and guests.

I’d like to first recognize my wife, Patsy Bilbao Berkman. I would also like to acknowledge the Unger family members here today. The Unger family is one of the sponsors, and for the past 10 years partnered with Cleveland State University through the Unger International Center for Local Government and Leadership.

I want to extend my personal thanks to Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who is in attendance today, for his considerable help and guidance these past six months. And I want to recognize my fellow college presidents as we collaborate on public education in Northeast Ohio. (Lester Lefton, Luis Proenza, Andy Roth, Jay Alan Gershen) I look forward to working with all of them.

I have received a warm and welcoming reception from students and faculty, as well as from community leaders including Mayor Frank Jackson, Council President Martin Sweeney (both CSU graduates, by the way), City Council, our Congressional delegation, state leaders including Governor Ted Strickland, Senate President Bill Harris, House Speaker Armond Budish, and the Northeast Ohio legislative delegation. They do great work on our behalf, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized.

It is indeed an honor to be invited to address this forum and join the ranks of nearly a century’s worth of illustrious speakers. The City Club is renowned far beyond the borders of Cleveland as a Citadel of Free Speech, and as a forum designed to foster community dialogue that opens new vistas on the present and the future. I consider it a great privilege to add my name to its long and storied history.

I have spent most of my life in cities. Like many city kids of working class parents, I did not have the opportunities to physically or mentally stray very far from my neighborhood. City kids live in a small world and their options are constrained. I left the city for the first time when I was around 12 to go to a camp in Pennsylvania for underprivileged children. That was when I discovered that vegetables grew in the ground.

I’m a product of the New Jersey public education system, but no one back then would have pegged me as a future college president.

After enrolling as a part-time student at William Paterson College, I discovered that I liked college almost as much as I hated high school. My first course in college was urban sociology – great material, uninspiring professor. It was the late sixties and it was a great time to be a student. Campuses were pulsing with energy to make the world better.

After graduating from Paterson, I was accepted into the graduate program at Princeton University with full support.

For the first time, I was able to devote myself entirely to my education, and not have to focus on how to pay for it. That incredible opportunity has made me keenly aware of the significant challenges that students who must work to afford college encounter – and the tremendous amount of freedom students receive when they are able to devote all of their energy to their academic and professional development.

I loved teaching, but I also loved the process of creating change. Coaxed by an activist CUNY Chancellor (who had been the first director of the Peace Corps in Africa), I moved into the CUNY administration as University Dean for Urban Affairs.

This position brought me face-to-face with the myriad and complex set of issues that confront urban universities and American cities. I dealt with city, state federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, developing research and technical assistance partnerships with the 21 colleges in CUNY.

Inevitably, these interactions led me to step beyond the confines of academia and into the realm of urban public policy. In 1990, I was honored to serve as Director of the Urban Summit, a ground-breaking conference of 35 mayors from America’s largest cities – including Michael White of Cleveland – at which an urban agenda was debated and adopted.

I would like to share with you a passage that I authored from the preamble of this report, which speaks of the centrality of cities to American life:

“Urban centers are the focus of national vitality in trade, manufacturing, finance, law and communications. Cities preserve the lion’s share of America’s history in their museums, libraries and architecture, and educate a large portion of America’s future in their schools and universities. American culture is profoundly affected by the artistic and intellectual communities in the compressed space of cities, spawning advances in every aspect of our lives . . . The American economy is, in reality, comprised of regional economies centered in American cities, within which the fates of central cities, suburbs and rural areas are intertwined.”

At the end of the day, you have to be a suburb of somewhere.

One civic project led to another. I helped prepare New York City’s application for designation as a federal Empowerment Zone, and later co-chaired the Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone Planning Committee. I was appointed director of New York Mayor David Dinkins’ Work Force Commission, and in Florida I chaired Gov. Jeb Bush’s Health Care Summit.

I mention all this because when I tell you I love cities, it is not without a full recognition of the myriad challenges they face, particularly today, in the throes of what some are now calling the Great Recession. And Cleveland has all the classic symptoms most other big cities do – crushing poverty and near poverty, double-digit unemployment, and most ominously for the future, an under-educated population in a world increasingly demanding talented, educated workers.

The crisis of public education in our nation’s cities cannot be ignored, nor should it be minimized. It is a national security crisis, an economic crisis, and a human capital crisis. It is a threat to the very viability of our nation.

The bar has also been raised. Sending students out into the world with a high school diploma used to be public education’s standard of success, but that isn’t enough today.

A two- or four-year post-secondary degree is now almost a threshold requirement for a middle-class life. And the consequences of failing to reach the middle class are devastating – lack of access to health care, inability to accrue savings, inadequate housing, and on and on.

According to the Lumina Foundation, the average salary for an American with a high school diploma today is $27,000, compared with $43,000 for a person with a four-year college degree; a disparity that has grown steadily over the last 30 years.

And this trend will only accelerate in coming years, as more than two-thirds of all new jobs that will be created will require some higher education. According to projections based on government data, at the rate we are producing college graduates, and factoring in baby boomer retirements, there will be a shortage of 15 million post-secondary degree-holding adults in the American work force in the coming decade.

And rest assured, there’s a whole world out there waiting to take up the slack. They’re standing by, just a mouse click away in China, India, Ireland and Brazil. These and many other nations are rapidly gaining on us, achieving degree attainment rates dramatically better than ours – as high as 54 percent among adults aged 25-34, compared with 39 percent in the U.S.

Of the 30 nations who make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 29 have increased degree attainment among their young adults in the last 10 years. The lone exception is the United States, which has fallen from first to tenth among industrialized nations in the percentage of young adults with degrees.

Consider the consequences if that trend doesn’t change. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the jobs we lost overseas were mainly low-skill and low-wage, but since the late ‘90s, seventy percent of all the jobs that have gone off-shore have required at least some college education.

Technology and communications advances have created a phenomenon that has been referred to as “The Death of Distance,” pitting our workers in direct competition with the world’s rapidly expanding work force. And currently, we’re losing.

Our stagnation in degree attainment is particularly acute among low-income, first-generation students and students of color, many of whom reside in our nation’s cities.

More than 30 percent of white, non-Hispanic adult Americans have at least four years of college, compared with just 18 percent of African Americans and 12 percent of Hispanics.

It’s not that these students don’t want to go to college. About 90 percent of low-income teenagers tell researchers they intend to continue their education after high school, but only about half actually enroll in college and far fewer graduate.

Many of our students face a triple hurdle to success. College for them is a challenge economically, academically and socially, and to succeed they need support, guidance and encouragement. Approximately 50 percent of the students at CSU are the first in their family to go to college. Our obligation as educators is not just to enroll students but to graduate them.

It we are not successful in graduating more students, it will be an inexcusable waste of the talent our nation so desperately needs in today’s knowledge-driven, global economy. We all benefit from an educated work force. The Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education estimated that an increase of just one percent in Northeast Ohio’s baccalaureate degree attainment level would boost annual personal income for the region by $2.8 billion dollars.

In his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Obama stated: “The best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.”

If we are looking for a way our city, state and nation can return to growth and prosperity, education holds the key.

It’s a huge challenge. But it is also why I come to the presidency of Cleveland State University at this pivotal moment in history with a sense of excitement at the opportunity to help make CSU part of the solution.

Urban public universities have a special relationship with their host cities. They provide a point of access to quality higher education for the city’s residents, many of whom are precluded by circumstance from other options. And note that I used the word “quality” – access without excellence serves no one in the end.

Urban universities have a special obligation and opportunity to become fully engaged in the social, economic and physical development of their cities and neighborhoods, to partner with civic, business and other stakeholders to address common problems.

Public universities are often referred to by urban planners as “anchor institutions.” Besides their obvious role in work force development, they have a large economic impact through employment and spending. And they serve as magnets, attracting businesses and highly skilled, talented people.

As president of CSU, I will be guided by the principle that our mission should reflect the needs of our students, our neighborhood, our city, our civic and business community, and our academic strengths. With that as our focus, I believe Cleveland State’s impact on this community will be profound.

And since coming here, I have been heartened and energized by the vast store of good will that exists for CSU in the Cleveland area. People here want us to succeed.

There are lots of encouraging signs. There is a palpable sense of energy at Cleveland State that gives me confidence the University understands the challenges before us, and is ready to meet them head on.

Enrollment this year is at a 14-year high. In a sign of our increasing productivity in research and graduate education, the University awarded over 30 doctoral degrees at our winter commencement. We currently have three joint Ph.D. programs with the Cleveland Clinic in areas of emergent science: 1) Clinical-Bioanalytical Chemistry, 2) Applied Biomedical Engineering and 3) Regulatory Biology.

We are proud of our relationship with the Cleveland Clinic and the Lerner Research Institute.

In addition to this collaboration, we already send our health science students for clinical experience to Metro Health, the Clinic, University Hospitals and St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

We have identified “health” as a signature theme at CSU, a natural fit given the area’s outstanding medical and health-related institutions.

To add to the urban and medical theme, last week President Jay Alan Gershen, the new president of Northeast Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Pharmacy, and I met to chart a course for collaboration between NEOUCOM and CSU. I am delighted to work with him as a collaborator. Our goal is to use our health sciences program to enhance our research and provide vitally needed health professionals.

These are examples of what I said earlier about the need for urban universities to reflect who they are and where they are.

On January 6, President Barack Obama held a program at the White House to spotlight the work of the National Math and Science Initiative and its UTeach program in preparing a new generation of highly qualified math and science teachers.

I am proud to announce that CSU was selected as one of the 6 universities in the nation for funding in the second round of the UTeach program. There are now twenty across the country offering this program applied to advancing math and science education.

In addition to announcing CSU’s inclusion in UTeach, the President recognized one of our own, Sally Pellegrin, with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Ms. Pellegrin holds a BS in education and a M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from Cleveland State, and is a 5th and 6th grade science teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Clara E. Westropp school.

I ask Ms. Pellegrin to stand and be recognized.

In the domain of public education, I am very excited about the proposed partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the College of Education and Human Services to establish a K-12 school on the CSU campus. The benefits of such an arrangement are many – it would provide a real-life laboratory for the teachers of tomorrow we are training, it would spark collaborative research, and it would create a unique learning environment open to all students in the city of Cleveland.

“CSU’s smart school plan” was the headline of the January 16 editorial published in The Plain Dealer. It went on to say, “If Cleveland hopes to hold on to young downtown residents as they become parents, it needs a blockbuster local school to seal the deal.”

A campus school would be part of a larger and even more ambitious vision – the revitalization of the area surrounding Cleveland State. When I arrived here, I was immediately struck by the amazing potential of the neighborhood.

It boasts the second-largest theatre district in the United States. We are considering the possibility of moving all of our arts programs there – including graphic arts, studio arts, theater, dance, TV, radio, film and digital media – to form a vibrant new arts campus within PlayhouseSquare.

This will also help us unify two significant development nodes on the Euclid Corridor.

In short, the Campus District has the makings of a great city neighborhood, a place where people will want to live, work and shop. I envision members of our faculty and staff, as well as anyone else attracted by a cosmopolitan lifestyle, moving there, sending their children to school there and together building a diverse, exciting new destination right in the heart of Cleveland.

Cleveland State is already making its investment in the neighborhood, with $300 million in new construction underway or scheduled. These projects include the new Student Center, the College of Education and Human Services building, dormitories and a parking garage.

The dorms will bring more students downtown to live on campus, and the Student Center will provide the campus nexus CSU has long needed, a place where students can gather to study, relax, become acquainted and build a true sense of community.

Our partners in the Campus District are committing significant resources, including expansion by Cuyahoga Community College. And St. Vincent Charity Hospital has announced a $150 million renovation plan.

I hope these capital improvements provide the momentum to get the ball rolling and encourage more investment in the Campus District. This is one town-and-gown issue that serves the interests of all.

Finally, even more important than our investment in the physical infrastructure is the need to exponentially expand our investments in our students’ futures. Although we are a public university, we can no longer depend on the state – even one as enlightened and committed to education as Ohio – to provide all the resources necessary to fully meet the needs of the students and University.

We need to enhance philanthropy and other revenue-generating activities if we are to meet this complex set of challenges.

In order to make up some of the ground we have lost in educational attainment we must focus on better aligning our academic programming with the emergent needs of the public and private sector.

Ohio already has a rich tradition of co-op education. We are reinventing this invaluable bridge with a “new pathways” scholarship program – a program that is a true collaboration between the University and our private sector partners.

We have many young, diverse and talented graduates who leave Cleveland because they do not see a career path. They want to stay here. The earlier we can help our students see such a path, the greater the chance that they will stay in Cleveland. The key to all our plans for economic, political and social restoration rests on our ability to retain our own young people. At this junction, they are our greatest return on investment.

I ask our community to continue to believe in Cleveland, our region, Cleveland State University, our young people and our ability to collectively shape our future.

Thank you.