Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

California State University (CSU) Chancellor Joseph Castro announced Monday that it’s too early to know whether vaccinations will be a requirement to return to campus in the fall, yet personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing will likely continue.

The CSU goal to offer 50% of fall courses in person is contingent on what campus presidents decide, and Castro said he will support CSU presidents’ decisions so long as they are compliant with what local health experts deem appropriate.

“It will look differently at each of the 23 campuses,” Castro said.

As 13 of the 23 CSU campuses are providing vaccinations on campus, Castro said his goal is to vaccinate as many people in the CSU community and inspire participation. 

Although there is no plan regarding vaccinations being a requirement to return to campus in the fall, Castro said he will respect the decision of students who choose not to be inoculated. It is unknown whether this would inhibit their ability to return to campus, as Castro said it is too early for full details about their plans for the fall term.

“There may be some students for different reasons who decide they don’t wish to be vaccinated, or staff or faculty member who doesn’t wish to do so,” Castro said. “I’m going to respect that and really focus on trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible and to plan accordingly for the fall.”

Castro said he wants to avoid any legal issues in requiring vaccinations for students, faculty and staff to return to campus.

“I think most appropriate is to ensure the health and safety of all of you, of all of our students, faculty, staff and communities,” Castro said. “And I’m [continuing] to focus on ways in which we can do that and support your continued success in meeting your educational goals.”

Another one of Castro’s goals is the continuance of the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025.

The Graduation Initiative 2025 is a plan to increase CSU graduation rates. This includes increasing graduation rates to 40% for first-year students completing their degree in four years. The 2019 graduation rate for this group was 28%.

This initiative was launched in 2015, yet it’s adapting to the needs of students during this pandemic.

“The work of [Graduation Initiative] 2025 must take into account what has occurred during the pandemic, potential learning loss, exacerbated housing, food insecurity and all those other challenges that we’re all very familiar with and some of you may be dealing with right now,” Castro said. “So I want you to know that I am very empathetic about that.”

Castro said he is focusing on closing equity gaps that inhibit graduation efforts. A new steering committee has been established to look at their success so far and determine any additional strategies to close the equity gaps and meet their graduation rate goals.

Castro said that his advocacy for more state funding for his 2025 graduation initiative includes funding to hire more diverse faculty, which would aid campuses whose budgets have been impacted. He is asking for $365 million in additional resources to fully fund the 2025 graduation initiative.

Castro’s priority in hiring diverse faculty members comes in the midst of campuses experiencing budget decreases and deficits, with Cal Poly’s budget facing a 13% permanent decrease in funding from the CSU, or $21 million annually. Although budgets have been hindered by the pandemic, Castro said it should not be an issue with hiring more diverse faculty as there are always opportunities to hire when faculty retire or leave.

In order to achieve this priority, Castro said he will work with CSU campus presidents and faculty in intensive recruitment and outreach of diverse applicants, as well as efforts to aid CSU graduates in applying to doctorate programs.

“While our faculty has become more diverse over the last few years, there’s still more work to do,” Castro said.

Alongside advocating for state funds for their Graduation Initiative 2025, Castro said he is also trying to restore the $299 million that was cut by the state last year and $565 million in one time funds to upgrade classrooms and laboratories

“It’s a bold request and I am cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to inspire our legislative leaders and the governor to fund it,” Castro said. “We’re going to need to continue to be very aggressive in making our case in the coming weeks and months as the budget process at the state level, you know, progresses.”

Castro said that he is also sponsoring a California bill that will provide more funding for student mental health services at CSUs, UCs and community colleges.

As for what the future holds for the CSU system, Castro said it’s “not going to go backwards” and virtual learning may be a more prevalent service offered to students in the future regardless of the status of the pandemic. He said this could be beneficial for students that can not afford to commute to campus or need to stay home to care for children or elders.

Castro said he anticipates students choosing to not return to campus in the fall and that the individual campuses will accommodate those decisions.

“We’re going to go to a new place and that new place is going to be shaped by what the students prefer, and what our faculty and staff prefer,” Castro said.

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