By Jim Wunderman
IN TOUGH ECONOMIC times such as today, the demand for higher education always surges. When the job market is weak, unemployed or underemployed workers often invest in their skills to be ready for new jobs in the recovery. With Oakland facing some of the worst economic challenges, it's time to take advantage of stimulus funds, the "green collar" movement and the growing education need to build a California State University campus in downtown Oakland that would serve as the headquarters of Cal State East Bay.
First, a bit of context. The CSU system was founded in 1857 and is now the largest, the most diverse, and one of the most affordable university systems in the country. It has 23 campuses with an enrollment of almost 450,000 students. Many students opt for Cal State campuses because they are close to home or better suited for their academic goals. Yet Oakland students - hailing from the state's eighth largest city - don't have that choice.
With reasoning from a bygone era, Oakland is still considered to be in the UC Berkeley sphere of influence. But UC Berkeley isn't a regional school anymore; it serves only the top 4,300 freshmen from across California.
In 2005, the leaders of Cal State Hayward decided it was important to change the name of that university to Cal State East Bay, to reflect the broader economic zone served by the institution. Certainly an accurate and inspired vision - but isn't it time, then, to recognize that the headquarters of Cal State East Bay should be located in the East Bay's largest city?
Fortunately, the timing for a new Oakland campus couldn't be better. A new campus in Oakland, could focus on green jobs, following the vision of Van Jones of "green jobs, not jails," for economic development in urban America and the "Clean Energy Job Corps" to put hundreds of thousands of people to work rewiring and retrofitting the energy infrastructure of the United States. The Oakland campus could serve as the hub of this movement.
Last fall, the Oakland Green Jobs Corps program was announced and supported by Rep. Barbara Lee, Mayor Ron Dellums, Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Assembly members Loni Hancock and Sandre Swanson, and former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris.
To capitalize on this momentum, we ask these leaders to call on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the legislative leadership in Sacramento, as well as the Obama administration and Congress, to set the wheels in motion to make this project a reality.
Imagine the economic stimulus of a brand new downtown Oakland Cal State campus, both in its construction and operation. What a great legacy for those who took the moment to build a great academic institution to serve the youth of Oakland and surrounding cities for generations to come, and put Oakland at the heart of the green movement.
With Oakland's BART service, abundant bus transit, dense housing and billions invested in other existing infrastructure, it has numerous sites ready to bring students, faculty and workers to and from the campus without the need for cars and their associated carbon pollution.
California State University East Bay President Mo Qayoumi - a visionary educator who understands the requirements of the 21st century, and a member of the Bay Area Council board of directors - is intrigued and enthusiastic to explore expanding in Oakland.
Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed has shown the kind of leadership that could help an Oakland campus succeed. The business community, through the Bay Area Council, stands ready to help, and in fact, the entire project could come in the form of a public-private partnership capturing a combination of federal, state, and private investment. Let's roll up our sleeves and get down to it. Oakland deserves this opportunity.
Jim Wunderman is the president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a federation of the CEOs of the Bay Area's largest employers.