The 2020 CUMU Annual Conference was a virtual event featuring a series of thought-provoking and action-oriented key notes tackling economic inclusion and recovery, systemic and structural racism, and transformation through crisis. Over three afternoons, dynamic cross-sector leaders addressed the biggest issues facing our urban and metropolitan campuses and communities today and in the future.

Urban universities + economic inclusion and recovery

Bruce Katz, founding director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab, and Andy Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, TN, spoke on key economic issues our cities are confronting and shared the importance of higher education collaboration with the public and corporate communities going forward. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Chattanooga was in the midst of tremendous growth and success with its innovation initiatives. The city was often overshadowed by the nearby, and much larger cities of Atlanta and Nashville. However, the city successfully developed a unique identity as a midsized city. Mayor Berke explained that the city is an important model to consider, since there are many more cities like Chattanooga across the country than there are cities such as San Francisco and Boston. Chattanooga is developing collaborative strategies to not only increase employment, but also to increase wages and shift towards a knowledge economy. A key component of this work is that high speed internet is provided to all low-income families at NO-COST, which is especially important now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovation will be key in helping main street recover in the coming years and both shared that there are specific roles the public, corporate and education sectors must play. Institutions of higher education are places that “have talent everywhere,” and innovation on campus must be leveraged to move forward.

The role of urban universities in combating systemic and structural racism

Heather McGhee, distinguished senior fellow and former president of Demos, framed this session to include a broad picture of where we are as a country, how racism has shaped certain aspects of higher education, and how we must prepare people in our communities to be super-citizens to form a stronger democracy going forward.

Heather shared that race is an accelerator of inequality, but that it is also a driver of inequality for everyone. Her upcoming book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and how we can Prosper Together, will be published early next year.

During the session, Heather detailed specific steps that we, as higher education leaders, can take to foster environments for future super-citizens. These include:

  • Developing a clear vision of how we got to where we are as a country and society.
  • Instilling a sense of efficacy among students and one another.
  • Vote and participate in any way possible. We want to make sure that in reflection on the current period, we did everything we could.

In closing, Heather shared that it is our duty as people who care about justice to equip our students with the tools to be super-citizens and we all have a shared stake in ‘refilling the pool.’ Following Heather’s keynote address, Bill Covino, president of Cal State LA, moderated a round table discussion with Heather and the following thought leaders:

The 2030 keynote: Leading through crisis

What will the state of higher education be in 2030? CUMU invited transformational leaders to imagine higher education ten years from now and share perspectives on how to push the conversation forward.

L. Jay Lemons, president and senior consultant at Academic Search, moderated a conversation filled with hope and optimism to conclude the 2020 CUMU Annual Conference. Although we are facing what may seem like insurmountable challenges, all three panelists, Terri Givens, CEO and founder of The Center for Higher Education Leadership, now known as Brighter Higher Ed; Michael Fitts, president of Tulane University; and Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, discussed the importance of strong leadership, partnerships, and value of higher education.

Each panelist described how COVID-19 and all of the challenges associated have forced them to innovate, pivot, and strengthen partnerships to ensure that students, faculty, and the broader community has access to essential tools for success right now and in the future. For example, in Dallas, collaborative relationships have been formed between Dallas ISD, University of North Texas Dallas, Dallas College, and many other industries to improve student outcomes. Tulane is hyper-focused on its biomedical research to develop COVID-19 remedies and is applying lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina to remake New Orleans into a city stronger than ever before.

The session concluded with panelists each sharing their worries and hopes 10 years from now. Hinojosa shared, “the only way to control the future is to create it,” and Lemons stated, “don’t be daunted by the long-term; get after it every day.” These statements are helpful reminders as we are all experiencing significant hardships that the future is bright and as leaders, we have the privilege of helping construct one that more inclusive, equitable and successful for all of the communities we serve.