Dr. Henry Cisneros, former United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary and executive chairman of CityView, delivered the inaugural lecture of the Presidential Lecture Series presented by Dr. Mildred García at California State University, Dominguez Hills on Sept. 30. This was Dr. Cisneros’ second visit to the university; last May he received an honorary doctorate and served as keynote speaker during the commencement ceremony for the College of Business Administration and Public Policy.
Distinguished guests included Mr. Henry Mendoza, CSU trustee; Dr. Yolanda Moses, professor of anthropology and associate vice chancellor of diversity, excellence and equity at UC Riverside and former vice president at CSU Dominguez Hills; Dr. Caryn Musil, senior vice president, Association of American Colleges and Universities; and Dr. Daryl Smith, professor of education and psychology at the Claremont Graduate University.
Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, Tex., addressed an audience of students, administrators, faculty, and community members who filled the University Theatre. His talk, “The Essentials of Leadership for the 21st Century,” described the rapidly changing national and global society that today’s college students and graduates will be entering as future leaders of technological, environmental, economic, educational, and other professions.
An alumnus of Texas A&M, Cisneros pointed out the value of public higher education and told of its beginnings during the Civil War, when the Morrill Act dedicated public land and resources to educating a workforce of engineers, agronomists, and others who would help rebuild the nation and lead the way to westward expansion.
“I have a great affinity for the special role that institutions of public higher education play in our country’s life,” Cisneros said. “The mission [of public education] has changed. It’s not so much animal husbandry and county agents anymore; it is urban. But it is just as important. It speaks to the values of hard work. The kind of people who end up in public higher education… choose to dedicate themselves to being good for society and to developing leaders. The leadership for our country comes out of institutions like Cal State Dominguez Hills.”
Cisneros cited technical expertise and confidence, a sense of vision, and an understanding of followers’ well-being as the most desirable qualities of a leader and gave examples of “transformational” leadership such as Bill Gates, Quincy Jones, Winston Churchill, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He articulated a transforming vision,” Cisneros said of King’s role in the civil rights movement. “He said, ‘I want a country where people are judged by the content of their character, not by the color of this skin.’ And it changed our country. Not only did African Americans advance when Dr. King opened the doors of justice and opportunity, but women, disabled persons, Latinos, Asian Americans, and everyone in this country is better off because we transformed America to a higher vision.”
Cisneros refined his definition of a leader for the 21st century as one who possesses respect for diversity, global connections, and the capacity to handle change. Cisneros, who leads CityView, a premier institutional investment firm focused on urban real estate, in-city housing, and metropolitan infrastructure, said that diversity is not merely the celebration of multiculturalism but a new society that the next generation is charged with leading in a variety of professions and industries.
“In 2050, [there will] be 50 percent traditional white Americans and [50 percent] minorities in America,” said Cisneros. “But in terms of the age distribution, most of the young people graduating from college [into] the workforce, going into the [military], and people providing the backbone of society in terms of work and citizenship will be this diverse population.
“My point is that we’ve got to understand this. It’s not [that] we just have new faces, new accents, and new last names. It’s [finding out] how it’s going to work in this country.”
Along with understanding diversity in the United States, Cisneros encouraged students to become global citizens in order to thrive and lead in their chosen fields. He pointed out the need to compete with other nations, particularly China and India, and the importance of developing “respect for other people in an interconnected way.”
“Not only are we going to be diverse within the United States, but we’re going to have to deal with other parts of the world on their terms,” he said. “Learn languages if you can while you’re [in college]. Learn about other cultures, travel and see for yourself. Make yourself into an internationalist, because that’s going to be a dimension of leadership like never before.”
Cisneros, who was the first Latino mayor of a major American city and the first Latino to serve as secretary of HUD, said that the psychological capacity to handle change was also a requirement for successful leadership in the 21st century. He noted that whereas past generations worked and retired from one career path their entire lives, the average worker of today will have five or six careers.
“Frankly, the careers you start out in might become obsolete,” Cisneros said. “They may not exist in a decade. What does that mean? It means you have to train yourself not for a specific thing, but train yourself to learn again. You have to be by nature intellectually curious and open to change. You have to teach yourself to teach yourself, and never stop learning. You have to be in the frame of mind that you enjoy knowledge for its own sake and seek it out.”
Cisneros summed up his remarks by saying that on the whole society needs “people who care about the greater good.” He also addressed the United States’ strength as an global power and charged the students in the audience with its stability.
“Your generation is going to have to understand this,” he said. “All of this depends on how strong we are. We’re going to stay strong for a long time but we can lose it faster than you think.”
President García established the Presidential Lecture Series during the 50th anniversary of CSU Dominguez Hills to recognize and further the university’s role as the center of higher education and as a space for public discourse and understanding in the South Bay. Throughout the anniversary celebration, which ends May 2011, the lecture series will provide a forum for students, faculty, staff and the local community to hear the perspectives of national and international leaders on the most compelling issues of the day.
For more information, visit www.csudh.edu/preslectureseries or call (310) 243-3337.
For more information about the 50th Anniversary of CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.