1993 Convocation: Chancellor's Address

Provost Larry N. Vanderhoef

“Moving Forward”

Wednesday, September 29, 1993
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Freeborn Hall

Thank you Professor Cannon.

Let me begin by thanking you all for coming this morning.  This week, in many ways, is the busiest week in the year, and even one hour is precious.  The fact that you have come means a lot to me.

As you know, this university, and all of the other campuses of the University of California, have been putting lots of effort into dealing with the budget problems of late.  I do not intend, this morning, to dwell on that, since we must now begin thinking about moving ahead, accepting the realities of our new financial circumstance, and figuring out how to do all of our jobs as well as we possibly can in spite of the events of the last few years.  That is to say, this will not be a talk about coping, for we are not about the business of merely coping.  Rather, we are engaged in self-renewal.  This is an extremely important distinction, because the ability of an institution to engage in self-renewal is, in my view, the defining characteristic of preeminence, the toughest test of greatness.

At Davis we put a very considerable effort into the organization of our first deliberations on this self-renewal.  We came eventually to conclusions and decisions on the recommendations to handle the budget cuts.  There is, indeed, much yet to do at the more detailed level in the colleges and the schools, but major decisions have been made with regard to the allocation of funds to the separate segments of the university.  We have established the principles, tactics, and techniques for dealing with these difficulties. 

It was our intention last year to produce decisions and processes that could be applied into the future, whether our budget rose or continued to fall.  It is still quite true that this was achieved, and so regardless of the projections for next year, we are prepared to proceed.

And so it is indeed time to move ahead.  I want to speak with you this morning about what that means for all of us and what I believe our attitudes and actions should be as we take on the future.

Let me first speak with the students, especially to the freshmen.  We are certainly glad that you are here.  You are the best of the best, and you, with the help that you have gotten from your parents, teachers, and friends, have achieved a remarkable accomplishment in gaining admission to this institution.  It still has the best possible education available to offer you.  This is not just university propaganda on my part.  When you come to a research university like UC Davis, you have available to you a breadth of expertise and experiences that is simply not available at the smaller private schools.

Similarly, because this is a research university, you will find that whatever program you do choose among that great breadth of programs, you will have available to you a depth that is not available, or even possibly available at the state universities. 

Third, and this is quite unique to UC Davis, you have come to a university where the community, including the surrounding area, especially the City of Davis, is a close community that shares its problems and does, whenever it can, what is necessary to work closely together.  This is being demonstrated in a real way this very morning by the presence of three of our five Davis City Council members, Mayor Lois Wolk, Julie Partansky, and Maynard Skinner, as well as our State Assemblyman, Tom Hannigan.  They are here because we care about each other.  We are one community.  This is not an island inside a huge urban megalopolis; nor is it an island without easy access to the joys of life that we can find in the Sierra, at Yosemite, or in San Francisco. You will have it all here, but mostly you will have a community that cares.  The faculty has a reputation for this and it shows up in the exit interviews that students complete when they leave UC Davis.  They leave with a high regard for the university, and over 90% of them say that they are very satisfied with the education that they got here.  That is quite unusual for university students in these days and times, and so you should cherish it.  Take careful advantage of this precious opportunity.

And one more point to the students.  As I said earlier, this is a research university.  There will come a time during your career here as students, when someone, perhaps a legislator, but more likely one of your fellow students, will raise the possibility that faculty research activity somehow detracts from teaching.  Don't believe it for a minute.  It is simply not true. 

You will very quickly learn that your professors and lecturers are researchers by training and the excitement of that daily activity translates into excitement in the classroom, excitement you would not otherwise experience.  You will learn that your professors are the authors of dozens of textbooks used across the country, and in some cases around the world.  Yes, teaching and research work very well together and each benefits from the joint activities of your teachers.  Consider this a given:  you will get a better education because your teachers are involved in advancing the very knowledge that you will be gaining. 

Second, the fact that this is a research university will offer you an exhilarating experience during your junior or senior years.  Research takes place all over on this campus--in the libraries, in the field, in laboratories, and you will be able to get academic credit for sharing in those experiences.  You will be able to work alongside one of the many internationally renowned researchers on this campus and learn about the thrills of pursuing new knowledge, and better understanding old knowledge.

Finally, and don't underestimate this, it is the scholarly work of your teachers that gives this university its high prestige.  It makes us known around the world. It is this prestige and international reputation that gives your degree its high value. 

Initially at this campus that international reputation came primarily from agriculture and veterinary medicine and the biological sciences generally, because that's where our roots were.  But you are going to learn very quickly that our international reputation now is just as dependent on other fields on this campus, including some very special and exciting programs in the social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.  People who think that Davis is only biology and agriculture make a grave mistake, and you will quickly learn this as you gain your experiences in other disciplines. 

Let me now speak to, and about, the faculty on this campus.  I have already mentioned that the research this faculty does continues to give the campus an international reputation of high standing.  What is most exciting is that we continue to figure out ways to be better. 

Great faculty are flexible and adaptable and capable of quickly organizing themselves around opportunities.  In recent years we have seen many examples.  To give you just a few, the training program in the plant sciences, led primarily by Marilyn Etzler, John Harada, and others, gives special attention to the training and research of graduate students and undergraduates in research areas, and has drawn to it dozens of faculty and some eighty students. 

Similarly the Neurosciences Center, led by Michael Gazzaniga, has brought to it some of the very best young faculty in the country, but more importantly it has attracted faculty from other related areas on campus, including Psychology, Neurosurgery and Neurology.  This group is very quickly rising to national prominence, again because great faculty are flexible and quick to organize around good programs. 

Within the social sciences and humanities we have seen the growth in just recent years of a program in tax policy led primarily by Steve Sheffrin, but involving many others from within the social sciences.  This program is known well not only within the state, where it has been put to very good use already, but in the country.  Similarly the Gender and Global Issues Program of Diane Wolf and Suad Joseph is one that drew to it the very best among our faculty from departments as broadly diverse as Sociology and Vegetable Crops.  The Humanities Institute that Joann Cannon now leads is yet another center that has housed our best faculty in this Institute's areas of emphasis.

Similarly, faculty have been drawn to the teams that are developing our  Nutrition Program, our Plant Biotechnology Program (CEPRAP), and so many others. 

It is also true that over the decades the Davis campus has accumulated a reputation for good teaching.  A good amount of that reputation must accrue to the professors on this campus, as I mentioned earlier.  But I have noticed over the years that the quality of this teaching, especially as it entails advising and assistance, emanates not only from the professors, but also from the lecturers and researchers within the Academic Federation, and our staff, a staff that stands in full partnership in this institution, side by side with the students and the faculty. And so this teaching reputation is deserved, and it will continue because we will continue to give teaching the highest priorities.   

What must receive our attention is the ongoing criticism of universities like ours.  For example, and this is very common, we are criticized for teaching too little. 

We must listen carefully to this message and make sure that we fully understand the people who deliver it.  For my part, however, I believe we must be skeptical.  It simply does not comport with good judgment of university quality.  Quality is best measured by the products of teaching and by the recognition of those products.  Graduates from this campus are, by any comparative measure, unusually successful in the job market, and in their subsequent accomplishments.  And another point -- hours in front of the classroom give no indication of teaching time.  We will this coming year complete a most inclusive study of actual teaching time for our faculty.  This study, well underway and led by Frank Samaniego, will be the most complete study of teaching in recent UC history.  It will, I assure you, be a most distinctive surprise to those who believe we have our priorities confused.

And, to address another criticism that has its origins closer to home, it has sometimes been implied that we are inadequate solely and entirely because of our image and our roots.  We must, more than anything else, discard this ill-conceived notion.  It simply does not comport with our highly-admired standing among land grant colleges of this nation.

And so, I am not overly concerned about these two criticisms that have been recently leveled at us.  We will, as we always have, continue to work hard at improving our overall campus research program, for it is our mission, and we recognize its importance to this state and to our students, and if we have to teach more because of the budget we will, because we are committed to quality. 

On the other hand, I am quite concerned about the fact that we have a problem that all research universities across the country have, namely that as we, as individuals, become more and more involved in our external organizations and associations,  we become less and less able to be about the business of the university.  Now more than ever we need a faculty who cares about this university, that cares how we evolve during these times of financial difficulty in California and the United States, a faculty that cares, more than we ever have, about reaching out to address, face-on, the problems in our state, problems that are right here, in our university's back yard. 

And so I ask all of you to think twice before you say no to that next request to serve on an ad hoc committee.  Think twice before you turn down the opportunity to sit with one of the campuses' major planning committees, or to serve with the many groups that are necessary to engage in this very important process of self-renewal that I mentioned earlier.  It takes an engaged faculty to keep our human subjects committee functioning; grants cannot be processed without it.  It takes an engaged faculty to evaluate the academic plans of the colleges.  It takes an engaged faculty to make this university conform to our high standards of quality.  It takes an engaged faculty to work together with city and state problem solvers, for city and state problems are our problems.

Now what we must also understand is that first and foremost faculty and staff will become involved, or re-involved, in the university if and only if the university recognizes that activity as real work.  We must confirm and continue to pursue the tenants of the Pister Report.  We must pay closer attention to teaching and service when it comes to the incentives and rewards of the university -- closer attention than we ever have in the past. 

Regarding resources, one point that came up many times during our budget deliberations last year was the ways we use our faculty positions.  There are two points that I would like to make here.  First, the third retirement program, VERIP III, is a very attractive program that will take many of our great professors, our librarians, our staff, into retirement earlier than they might have gone.  When I think about the prospects I worry lots.  I am concerned about the loss of wisdom and experience that will occur next November 1 for the staff and next July 1 for the faculty.  We must make judicious use of recalls in order to extend that wisdom and experience till the next generation can fill those ranks. 

On the other hand, these vacant positions offer us opportunities to redirect the university and to build in new areas of growth.  We must carefully mete out these positions as we attempt to construct our best vision of UC Davis for the next century.  It is also true that these positions must be earmarked to assure adequate support for new general education programs, the new ethnic studies programs, and any other teaching activity that serves the entire campus, rather than just a major or two.

For those of you that remember, administration took the biggest cut of any single area on the campus.  (As an aside, let me add that this clearly was one of the more popular decisions of the 1992-93 deliberations.)  But I must tell you that administration is increasingly burdened on university campuses across the country.  We are accumulating literally hundreds of regulations within environmental health and safety, extreme reporting requirements for our diversity and affirmative action programs, and environmental quality act laws that allow people with disruptive intentions to manipulate the process to their own ends. 

The university, too, suffers from an increasingly litigious society that takes up thousands of hours every year in dealing with grievances over matters that in the past were solved through one-on-one cooperation and agreement, rather than in the court houses and in attorney's offices.  The workload is growing dramatically and we simply cannot handle it all.  I intend to work at all levels in the university and at governmental levels to diminish this workload, to challenge unnecessary policies and regulation.

It is also my intention to daily remind all of us within administration that we are here first and foremost to serve the faculty and the students.  We will do that, and we will do it in ways that haven't been used in the past.  For example, the vice chancellors and deans have just very recently decided that we would all be better off if we spend some of our time back in the classroom.  We will all be teaching full courses in the very near future, not only to help out the teaching faculty, but to make sure that we don't lose sight of the core and essence of this academic enterprise.

During the coming year there will be certain activities that will come as a surprise, I expect, to many.  For example, those of you who sent those hundreds of letters during the Phase III process, you may be surprised, for those letters have not been stored away in the basement.  No, they are being carefully considered, letter by letter, by a management initiatives group headed by Jerry Hallee.  Every suggested management improvement will be individually studied and, when appropriate, implemented.

Other surprises?  Some will wonder when new programs and program growth are proposed -- and supported -- how we can afford it.  The answer is we cannot afford not to continue to selectively grow when we have the opportunities. We will develop new programs, even as we are elsewhere down-sizing.  It is essential if we are to avoid the mentality of decline, an inevitable consequence of seeing ourselves as merely coping.  This was a principle of our processes last year, and we will hold to it.

Another surprise?  Senate leaders and the Provost's Office are committed, before the year is out, to finally reaching closure on the specifics of our ethnic studies requirement, and the means by which we will teach these courses, as well as the courses for our general education requirement. 

These things will happen, in part because by now we recognize that we are an increasingly diverse population that requires increasingly diverse points of view around the decision making table.  Diversity -- and let me insert here that the concept of diversity goes far beyond our original affirmative action intentions -- diversity means that all of us -- all of us -- must feel that we have an equal opportunity to share in the activities and opportunities of this campus, whether they be in administration, or teaching, or staff employment, or student government, or faculty governance.  And it must happen with a comfort and an acceptance that at this point we have not fully achieved.  This is all a very practical matter for me, one which accepts the fact that if we're going to make the best decisions for this campuses' increasingly diverse populations, then there must be diversity among our decision makers, and within the fabric of the campus ethos.

When I consider all we learned, and all we accomplished last year, one single thing stands high above everything else.  One single thing impressed me more than I ever thought anything possibly could.  One single thing became almost overwhelming as the deadlines neared and the year came to a close.  In a growing crescendo of confidence we learned, after over a year's work, that our many campus constituencies could pull together and do an almost incomprehensible, complex task.  And at the end we could say, we did it, and we did it well.

We learned that faculty like Dan Simmons, Karl Romstad, Ed Schroeder, Joann Cannon, Linda Morris, Harvey Himelfarb, and literally dozens of others, would come forward, and rise above their parochial academic origins for the sake of the university. 

We learned that the best among our students, students like Jenny Fearing, now off to the Kennedy School at Harvard, and Dana Shoffner, now elected to the ASUCD presidency, would put in hours and hours for this university, even though they would soon be leaving. 

We learned that the administration team of this university could be unselfish and selfless beyond anyone's greatest expectations, each person giving up so much toward one end -- accomplishing the self-renewal that only great universities can. 

We learned that people like Patsy Inouye and Beverly French would willingly stand as major contributors on behalf of the Academic Federation.

And perhaps more moving than anything we saw all year, we learned that Tom Burlando could gather staff around him and, with Marj Dickinson's help, go over to the legislature and make our case -- not the case just for the staff, but the case for all our employees and all our students on all our UC campuses.

And in parallel to all of this, we learned that our Office of the President, gone significantly off the academic track, could put itself aright, first with the Regents' hiring of Jack Peltason, an academic to his core, and then with the President's hiring of Vice Presidents Massey and Kennedy.  Virtually overnight we remembered, we rediscovered, that we are a university, not the Bank of America.

But mostly, for us on this campus, we rediscovered the Davis ethic.  We remembered that we have capabilities under duress that no one else has.  We had the joy of experiencing our unique sense of community when times were tough and despair seemed to be ebbing relentlessly in.  We weren't faculty or students or superstars or graduate students or administrators or physics majors or any of those things.  We were members of the UC Davis community, all of us with a common problem.  We took the problem on in a Davis-typical organized way, and we did an outstanding job.  For that we can, all of us, thank each other, for we have shown ourselves that we'll do so much more than merely make it through this budget trauma.  We'll do so much more than simply cope.  What we will do is engage in an energetic process of self-renewal, for self-renewal is the defining capacity and characteristic of great institutions.  And we'll heal, and we'll be as good, and eventually better, than we ever have been.

Thank you, very much.