1998 Convocation: Chancellor's Address

UC Davis Chancellor Larry N. Vanderhoef

“The Year: 2008   The Place: UC Davis”

Wednesday, September 29,1998
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Freeborn Hall

Thank you very much, Vice Chancellor Wall, and thank you, Professor Stewart, for a very timely and thoughtful talk.  Also, thanks to all of those on the stage today. There is important symbolism intended by their presence.  They are, of course, the leadership of this campus, but just as important, they are a reminder that UC Davis is governed under the principles of shared governance, a specific invention of the University of California, and that this campus has a wonderful tradition of broad consultation on the major matters before it.  These are the contacts for this year, 1998‑99, for those consultations. 

Let me now welcome all of the new undergraduates here this morning.  At the very least you’ve made it over an unusually high hurdle.  Every one of you is in the top eighth of all of the high school graduates in this state.  That is no mean task, and you are all to be congratulated.  You now have another journey ahead that will last four or five years, and we will do our best to make sure that it too will be successful. 

Also to our new graduate students -- you have come to a university, UC Davis, that has attained the highest honor that this country has to offer, namely invitation and acceptance into the Association of American Universities.  That is the single most important overall measure of the quality of the faculty at a university and, of course, all of you are here to work with individual faculty members.  Indeed, in just the last year three of the most prestigious prizes in the world, the MacArthur Fellowship, the Packard Fellowship and the Einstein Prize, came to UC Davis faculty members.  Your future in this world is of great importance to us, and just a few days ago we completed a two-day Chancellor’s Fall Conference that focused on the importance and the challenges of the many issues surrounding graduate education.

We also have many new faculty with us this morning.  Welcome!  You are feeling the pressures of being new as well, not unlike the students.  For starters you have just gone through two of the top ten tension-inducing experiences in life.  You have moved your household, and you are starting a new job.  Our searches for faculty were unusually successful this year.  We hired the department's top choice in virtually every single search in which we engaged.  You are those top choices, and we are delighted to have you with us. I want to remind you that our interest in you does not stop with your recruitment.  To be sure your chair and your departmental colleagues will be helpful to you as you begin your tenure here at UC Davis, but others are available -- in your deans' offices, including the dean of Graduate Studies, in the offices of our vice chancellors and vice provosts, and in our excellent library that has developed under the leadership of Marilyn Sharrow. 

Finally, we have in the audience today many staff.  I would like to introduce all of you newcomers to our staff.  They are an extremely important jewel in the crown of UC Davis.  They also have a special characteristic about which you should all be aware.  They have chosen to work at UC Davis in an economic circumstance where there are many other jobs available to them.  For example, a high fraction of our staff use the skills of computer technology, and those skills give them other options in their careers.  Yet they have chosen to work here at the University of California.  That is because they very much appreciate what a university does, they love working with students and they recognize the unusual importance of serving the faculty and the mission of this campus.

These staff have taken on an unusual challenge over the last several years.  While it has been an interesting trip for all of the rest of us to learn the wonders of computer technology, for our staff it wasn’t just a curiosity, or simply interesting; it was an absolute requirement.  They have had to become experts, not only in the usual things like word processing, e-mail and spreadsheets, but they also have had to learn how to effectively and efficiently use financial information systems, student information systems, web sites, finding information on the Worldwide Web.  And, of course, it is not all over with technology, as I will discuss later.

Well, that is a good departure point to our topic of conversation.  As you can tell from the title of this talk, it will emphasize those things that are highly likely to be changing at the University over the next ten years.  I must, however, insert a very important caveat right up front.  That caveat is that the core principles of the university should and will remain unchanged.  In fact, we have a duty to preserve them for those who will be here in the year 2008.  Those core principles fall primarily under the rubrics of mission and values.  The first, mission, is set forth in our charter, in the California Master Plan, and by the citizens of this state.  The second, values, is best illustrated with examples.  First and most important among them is the university's role in the search for truth in the world.  In my opinion, the repository of the responsibility for the search for truth rests on the university campuses around the globe.  In fact, the high value that the university places on the search for truth is demonstrated by our celebration of discovery and generation of new knowledge.  Second, the university must maintain its identity as a safe place for discourse and the presentation of new ideas on all fronts of knowledge, no matter how controversial.  Third, we are obligated to continue to maintain the university's commitment to the development of each and every individual in the academic community, especially those students who entrust their development to our guidance.  And finally, the University must realize and demonstrate that these values transcend national, political and ethnic boundaries.  These values are our legacy from our forbearers, and we are responsible to them and to the citizens of 2008 to maintain them.  You will notice, in fact, that these very values are reflected in our "Principles of Community," which I will discuss in just a moment.

Switching now to those areas and activities in this university that will change, when I asked for opinions most people thought the major changes over the next ten years would have their grounding in this remarkable change we have seen in technology over the past ten years.  I believe that we all know that those changes are going to continue; however, trying to guess what they might be is no easy task.  Just think of where we were ten years ago, and see if that generates a lot of confidence in your predictions about where we will be ten years in the future.

Fortunately, the four topics I will discuss this morning, though not unrelated to technology, are more fundamental.  Chosen with difficulty from among twenty I could have discussed, the four are, first, the continuing increase in diversity in this state and in our day-to-day world connections.  Second, the continuing and increasing responsibility of all universities to engage themselves in the challenges and problems our society faces -- the fully engaged university.  Third, the ominous spector of information overload -- what we should be doing to teach students and each other how to sort through and analyze information.  And fourth, how our tactics and methods of teaching increasing numbers of students might be changed in the new information-rich, technology-rich world in which we live.

Let's think together now about the first topic, diversity -- ethnic diversity in this state, and the ethnic diversity that we must strive for on this campus.  For those of you new to the campus, please make a note to look to page 12 of our 1998-99 General Catalog.  There you will find a brief statement called Principles of Community.  These Principles of Community are four carefully worded paragraphs of advice for people who exist in a rapidly changing community, or who are new to a community that has a diversity much greater than the one from which they came -- which is likely the case for every undergraduate student coming to this campus, and for many graduate students and faculty, as well.  One of the first reactions to that kind of diversity, a very common reaction, is one of friction.  What you newcomers to the campus will experience, perhaps for the first time in your life, is groups of people who have values different from yours, different views towards specific principles, different experiential bases from which they function.  Your first very natural reaction?  You will see this as a challenge to the way you have thought about those same principles and values and bases for living.  Your first thoughts are likely to be negative.  The Principles of Community urge you to stop just a minute and think about the great value that will be forthcoming if you can get past that negativity and recognize how enriched your life is going to be if you take advantage of that very diversity with which you are confronted.  As those Principles say in part, quote, We affirm the dignity inherent in all of us, and we strive to maintain a climate of justice, marked by respect for each other... we recognize that each of us has an obligation to the community of which we have chosen to be a part ...We will strive to build a true community of spirit and purpose based on mutual respect and caring, unquote.  Read those Principles of Community in their entirety. They will serve you well.

What will be the responsibilities of the university, post Proposition 209, during the next ten years?  You've heard Dr. Stewart's views.  I'll speculate about what the University can and will do during the coming decade.

First, in my opinion the most important thing that we will do is to put an unflagging effort into improving access to the university.  One critical way we will need to do this is through our K-12 outreach partnerships.  What better way to improve the odds, for everyone, of having an opportunity to attend a university or college?  The society of tomorrow, of 2008, must be one that works hard -- proactively -- at preparing all students for higher education no matter what their socioeconomic circumstance.  And that is the beauty of the new outreach efforts that are being initiated on all nine campuses of the University of California.  On every campus we have new outreach programs that start not in the sophomore or junior year in high school, but rather in the second grade and the third grade, for it is not far beyond the second grade that that child meets a Y in the road.  One branch leads towards success in education, the other to a life of underachievement.  We UC campuses will learn from each other, since each campus outreach program is unique, and we will grow in these efforts because of strong support from The Regents and 38 million dollars more this year from the state for this outreach into our neediest K-12 systems.

And so it is -- a K-12 effort that supports not only a general improvement in quality, but also the evolution of the benefits of diversity.  This is one very important way, perhaps the MOST important way, in which the University can get directly involved in finding solutions by 2008 to one of the top problems facing society in 1998.

What other actions seem likely and necessary in the face of increasing diversity, and in this shrinking world where communication is instantaneous and where there will soon be no such thing as an independent, disconnected national economy?

Well, first of all, is it not likely that our students -- and their employers -- will demand a better education in cultures, societies and political systems outside their own country?  What about second language acquisition? 

Regarding the former do we not have to lean toward breadth and away from depth in our college majors?  I know this is not without controversy, but after all, depth will be -- already is -- forthcoming in the form of often-required postbaccalaureate education, and in course work internal in the companies and institutions for which our students will work.  When will this needed breadth come if not during the undergraduate years?  What better time for it to come?  What about a curriculum that ensures that every student gains some understanding of global issues?  What about making study abroad not just an experience for a small minority but for all students whose careers stand to benefit from first-hand contact with other cultures?

And regarding second language acquisition, what will the university's role be?  Developmental neurobiologists tell us that second language acquisition has to begin early in life -- certainly much earlier than the late teens/early twenties of the college years.  What shall be the university's role be in promoting second language acquisition beginning in the first and second grade?  It is not too early for us to begin defining the answers to these questions.

I will return to other elements of the undergraduate curriculum in a moment, when I address information processing. 

First, though, to my second topic, the fully engaged university -- the university's continuing obligation to full engagement in addressing societal problems.  I've mentioned K-12 partnerships as one example of the university becoming involved in very real societal problems -- namely the problems of both quality and equity in elementary and high school education. 

What are other likely engagements of UC Davis?  In some areas we are already making major strides -- for example, direct involvement in environmental problems:  The John Muir Institute, our Institute of Transportation Studies, our Lake Tahoe Research and Education Center, each one of which, by the way, has received grants or gifts of six hundred thousand to two million dollars in just the past two months to support their research or infrastructure.  We are also proud, in community arts, of the UC Davis Presents program, the on-schedule design and construction of our Center for the Arts, and our arts-in-the-schools outreach program.

What about agriculture?  Coming at us very quickly, I believe, is a world that will force us in this food-rich country to remember, once again, to appreciate the high importance of the areas of UC Davis's traditional strengths and roots in agriculture.  The importance of water policy, nutrition and wellness, farm labor matters, the economies of farming -- these and all the other sticky issues that are basic to continuing adequate food production -- will cry out for greater university engagement, in my view.

Other societal problems?  One challenge in our own backyard is to avoid the sprawl and the transportation gridlock that plague Southern California and now threaten quality of life in the Northern Valley.  I think the University can play an important role in regional development, for we should be able to do the research and accumulate the data that can guide effective planning.  Without that academic engagement regional planning will never overcome the difficulties of local political decisions, made by cities and counties in isolation. 

These are all engagements to which I am committed, and, incidentally, about which UC President Atkinson is passionate.  He knows the very real need for a University of California that is fully engaged in the society in which it lives. 

For all of the importance of these outreach efforts, however, I must make one thing very clear.  Please allow me this caveat.  We will not be successful in engaging ourselves in society's problems unless we continue the robust academic development of this campus through activities like the academic planning process under the direction of Provost Bob Grey.  Maintaining excellence in the fundamentals -- research and teaching strength -- is absolutely required for success in outreach.  LAST year this academic planning process focused on new frontiers of knowledge, new areas of cooperation and endeavor where UC Davis is likely to gain success.  THIS year's effort is equally important because it centers on fundamental disciplines and traditional academic departments.  This planning and growth in academic strength is fundamental to everything else this university might do.

This brings me then to my third topic -- what UC Davis, a major American Research University, must teach our students to enable them to cope with the mountains of information that will increasingly confront them.  I believe we need to seriously rethink the content of our undergraduate curriculum to ensure as best we can that tomorrow's students gain here an education that prepares them for 2008 and beyond.  First, on handling large amounts of information, it won't surprise you to learn that many educators believe that first and foremost our students have to be taught to better understand a world whose technological and scientific complexity has increased an order of magnitude within our lifetimes.  Undoubtedly they are correct.  So much of what we read today, even in our daily newspapers, requires a basic knowledge of science and technology.  You may, though, be surprised at my view that the needed skills to manipulate and evaluate masses of information will come just as much from a renewed understanding of the meaning of general education and a commitment to ensuring that our students graduate with a broadly based education that gives them not just one but multiple competencies -- multiple competencies that will come from knowing more about the world in which they live, and more about the great thinkers of this world's history.

The purpose here is not so much closure along a single line of inquiry but the development of flexibility of mind and the understanding that the solving of problems -- scientific, social, aesthetic -- has less to do with the accumulation of information than with a disciplined method of intellectual inquiry.  We can and must impart this to our undergraduates.  Fortunately, divisional and college faculty, a senate committee, and the office of undergraduate studies are actively exploring ways of expanding the breadth of students' knowledge.  A concept being seriously considered is a lower-division collegium taught by some of the most distinguished researchers and teachers on campus.  We will be hearing more of this in the future.

Let me finish now with my fourth topic -- a few words about changes in our modes of teaching.  This has drawn much attention during the last ten years, especially as we have watched the growth of Phoenix University and the establishment of the Western Governors' University and the California Virtual University.  Some have gone so far as to say that computer-based teaching will replace professors and universities.  That, of course, can be dismissed out of hand, and I am not just being parochial here.  After all, finally it is experience and the dynamic accumulation of knowledge and wisdom that the professor presents both to the student, and to the questions that he or she poses in research, that advances our society.  The total of all of that, so far anyway, remains beyond the ken of even the most sophisticated computers.  And the traditional 18 to 30 year-old undergraduate and graduate students learn as much or more outside the traditional classroom, which computers might closely duplicate as they do in the classrooms with their professors.  They accomplish this learning in student organizations and clubs, in internships, in midnight debates with their roommates.

All of this is not to say that computers will not continue to have an accumulating influence on teaching.  We already know of many examples of that -- e-mail communication between teacher and student, commonplace nowadays, course web pages, chat rooms, even complete computer-mediated courses, especially for continuing education for the non-traditional working student.  Regarding the latter, computer-mediated courses, where will we go?  Will we have courses that are totally computer-mediated, prepared by the world's academic geniuses, available to all the world's students?  How will we select the courses for which our students will get credit at UC Davis?  Will we give over to the computer those courses that our senate faculty clearly have little interest in teaching?  Will our own faculty be generating segments of their courses for total student-computer interaction?  If they do, should we be creating a facility that will teach and assist our faculty -- perhaps an evolved form of our current Teaching Resources Center?

The academic world is already hurtling down these roads, and new computer innovations will only speed the course of events.  Fortunately, we do have up and running our Academic Computing Coordinating Council, chaired by Harry Matthews.  That group will lay out the likely evolution of teaching at the university, and make recommendations on what we have to do now to keep abreast of, and perhaps even lead, this exciting new chapter in university instruction.

So these are four major challenges of the future that we must be dealing with now if we are going to do well in the year 2008.  I have asked you today to join me in thinking ahead to what UC Davis can and should be a decade hence.  We are at a major juncture in the campus's history, and it is terribly important that we think, that we dream, that we plan together to ensure that this campus, this campus that we treasure, achieves its full potential.  I intended today to simply begin that process of thinking, of dreaming, and of planning.  It is a process in which everyone has both a role and stake in the outcome.  Dreams dreamed by leaders alone truly do remain only dreams.  On the other hand, dreams dreamed by whole communities become, in fact, the future.  So let us all together begin to visualize the UC Davis of the year 2008.

It is true that all of this seems to be in some moments an ominous storm headed at us, perhaps even the rumblings of an earthquake.  But I consider it a most exciting time in the centuries-long evolution of universities.  It certainly energizes me, and I hope in some form or another that amongst the day-to-day work that all of us must do, it works its way into some nook or cranny of your existence and energizes you as well.

Thank you very much.