1999 Convocation: Chancellor's Address

UC Davis Larry N. Vanderhoef

The Myths and Realities of the "University Culture"

Wednesday, September 29, 1999
11:00 a.m.-12:00 noon

Freeborn Hall

Thank you, Professor Turner.  And a special thank you, Dr. Navrotsky.  Both of you are very special members of our faculty.

Good morning to all of you.  It means lots to all of these campus leaders on stage, and certainly to me, that all of you have taken the time to be here today.

No matter how often I give this annual convocation address, I am always a bit tense. The advice I got this morning from my wisest counselor, my wife, was "Look, Larry.  Don't try to be clever or witty or overly intelligent.  Just be yourself."  Now I'm really tense.

After a few words of welcome to our campus newcomers, I will describe to you our collective view of four challenges that face UC Davis in the coming five to ten years of growth, challenges to which we must all bring our energies and our resolve.

For those students here for the first time, a very special welcome.  Many of you are freshmen -- definitely an outdated term these days, since 56 percent of you are female.  No one in this audience is more special than you.  Twenty-two thousand of you applied for just three thousand eight hundred slots, and we picked you.

You will be taught by people who know their fields well because this university is a research university and they do research at the cutting edge.  You will have the opportunity to do research yourselves together with these faculty.  And after you graduate you will thrive in the job market primarily because of your own talent, but in part because of the reputation of UC Davis, a reputation based on the internationally recognized quality of its faculty and their research.

You are beginning what many people 20 and 30 years your senior look back upon as the most important, satisfying, exciting chapter of their lives.  So start now to enjoy the moment, because when graduation time comes four or five... or six... years from now, it will seem as if it was, indeed, only a moment ago that you were sitting here during your first week at UC Davis.

We are also proud to have here today new members of our faculty and administrative team.  You emerged as the best of the best.  You have the distinct feeling I trust that you've gotten on a fast-moving, very large train.  Twenty-five thousand students, fifty-two hundred acres, one point five billion dollar budget, one in every 300 California citizens a UC Davis alum.  You join a faculty that includes many who have earned the highest awards this country has to offer, including the MacArthur Prize, the so-called genius award -- latest winner -- Biologist Leah Krubitzer, election to this country's most prestigious academies, like newest National Academy of Sciences member Bruce Hammock in our Department of Entomology and Pulitzer Prize winners, like Gary Snyder in our department of English, and Alan Taylor in History.

You will watch, during the next five years, over three hundred million dollars in new construction.  Because no one is more influential than you in the process, you will participate in the recruitment of tomorrow's students, a more diverse group than ever before in the history of the University of California.  You will witness and participate in the recruitment of 500 new faculty.

There are many reasons to count this growth as exciting news about a bright future.  It is a time when careful planning for how we grow academically is essential.  We must meet these needs within the context of the fundamental commitments we have as a public, land grant university --

-           A commitment to excellence, of course, but also
-           A commitment to shared governance.
-           A commitment to access for our best high school graduates.
-           A commitment to our principles of community, and the pursuit of diversity.
-           A commitment to our roots and traditions in agriculture, charged by enthusiasm for innovation and emerging areas of excellence.
-           A commitment, finally, to our public trust.

All of us -- faculty, students, and a staff that is totally devoted to this university and to our future -- will travel the roads of solution and evolution in the first decade of the next millennium.  The time is here again to work for the good of the whole -- for the best possible long-term university gain.

So -- what is this work that calls for our special attention, that requires our immediate efforts? There are four areas that are specially on my mind.  They are, first, academic planning and the vision it will generate for the growth that is coming and the attendant faculty recruitments; second, the education, especially the general education, of our undergraduates and the curricula they choose; third, the ongoing need for university outreach, including our K‑12 partnerships and economic development in our immediate community; and, finally campus climate in a post‑Proposition 209, increasingly diverse, campus population.

First, then, to academic planning for the growth to come.  This actually happens in addition to the more fundamental things we must do when our student population grows.  For instance, we know we need student housing, so Primero Grove apartments are finished and hugely popular, and the earth is moving for the second complex, LaRue Park, across from Rec Hall.  We also know that we need more lecture halls, student laboratories and classrooms.  That building will rise from the ground near Briggs and Kleiber Hall.  Last year's sixty-five million dollar F.A.C.E. initiative and the new Dutton Hall will deal with recreational and student services needs.

Academic planning, is more complex, and extremely important, for deciding upon the academic areas in which we will grow.  It will determine the faculty we will recruit.  The faculty we recruit will determine the students we attract and the facilities we need.

We now have approximately 1200 members of the Academic Senate.  As a result of added enrollment during just the next five years, we will add about 175 to that number, and replace another 325 retirees.  Clearly, we have the potential for enormous change and opportunities.  The decisions we make in the next several years will shape the academic landscape of UC Davis for the first quarter of the next millennium.

This requires vision, and vision requires academic planning.  It is a myth that a simplistic notion of vision will do.  This is not Pepsi Cola in which the CEO can announce such a simplistic vision, like "Half the world will be drinking Pepsi by 2005."  The reality is that a university's vision has many components -- our academic ambitions, the quality of our physical environment, the community of people we will strive to be.

So... how do we develop our academic vision?  It comes from academic planning and it's not terribly complex.  There are three components -- Mission -- What is our primary purpose?  Identity -- Who are we and what distinguishes us from the other thousands of universities in the country?  And Direction -- where are we going?  This academic vision of our future must be shaped at several levels.  Certainly I as the Chancellor and the Provost in charge of Academic Affairs who oversees the process must have roles.  But the Deans have especially important roles as well, and the most crucial role is played by the faculty.  It is our faculty in our academic community who are most in touch with the frontiers of knowledge, they are most knowledgeable and realistic about opportunities for the future, and, most important when it comes to vision, the faculty has the crucial role in turning our academic vision into a reality.

My role in crafting the vision for this campus is to give guidance and to set parameters.  The mission component is the simplest and best known because it is unchanging:  Research, teaching and service/outreach.  Regarding identity and direction, most closely related to research, we must remind ourselves that UC Davis is not a one‑note university, and we must make that fact absolutely clear over the coming years.  That means strength in the academics of the arts and humanities, and in the Social Sciences, is essential.  Strength here will benefit and enhance the entire campus.  Simultaneously in our areas of recognized strength, agriculture, the sciences, engineering, there is much to be done, but not across the board.  Rather we must build internationally acclaimed, focussed programs on the strong base that we have.

Similarly, colleges, schools, and departments, as participants in the process, must have answers to these questions -- what is our realistic mission?  What is our direction?  What is our identity to be?  Answers to those questions are central to the development of our collective mission, and they express themselves through the process of academic planning.

Put another way, we are asking the big question about our future students -- What are their needs and how will their education mesh with society's needs?  And we are asking about our future faculty -- What are our priorities in scholarship?  These two questions are not unrelated.  Graduate students select programs based on the currency and stature of those programs.  When we give major attention to research priorities, we are also giving major attention to the quality of the students that will be attracted to those programs.  And for undergraduate students I have never been disabused of my notion that the best researchers are also excellent teachers in the classroom.  Therefore that research, the research of our current faculty and the faculty that we will recruit, will be a major influence in the shaping of the curriculum of the 21st Century.

Other fundamental practicalities and principles will guide us as we work through this academic planning process.  We must attend to the core university disciplines.  We must preserve the strengths that we have in certain distinctive areas on campus.  We must take advantage of new academic frontiers on which UC Davis is especially well positioned to make major contributions, and to lure non-UC collaborators to campus, like the world-renowned Jackson Laboratories, the Western Human Nutrition Research Center, and the Air Force's TRIGA reactor.  All of these make UC Davis a better place.

Other principles fundamental to academic planning?  One is that there are some areas in which we must grow, simply because of society's demands, for example in engineering and computer sciences.  Another is that we must remember that we can and do improve without growing.  Indeed, many preeminent universities have not changed in size for decades, yet continue to adapt and to pioneer new fields.

And please hear this, students first and subsequently our faculty will become increasingly diverse in the coming years.  These changes open new opportunities, and they will bring new challenges to us as a campus community. Students are very perceptive.  Unless they find this community to be welcoming and supportive, they will not gain the maximum benefit from their education.  This also means, and I cannot make this point more strongly, that we must, within the law, give renewed attention to recruitment of a faculty and staff that better mirrors the ethnicity and the gender of our student body.  Whatever else we may think or say about the educational experience, we all know the special role that mentoring plays, and that students will always turn to faculty members with whom they feel most comfortable.  Gender and ethnicity can be so very important in those relationships, yet our recent trends in faculty hiring seem not to recognize that need.  I am extremely concerned about our lack of success in adding underrepresented minorities to our faculty and by the recent decline in the number of women hired.  This fall I will appoint a high level campus committee, broadly representative, to ask why, to explore best recruitment practices at other research universities, and to offer concrete recommendations for action.

The academic planning process is proceeding on schedule.  During 1997-98 the provost, with the help of a faculty advisory committee, selected the ten proposals from over 100 that seemed the most promising and the best fit for UC Davis needs.  These new initiatives are exciting in their scope and ambition and extremely important to the future of our campus.  Examples include N.E.A.T. -- the one that you just heard about from Professor Navrotsky.  Another is the Hemispheric Institute on the Americas, a program that will complement the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley to create, together, arguably the country's most preeminent program.  Another is the Mind Sciences proposal an example of an interdisciplinary approach that seeks to link the new‑found knowledge of how the brain works, with disciplines such as philosophy, psychology and linguistics.

Regarding departmental and college level planning, this was the focus of last year's planning effort, and it is intended to ensure that we attend to the core disciplines and maintain UC Davis' unique strengths.  These plans will be reviewed during the fall with decisions to be made during the Winter Quarter of the coming year.

And so we have an extremely important set of decisions to make and a tremendously exciting future to contemplate as we develop our collective academic vision to guide us into the next decade.

So Academic Planning -- big issue for the years to come.

Second issue -- what is it that we have on our minds when we suggest needed changes in the undergraduate curriculum?  E. O. Wilson, noted Harvard scholar, says, "With rare exceptions American universities and colleges have dissolved their curriculum into a slurry of minor disciplines and specialized courses."  He urges leaning toward breadth in our college curricula.  I know this is not without controversy, but after all, depth will be -- already is -- forthcoming in the form of job-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, when it will have its affect throughout the life of the students?  Let me quote Wilson once more:

"Most of the issues that vex humanity daily -- ethnic conflict, arms escalation, over-population, abortion, environment, endemic poverty, to cite several most persistently before us -- cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities.  Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is...."

The question is, can universities like UC Davis do anything about the dilemma? Will we be able to work together to move in the directions that tomorrow demands?

We certainly have indications that we can.  A few years back, in a path-breaking mode David Robertson and Gary Snyder in English, Mark Wheelis in Microbiology, and several others said, "Yes we can," and their undergraduate Nature and Culture major accomplishes the consilience between the liberal arts and the sciences that E. O. Wilson considers crucial to the future of higher education.

How shall we start?  The first conversations must be between our administrative and faculty leaders, and I will encourage those discussions during the coming year.

Third issue -- campus outreach.  I have spoken to this topic each year for six years now.  Much has happened about which we can be proud, but there is so much more to do.  We are more engaged in partnerships with K-12 than ever before in this university's history.  Our programs and efforts to keep at‑risk fourth graders on the academic track toward higher education must be viewed as our obligation, not our gift, to tomorrow's university students.  We've had success, but that success only urges us to do more. 

We have brought the Arts to arts-starved K-12 students -- over 12,000 of them last year through our UC Davis Presents program, and our Arts Bridge program.  These have been a highly appreciated successes, but those successes ... only urge us to do more.  These are efforts predominantly overseen by Carol Wall, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Elizabeth Langland, Dean of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, and Vice Chancellor for University Relations Celeste Rose.  There is much for all of us to do.  They will report regularly on our progress.

We can, as well, make significantly greater contributions to K-12 curriculum development and teacher credentialing.  Regarding the latter, we have completed the first year of a wonderful partnership with Sacramento State University.  It was powerfully moving for me last spring as we sent off into the difficult K-12 world 60 new teachers.  But what more must we do?  What resources are needed?  And this is very important -- how can we best organize administratively and academically to be national leaders in these efforts?  These questions will occupy our academic leadership during the course of the next few  years.

Similarly, in the area of outreach toward area economic development, we have established an independent Technology Transfer Office at UC Davis with its first director, Larry Fox, just now joining us.  In addition, UC Davis will be the second chapter in the University of California's "UC Connect" program.  These programs must now grow and evolve, and we will do so in the UC Davis way, with advisory committees and working groups.  The functions of these offices are not  without controversy.  They will engage the issues of university-industry partnerships, a long‑time phenomenon for UC Davis, but increasingly under society's microscope; these offices will be involved in the opening of our UC Davis Enterprise Zone, a site for university‑compatible companies and organizations.  And third, these offices will be among our advisors on what is the most incendiary research-related topic in most of the developed world -- genetically modified organisms.  We cannot guard 5000 acres of research experiments 24 hours a day against terrorism.  Only education will do, and these offices and the offices of our deans must lead that educational effort.

Fourth and Final issue -- this is one that has always been on our minds, going back to the early 1970's.  It is the fostering of a nurturing campus community for all our citizens, and recognizing the high value of diversity.

For those of you new to the campus, please make a note to look to page 12 of our General Catalog.  There you will find a brief statement called Principles of Community.  Some of you may have received a copy as you entered this morning -- five 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 -- 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.  The Principles of Community urge you to stop just a minute and think about the great value that will be forthcoming if you can forego any preconceived notions you may have 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.  It will take just three minutes.

They remind us that everyone in this family, regardless of gender or ethnicity, must be treated fairly in their work.  That no one, ever, should feel unsafe in this community because of their gender or ethnicity.  And that we must commit ourselves to adequate attention to the retention of those students for whom university life represents an extraordinary change compared to the world from which they came.  These are serious academic and campus safety matters that need our immediate attention.  I have asked our provost, our student affairs vice chancellor and our administration vice chancellor to lay out for us a plan to address these and other immediately related issues.  They will pursue answers to these questions, and, where the answers so indicate, suggest the necessary changes in the way we operate.

And so, to take stock, we do not lack for important issues in the coming years.  They will be formative in the continuing growth and evolution of UC Davis.  This morning I've briefly mentioned those that are, in our view, the most important ones.  There are others for sure, and I expect some of you believe one or two of those "others" should have gotten top four ranking.  I may have it wrong.  As Yogi Berra has counseled, "Predictions are tough, especially about the future."  By all means, let me know what you think.  Write me at the Chancellor's office, e-mail me, give me a call, or visit me at one of my open-to-everybody brown bag lunches; the next one is scheduled for October 25.

Thank you all, very much, for joining us this morning.

Now, let me turn again, to Kern Holoman and our UC Davis symphony orchestra for Hail to California, our UC alma mater.  The words are in your program.