Blog entries for 2013
December 17, 2013
Known familiarly as the Milner Prizes, after Silicon Valley philanthropist Yuri Milner who established the awards in 2012, these prizes have emerged as among the most coveted in science—and not just because recipients receive $3 million. Professor David Haussler and I represented UCSC at the black-tie gala held at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View. I congratulated Milner on creating a program that celebrates both scientific achievement and philanthropy in Silicon Valley. I chatted briefly with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who announced a new prize in mathematics starting next year, and I was happy to reconnect with UCSC alumna and Google executive Susan Wojcicki. All in all, it was a who's who of Silicon Valley, emceed by actor Kevin Spacey. Glad I didn't show up in my shorts!
Speaking of getting out of the office, I had a wonderful time the other night meeting with students in the Chancellor's Undergraduate Internship Program. What an engaged group! I introduced myself and told them about my background and what it's like to be chancellor before opening it up to questions, and we had an excellent conversation. CUIP interns get involved in sustainability, outreach, community relations, advocacy, and a host of other activities, so they're a great group to begin with, but I could've spent hours with them. As it was, I was late getting home, but it was worth it. Conversations with students recharge my batteries and energize me for the work ahead.
I'll be away from campus for several weeks, first for a short break with family and then for two weeks in India as part of our campus outreach efforts. I wish each of you a restful, healthy, and joyous winter break, and I will see you next year!
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November 22, 2013
The defining question for a generation was "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?"
I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, walking out of my calculus class headed to the student union. I noticed a crowd gathered listening to something over the public address system. I initially assumed it was news about a space flight, but I listened more closely and learned the truth. First the announcement that the president had been shot, followed by silence. And then the announcement that Kennedy was dead. I took the bus home and remember passengers crying around me. The next few days were surreal. Everyone stayed home, watching events on TV. I was watching when Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald—I saw that assassination in real time. It was such a difficult time. And then came the funeral, watching John Jr. salute his father's coffin. I cried, just like everyone else.
Pundits call that day 50 years ago the "end of our innocence" as a nation. For me, as an individual, it was a turning point. I was too young to vote in the 1960 presidential election, and to be honest, I wasn't very engaged politically. I think JFK's assassination was the beginning of my political awakening. We lost so many leaders in the 1960s—Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and more. Three years after JFK's assassination, I was an antiwar activist at UC San Diego.
One note about JFK and UCSC for the history books: If Kennedy had lived, there are indications the president would have attended the dedication of the UC Santa Cruz campus. In a May 13, 1964 article, the Santa Cruz Sentinel quotes Dean McHenry saying the Secret Service had scouted the UCSC site in preparation for a visit by the president for the UCSC dedication. What a day that would have been!
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November 21, 2013
Who would've guessed that the topic of parallel universes would come up at a dinner party, but that's exactly what happened to me last weekend.
The occasion was a small dinner party hosted by former UC President Mark Yudof to honor Gordon and Betty Moore, recipients of the UC President's Medal. After dinner, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi asked me to explain parallel universes.
Not your typical after-dinner topic, but it was fun, because it is a little mind blowing. With the expansion of the universe accelerating, our portion of the universe may be as far as we'll ever see. So you can think of our observable universe as a bubble with a radius of just under 14 billion light years. And because there are a finite number of states of matter in such a bubble, if you go out far enough, you'll be able to identify an identical bubble, where the same people would be having the same dinner and the same conversation around the same table. We can even calculate that to encounter an identical bubble, you’d have to go out a distance of – brace yourself – 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 118 light years, a distance so large that it doesn’t matter whether it is in light years or millimeters. Amazing as it sounds, this could well be true. The second theory, eternal inflation, is more speculative. It posits that the universe is and has been expanding forever, with quantum effects causing big bangs to pop off randomly at different times and locations—and our universe is just one big bang that popped off.
I decided to spare everyone the quantum physics so stopped after just two of the four theories. All in all, it was a fun evening—and it was great to honor the Moores, who have been tremendous supporters of the University of California. I've only seen Gordon once since UCSC presented the Moores with the Foundation Medal two years ago, and I am delighted that both seem to be doing well.
Speaking of doing well, kudos to UC President Janet Napolitano. At last week's Regents meeting, and during a dinner with UC chancellors last Tuesday, she was bold, engaged, energetic, and inquisitive. I share her concern about tuition hikes and appreciate her willingness to consider new ideas, including the "cohort" model that would guarantee stable tuition levels for students throughout their UC years. Napolitano is bringing good ideas and solid communication skills to the table; the university is going to benefit.
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October 31, 2013
I'm not often compared to a rock star, so I got a kick out of hearing that students at Seaside High School enjoyed my visit to their campus yesterday. The visit was part of "Achieve UC," a systemwide outreach project designed to get out our message of access and affordability. Many thanks to the Educational Partnership Center and all the staff who worked behind the scenes to make the visit such a success, as well as those who attended. The real "star" of the event was Seaside alumna Monica Tran, a second-year College Eight student who shared her story and advice with about 200 of Seaside's current students. They were riveted, proving again that our own students are our best ambassadors!
I offered to host Seaside High School and buy them dinner if they come up to UCSC during our Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation this winter. I hope they take me up on the invitation. There's nothing like a visit to our campus to crystallize the dreams and aspirations of prospective students.
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October 28, 2013
It has been a whirlwind of activity this month. I suppose I've spoken with hundreds of people in recent weeks. But one conversation stands out.
The day before we publicly launched our fundraising campaign, I had a phone call with a donor who decided during our conversation to make a $2.5 million estate gift to the campus. It was an extraordinary moment during a striking conversation that covered quite a bit of ground. What struck me is the depth of commitment felt by donors who make such sizable gifts to the campus. This donor prefers to remain anonymous so I won't say much, but I'm reminded that gifts are meaningful to the campus and to those who choose to give, as well. It is a powerful feeling to interact with people who believe deeply in the transformational power of education and in what we're doing here at UC Santa Cruz. I've had many memorable moments as chancellor. This one was among the best.
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October 21, 2013
We launched the public phase of our $300 million fundraising campaign on Friday, and it was phenomenal. UC President Janet Napolitano had a great line at the end of her remarks, saying, "You have a great faculty, you have great research facilities, and you have a great student body. Let's add some money and mix!"
Close to 200 guests attended the lunch, escorted up the driveway to University House by enthusiastic students, many of whom carried signs that said "Thank you." It was a proud day for the campus—and it followed a proud evening. Our first "Ed Talks" event, with faculty members David Haussler, Terrie Williams, and Alan Christy, was terrific. The crowd loved each of the TED-style talks, and everyone I spoke with afterward was inspired by what they'd heard. Who wouldn't be, hearing about UCSC efforts to decode cancer, save endangered species, and heal rifts that date back to World War II? You really can't beat that.
Capping the festivities were our sold-out Foundation Forum with architect Frank Gehry and the Founders Gala dinner at the Cocoanut Grove. Every year, I wonder if our Founders Celebration festivities can live up to what we've done in the past, and every year they have. Hats off to everyone who played a role in pulling it off, especially the hard-working staff!
One observation about Napolitano: She was fully engaged throughout her visit. We packed her schedule and at every stop – meeting with students at Cowell College, talking with faculty at the Center for Adaptive Optics, attending the Ed Talks downtown, having dinner with campus leaders on Thursday night – she listened closely, asked questions, and dug deeper into the topic at hand. I was very impressed, and I look forward to working with her. I am also delighted that her first impression of UC Santa Cruz was entirely favorable. Again, kudos to all!
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September 12, 2013
One of the things that became abundantly clear to me after I became chancellor is that it's staff who really run this place. Chancellors come and go, provosts come and go, but UCSC is well-served by our legions of dedicated, hard-working staff.
That's why it's always a pleasure to present the annual Outstanding Staff Award. This year's recipient is Elaine Kihara, an academic preceptor at Oakes College. She's been on campus more than 20 years, providing support to students. On some days, she may see as many as 18 students who need help with a range of issues that could jeopardize their academic success. She does an amazing job, bringing kindness, caring, and sensitivity to every situation. Our first-generation students are particularly appreciative of her understanding of their needs. Oakes Provost Kim Lau says that if Oakes were a sports team, Elaine would be elected "most valuable player" by outsiders—and team captain by insiders. Congratulations, Elaine!
And heartfelt thanks to all our talented staff. Nearly 1,000 turned out for the Staff Appreciation Breakfast on Tuesday, filling the Stevenson Event Center. The room was buzzing, and it was great to see so many old friends.
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September 9, 2013
I'm heartened by news that there may be new life for Shakespeare Santa Cruz as an independent nonprofit theater company. I've been in contact with Bill Richter, the immediate past president of the Board of Directors of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, who is leading a group that hopes to create a new entity to carry on the great work of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. I've been in communication with Karen Sinsheimer, founding chair of the board, who is also very supportive of this new direction. This development shows the depth of community interest in keeping Shakespeare alive in Santa Cruz. I know I want the campus to do what we reasonably can to help them carry on the Shakespeare tradition.
Shakespeare Santa Cruz has provided entertainment and a real cultural boost for the campus and the community, and nothing would make me happier than to see a way forward for a new independent organization.
Bottom line, the campus couldn't continue to carry the organization financially; we were not on a sustainable path. That doesn't mean we can't work with an independent group. I like the new energy and determination that's emerging now. It bodes well. I've spent many summer afternoons and evenings enjoying Shakespeare. I would love to continue that tradition, joined by community members and supporters of a new enterprise. Fingers crossed!
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August 15, 2013
Cynthia Mathews showed this picture at Monday's tribute dinner to her husband Bill. That's Bill in front and me in the beard, with Bill and Cynthia's daughter Amy and Cynthia's niece Lisa. Cynthia took this shot in 1973 at Lost World in Scotts Valley, where she picked us up after one of our long bike rides. Seems like yesterday!
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August 13, 2013
It's always fun to show off this beautiful campus to visitors. Last week's visitors attended the Dickens Universe, and this week's guests include participants at two high-profile scientific conferences. I had the pleasure of welcoming both groups of scientists to campus.
For the 29th year, the campus is hosting an astronomy conference that focuses on galaxies and structures in the universe. It was an honor to speak at a dinner tribute to our own Professor Emeritus Bill Mathews of astronomy, who taught the best astronomy course I ever took--it also happens to be the only astronomy course I ever took, but I'm sure he'd hold the title regardless! Bill's broad and enthusiastic interest in theoretical astrophysics is the reason I came to UCSC in 1972, a year after getting my PhD at UC San Diego. He'd moved here from UCSD just a couple of years earlier and alerted me to the opening for an assistant professor. The rest, as they say, is history. (Bill is also one of the two or three best medieval coronet players in the world and founded the longtime Santa Cruz group, The Antiquarian Funks.)
The Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics is hosting the biannual five-day meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields. This group of physicists has had a big year with the Higgs Boson breakthrough, and UCSC is honoring two of our own – Abe Seiden and Howard Haber—as Faculty Research Lecture awardees.
From Dickens and Shakespeare to galaxies and the God particle, we've got it all at UCSC. And every so often it's fun to show it off a bit.
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July 31, 2013
The United States is investing less in these areas at the precise moment that nations like China, Singapore, and South Korea are dramatically increasing their investment. We need to take the long view, recognizing that these investments pay off over decades. We are still reaping the dividends of investments made in the 1960s, when California made funding public higher education a priority, and the federal government invested heavily in graduate education, research, and discovery, much of it linked to the space program.
I've written before about the need for a strong federal partner in education. I've proposed alternative models for funding public universities and easing the burden on students and families. And I've proudly celebrated the accomplishments of UCSC's pioneering researchers. As Washington heads into fall budget negotiations, the president and Congress need to hear from those of us who believe that the future of our country depends on prioritizing higher education and research. We can't afford to turn our backs on the next generation.
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July 30, 2013
This year's first show of the summer Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival is a winner. This production of The Taming of the Shrew is certainly the best I've ever seen. It may also be the best Shakespeare Santa Cruz show I've ever seen, period. It is certainly one of the top three. The acting was brilliant, the show was well-produced (and hilarious), and it was fun to watch performers stretch out and enjoy the new stage.
If you're a festival regular, prepare to be delighted. And if you've never been to a Shakespeare show, as was the case with my guest at last week's matinee, make this your first. You won't regret it!
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July 17, 2013
It's fitting, I think, that UCSC's first online course offering through Coursera is the legendary class, The Holocaust, co-taught for decades by Murray Baumgarten and Peter Kenez. I couldn't be more proud that this unique, interdisciplinary course is now available at no cost to students around the globe.
Murray and Peter are friends as well as esteemed colleagues, so I can comfortably underscore the benefit this online course provides by preserving their insights for posterity. Peter's scholarship as a historian and Murray's expertise in Holocaust literature are unmatched. Additionally, for years, UCSC students have had the extraordinary privilege of learning from Peter, who is a Holocaust survivor. It is gratifying to know that Murray and Peter's audience has expanded exponentially through this online course.
I recognize that there is considerable public debate about the appropriate use of online courses in higher education, and additional debate about MOOCs in particular; yet I maintain that sharing a signature course like The Holocaust with the world speaks to the core of our public-service mission. Congratulations, and thank you, Murray and Peter!
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June 24, 2013
Here's my op-ed about David Haussler that the Santa Cruz Sentinel published yesterday. It's good to remember that we have "champions of change" right here in our community, and I'm happy to help promote this good news. Read the campus news story here.
White House Honors Genomics Team
As the cost of sequencing human genomes plummets, we as a society must come to terms with issues of privacy and access. Genomic data have the potential to transform the way doctors practice medicine, but researchers must collaborate if we're to realize the full benefits that copious amounts of new data could provide.
That's why it was gratifying this week that UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics professor David Haussler was recognized as a leader of a team honored as a "Champion of Change" by the White House.
Haussler is the computer genius who led the team that assembled the first draft human genome sequence in 2000—and immediately posted the sequence on the web, where it would be free and accessible to researchers around the globe. Today, the UCSC Genome Browser is the most popular tool in the world for accessing human genomic data.
The Champions of Change program recognizes innovation that makes a positive change in the world. The White House recognized a newly formed global alliance that is dedicated to protecting—and facilitating—the secure sharing of genomic data among researchers and clinical practitioners. The award was presented by President Obama's senior science advisor John Holdren and by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
No one deserves this honor more than Haussler and the other seven members of the alliance's organizing committee. Haussler is a true visionary. In addition to the UCSC Genome Browser, his team recently built the largest shared cancer genome database in the world—the Cancer Genomics Hub (CGHub)—for the National Cancer Institute.
As costs drop, biomedical researchers need infrastructure and technology platforms that allow them to access the gold mine of genomic data being produced around the world. Consider this: The CGHub was designed to initially hold 5 petabytes of data—equivalent to 100 million four-drawer file cabinets full of text.
Imagine the challenge of building that system. That's the job of Haussler and his UCSC team of computer geeks. And it's urgent work, because doctors are close to being able to use those platforms to diagnose patients and tailor treatments to individuals.
Just last month, researchers announced major advances in the quest to decode the genetics of two forms of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and uterine cancer. That work will help doctors classify tumors based on genetic similarities rather than by the affected organs. This represents a major triumph for patients and their doctors.
In addition, patients and doctors will benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court's recent unanimous ruling that human genes cannot be patented. We must ensure the smooth, safe flow of information among stakeholders, even as we guard the privacy rights of patients and research participants.
UCSC sociologist Jenny Reardon, who is working on her second book about the ethics of genomics, cautions that we will soon confront even more complicated issues regarding the ownership and control of genomic data. After all, who do you want to have access to your genome? Your loved ones? Your doctor? Your employer? Your insurance company?
Brave new world? Indeed. But we are up to this task. And we are fortunate to have champions of change right here in Santa Cruz.
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June 21, 2013
Commencement is always inspiring, and this year was no different. I met so many excited graduates and heard from dozens of grateful parents. There's almost nothing better than hearing a proud mother or father talk about how they've seen their child grow intellectually and as a person during their years at UCSC. Our Public Affairs team put together a great video that captures the spirit of the weekend.
And yes, I estimate I shook more than 3,500 hands over the weekend--and then was quoted in a Los Angeles Times story on that very topic. I like what Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts, said about smiling so much during commencement that his cheeks get tired. All in the line of duty, I say.
The campus feels pretty quiet this week. Parking lots are nearly empty, and the deer and squirrels are venturing farther from usual their nooks and crannies. We're in transition, but I know staff are hard at work preparing to host student orientation in just a few weeks. And so the cycle will begin again.
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June 12, 2013
Continuing my "what I'm hearing from…" theme, I always appreciate what parents have to say about UCSC. A few weeks ago, we heard from the father of a student who graduated 14 years ago and is now a professor at Kent State University in Ohio. Fourteen years after graduation, he took the time to write a letter of appreciation—how's that for loyalty?
This father described visiting the campus for the first time on their way to Reed College in Portland, another college known for "free spirits" where his son's high school journalism teacher had all but convinced him to go. Driving up to campus, he thought he'd taken a wrong turn. Grazing cattle? Redwoods? The Admissions Office looked like "an old barn," he wrote. But his son promptly spotted a friend from home who'd enrolled at UCSC the year before, and he took off to spend the day shadowing his buddy and sitting in on classes.
You know much of the rest of the story, I suspect, because every student—and every parent—raves about our campus's beauty. They appreciate UCSC's academics, and even those who are initially skeptical come to appreciate our iconoclastic Banana Slug mascot.
This student had the added bonus of excelling at tennis under the tutelage of legendary coach Bob Hansen. His father recalls the day his son and his partner took the court during a tournament against the second-ranked Stanford team. "The Stanford pair came on to the center court wearing expensive uniforms and bags full of racquets," he wrote, adding that the UCSC pair won the tournament wearing their Banana Slug T-shirts—and received a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.
This year, that same Banana Slug was elected a distinguished professor by the students of Kent State University. And he reached the finals of the Cleveland city tennis tournament. "Banana Slugs rule," wrote his father, as proud as ever of his son.
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May 9, 2013
Check out my op-ed that appears in the San Francisco Chronicle today. I am proud to lead a university that's making major contributions to the war on cancer. I didn't want to miss this opportunity to remind the public of the benefits of their investment in the University of California. Here it is:
Medical research must not be cut
Researchers announced major advances last week in the quest to decode the genetics of cancer, at last empowering clinicians to begin developing personalized treatments for two forms of the disease: acute myeloid leukemia and uterine cancer.
The advances will help doctors classify tumors based on genetic similarities rather than by the affected organs, dramatically improving their ability to
tailor treatment plans for individual patients. Imagine the triumph that represents for patients and their doctors. Such clinical applications are the longed-for outcome of basic research.
My own campus is home to a squad of brilliant self-described “computer geeks” who manage the nationwide warehouse of cancer genomic data — the Cancer Genomics Hub. These technology wizards are driven by a profound desire to conquer cancer, and after years of behind-the-scenes work, the benefits of basic scientific research are reaching patients. That’s why it’s agonizing to see federal support of scientific research jeopardized by sequester-triggered budget cuts. Across the country, federal agencies that are subject to the sequester provide vital funding for cutting-edge research, including the study of cancer genomics. The National Institutes of Health faces a 5 percent cut. That might not sound like much until you ask yourself: Which patients, suffering from which diseases, can we turn away from?
That’s not even factoring in the fact that federally funded research has kept the United States at the forefront of global technology for decades.
The question for all of us: How can we allow this to happen? Focus for a moment on cancer. How many times have you or your loved ones been touched by cancer? Now, finally at the precipice of a revolution, how can we say we can’t afford this quest?
If Washington can agree that airline punctuality warrants budgetary intervention, surely we must raise our voices and demand protection of cancer research.
The war on cancer is only one example of the societal benefits of nationally funded research — work that fuels our economy and keeps us on the cusp of technological innovation. Please join me in calling for robust funding of research in the public interest. Each step forward serves the public good.
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April 29, 2013
Benjamin Du, Andrew Kang, and Che-An Wu rehearsed before UCSC's campuswide talent show. They were one one of the top-three acts. (Photo by Peggy Townsend)
Cowell alumni, class of 1973, got in the Banana Slug spirit during Alumni Weekend. Current students, below, took advantage of the always-popular photo booth, too.
Where to start after such a fantastic weekend? At the beginning, I guess, which was Friday night's campuswide talent show at the Stevenson Event Center. Wow, Banana Slugs really do have talent!
Ten acts made it through preliminaries to perform for a packed house on Friday, and I was so impressed by the range of talent: piano, guitar, Irish dance, singing, juggling—there was even a yo-yo master! Everyone was so professional, and everybody had fun, including the judges. Dean of Students Alma Sifuentes was doing her best to channel television's Simon Cowell, and Police Chief Nader Oweis shared a few Arabic dance steps. As for the contestants, they are all winners in my book, but a special congratulations to Casey Dayan and Sean Campbell, who took home the $2,000 scholarship (which was funded by the UCSC Alumni Association). I was invited to be a judge next year, and I can't wait.
Alumni Weekend was a big success, drawing grads from across the country-- and at least one woman from Europe; I know, because I talked with her. The Oakes College dedication of a plaque in memory of Don Rothman was moving. Many speakers talked eloquently of what Don meant to their lives. From there, I attended the all-alumni lunch at Porter, where I got into the spirit of the "happy place" theme of the weekend by sharing my personal top ten list (see below). My wife Kelly joined me for the Lavender Reception at the Cantu Center before we headed to the University Center for the tribute dinner to Herman Blake. I've never seen the place so packed! Three of Herman's children were able to attend, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee turned down a date on Sunday-morning television with George Stephanopoulos to honor her former mentor. I do believe Herman's tenure as provost of Oakes was instrumental in setting the campus on the pathway to today's diversity, and we are indebted to him for that—and much more.
Sunday's Dizikes Concert was outstanding, with original members of the Cowell Madrigal Singers performing under the direction of founder Paul Rabwin (who joked that "we rehearse five hours every 40 years"). It was a kick to see one singer relying on an iPad—"performing 16th-century music with 21st-century technology," as Paul quipped. The concert spanned the generations when Acquire, one of UCSC's thriving a cappella groups, took the stage. They nearly brought the house down with their rendition of "Circle of Life" from The Lion King. It was the two groups' collaboration on Paul Simon's "America" that got everyone in the crowd on their feet for an enthusiastic standing ovation. It really was fantastic, and the audience loved every minute. I wrapped up the weekend with a visit to the exhibition at the Digital Arts Research Center.
Congratulations to all the staff and faculty who worked so hard to make the weekend such a success. Here's that Top Ten list:
UCSC has been my happy place for 41 years. Here's a Top Ten list that captures just ten favorite memories:
#10: My very first visit to campus, as a UC San Diego grad student attending an all-UC conference. It was amazing. I'd never seen a campus like this.
#9: Cold dark matter. This campus allowed me, as a researcher, to make a significant contribution, for which I will always be grateful.
#8: The moment the elevator I was stuck in opened on October 17, 1989--45 minutes after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.
#7: The East Field is one of my favorite places. The view is spectacular; it's where my investiture as chancellor took place, and this is where commencement takes place each spring. It's a very happy place.
#6: The day in 1986 when students made the Banana Slug our official campus mascot. The slug prevailed, besting the sea lion in a campuswide vote. On the 25th anniversary in 2011, the Buttery made special-edition banana slug cookies, and the City Council proclaimed September 27th the "Day of the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slug Mascot." How far we've come!
#5: The first time I biked up to campus. I made it to the top, but it wasn't easy!
#4: I have had the pleasure of knowing all four of UCSC's alumni regents: Paul Hall, Alan Goodman, Gary Novack, and Ken Feingold.
They've all done great work for the campus and the university, and they make me proud.
#3: I'm pleased to have played a behind-the-scenes role in securing a staff advisor to the Regents. The story includes a hushed conversation with a UCLA staffer that took place behind a potted palm—I felt a little like James Bond!
#2: This one goes back to 1983 or so: The day I gave my professor's inaugural lecture at Oakes College was a very happy moment. Making full professor and being introduced by Herman Blake was a winning combination!
My #1 happy memory from this happy place is pretty recent: On February 1, I had the honor of accompanying astronomy professor Sandy Faber to the White House where President Obama presented her with the National Medal of Science. What a moment. It's one we can all share and in which we can take great pride!
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April 26, 2013
Do you feel spring in the air? I do. The pace of activity on campus has picked up. The sprint to the finish line has begun.
Two impressive rankings came out just in time for Alumni Weekend: UCSC placed 11th in the annual Leiden Ranking, which measures the scientific impact of universities. We also earned top marks for environmentalism from The Princeton Review. We were the only UC campus to get the highest-possible score in their annual "green ratings" of colleges. More evidence that Banana Slugs love sustainability.
In other great news, the San Francisco Chronicle published an outstanding story about the UCSC Farm, its pioneering role in organic agriculture, and our ongoing contributions to sustainable food production. If you want to the highlights of media coverage of the campus, check out the "UCSC in the News" section on our Newscenter website.
I'm looking forward to Alumni Weekend. I'll be attending as many events as I can, including the all-alumni lunch on Saturday and the tribute dinner for my old friend and Oakes College colleague Herman Blake on Saturday night. But first, I'll be at the Academic Senate's forum on online education this afternoon, and I hope to make it to the campuswide student talent show tonight, too.
There's almost too much to do, but that's a good thing. It's spring, after all!
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April 24, 2013
Yesterday's whirlwind tour of Watsonville was fantastic. One thing that struck me was the number of UCSC alumni working in Watsonville and the impact they are having on students, the environment, and quality of life.
The focus of the day was water and education, and connections and partnerships were abundant. Deputy City Manager Mario Maldonaldo (BA, sociology/Latin American Studies, '96) is an alum, as is Steve Palmisano (MA, biology, '92) of the Water Department. Jackie McCloud (BS, Earth sciences, '03), a chemist with the city's water lab, is an environmental studies grad who remains engaged with campus through her work with Professor Brent Haddad on the development of a new UCSC lab course on water quality.
Water is such a critical issue for the Central Coast, and Watsonville's water department is a great partner as we work together to develop new technology and to train the next generation of water professionals. About 300 UCSC students have already gained hands-on experience through fieldwork in Watsonville, and more opportunities in water recycling, treatment, and technology are under development. Students at Pajaro Valley High School are getting involved, too, through UCSC's environmental studies-based educational outreach program SCWIBLES.
I also met incoming frosh Stephanie Barraze, a senior at Watsonville High School whose mentor Jacob Martinez (BS, ecology and evolutionary biology, '05) works for ETR Associates to encourage underserved youth to pursue higher education. Jacob met Stephanie through Watsonville's TEC (Tecnologia-Educacion-Comunidad) project, which she joined when she was in sixth grade. Stephanie just won an award from the National Center for Women in Technology. The connections don't end there, because TEC partners with our GIIP program on a summer technology program for high school students.
It's great to meet the students who are participating in these programs and to see the difference alumni are making in our lives. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The world needs more Banana Slugs. I'm glad Stephanie is joining us in September.
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April 11, 2013
It's almost decision time for admitted students. Each spring I am impressed by the way our current students reach out to prospective Banana Slugs, hosting them for overnight visits and giving them a real glimpse of what it's like to be a student at UC Santa Cruz.
Our student-initiated outreach programs, including A Step Forward, Destination Higher Education, and Oportunidades Rumbo a la Educacion, focus on reaching out to students of color. They play a key role in building the diversity of our student body, because 60 percent of admitted prospective frosh who visit UCSC as part of these programs end up enrolling. That's extraordinary. What a difference our students' personal approach makes!
Finding the right college is all about "fit," and I know high school seniors and prospective transfer students appreciate these visits. I've also heard that a lot of participants who enroll at UCSC end up joining one of these outreach programs to "give back" and share their enthusiasm about the campus. We even have an alumna staff member working in outreach now who first visited campus through one of these programs. This year's cohort arrives today, and I look forward to meeting them tonight.
Closer to home, students like Thomas Gelder and Will Brotherson are working with another, even newer, student-led program that helps high school students with the college application process. Check out this story about the University and College Access Network.
Great work, Slugs!
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March 26, 2013
It seemed like practically the entire Central Coast turned out for Leon Panetta's welcome home party the other night. I kidded Leon and his wife Sylvia about the opening in the UC President's office. After all, it could be another retirement failure for him. Why not? We could use his smarts, strategic sensibility, and savvy.
Leon gave a warm speech about the importance of serving your country and your community. Public service is an integral part of the American dream, he said, and we all deserve to have government representatives who are capable of working together and getting things done. I couldn't agree more.
I also saw my former colleague Tim White, who left the chancellorship of UC Riverside to take the helm of the Cal State University system. All I can say is CSU is in good hands. Eduardo Ochoa, acting president of CSUMB, hosted the event, which attracted more than 500 people. He's a talented and smart guy—and he hosts a great party, too.
I also had a chance to meet Walter Tribley, the new president of Monterey Peninsula College, and to reconnect with Patti Hiramoto. Patti left UCSC to lead human resources at CSUMB and is now their vice president for External Relations. Well done, Patti!
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March 25, 2013
Graduate student Kane Cunningham talked about his research with marine mammals. Photo credit National Marine Fisheries Service, permit #14535.
Wow, what an impressive turnout we had in Sacramento last week. Our annual reception and dinner for alumni and friends, which we host as part of the systemwide UC Day advocacy effort, drew assemblymembers Mark Stone, Paul Fong, and Luis Alejo, as well as California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird ('72, Stevenson, politics).
The focus was on marine science, and the program included remarks by Paul Koch, dean of Physical and Biological Sciences. Paul talked about his own work in Antarctica before turning over the podium to graduate students Lisa Ziccarelli and Kane Cunningham. It's not an overstatement to say they brought the house down.
Lisa studies harmful algal blooms and their impacts on marine life, while Kane studies the effects of human-generated noise on marine mammals. These two are impressive! Lisa came to UCSC from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, where she was a research assistant after college, while Kane earned a BA in philosophy from Vassar, then an MFA in new media from the University of the Danube and an MS in electrical engineering from Boston University. Both said they came to UCSC for our strong programs, and both talked about getting a kick out of working with undergraduates—as teaching assistants, but also as colleagues in the lab.
They were great ambassadors for the campus, speaking from the heart and underscoring the value of this great campus of ours. I'm very pleased that the event attracted a good crowd of lucky folks who got to hear from them.
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March 15, 2013
I had a fascinating chance conversation with Governor Jerry Brown this week. We talked for 40 minutes, covering everything from the founding provost of Cowell College to the origins of the universe. I was impressed by the range of his curiosity.
He began by asking me if I'd read any of three books with links to the campus: One by Cowell Provost Page Smith, one by Kresge anthropologist Gregory Bateson, and the third was Paul Lee's book about Alan Chadwick and the history of our first campus garden. We talked briefly about Chadwick and all he accomplished, and the governor mentioned that he'd like to see Bateson in the California Hall of Fame.
Then we turned to astronomy, which he said he knew nothing about. He asked about dark matter, dark energy, and the big bang. I tried to explain the composition of the universe, as well as eternal inflation (the idea that the universe is forever expanding exponentially but regions separate out and slow down due to quantum effects, like the one that became our big bang). I got into the theory of type 1 multiverses that posit that there is an identical universe to ours a predictable but gigantic number of light years away.
He asked about intelligent life in the universe. I explained the Drake equation, formulated by UCSC Professor Emeritus Frank Drake, and why it predicts other technological civilizations in the Milky Way. I tried to give the governor a sense of the range of reasonable estimates and promised to send him my book.
The last thing we talked about was asteroids hitting the earth. He wanted to know what I thought we should be doing about it, so I explained the magnitude of the issue and reassured him that with enough warning it wouldn't be hard to deflect an asteroid heading toward Earth. He asked if the United States or China has such a program, and I said no but I have heard of a nonprofit venture. Turns out that's being led by his friend Rusty Schweiker, the former astronaut, and he asked for my card so that Rusty could contact me.
Talk about an inquiring mind! It was gratifying that the governor knows as much about UCSC as he does, and the conversation was thoroughly enjoyable, if not quite what I was expecting at the UC Regents meeting.
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February 25, 2013
I can hardly believe it's been 10 years since the campus first hosted the Scholarship Benefit Dinner. This weekend's dinner has to have been one of the very best, with alumni speakers Kevin Beggs (Porter '89) and Edison Jensen (Oakes '86), student speaker Autumn Johnson, and alumni emcees Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant (Porter '94) and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend (Porter, '01). What a line-up!
Kevin was inspiring and delightful. We talked over dinner about new modes of television viewing, and how some fans today like to watch episode-after-episode in a single sitting, while others prefer to watch their favorite shows one week at a time. As president of Lionsgate Television Group, Kevin has a good excuse to sit on the couch and watch TV for hours—he's working!
Edison is a model for our students of social commitment and contribution, having overseen the expansion of health care services to farmworkers in Santa Cruz County. Autumn spoke eloquently about what financial aid has meant for her in terms of creating opportunity, and Hilary and Zach's banter about narrative evaluations was delightful. All in all, what a great way to raise money for scholarships!
SBD was a hard act to follow, but it was an honor to host an afternoon tea on Sunday for U. S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. What an impressive woman. She is articulate, engaged, and assertive, although she doesn't speak publicly about her court record. Her iCivics.org web site utilizes games, so it was a pleasure to refer her to our computer gaming wizard Michael Mateas.
To cap it off, UCSC alum Rick Carter won an Oscar for production design on Lincoln, and alum Dency Nelson was working behind the scenes. Slugs are everywhere, doing amazing things wherever they go!
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February 25, 2013
I grew up in Milwaukee, which was deeply segregated for a Northern city. The line was stark, although I crossed it each week when I took the bus into the heart of the Black side of town to visit my grandparents. As orthodox Jews, they needed to live within walking distance of their synagogue, which was built decades earlier when the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish.
Milwaukee remained starkly divided throughout my childhood and young adulthood. The public library where I worked during college was located at the intersection of the two sides of town; its staff and clientele were more far more mixed than the city itself. On my first day on the job, my African American boss and I talked about that day's boycott of public schools, organized to protest the disparate quality of schools in the city's Black and white neighborhoods. My own high school was located on the edge of those worlds, and a scandal broke a few years after I graduated, when we learned that the principal had gerrymandered district lines to avoid enrolling Black students at the school.
These experiences shaped my commitment to equality. I went on to learn more about race relations and the Black Power movement as a graduate student at UC San Diego; so few African American students were enrolled there at the time that I'm pretty sure I knew them all personally. That's a sad testament to the times but also a compelling reminder of how far we've come.
As we celebrate Black History Month and honor national figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., I think of my hometown and the regional leaders who helped break down the lines of segregation. Things are different in Milwaukee today--not perfect, but far better. Much of the credit goes to Father James Groppi, a Roman Catholic priest and civil rights leader who organized protests to desegregate Milwaukee's public schools and advocate for fair housing.
Every community owes a debt of gratitude to the brave individuals who stood up for fairness. Their collective legacy was evident last month, when President Obama placed his hand on the Bibles owned by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln.
Black History Month is a good prompt to look back, take stock, and renew our commitment to fighting today's injustices. Let's keep standing up, let's keep making progress, let's stay on the path of progress.
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October 15, 2013
It has been just over two weeks since our new ad first appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Several people have told me they love the reference to our banana slug mascot, and some have criticized the bold graphics—particularly the red thumb. Two dear friends of the campus suggest that UCSC's founding was more of an innovation than a "revolt" against the educational status quo. I appreciate all the input I've received, both positive and negative. As an ad, it has done its job well—people are talking and thinking about UCSC. Our marketing director even got a call from another university asking how we'd gotten away with taking such a daring approach!
I think it's a great ad that captures our spirit. Yet, advertising is only one part of our ramped-up outreach effort, and no single ad will represent this complex and multi-faced campus perfectly.
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July 1, 2013
My executive assistant (and the world's biggest Mickey Mouse fan) Maurene Catto, left, celebrates her retirement with Kerr Hall colleagues; Gennevie Herbranson baked that cake herself.
Across campus, a number of staff and faculty are retiring this summer, including Vice Chancellor of Research Bruce Margon and my executive assistant Maurene Catto. Saying farewell to these colleagues is a mixed bag, because of course I am happy to celebrate this milestone in their lives. But it's also rough, because each departure marks the end of one era—and the beginning of another.
I hosted a small reception for Bruce last week, which gave me a chance to publicly recognize his accomplishments. Each year during Bruce's seven-year tenure as vice chancellor, the Office of Research has raised more than $100 million in external funds. Bruce's focused pursuit of resources has helped propel faculty research on this campus to new heights, and I know I spoke for many when I thanked him. Bruce's wife Lorraine is a prodigious fundraiser, too. She is the force behind the UCSC Women's Club's annual Chocolate Festival, which funds student scholarships. These two have made lasting contributions to UCSC—and it was a delight to meet their newest family member: their brand new granddaughter, Evelyn. She was an adorable reminder of all that comes with the passage of time.
I know I'll see Bruce around campus as a faculty member, but I expect I'll see less of Maurene, who has provided invaluable support throughout my tenure as chancellor. She is eager to spend time with her husband, kids, and grandchildren, and I can't blame her for that.
Her departure reminds me of the gentle way she broke me in during my early days as chancellor. I remember in particular how I came to own a tuxedo. After my appointment, I resisted my wife's suggestion that I buy a tuxedo (remember, I'm the guy who wore shorts to work for years, and I just couldn't imagine that I'd get much use out of a tux). However, before long an occasion arose for which I'd need a tuxedo. When I asked Maurene to arrange a rental, she didn't miss a beat, saying "We don't need to rent one—you already own a tuxedo!" Sure enough, my wife Kelly had figured out – even before I did — that the best way to get anything done would be to go directly to Maurene. Thanks, Maurene, for all the help over the years!
And you know what? I've worn that tux more times than I can count.
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June 3, 2013
Not to sound like a broken record, but I was so proud of the campus this past weekend when we hosted a series of events in Los Angeles. One-third of our students come from LA, and 15 percent of our alumni live and work there, so we took the show on the road—bringing faculty and students to town.
We hosted a reception and dinner on Saturday night that featured captivating TED-style talks by faculty members David Haussler, John Weber, and Terrie Williams. David hit it out of the park as he described the urgency of his work on the genomics of cancer, John presented the campus vision of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, and Terrie inspired the crowd with her tale of working to save endangered species, from the Hawaiian monk seal to the African elephant.
The program also featured the music of Cowell College first-year students Jackson Vanover and Aaron Ho. I'd seen these two perform during our campuswide talent show, and they were just as good in front of this group of alumni, parents, trustees, and friends as they were before hundreds of their classmates. What great ambassadors they are!
For me, the highlight of the evening was when our Pulitzer Prize-winning emcee Hector Tobar (Oakes College, B.A. Latin American Studies and sociology, 1988) spoke about his experience at UCSC. Hector is the son of Guatemalan immigrants. He described the day his father, who worked in hotels to support the family, dropped off his son at UCSC with tears in his eyes, knowing Hector would get the college education he never did. And then Hector introduced us to Antonio Ramirez, a waiter serving us that night whose own son is graduating from UCSC in just two weeks. Beaming at the back of the ballroom, Antonio received a marvelously enthusiastic round of applause as the audience celebrated the accomplishments of another Banana Slug—and honored the proud father who made it possible.
From beginning to end, that event was fantastic. Guests were mesmerized by our faculty speakers and uplifted by the students who joined them over dinner. The buzz in the room all night was infectious. It's a privilege to work with such an outstanding group to serve this great university.
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May 30, 2013
What a pleasure to have Congressman Sam Farr honor Sandy Faber at Wednesday's Academic Senate meeting. He was clearly thrilled that Sandy received the National Medal of Science from President Obama, and he spoke eloquently about the awe he feels regarding the campus's—and UC's—contributions in astronomy and astrophysics. He even mentioned having met recently with UCSC alumna Kathy Sullivan, now head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on the anniversary of the day she became the first U.S. woman to walk in space.
Sam has been a valuable and influential advocate for the campus in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and we are truly fortunate to be so well known and highly regarded by our elected representative. And Sandy got a kick out of learning that his tribute to her, which was entered into the Congressional Record, will be in libraries around the world.
Note to self: Sam mentioned that in the 33 years he has represented the campus—13 years in the state Assembly and 20 years in Congress—this was the first time he'd been invited to address the Senate. Talk about an oversight!
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May 24, 2013
I've been on the road a lot this spring, reaching out to alumni in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boulder, New York, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. I hear a lot of stories about our graduates' experiences at UCSC that really resonate, including one from Rob Mass in New York City.
Rob is the head of sales and trading compliance for Goldman Sachs—a very big job; he's moving to London, where he will be in charge of all compliance for the company outside of the Americas—and he credits UCSC with setting him up to succeed at Harvard Law School. He didn't always feel that way, though.
Rob studied politics here and enjoyed the experience greatly. But he described arriving at Harvard Law School, meeting many classmates from the very best private colleges and universities across the country, and feeling pretty darned scared. He worried that he hadn't gotten the preparation he'd need to hold his own among such academic powerhouses.
And then the semester began, and everything fell into place. Rob says his UCSC education helped him learn to read and think more critically than his peers who attended other schools, and he appreciates the broad perspective that defined his experience here.
Rob went on to prosecute New York mobster John Gotti, among others, as an assistant district attorney in New York before joining Goldman Sachs in 1992.
What strikes me is Rob's urge now to give back to the campus that he credits with positioning him to accomplish so much in life. If every Banana Slug did the same thing, today's students would reap the benefits.
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April 16, 2013
I'm in Boulder, Colorado, to meet with civic and education leaders and to host a get-together with UCSC alumni and friends in the region. It is freezing. This Banana Slug prefers redwoods to snow!
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March 14, 2013
For thousands of prospective UCSC students, the wait is almost over. Our Admissions Office announces their decisions beginning tonight at midnight.
More than 46,000 students -- frosh and transfer students -- applied to UCSC last fall. That set a new record for the campus, and I think the numbers are an indication that word is getting out about the opportunities we offer. It's certainly nice to be popular.
Of course, a record number of applications meant a heavy workload for staff in the Admissions Office, and I want to thank everyone on that team for their hard work. I know they put in long hours and give their all during the crunch. I appreciate their dedication.
And to all the hopeful Banana Slugs out there? Good luck! I hope to see you on campus this fall!
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March 7, 2013
Today's events honoring slain Santa Cruz Police officers Elizabeth Butler and Loran "Butch" Baker were a powerful tribute from a grateful community. I was honored to attend the memorial in San Jose--to recognize the Santa Cruz Police Department's losses and to support our campus officers.
Detective Elizabeth Butler was a UCSC alumna. A Community Studies major who graduated from Kresge College in 1996, she saw police work as a form of social work.
Like a lot of people, perhaps, I was surprised to learn of Elizabeth's career path. I'm more likely to think of Community Studies graduates working in the nonprofit sector or health and human services. Her sacrifice reminds me just how aligned community policing is with UCSC's values of service, contribution, and social justice.
I had another reminder this week of the varied career paths of our graduates. During a meeting with alumni and campus friends in Washington, D.C., I heard from a former student who works for the Army. Lt. Col. Mike Linick (Merrill '83) graduated in politics and told me he attributes his ability to do his work in the Pentagon to the education he received at UC Santa Cruz. He said he gained intercultural understanding and learned to look at issues from multiple perspectives.
On this sad day, I am heartened by these reminders of the good work our alumni are doing all around the world, in our own neighborhoods and on the global stage. Rest in peace, Detective Butler and Sergeant Baker.
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February 5, 2013
Well, chances are very good that I'll never again be as close to the president of the United States as I was on Friday, when I had the honor of watching my colleague Sandy Faber receive the National Medal of Science from President Obama. I've got to say, it was pretty impressive!
Sandy was cool and collected the whole time (she even pulled me aside at the reception following the ceremony to "talk business"). Obama was clearly having a good time—I spoke with an aide who confirmed my impression. And if you watched the ceremony and wondered what he whispered to Sandy as she received her medal, he congratulated her and said he admired her work.
Sandy was joined by her husband Andy, as well as her daughter and son-in-law. Many thanks to Sandy for including me in the celebration. It was also great to catch up with Vera Rubin, Sandy's mentor (and another recipient of the National Medal of Science), as well as UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang and his wife.
Congratulations to UCSC's first National Medal of Science recipient!
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January 23, 2013
As I said in my campus message, I am deeply grateful to UC President Mark Yudof for his service and leadership.
If I were sitting on the selection committee for the new president, I'd look for leadership skills that will help us navigate familiar challenges of budget and tuition, and emerging trends, such as online education. The next president needs to be able to work with our Board of Regents, the governor (who is demonstrating a new level of interest and engagement in public higher education), and political leaders. And of course, he or she must be able to relate well to UC faculty, students, and staff.
But those are really just the basics. My most profound hope is that the new president is able to galvanize public support for the university. I remain heartened by the passage of Proposition 30, which signaled to me that our message about the value of the university still resonates with the public. This is an opportunity to build on that support in visible and energizing ways. I also hope our new president appreciates the diversity among the campuses that make up the UC system. Our strength as a system is rooted in part in that variety, and it mustn't be overlooked. Finally, our national conversation about the future of public higher education needs strong leaders. I hope our new president will emerge as a strong voice in that discussion, bringing new perspectives to the table and advocating for the best ideas.
I look forward to working with my fellow chancellors to ensure a smooth transition that will build on Mark's legacy and ensure the upward trajectory of the entire UC system.
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January 7, 2013
It's great to be starting the New Year with outstanding news. Sandy Faber will receive the National Medal of Science from President Obama at the White House on January 31, and I couldn't be more proud of her. I'm also delighted that she has invited me to join her and her family for the festivities. (One of her daughters is unable to make it, which is a shame for the family, but I am thrilled to fill the spot.) Sandy and I have been colleagues and friends for 40 years, and no one deserves this recognition more than she does. It will be an honor to witness this momentous occasion!
It was also terrific to attend the three-day physics symposium hosted by the campus over the weekend in honor of UCSC professors Howard Haber and Michael Dine on the occasion of their 60th birthdays. This gathering attracted the best of the best, including luminaries like Ed Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and Lisa Randall of Harvard--a true testament to Michael and Howie. I saw many dear friends and colleagues, including my grad school buddy Jack Gunion of UC Davis. At dinner on Saturday night, I sat between Lenny Susskind of Stanford and Nobel laureate David Gross of UC Santa Barbara. It's hard to imagine a more distinguished group of physicists gathering anywhere for any reason. I'm glad it was right here at UC Santa Cruz to honor two of our finest.
Today is the first day of Winter Quarter, and we're off to a great start. I think it's going to be a good one!
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