December 19, 2012

Reflecting on the importance of our mission

I wanted to share the message I sent today to the UCSC community:

As we wrap up the quarter and prepare to usher in a new year, I find myself reflecting on the value of what we do at UC Santa Cruz. For me, the drive to move UCSC forward is rooted in a desire to provide opportunity to the next generation. Some call it "giving back." I think of it as investing in the future. 

As a product of public higher education, I know firsthand the impact that accessible, affordable, quality education makes in the lives of high school graduates. Thousands of high school seniors have just applied to UC Santa Cruz. They are hard-working and talented, and we as a campus are committed to helping them realize their ambitions.

For nearly 50 years, UC Santa Cruz has provided a platform on which students build their futures. The campus's impact has been shaped in part by strong campus values of social justice and environmental stewardship, and by students themselves.

Just a few years ago, a handful of students were interested in conserving energy, reducing waste, and saving water—this was before the term "sustainability" became a household word. Those students led the way for the campus, joined by staff, faculty, and administrators who responded enthusiastically to their vision. Today, UCSC's sustainability program is a vital part of this institution.

That's just one example of a student-led initiative that has become integral to who we are and what we do. Minority outreach programs are another example of student-to-student action that has enormous impact. Each spring, members of three student organizations—Destination Higher Education, A Step Forward, and Oportunidades Rumbo A La Educación--reach out to high school seniors from underrepresented groups who are considering enrolling at UCSC. Our students invite them to campus, host them overnight, and introduce them to college life. Not surprisingly, this personal approach makes a big difference; by the end of their visit, an impressive number of these prospective students are eager to enroll.

At the end of each year, when short days and long nights invite reflection, I ponder our collective impact and feel great pride. Banana Slugs--students, faculty, staff, and alumni--share a vision of a better, more just world. Enjoy the break, and I hope you return to campus in January feeling refreshed and ready for another busy quarter. Happy Holidays!

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Year-end message" in the subject line.

December 19, 2012

Slugs around the world

Sammy the Slug

Sammy the Slug

During my travels, it never fails that people notice the banana slug on my UCSC lapel pin (I have one on every jacket I own). I've had people come up to me in airports and greet me like we're old friends, saying "The Banana Slugs! You're from UC Santa Cruz!" More often, though, I get quizzical expressions and inquiries from people who don't recognize our iconoclastic mascot. I love to explain the history of our beloved mollusk, which our campus staff writer Dan White did a fabulous job of capturing online last year.

Banana Slug

Banana Slug in the wild

What appeals to me about our mascot is that it says we're a little counterculture, we're willing to take our own path, and we're willing as an institution to do things in new ways. Those are all hallmarks of our campus, from the college system and narrative evaluations to the game-changing contributions of our faculty in a wide variety of fields. I think that’s why our mascot appeals to students, staff, faculty--and our alumni, of course. It's a symbol that goes beyond athletics and speaks to the heart of who we are. That we are willing to identify with a banana slug says that we think about things differently. That's why I like it.

And it's amusing, of course. I like that, too.

November 30, 2012

Remembering Don

Don Rothman

Don Rothman

How can Don Rothman be gone? That's what I've been asking myself since hearing the news yesterday that he passed away in his sleep. I've known Don since his arrival at UCSC in 1973. I'd been here only a year, and we were both affiliated with Oakes College, so he's been a friend of mine almost from the beginning. Don is—was—a true mensch. He cared deeply about students, his faculty colleagues, his work, and his family and friends. He always connected with people and had an extraordinary ability to look at things through their eyes. He was a gifted writing teacher who reached out to students throughout his career. He was particularly dedicated to underrepresented and first-generation college students. He was determined to give them the tools he knew they'd need to succeed.

It was always fun to be in the same room with Don. Even during a boring meeting, he was good about listening, and he genuinely cared about others' perspectives. If things got heated, he was able to step back, provide context, and move things forward. And students loved him. I've seen his teaching evaluations over the years, and they really loved him! I was sad at his retirement, but Don didn't disappear. He started new projects in town, he kept working with teachers, and he stayed involved with the university, working with AB540 students and many others. Just last year, he and Herman Blake, the founding provost of Oakes who hired Don, took part in a conversation over Reunion Weekend that was part of Oakes's 40th anniversary celebration. Herman took the conversation in a direction I don't think anyone expected, focusing on the importance of "eloquent listening," and Don was right there with him. It was a great conversation that embodied the legacy of both these great men.

Don was a happy person who lived exactly the life he wanted to live. I am still reeling from the news that he is gone.

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Remembering Don" in the subject line.

November 27, 2012

Greetings from an old friend

Kelly and I spent a fairly quiet Thanksgiving with our son in Berkeley. A highlight of the day was getting a text from Maria Ledesma, a UCLA grad and former student regent. I got to know Maria a few years ago. She was instrumental in persuading the UC Regents to form a study group on diversity; I chaired the subcommittee on graduate and professional schools. The study group's work was revealing, and the results helped galvanize support for improving diversity in the post-Prop. 209 era. Maria deserves a lot of credit for that. Today, she's an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Utah, and I was thrilled to get a photo of her with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Maria had flown to Washington to hear arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case. All 10 UC chancellors signed an amicus brief submitted in support of affirmative action in the Fisher case. Just one question: How much longer do I have to wait to see a UC Santa Cruz student appointed to the Board of Regents?!

In other news, I have mixed feelings about Cabrillo College President Brian King being named chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento. Of course, I'm happy for Brian—this is a great professional opportunity. But he has become a good friend over the years as he and I have collaborated on several initiatives, including making it easier for Cabrillo graduates to enroll at UCSC. He also championed a countywide K-12 effort to improve college readiness. He has been an effective advocate for affordable higher education in Santa Cruz, and I'm really going to miss him.

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Regent-King" in the subject line.

November 7, 2012

Thank you, California!

Last evening started out as a nail-biter when early returns suggested that voters were going to reject Proposition 30. But by the early morning hours, when more than 60 percent of the vote was counted, it was clear that the initiative would pass, and I could go to bed with a reasonable chance of sleeping. Today, I am feeling relieved and very grateful.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of welcoming newly reelected Congressman Sam Farr to the campus, along with his DC and district staff. Sam reminded me that in 1960, his father informed Governor Pat Brown that Brown had carried all but three counties in California on his way to the governorship. When he was told that one of those counties was Santa Cruz, Brown responded not to worry, he'd locate a UC campus there and better educate the populace!

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Proposition 30" in the subject line.

November 6, 2012

The suspense is almost over

Election Day is finally here--good thing, too. I don't think I could take the suspense much longer. I voted absentee a couple of weeks ago, as did my wife and both my kids. At the end of the day, no matter what the outcome and how I feel about it, I feel really good about our students. They took this election into their own hands, registered hundreds of voters, and organized a great get-out-the-vote effort. Now it's just a matter of time…

I'll distract myself this afternoon by guest lecturing in an upper-division astronomy class. I'll be talking about the evolution of the universe and why we should've known the universe was expanding before physicists finally figured it out in the late 1920s. I like teaching, and it's always good to get back into the classroom. I'm looking forward to it.

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Election Day” in the subject line.

November 2, 2012

New York just before the storm

It's good to be back on campus after my whirlwind trips to Russia and New York City. The New York stopover was a great opportunity to meet with UCSC alumni, parents, and donors. Highlights included meeting playwright Fernanda Coppel (literature, '07), whose play Chimichangas and Zoloft had its world premiere this spring. Fernanda is one to watch--and she got her start at UCSC writing for Rainbow Theater!

More great conversation took place during a dinner hosted by Christine (biology, '90) and Rob (history, '87) Holo to celebrate their generous support of the Center for Ocean Health. Physical and Biological Sciences Dean Paul Koch presented Christine with a thank-you plaque that featured a photo of her as a student. She got a kick out of it, and the evening was delightful in every possible way.

Playwrights, attorneys, architects, experts in financial services and art, journalists, doctors, and literary agents… Our alumni are engaged in a fascinating range of activities. Our graduates care deeply about the campus, and it's always a pleasure to spend time with them.

Since then, of course, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast. I was on one of the last planes to leave JFK before it closed. I'm sure I'm not the only one who isn't taking it for granted when I switch the lights on or recharge my phone in the comfort of my own home. My thoughts are with our entire extended UCSC family.

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “New York” in the subject line.

October 26, 2012

A business is born

The Five3 team

The cofounders of Five3 Genomics are (left to right) Charles Vaske, Steven Benz, and Zachary Sanborn. (Photo credit: Octopus Creative)

How does university research transform lives? If you want to watch the process in real time, start watching Five3 Genomics, a new company founded by three alumni of the UCSC Baskin School of Engineering.

This start-up is poised to provide a critical link between the university and the public, with the end goal of advancing the personalized treatment of cancer.

As grad students, cofounders Charles Vaske, Steven Benz, and Zachary Sanborn helped develop cancer genomics software. Five3 will push this new technology into the clinical realm, where it has the potential to help cancer researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and ultimately, cancer patients.

Every day, brilliant students at UCSC and every other UC campus are applying themselves to some of the most vexing challenges, from cancer to climate change. Investing in university research pays off many times over—just ask anyone who's had an MRI or used the nicotine patch, to name just two UC-patented breakthroughs.

I predict that UCSC's leaderships in genomics will produce more start-ups and spinoffs, and I can't wait. Congratulations, Five3!

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Five3” in the subject line.

October 20, 2012

From Russia With Love

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal in Moscow

I took in a few sites, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall, dedicated to soldiers killed during World War II.

My lecture in Moscow during the conference on the "The Birth and Revival of Universities" at the Higher School of Economics was well-received. I was invited to give the talk because UCSC was recently ranked seventh in the world for universities under the age of 50; President Putin is eager to see Russia break into the Top 100, and my hosts were looking for helpful insights.

I emphasized that UCSC's success was based largely on three factors: Our outstanding faculty, whose work often reaches across disciplinary boundaries; our stunning location and our proximity to Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay; and our culture of innovation in undergraduate education, including our 10 residential colleges and the opportunities we give undergraduates to participate in research. I fielded questions on university financing, innovation, the role of languages, and the nature of Silicon Valley partnerships, but the highlight for me was when a dean at the HSE told me after my presentation that he wants his son to attend UCSC!

In the "small world" department, I met two people with UCSC connections. Richard Miller, the president of Olin College in Massachusetts, gave a fascinating presentation. He attended UCSC in the '70s before transferring to Davis because we lacked an engineering school back then. I also met Bram Caplan, a UCSC alum who is directing student affairs at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, a new graduate‐level university near Moscow that is being launched in collaboration with MIT.

A small group of university leaders also met with the leaders of the Russian education ministry. Putin wants five Russian universities in the top 100 by the year 2020 (they currently have none). I have to admit that I expressed some skepticism about the value of that goal. I suggested they need a more comprehensive vision of the future of Russian higher education and that the goal of achieving several highly ranked universities should be considered only in the context of such a vision. Within Russian science, the best research is done at the science academies, so raising universities in the rankings will also necessitate a change in the system.
All in all, it was a great, thought-provoking trip, capped by a performance of La Traviata at the newly refurbished--and quite impressive--Bolshoi Theater. Now, off to New York to meet with campus donors and friends.   

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Russia” in the subject line.

October 15, 2012

Fantastic Founders

I'm off today to Russia, where I'll deliver an invited talk about our campus's path to academic excellence. UCSC recently placed seventh in the world in a ranking of universities under the age of 50, and my hosts are eager to hear how we've accomplished so much in so little time. As always, it will be an honor to share our story with an international audience.

This trip follows last week's whirlwind of events. Friday's sixth annual Founders Gala was a great success. Nearly 400 people packed the Cocoanut Grove, and it was great to see so many students this year. A number of student groups tabled during the reception, and I had a chance to discuss the situation for AB540 students with members of our student government and our Educational Opportunity Programs. Then Cloud 9 kicked off the program with a great performance!

I devoted my formal remarks to why I'm so proud of the campus, but the highlight of the evening was hearing what our honorees had to say about UC Santa Cruz. Outstanding Alumni Awardee Shannon Brownlee talked about how her Banana Slug years prepared her for success as a journalist and author, while Faculty Research Lecturer Gail Hershatter spoke movingly about how much she appreciates UCSC as an intellectual community. Gail Michaelis-Ow and her husband George received our Fiat Lux Award, and Gail told of how much the campus has meant to the community. We honored Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife Betty with the Foundation Medal. Gordon is the originator of Moore's Law, which predicts that computing power will double every two years, and I got a kick out of Foundation President Ken Doctor's quip that "If only we could apply Moore's Law to our fundraising, our budget problems would be solved." How true! Finally, Foundation Medal recipient Martin Rees, England's Astronomer Royal and an old friend and collaborator, amused the audience by endorsing Proposition 30 to help preserve California's higher education. Martin had given an engaging talk earlier in the day at the Foundation Forum, and I was delighted to see the campus turn out for this accomplished, and thoroughly delightful, man.

More soon--from Moscow!

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Founders” in the subject line.

October 12, 2012

Limits of our predictive powers

Deepest-ever view of the universe

Isn't it odd that we can firmly predict the death throes of our Sun 5 billion years from now but not tomorrow's weather? That's just one of the topics that came up last night during an astronomy salon at the home of Kumar and Vijaya Malavalli. The event brought together panelists Greg Laughlin and Anthony Aguirre of our faculty, along with my friend Lord Martin Rees from the University of Cambridge. The topic was prediction, and the discussion covered questions ranging from whether there is intelligent life nearby to the existence of multiverses. Guests from all over the Bay Area enjoyed a memorable evening!

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Salon” in the subject line.

October 5, 2012

Practice, practice

Just put the finishing touches on the speech I’ll deliver at next week’s Founders Celebration. Now it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Founders is an annual event I really enjoy. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and to celebrating the accomplishments of our seven honorees.

Comments or questions? Write to chancellor@ucsc.edu and put “Founders” in the subject line.

October 3, 2012

Great work

Can hardly keep up with the great news this campus is generating. Check out this profile of a UCSC alumna working the Obama White House. Or this story about a recent graduate who’s creating a virtual archive of Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway’s bone collection. And a major new federal grant will advance our work in renewable energy research. I couldn’t be more proud of the work of our faculty and students.

September 28, 2012

Welcome Banana Slugs!

Sammy and George welcome you back.

Students are back, classes are starting, and the campus is in full swing. Turnout at the OPERS Fall Festival was the highest I’ve ever seen. It was great to see all the student organizations out tabling, and SUA is doing a fantastic job registering students to vote. Grupo Folklorico Los Mejicas and three a cappella groups performed—all were really impressive! Check out my Fall Quarter welcome message.

Also attended the quarterly meeting with the Santa Cruz Sentinel editorial board. These are good working meetings marked by candid talk, and I appreciate that the Sentinel invites “outsiders.” I suggested that they invite a representative from City on a Hill Press to join us.

September 25, 2012

2012 State of the Campus

Hearing good things about yesterday’s State of the Campus speech. Literature Professor Murray Baumgarten told me afterwards that he thinks a Fall Quarter gathering like this is as important for the campus as commencement in the spring. I’m going to think about that, as I value Murray’s opinion. If you missed the speech, check out the video.

September 20, 2012

Remembering Terry

Terry Freitas

The Terry Freitas Café dedication this afternoon was a lovely gathering—a moving tribute to a young man who touched the lives of many. I felt honored to spend time with Terry’s grandmother, mother, and other relatives, and I was moved by the remarks of Melina Selverston Scher. Terry, who graduated from UCSC in 1997, was working to protect the U’wa people in Colombia when he and two colleagues were kidnapped and murdered in 1999. Melina described how the U’wa have incorporated Terry into their oral tradition, remembering him as the man who kept oil companies from drilling on their land. Others have said it before, but Terry lived the values of so many UCSC students, working to make the world a better place. The Terry Freitas Award in Environmental Studies honors Terry’s legacy.

September 17, 2012

San Francisco Chronicle op-ed

San Francisco Chronicle newspaper

An excerpt from the op-ed I wrote for today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

Why we must invest in our public universities

Our public universities are in trouble.

Nationwide, they produce 70 percent of our college graduates. Yet, from coast to coast, unrelenting state budget cuts threaten the quality of our leading institutions, even as they force students and families to dig deeper and borrow more to pay the tuition.

As we begin another academic year, our top priority must be to develop a stable, long-term funding model for public higher education. We need a path forward that preserves excellence, protects access and affordability and puts the United States on track to regain our standing as having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Our decline from first to 16th place since the 1980s demands action.

In today’s global economy, a college education isn’t a privilege, it’s a prerequisite. The lifetime earnings of college grads are higher, and they pay higher taxes as a consequence. But the payoff is more than personal. To stay competitive, the United States needs a well-educated workforce with the knowledge, technical skills, and ability to think critically that our system of higher education encourages. And to succeed, this workforce must include graduates whose families could not afford quality higher education.

In California, our elected officials say they can’t fund community colleges and state universities the way they did in the past. So let’s find a new way. Let’s consider an array of options and pursue the best.

Our public discussion should focus on three areas: stable funding, private-sector partnerships and online education.

Read the full text here

September 14, 2012

How we handle protests

In light of the just-released Robinson-Edley report about how UC campuses respond to protests, I’m happy to say that I think UC Santa Cruz is already doing pretty well in terms of the “best practices” outlined in the report. Campus Provost/EVC Alison Galloway and Police Chief Nader Oweis work well together, and they’ve done a great job of engaging students. Still, it’s valuable for the UC system to go on record on this. The incidents at Berkeley and Davis that prompted the report reflect on all of us. It will benefit all of us to take a systematic approach to protests, both in terms of policy and a higher level of training and professionalism.

This month’s Regents meeting in San Francisco was dominated by a retreat, and I was glad to see the Regents really working on issues. I was proud to see UCSC students speaking up during the public comment period. SUA Chair DT Amajoyi and others are really participating, and that’s a good thing.

UC Provost Aimée Dorr led a discussion about hiring more teachers who aren’t researchers to save money. I see how it could help with the budget, but the downside is that these teachers wouldn’t advance our research, wouldn’t bring in external research funding, and wouldn’t contribute to new knowledge. Ultimately, at the University of California, our teaching function isn’t separate from our research function. As Manny Ares, a UCSC professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology, once said, “Research is indivisible from teaching, because as soon as you discover something, you’re going to tell somebody else about it. That makes you, instantly, a teacher.”

It’s been a busy week. Looking forward to seeing Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s production of Twelfth Night at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga tomorrow night.

September 13, 2012

Thoughts on funding UC in the SF Chronicle

Just put the finishing touches on an op-ed that will appear in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. UC isn’t alone in the budgetary challenges we face, and I think leaders of higher education need to do a better job of engaging the public and our elected officials in developing a long-term strategy to protect the quality of public universities and to preserve access and affordability. In the two opinion columns, I share several ideas that I think warrant broader consideration. Here in California, I hope we can make significant progress this year. Without a breakthrough, I fear middle-class students and their families, in particular, will continue to feel the squeeze.

September 11, 2012

Discussion with Martha Kanter

Started the day with a roundtable discussion among regional leaders of higher education with Obama's Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter. Martha and I have been friends for a long time. The former chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, she is the first community college leader to serve as under secretary. She is taking the lead on President Obama's higher education agenda, and it was a pleasure to be part of a conversation about how the federal government can help colleges and universities. I reinforced how important Pell grants are for low-income students, and I advocated extending the grants to middle-class families. I also think we need to standardize the accreditation process, which right now is time-consuming and costly. The one-size-fits-all approach really doesn't fit any campus. Lots of support from my counterparts on both points.

September 9, 2012

Farm to Fork dinner

Matthew and George on the farm

With Matthew Raiford at the Farm dinner. Photo by Tana Butler.

The Farm to Fork dinner tonight was fantastic! What an enthusiastic group. The event was very easy-going and relaxed, and the view and the food were excellent! I've been to formally catered dinners that weren't run as smoothly, and to think that they had to carry dinner for 125 people through the fields!

This is such a committed group. It was great to hear from apprentices, including a woman who described her move from New York City to the Farm. She said everyone she talked to about her goals said the same thing: UCSC was the only place to go.

September 4, 2012

Sacramento Bee: Pay as You Earn

This op-ed piece in the Sacramento Bee is one of the best discussions I've seen of a new strategy to help students pay for college. Known as "pay as you earn," or PAYE, the idea is that students who can't cover the entire cost of college through grants and scholarships can take out loans from the government and pay them back after graduation at rates pegged to their earnings. This is exactly the kind of idea that we need to be talking out today. Kudos to authors Steve Weiner and Gary Hart for getting this column in the paper.

August 29, 2012

Great dinner guests

I hosted a dinner at University House last night to introduce three professors to ten community members who want to know more about the campus. It was the latest in a series of these informal get-togethers, and each time I learn something new about UCSC. Last night, we heard about groundwater and aquifers from hydrogeologist Andy Fisher, the search for the Higgs boson or the so-called "God particle" from physicist Abe Seiden, and how cities respond to crises from sociologist Miriam Greenberg. People wonder why I'm optimistic about the future, given the challenges facing public universities these days, but how can you not be optimistic when you're surrounded by smart, talented people who are doing great work? It is always uplifting and energizing to showcase what's happening on campus, and our guests are always impressed.

August 29, 2012

Research funding

The little-known story-behind-the-story about our success attracting research funds is that UCSC's research enterprise is the county's second-largest employer. The campus is the biggest employer, of course, but who knew research is number two?

August 23, 2012

Fish-flavored toothpaste?

Who ever heard of fish-flavored toothpaste? One of the perks of being chancellor is getting a behind-the-scenes look at some of our facilities and research. Today I toured the Center for Ocean Health at Long Marine Lab to hear about their work and their fundraising priorities in advance of meetings I'll be having this fall with prospective donors. Highlights included watching a trainer brush a sea lion's teeth with--you guessed it--fish-flavored toothpaste and learning that Fed Ex has handled the interstate transportation of rescued marine mammals. I also learned that groundwater extraction has dropped the city of San Jose to about six inches below sea level! The things I learn when I get out of Kerr Hall!

August 21, 2012

Hotbed of organic innovation

Sam Farr in the field

Photo by Tana Butler

Congressman Sam Farr was in his element at today's announcement of the USDA's latest grant to support the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Sam walked the rows of the fields with our students and Farm apprentices. Amazing to think that more than 1,400 people have graduated from our ecological apprenticeship and are sharing their skills and expertise literally around the world. It was great to see so many people committed to the work CASFS is doing and so much collaboration with local organizations. The Central Coast really is a hotbed of innovation in organic farming and sustainable agriculture. We have a lot to be proud of, including CASFS's new executive director, Daniel Press.