Fiat Slug

Periodic posts from the Top Banana Slug.
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November 23, 2015

A whirlwind trip to China

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal and two students at Shanghai High School.

Chancellor Blumenthal was interviewed by two students from Shanghai High School.

Four cities in 11 days! Hardly enough time to adjust to the time difference, let alone get a handle on a country as big and complex as China. But the trip, which was organized around building relationships to foster study and research opportunities for students and faculty, was successful and rewarding on multiple levels.

We met with U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, representatives of the Ministry of Education and the Chinese Scholarship Council, and attended two receptions with alumni and parents of current students. We visited several high schools and about 10 universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hongju.

As I mentioned in my monthly message, much of the itinerary was organized by Astronomy and Astrophysics Professor Doug Lin. Joel Ferguson, professor of computer engineering, senior international officer, and associate vice provost of international education, will be following up on connections we made to support study-abroad opportunities for UC Santa Cruz and Chinese students.

For me, one of my strongest and most lasting impressions is of the students I met. They were unfailingly bright, well-prepared, and eager to engage.

I had been invited to give an astronomy talk at the Beijing American Center, which is part of the U.S. Embassy complex in Beijing; the center hosts public talks every night by visiting American dignitaries and scholars, and about 150 people attended my talk. These drop-in sessions are open to everyone, yet the caliber of questions I fielded suggested many in the audience had a background in astronomy. I thoroughly enjoyed being cornered after the formal presentation by five students who wanted to keep talking and asking questions.

I also gave a talk at Shanghai High School as part of their Career Day, and I was particularly impressed by two student journalists who interviewed me for the school newspaper. They had clearly done their homework.

And no wonder. Students in China compete to get into the most elite public high schools, including Shanghai High School. Only about 1 percent of the population make the cut, and once there, they are in classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students in these schools are considered the strongest prospects for overseas study. One school we visited teaches all physics classes in English only, because they consider the United States to be the best place to study physics and don't want their graduates to be at a disadvantage when they compete internationally. Needless to say, I gave my talks in English, but what's remarkable is the audiences didn't need translators.

All of the high schools and university campuses we visited were impressive. Some had the trappings of many American universities, with stately buildings, mature landscaping, and lush, leafy trees that arced over campus roads and walkways. I didn't spy a single Banana Slug, though!

Everywhere we traveled, our hosts were gracious and welcoming, and travel within China was efficient and comfortable. We flew from Beijing to Shanghai, then took the high-speed rail to Nanjing and Hongju. Zipping along at 250 mph in comfortable, clean train cars, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of the future.

The weather was mild, but the traffic was anything but! The roadways are unbelievably crowded, there are no lanes to speak of, and drivers toot their horns constantly. Amazingly, we saw no accidents. The surging river of cars flowed slowly, smoothly, unrelentingly—almost like a symphony, yet no conductor was in sight. I did pity the pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone on a motorbike, though. How they survive the traffic was beyond my powers of comprehension.

Fortunately, the air pollution wasn't bad when we were in Beijing, though a UCSC alumna told us all flights had been cancelled the week before because of low visibility, so I guess we were lucky.

One final note about the food, all of which was delicious and presented beautifully. I enjoyed it all, especially the seafood, and I ate at least a couple of things I didn't recognize. That's all part of the adventure of overseas travel, right?

Comments or questions? Write to and put "China" in the subject line.

August 28, 2015

Congratulations, Claire!

Photo of Claire Max

Claire Max

Hard to believe there was a time women astronomers were denied access to telescopes. I remember a director at CalTech who blocked access back in the 1970s, saying night operators wouldn't like taking instructions from women researchers.

Against that backdrop, it was especially gratifying to hear that UCSC's Claire Max was named director of UC Observatories, our multi-campus research unit. I've known Claire since she was a postdoc at Princeton and I was a postdoc in Boston. We've kept in touch over the years, and I was delighted when she joined the UCSC faculty in 1999.

We are fellow theoretical astrophysicists. Her thesis work focused on an important problem in plasma astrophysics that no one had been able to solve. She did, and I've taught her discovery in classes a number of times. Claire spent years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she did great work on inertial fusion before becoming an expert in adaptive optics. We hired her to succeed Jerry Nelson as director of our Center for Adaptive Optics. She is a great collaborator who gets along with people and focuses on finding the best path forward.

UCSC has a strong tradition of welcoming women scientists, and I'm proud that Claire succeeds our colleague Sandra Faber, who served a two-year term as interim director of UCO. Congratulations, Claire!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Claire" in the subject line.

June 1, 2015

Alumni making their mark in the nation's capital

Photo of Kalwis Lo and other students with President Obama in the Oval Office.

Kalwis Lo, left, watched as President Obama signed historic legislation tying student loan interest rates to financial market indices.

One of the perks of being chancellor is getting surprise visits from alumni. Kalwis Lo dropped by recently to update me on his work in Washington, D.C., where he has served as legislative director for the United States Student Association (USSA) and is now advocating on behalf of small farmers.

Kalwis (Stevenson, politics and education, '11) was part of the team that advocated for federal legislation that cut student loan interest rates, and he was in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the historic bill.

As a student, Kalwis served as chair of the Student Union Assembly and credits UCSC with helping him develop strong leadership skills. He was also active in Engaging Education, one of several student-initiated outreach programs that encourage underrepresented high school students to come to UCSC.

Kalwis is a really good guy, and like so many of our graduates, he is keeping in touch and eager to give back to the campus. Earlier this spring, he attended a reception for newly admitted students in the Washington area. I cannot imagine a better ambassador for us.

Kalwis worked in the offices of several members of Congress before joining USSA, which is the largest student-run organization focused on advocating for students in the United States. He isn't the only UCSC alum advocating for students in Washington. Tiffany Dena Loftin (Oakes, American studies and politics, '11) served as president of the USSA before Obama appointed her to the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

With commencement around the corner, I hope this class will follow in Kalwis and Tiffany's footsteps and keep in touch. Nothing speaks to the value of a UCSC education like the success of our graduates—and nothing makes me more proud than hearing from alumni.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Kalwis" in the subject line.

April 30, 2015

Alumni Weekend 2015: One for the record books

Chancellor Blumenthal and Cowell College Provost Faye Crosby enjoy Alumni Weekend.

Cowell College Provost Faye Crosby and I got a kick out of the banana slug balloon sculpture created by UCSC alum Addi Somekh. Photo by Margaret McGuire.

This year's Alumni Weekend was billed as the "biggest and best," and the celebration certainly lived up to my expectations. Dozens of events over four days attracted 2,500 guests to campus, including more than 1,000 alumni from across the decades.

Teach-ins, performances, social gatherings, tours, talks, dedications, and great food and drink added up to an outstanding weekend. All weekend, I watched alumni reconnecting with each other, with the campus, and with their experiences here.

Highlights for me included the all-alumni lunch on Saturday, the rededication of Merrill College, which attracted a number of original faculty, as well as alum Taiko drum player Kenny Endo who came all the way from Hawaii, and the Dizikes Concert featuring tunes from 1965 on Sunday--though I suspect Cowell Provost Faye Crosby regrets inviting me to dance!

It was a genuine honor to present the Alumni Achievement Award to M. Sanjayan (Biology, Ph.D, '97). A warm and engaging speaker, he gave a great talk about conservation to a full house in the Media Theater. He kept the audience spellbound with clips of the new PBS series he hosted, Earth: A New Wild. If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend it.

I was also delighted to participate in the presentation of the Social Sciences Division's Distinguished Alumni Award to Steve Bruce (Economics, B.A., '79). Steve is a Santa Cruz local who has been a generous supporter of the Social Sciences for many years.

Congratulations to all who worked so hard and long to organize and pull off the success! Check out a selection of "photographer favorite" photos from the weekend, as well as the ever-popular Alumni Weekend Photo Booth.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Alumni" in the subject line.

April 9, 2015

Craig Haney questions authority throughout his career

In a powerful speech about our nation's incarceration policies and practices, social psychology professor Craig Haney demonstrated the value and impact of challenging the status quo.

Craig has spent his entire career documenting the dramatic escalation of incarceration in the United States, a period during which he has advocated for greater compassion and justice in the criminal justice system.

Craig delivered his remarks to a full house in the Music Center Recital Hall under the auspices of the 49th Faculty Research Lecture, an event that celebrates faculty excellence and the research mission of the university.

The scale of what Craig described was astonishing: A prison population that has soared over the past 40 years despite little change in crime rates or the numbers of people arrested. We routinely lock up the mentally ill, people of color are disproportionately represented in prisons, and conditions are beyond grim as overcrowding and a shift in mindset from rehabilitation to overt punishment have become the norm. The United States is such an outlier on the world stage that even if we cut our prison population in half, he said, we would still have the second-highest prison population in the world.

Fortunately, Craig sees signs that public policy—and public opinion—might be changing. In a landmark case to which Craig contributed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that conditions inside California prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment and must be improved, and a recent Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, D.C., attracted a diverse, bipartisan audience, all of whom were calling for reform.

Hats off to Craig for bearing witness for nearly four decades. And kudos to this campus for nurturing pioneers like Craig Haney, whose courage, compassion, and commitment enable us to reconnect with our humanity.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Haney" in the subject line.

March 10, 2015

Anita Hill: Meeting a personal hero

Photo of Anita Hill at UCSCAnita Hill attracted an overflow crowd. Photo by Tosh Tanaka.

March is Women's History Month—an ideal time to reflect on the recent visit to campus of Anita Hill.

Like millions of Americans, I was glued to the television during her 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. She was such a credible witness—even as she was being railroaded by the all-male, all-white members of the committee. I was offended by the committee's treatment of her.

My wife Kelly and I so admired Anita Hill's courage and composure throughout the hearing. She has been a hero to both of us ever since. And so it was truly an honor to meet her and host her on campus. Her keynote address attracted a crowd that quickly filled the Multipurpose Room at Colleges 9 and 10, as well as the Humanities Lecture Hall, where it was simulcast live. Kudos to event organizers who swiftly found yet another room to accommodate everyone who turned out to see her.

Strikingly, as defining a moment as that hearing was in her life and as high a price as she has had to pay for coming forward as she did, Anita Hill has dedicated her life to empowering women. She shed public light on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and has been a spokeswoman for women, minorities, and people who have been badly treated in myriad ways ever since. What an accomplishment to pivot from the ordeal of that hearing to her role as an advocate fighting for the principles in which she believes. Strikingly, she is friendly, warm, generous, and compassionate. In short, she is a role model for us all.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Hill" in the subject line.

February 18, 2015

Turning 95 in style

Candid photo of Chancellor Blumenthal and Chancellor Emeritus Bob Sinsheimer.
Chancellor Emeritus Bob Sinsheimer celebrated his 95th birthday over the weekend, and one thing was perfectly clear: There just aren't many 95-year-olds who are as together as Bob is! He works out with a trainer at the gym three times a week and is every bit as sharp and informed as he was when he was chancellor from 1977-87.

Ninety-five guests attend the party in Santa Barbara, including four generations of Sinshimer family members, many friends, colleagues, and former students. I was a relatively junior faculty member during Bob's tenure as chancellor, but he brought transformational leadership to the campus at a key turning point. I spoke of his success solidifying our standing with the Office of the President during a tense moment when budget cuts were prompting public discussion about the possible closure of a campus. Bob also oversaw growth in academic programs, the doubling of graduate enrollment from 350 to 700 students, and the expansion of areas that would become defining parts of our research identity, including linguistics, high-energy physics, seismology, agroecology, and applied economics. There's no honoring Bob's years as chancellor without also celebrating his wife Karen, who brought tremendous warmth and grace to the position.

Of course, one of the most enduring impacts Bob had on the campus wasn't even intentional: It was Bob who made the audacious suggestion in 1985 during an international scientific conference hosted by UCSC to sequence the entire human genome. No one could have anticipated the critical role Santa Cruz would play in that challenge, or the excellence that followed our triumphant success. Professor Emeritus Harry Noller of biology described Bob's vision and what it has meant to the campus.

Other guests included Art Graham, Bob's college roommate at MIT and a good friend to UCSC; Reg Kelly, a former student at CalTech; and Julie Dryden-Brown, Bob's former administrative assistant at UCSC, and Julie's husband George Brown.

There was a lot of love in the room, and I felt honored to be part of the celebration.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Sinsheimer" in the subject line.

January 27, 2015

Students for a sustainable future

I met recently with students Alden Phinney and Margaux Schindler from the Fossil Fuel Coalition, along with Environmental Studies Professor and College Nine and College Ten Provost Flora Lu.

Alden and Margaux are at the forefront of the Fossil Free UC movement, making the case for divestment from fossil fuels as a strategy to combat climate change. I was very impressed by their energy and commitment.

The sustainability movement at UC Santa Cruz is an impressive collaboration among students, staff, and faculty. It has always been that way. Many UC Santa Cruz faculty members signed the UC Faculty Open Letter to the Regents about fossil-fuel divestment last fall. The letter called upon Regents to freeze new investments in the 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves, to develop a complete divestment plan as quickly as possible, and to invest in climate solutions.

The Regents did not agree to fossil fuel divestment, but they did agree to increase their investment in companies offering climate solutions, which is at least a small victory for our students. I know Alden and Margaux remain determined to see the Regents approve full fossil fuel divestment, and I have little doubt that we are all well on our way toward understanding that fossil fuels cannot remain a part of our collective future.

This Friday, February 13, is Global Divestment Day. Fossil Free UC leaders have planned a mock wedding to demonstrate the "unholy matrimony" of UC and the fossil fuel industry. The ceremony is scheduled for noon in the College 8 quad, with an informational reception to follow. The event is designed to raise awareness and to bring together various groups working on climate solutions.  

Alden and Margaux are persistent, driven, and creative advocates of a sustainable future. It was truly inspiring to talk strategy with them.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Divestment in the subject line.

January 27, 2015

Tribute to Dean and Jane McHenry

Photo of Dean and Jane McHenry.

Founding Chancellor Dean McHenry and his wife Jane were photographed in the courtyard of McHenry Library in 1997. Photo by Greg Pio.

Quite a group turned out today to share stories and memories of founding Chancellor Dean McHenry and his wife Jane. Nothing quite compares to the recollections of people who knew this dynamic duo.

Take economics professor and founding Stevenson College Provost David Kaun's story about the "revolutions in the dorms." McHenry was devoutly religious and became quite concerned over the years as the residential divisions on campus between men and women broke down. At first, the sexes were segregated in completely separate buildings located at opposite ends of the hills of Cowell and Stevenson colleges. Then dorms became integrated, and finally individually floors went co-ed, which raised all kinds of questions about bathrooms that McHenry found positively baffling. Times changed, and ultimately, McHenry did, too.

It was great to hear founding Vice Chancellor of Business and Finance Hal Hyde recount stories of the earliest days of the campus. And Bill Doyle, a founding faculty member who has recently written two books about the founding and early history of UCSC, explained some of the factors leading to the establishment of our university in Santa Cruz.

Dan Aldrich, our former assistant chancellor of University Advancement, reminded guests that McHenry, a native of Southern California, had run unsuccessfully for Congress and had subsequently hoped to be the first chancellor of the new UC campus in Orange County. But his left-leaning political views were too liberal for that conservative enclave, either in Congress or at UC Irvine, and the rest is history—fortunately for us.

Astronomer John Faulkner regaled the crowd with tales of McHenry's remarkable memory. John, who served at one point on the Committee for Academic Personnel, described discussing faculty cases with McHenry and being floored by Dean's ability to quote verbatim from faculty files without even opening them.

For me, it was a pleasure to read a greeting and remembrance from Herman Blake, founding provost of Oakes College. Herman described guiding Dean and Jane through the Gullah Geechee community of Daufuskie Island in South Carolina, a remote barrier island off the Atlantic Coast that had become familiar to UCSC because many students interned there, living in the homes of descendants of Africans enslaved there generations before. The day-long tour had ended with an impromptu conversation on the front porch of a woman who was picking boiled crabs, with Dean sitting on the edge of the porch and Jane rocking in a wooden chair. The free-ranging conversation wandered to the topic of winemaking, and a lively exchange ensued. The McHenrys, of course, were winemakers themselves. Later, during the return trip to the mainland, Jane and Dean were animated and energized, reflecting on the sights and sounds and surprises of the day. Herman said he always remembers them that way: together, fully immersed in the creative adventure of life.

For my part, I told the story of being called to the chancellor's office shortly after my arrival on campus in April 1972. I was intimidated and worried, wondering what I'd done wrong. But I showed up, with my long hair and my long beard, and it turned out McHenry just made a point of personally welcoming each new faculty member to campus. Now, as chancellor, I try to keep that invitation from McHenry in mind when I call people to my office. It can be nerve-wracking, after all.

Kudos to Emeriti Faculty Association president Michael Nauenberg for bringing us together, and thanks to the Arboretum for hosting the gathering.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "McHenry" in the subject line.

January 23, 2015

Dress up and dance like it's 1965

Photo of woman with 1965 hairdo.

Retro hairdos, hats, props, and selfies were the order of the day on Dress Up Like it's 1965 Day. Top two photos by Carolyn Lagattuta.

Photo of people dressed in 1965 costumes.
Photo of UCSC undergraduates dressed in 1965 costumes.
Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal and EVC Alison Galloway in 1965 costumes.

I haven't seen so many beehive hairdos, white gloves, and skinny ties since, well, 1965!

The campus kickoff last week of our 50th anniversary was thoroughly entertaining. The theme was "Dress Up Like it's 1965," and we did. I donned a black fedora, skinny tie, and dark-rimmed glasses. Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway outdid me by a mile with a vintage I. Magnin coat, pearls, a pillbox hat of her own making, and period sunglasses she couldn't even see out of because they were someone else's prescription. Talk about sacrificing for fashion!

A group of us walked from Kerr Hall to Quarry Plaza, where we were met by dozens of students in a range of outfits from beatnik to mod. KZSC was blasting tunes from 1965, dancers in mini skirts and go-go boots were twisting and shaking, and everyone posed for many, many photos. Alumna Tiffany White Stanton, who designs costumes for Mad Men, couldn't make the party so she reviewed photos to pick the winners of the most authentic 1965 costume. She had her work cut out for her, but check out the results online.

And true to the era, a group of students protesting the proposed tuition hike marched through the plaza chanting and banging drums. As Kevin Karplus, a professor of biomolecular engineering, was quoted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel article saying of the student demonstration, "It wouldn't be the '60s without one."

If the rest of our 50th year is half as much fun as the kickoff, we'll be in great shape. The month will wrap up with more five anniversary-related events: a remembrance of founding Chancellor Dean McHenry on January 27; the inaugural conversation in the new Questions that Matter series on January 27; Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation on January 28; and Cowell College will celebrate "Three Generations of Smiths," including founding provost Page Smith, on January 30. Full details are available online.  

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Kickoff" in the subject line.

January 20, 2015

Marketplace of ideas

January 20, 2015

I want to reiterate my commitment to the university as a marketplace of ideas by posting here my statement about free speech:

In light of past and current events sponsored by—or taking place on—the campus, it is important that we remember that the university is—above all—a community of free inquiry and the free exchange of ideas.

A central function of the university then becomes fostering in its students a mature independence of mind. By policy (APM 010) and practice, the university rigorously honors the freedom to present the widest range of viewpoints irrespective of agreement on those viewpoints.

The opportunity for constructive debate on the merits of different viewpoints is essential to the advancement of knowledge. More importantly, the university honors the freedom to present the widest range of viewpoints without implying agreement or endorsement of the same.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Speech" in the subject line.

January 15, 2015

Students hack their way to success

Photo of People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake. People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake developed a video game to help high school students learn cell biology. Photo by Paige Welsh.

By now, I hope the participants in last weekend's UCSC Hack event have recovered from the lack of sleep they endured in pursuit of the next great app. What an impressive event: Nearly 400 students from UCSC, Cal State Monterey Bay, and even a few from as far away as the East Coast, two dozen sponsors, and an extraordinary amount of talent filled the Merrill Cultural Center.

I was impressed by all of it, but a couple of projects really stood out, including People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake, a one-man team who developed a video game to help high school students learn cell biology. SlugBus was another winner, which I'm sure UCSC shuttle riders would appreciate. It uses peoples' smartphone data to determine the timeliness and location of campus buses and shuttles—and their capacity to pick up additional passengers, too. Finally, Avi Varshney took first place in the innovation category for creating a robot that responds to its operator's motions; when Avi raised his right arm, the robot raised its right "arm."

By Sunday evening's award dinner, the room was a sea of blue with participants sporting their Hack UCSC 2015 t-shirts. Students were pretty exhausted, but the energy in the room was great as finalists presented their projects.

Word is clearly out about this event, which quadrupled in size from last year's inaugural hackathon. So many people came together to make the hackathon possible. Kudos to organizer Doug Erickson of Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, Bonnie Lipscomb of the Santa Cruz Economic Development Office, Lila Tretikov, executive director of Wikipedia, and all our sponsors. Brent Haddad, who runs our campus Center for Entrepreneurship, recently won a United Way Community Hero Award for his efforts to boost local employment; I think he deserves another award for Hack UCSC 2015.

Two weeks after last year's hackathon, half the participants had received a job or internship offer. That may be hard to replicate, but there's no doubt in my mind that this year's hackathon will spark some great collaborations and generate some new apps.

A full list of winners is available on Santa Cruz Tech Beat's website, thanks to alumna Sara Isenberg.


Comments or questions? Write to and put "Hackathon" in the subject line.

December 8, 2014

Supporting the Second Harvest holiday food drive

The campus has a long and close relationship with Second Harvest Food Bank. Every year, the UC Santa Cruz community is a major contributor to the annual holiday food drive. So it was a no-brainer when John Steele, our campus holiday food drive chair, partnered with my executive assistant Margaret McGuire to suggest that a team from campus contribute a few hours of labor to this good cause.

We sorted donations, packed boxes of food, and organized the warehouse where Second Harvest stages its food distribution, and I can honestly say that everyone who participated got a lot out of the experience. John tells me that UCSC has consistently been the third-highest contributor to the food drive behind Twin Lakes Church and Plantronics, which is a point of pride for the campus community.
As the food drive enters its final phase, please consider donating nonperishable food; donation barrels are located around campus. John also reminded me of the impact of cash donations: For every dollar donated, Second Harvest is able to distribute four healthy meals to people in our community.

The Staff Advisory Board and Academic Senate are great partners in this community effort, and I thank them for helping to mobilize the campus community around this important and worthwhile cause. Happy holidays!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Harvest" in the subject line.

November 13, 2014

Stellar performances mark new play, Birth of Stars

Birth of Stars poster

Last Friday, I had the privilege of attending the world premier of Birth of Stars in our Experimental Theatre. What a show! I say, get your tickets while you can!

This play was written by Michael Chemers, associate professor of dramatic literature and chair of Digital Arts and New Media, along with James Bierman of Theater Arts and Mark Krumholz of the Astronomy Department, who also served as the scientific advisor for the play.

The play is about a 14-year-old-girl, a scientific prodigy bullied by her classmates but befriended by an aging professor who appreciates her brilliant mind even as his own scientific productivity is in decline. The acting in both of these parts was excellent. The play follows the young woman’s interactions with her schoolmates, as well as her scientific musings about why stars seem to be limited in terms of how much mass they can contain. I won't be a spoiler, but rest assured, the plot is compelling. So are the stunning visual effects. The play was scientifically accurate, extremely well-written, and very well acted.

Afterwards, Michael, Mark, Jim, and I gathered on stage for a "talkback," a panel discussion about the play. I was stunned by how well astronomy had been incorporated into the production. Michael, Mark, and Jim described the months-long process of collaboration that yielded the show.

Again, without giving too much away, I thought this play could have been entitled Birth and Death of Stars for its compelling depictions of both the beginning and the end of impressive scientific careers. I found myself wondering what the young woman would be like in 50+ years as her own career comes to a close. Overall, this was an excellent play with wonderful performances. Go see it!

Comments or questions? Write to and put Stars" in the subject line.

November 12, 2014

Freedom of speech must apply to all speakers

The controversy at UC Berkeley that followed the request to invite—and then disinvite—Bill Maher to deliver commencement remarks in December leaves me unmoved. Increasingly in recent years, we've seen controversies like this break out on campuses across the country as critics of various speakers seek to retract invitations and deny invitees high-visibility speaking opportunities. I remain convinced that the only way to protect the fundamental freedom of speech is to support every individual's right to express his or her views. Moreover, I believe college and university campuses have a particular obligation to provide platforms for diverse viewpoints.

That doesn't mean I'll be swayed by the views of particular speakers, or even that I'll enjoy hearing what they have to say. But I have always felt strongly that everyone deserves the right to speak, and those who want to listen deserve that opportunity, as well.

I remember one particular anti-war demonstration at UC San Diego during my years there as a graduate student. A large, angry crowd had formed in Revelle Plaza, the campus's central gathering spot, and the chancellor was trying to address the crowd. I was strongly opposed to the war and had, in fact, helped organize the first anti-war protest in San Diego (which at the time was a politically conservative city). Chancellor William McGill was known for engaging with students during frequent noontime protests, but on this day, the crowd shouted him down and he wasn't allowed to speak.

I remember a friend of mine, a fellow grad student, calling from the edge of the crowd to let McGill speak: "He's been hearing us, so let's hear what he has to say." At that, the crowd quieted, and McGill was able to address the gathering.

Years later, McGill wrote about the encounter in his memoir The Year of the Monkey: Revolt on Campus 1968-69. He felt it was wrong that he'd been shouted down, not because he was chancellor but because he deserved to be heard, just like anyone else. He was grateful for the lone voice of support he'd heard that afternoon. And I was pleased to tell him many years later who that lone voice was.

Over the years, I've appreciated others who have stepped up in a variety of venues to defend the rights of those who wish to be heard. Personally, I have tried to keep the channels of communication open, even—or perhaps especially—during raucous meetings, whether it is a student forum, a senate meeting, or even a Regents meeting.  As chancellor, I have been the target of those whose goal was to silence me. Although I have occasionally seethed internally during tense exchanges, I believe fundamentally in the value of public debate. Far more often, I have felt proud of my colleagues and our students as they have engaged in the respectful exchange of ideas. I've always felt that the more we communicate, the better.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Controversy" in the subject line.

October 16, 2014

My Loma Prieta story: Stuck in an elevator and tossed around like a pinball

Photo of crack in the ground caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake.

This photo of earthquake damage on Summit Road was taken by Gary Griggs, distinguished professor of Earth and planetary sciences.

The 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake certainly brings back memories.

I was returning to my office in Natural Sciences II and, feeling a bit lazy, I decided to take the elevator up to the third floor. That's when the magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck. I was tossed from wall to wall inside that freight elevator like a pinball. It was shocking, trying to fend off the walls I was being thrown against. Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over.

But the campus and the elevator had lost power, so I was trapped alone. I was terrified that the elevator cable would break, especially if an aftershock struck. I tried to figure out whether I would be better off standing, jumping, or lying flat on the floor if the cable broke. (Unbeknownst to me, it was a hydraulic elevator with no cable, so it was virtually immune to a catastrophic break.)

It was pretty unpleasant in that dark little box. There was no light because the campus had lost power, and in the darkness, the building's emergency alarms were blaring -- they were really loud! I felt so alone. Then the first aftershock struck, and I was tossed around again.

I did use the emergency phone to call campus dispatch. When I asked the woman who answered whether that had been an earthquake, she said, "Where have you been?" I had to explain that I was stuck in the elevator the whole time and would appreciate getting out. She told me to wait patiently because there were emergencies all over campus. Eventually, she came back on the line to ask me if I was a university employee. To this day, I suspect she was trying to determine if I had next-of-kin records on file in case the worst happened.

Finally, after about 45 minutes, the power came back on. I pressed 1, and sure enough, the elevator returned to the ground floor and the door opened! Somehow, I expected cheering crowds, but there was no one there. I propped the door open and actually went back into the elevator to tell emergency services that I was out. I soon saw one of our students, who told me that the World Series at Candlestick Park had been stopped because of the quake.

I drove down the hill to my home on Escalona Drive and told my wife that I had the best excuse she'd ever heard for being late to dinner. Like most houses in Santa Cruz, we lost our chimney in the quake, but fortunately, the house was still standing. My wife's study on the second floor, which had bookshelves on every square foot of wall space, was inaccessible because every single book had all fallen and a pile was blocking the door. I had to force the door open by a few inches and toss books to the other side of the room to clear a path and get in.

All of Santa Cruz was without power and phone service for several days. The next day, the Safeway on Mission Street opened for something like six customers at a time. I waited for hours in a line that was many blocks long. Almost everyone was there to buy water or batteries. I was on a mission to buy diapers, because we had two little ones at the time!

It turned out that Nat Sci II was severely damaged in the quake. In fact, we later learned that had the earthquake lasted a few more seconds, the building would have collapsed. It was several weeks before we were able to safely occupy the building again. They did some temporary shoring of the building, which lasted for a couple of years. Finally, we all moved to Kerr Hall so the building could be fixed. The flying buttresses they used to shore up the building are a key feature even today.

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September 24, 2014

We need a Staff Advisor to the Regents from UC Santa Cruz

It's always a pleasure to host the staff advisors to the UC Regents on campus. Staff Advisor Donna Coyne and Staff Advisor Designate Deidre Acker were on campus Monday. They met with our Staff Advisory Board and the UCSC Academic Business Officers Group, attended the SAB lunch forum with staff, and had dinner with me.

Salary, workload, and succession planning were hot topics at the forum, and Donna and De listened closely. I'm proud to have helped get these staff advisor positions established. Now my goal is to have a UC Santa Cruz staff member serve in this key role! It's a big job that involves traveling to every campus, attending Regents meetings, and going to meetings at the Office of the President. And it comes on top of an existing job, of course.

But staff advisors can make a difference, and having a UCSC representative would raise our campus's visibility before the Regents. I'm reminded that we've yet to have a student Regent, and only two Santa Cruz faculty members have served as representatives to the Regents (Michael Cowan and yours truly).

Please help me advertise this opportunity among our talented and hard-working staff. The application period opens in January. Really, it's time!

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September 11, 2014

Faculty and students speak from the heart about UC Santa Cruz

Chancellor Blumenthal with Shelley Stamp, Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt, and Ramyne Spire.

Professor Shelley Stamp, undergraduate Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt, and Ramyne Spire (far right) joined me at a reception for friends of the campus hosted by Ramyne and her husband, UC Santa Cruz Trustee Garry Spire.

Wow, our faculty and students are this campus's best ambassadors. I was reminded of that over the weekend, when UC Santa Cruz trustee Garry Spire and his wife Ramyne hosted a reception in Los Angeles for parents, alumni, and friends of the campus.

On the program were Shelley Stamp, a professor of film and digital media,  and undergraduate Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt. They each gave a short talk, and the audience was blown away by what they heard.

Shelley's work is fascinating. Her research focuses on the role of women in early Hollywood. I was telling old friends about her work just this morning. I had no idea that the top-grossing film of 1916 was directed by a woman, Lois Weber. Her film, Where Are My Children?, was about abortion and birth control. Weber was one of the top directors, along with Cecil B. DeMille and D. W. Griffith, and you have to wonder how her name has been lost to history. Women dominated many roles in Hollywood—as screenwriters, directors, and producers—and the majority of moviegoers were women, too. Shelley has been at the forefront of the effort to reclaim this lost history for two decades. Today, joined by a handful of scholars around the country, she remains the authoritative voice.

To be honest, I didn't envy Jasmine having to follow Shelley, but she was up to the task. A junior double majoring in literature and film, Jasmine described what her years at UC Santa Cruz have meant to her in deeply personal terms. She talked about how her classroom experiences have given meaning to her mixed-race identity and how Shelley's classes have built upon that sense of identity. College has awakened something inside her she didn't know was there, and her gratitude was palpable. When she was overcome by emotion and shed a few tears, the audience was as swept up in the emotion of the moment as she was. It was truly moving.

I'm grateful to Shelley and Jasmine for agreeing to represent the campus at this event. We are hosting a series of receptions this fall that are designed to get the word out about what we're doing at UC Santa Cruz and to build support for our three-part mission of teaching, research, and public service. With ambassadors like Shelley and Jasmine, we're off to a great start.

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August 19, 2014

Coastal Biology building will be a gem

Rendering of the new Coastal Biology building.

Photo of male elephant seal and graduate student Sarah Peterson.

The Coastal Biology building will be a tremendous resource, supporting the work of researchers like graduate student Sarah Peterson, who is studying the accumulation of mercury, PCBs, and DDT in northern elephant seals. (NMFS Permit 14636)

At long last, the students, faculty, and staff of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department will be together again! We will break ground on the Coastal Biology building at Long Marine Lab this fall, with a planned move-in date of fall 2016.

It's been a long time since the campus has had a new building come online, and this one will bear great intellectual fruit by reuniting the department. Sharing a roof will further energize this group, and state-of-the-art facilities will support their great work.

The Central Coast is home to a concentration of marine science expertise. Around the bay, there are great collaborations taking place among researchers affiliated with UC Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cal State Monterey Bay, and Stanford, among others. This building will expand our ability to partner with others, and its proximity to adjacent governmental and nonprofit organizations will foster our relationships with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Nature Conservancy.
The move will free up much-needed space on campus, but students will be the biggest winners. Every time I visit Long Marine Laboratory, I am struck by the amazing work taking place there—and by the significant contributions our students are making. They pay their dues cleaning marine mammal tanks and performing basic chores, but they work their way up to caring for animals, helping with training, and doing research with the seals, sea lions, otters, and others. It's so unique, and the students get so much out of it. That's what we're all about—giving students experiences that change their lives.

Great facilities are part of what makes it all possible. Buildings truly matter. Congratulations to all who worked so hard to make this one a reality.

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August 18, 2014

Touring Levi's Stadium

Photo of players' locker room at Levi's Stadium.Chancellor Blumenthal with 49ers cheerleaders.

I wasn't the only person snapping photos of the players' elegant locker room (above). And what's a visit to the stadium without a photo op with the 49ers' Gold Rush Cheerleaders?

Every August, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group hosts a barbeque, and this year's took place at the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. What a facility! No expense was spared. The luxury boxes are unbelievable, as are the locker rooms. There are enough solar panels to power a small city. The latest technology has been integrated into everything, too, including the fan experience. Ticket holders will download an app to enter the stadium, and the same app will enable them to watch instant replays on their smart phones. Fans can even order food and drinks from the app, and it'll be delivered right to them--no more missing the action. Wi-fi is everywhere, of course, as are iPhone charging stations.

I got a kick out of seeing it, and it was a bonus to run into Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley and two alumni: California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, who'd spent all day on the phone securing support for the water bond proposal that will appear on the November ballot, and former mayor of San Jose Ron Gonzalez, a UCSC trustee who's the president of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley. A welcome reminder that there are Banana Slugs everywhere!

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July 15, 2014

Bidding farewell to staff colleagues

Group photo of new retirees with Chancellor Blumenthal.

Photo of new retiree Sue Grimes with other retiring staff.

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal and retiree Susie Bower.

It was all smiles at the reception for new retirees, including Sue Grimes, middle, and Susie Bower, lower.

I'll admit it: Every time a long-serving colleague retires, I feel devastated. Last year, my executive assistant Maurene Catto retired. This year's wave of retirees includes several staff members with whom I've worked closely over many years, including campus counsel Carole Rossi, sexual harassment officer Rita Walker, budget director Karen Eckert, and campus spokesman Jim Burns. Of course, for each of these, there are many other new retirees I don't know well or perhaps have never met.

The truth is, there is always turnover. It's the natural way of things. I'm happy for this fresh crop of retirees. And I'm happy the campus has benefited from their dedication, talent, and service (though I wonder why they're leaving so soon. After all, I recently began my 43rd year on campus!).

Whether someone works behind the scenes, as Karen Eckert did for more than 30 years, or in front of the television cameras as Jim Burns did, each individual makes a difference on this campus. And it's gratifying that many retired staff stay connected to the university. One group—the UC Santa Cruz Retirees Association—has just endowed a scholarship program for students who are military veterans. The endowment honors the memory of long-time staff member Bruce Lane, a project architect who was hired by founding chancellor Dean McHenry.

That endowment is a testament to the generosity and big hearts of the entire Banana Slug family. Congratulations to our newest retirees! Soon enough we'll be greeting newcomers who will follow in their footsteps. It is the way of things.

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July 11, 2014

Five infrastructure issues facing Santa Cruz

Photo of UCSC-Santa Cruz Business Council lunch.

The second annual luncheon with the Santa Cruz County Business Council attracted a big crowd, including many alumni.

Traffic, water, housing, internet connectivity, and workforce development. Those five topics were the focus of the second annual "Partners in Economic Vitality" luncheon with the Santa Cruz County Business Council and UC Santa Cruz on Tuesday.

Turnout was great—more than 100 people showed up, including local business owners, nonprofit administrators, elected officials, and faculty and staff from campus. A number of alumni were in the room: County Supervisor Zach Friend, Volunteer Center Executive Director Karen Delaney, realtors Lee Slaff, developer Doug Kaplan, Santa Cruz County Bank Vice President Mary Ann Carson, land use consultant Owen Lawlor, and Cruzio President Peggy Dolgenos.

Peggy Dolgenos was one of five speakers, each of whom did a great job discussing the challenges and opportunities in their areas. I learned something from each presenter. Peggy talked about internet access, and she was kind enough to acknowledge the campus's role bringing high-speed internet service—"dark fiber"—to the central coast, which I appreciated. But clearly, as a region, we have a ways to go. She likened dark fiber to a backbone, saying we need a coordinated strategy to build out the system of "pipes" that will extend service to remote and underserved areas. Zach Friend is championing a countywide "dig once" policy, which would capitalize on any road construction to simultaneously install cable infrastructure. Sounds smart to me.

Architect Mathew Thompson discussed the role of changing demographics in exacerbating the housing crunch and some needed changes in city and county policies; George Dondero of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission discussed the traffic council report and what it could mean for the county in the next decade; and Kim Adamson of the Soquel Creek Water District emphasized that the multiple water districts in our county need to work together to solve our regional issues.

In my own remarks about higher education and workforce development, I reminded the audience that experts predict that California will face a shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025. I don't like that scenario and urged attendees to join me in asking the governor for more robust support for the University of California. If we don't make the case, I'm afraid we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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June 24, 2014

Commencement highlights

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal with SMC President Chui Tsang and graduate Lorena Carpinteyro.

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal with Kresge College Programs Coordinator Pam Ackerman.

Top: Santa Monica College President Chui Tsang and graduate Lorena Carpinteyro joined me for a photo at the SMC commencement. Lorena is enrolling at UC Santa Cruz this fall. Below: Kresge College Programs Coordinator Pam Ackerman has worked on campus for 28 years. Thank you, Pam!

I was honored to give the commencement address at Santa Monica College, which has the distinction of sending more graduates to the University of California than any other community college in the state. Among the grads headed our way is Lorena Carpinteyro, who was kind enough to pose for a photo with SMC President Chui Tsang and me.

Santa Monica has held that top spot for 23 years, and I give them credit for making a concerted effort to encourage their students to transfer to the University of California. That path from community college to UC is important—and as costs rise, it's a smart way for students to meet the financial challenges of earning a four-year degree.

As I told SMC's graduates, I have no doubt that earning a college degree is the best investment they can make in their future. That diploma is more than a certificate on the wall; it's a testament to the discipline and persistence it takes to accomplish your goals.

As always, it was an honor to confer degrees on our own campus. At Kresge College, I met Programs Coordinator Pam Ackerman, who has worked on campus for 28 years. While we congratulate our most recent graduates, I want to congratulate Pam on her years of service and thank all our staff for their dedication and hard work. Go, Slugs!

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May 2, 2014

We're on a roll

It's been a hot week—literally and figuratively—in Santa Cruz. Temperatures have been in the 80s for several days, and the good news keeps rolling in.

First, biologist Jim Estes and seismologist Thorne Lay were elected to the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday—one of the highest honors in the country for scientists. Jim has done important work on the role of predators in ecosystems, including research on Central Coast sea otters. His insights apply to mountain lions, wolves, grizzly bears and other top predators, and they have widespread implications for conservation. Thorne analyzes seismic waves to learn about earthquakes and structural features of the deep earth, and he has developed methods to monitor compliance with nuclear test ban treaties.

Thorne was also named the recipient of the 2014 Harry Fielding Reid Medal from the Seismological Society of America this week—the top prize in seismology (one of the first awardees was Charles Richter, as in the "Richter scale" that measures the magnitude of earthquakes)--another outstanding honor.

I couldn't be more proud of these two eminent scientists, their work, and this well-deserved recognition. If we could "bottle" the campus culture that fosters this level of achievement—our custom blend of intellectual curiosity, interdisciplinary exploration, and a desire to make the world a better place—I think we could probably market it to other universities. Lucky for us, it's ours alone.

More evidence of UCSC's impact came in the very next day, when alum Sage Weil sold his data-storage company, Inktank, to Red Hat for $175 million. Sage developed his first working prototype as a grad student in computer science here, and the deal secures his technology's place in the open-source world.

Finally, for the third consecutive year, UC Santa Cruz was ranked one of the best young universities in the world by Times Higher Education. We were ranked 2nd among U.S. universities under the age of 50, and 11th overall. The bulk of the ranking is based on performance in three areas we care about deeply: research, citations, and teaching; additional factors include international outlook and industry income.

This is an honor we won't receive next year, when we celebrate our 50th year as a campus, but I know our spirit of youthful daring will continue to serve us well as we begin our second half-century.

It's been a great run—and an outstanding week!

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April 29, 2014

Highlights of alumni weekend

Photo of Howard Heevner in Sammy the Slug costume.

Photo of UCSC student Helen Porter.

Photo of Leon Panetta.

Top: Sammy joined me on Saturday. Photo by Ken Feingold. Middle: Helen Porter at Launch!. Leon Panetta drew a big crowd Friday night. Photos by Steve Kurtz.

What does it mean when campus leaders show up to meetings as Sammy the Slug? Only one thing: It must be Alumni Weekend at UC Santa Cruz.

Howard Heevner, our assistant vice chancellor of constitutent engagement, set the tone for the weekend at our Saturday morning Alumni Council meeting, and the rest of the day did not disappoint. From three outstanding faculty teach-in's ("classes without quizzes") to Mission Hill Creamery's ice cream, the lineup on Saturday had something for everyone.

The three-day celebration kicked off Friday night, when hundreds of alumni and guests attended Launch!, a celebration of the UCSC student experience and a keynote speech by Leon Panetta. The strolling dinner was a great success as guests had a chance to meet current students and heard about their work. One student participant, Helen Porter, described her four years at UCSC to the group gathered for Panetta's keynote address, and she brought down the house when she talked about everything she has done here and the depth of gratitude she feels toward those who support financial aid programs. It was a proud moment.

I was honored to introduce Panetta, a longtime friend of the campus, and I unabashedly soaked up his message of the importance of education to democracy. I loved it when he said an informed public is the key to breaking the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington, D.C., and couldn't agree more that education isn't a luxury; it's indispensable to our democracy.

The Saturday teach-in's were popular, with Alison Galloway describing her work as a forensic anthropologist (A Day in the Life of the Dead—what a great title!), biomolecular engineer Ed Green tracing the family tree of Homo Sapiens and Neandertals, and Bruce Thompson telling tales of spying and espionage during World War I and World War II.

For the third year in a row, Carolyn Lagattuta and Rob Knight staffed a photo booth, snapping souvenir 5" x 7" photos for all who posed—with or without optional Slug regalia that included feather boas, a slug mustache, fleece antennae, and bright yellow sunglasses. They even snapped a shot of proud parents with their grinning member of the Class of 2035!

Most importantly, alumni had a chance to reconnect with a special place and time in their lives. That's what Alumni Weekend is all about.

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April 21, 2014

A delightful encounter with greatness

Photo of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

I meet a lot of impressive people in my job, but Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards really stands out. It doesn't hurt that she is the daughter of a hero of mine, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, but boy, Cecile is a real presence.

We met at Planned Parenthood headquarters in New York City recently, and I liked her immediately. We talked about UCSC's leadership in feminist studies, genomics, and the ethical issues of genomics and new medical technology, including informed consent and access to care. She clearly already knew a lot about UCSC and was really grateful when I gave her a signed copy of Bettina Aptheker's memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel.

We had a great conversation, and she opened my eyes to what she considers a "revolution in women's health" brought about by the Affordable Care Act. The majority of Planned Parenthood's clientele are between the ages of 18 and 30, and for the first time, this cohort has access to health insurance. She called this a transformative moment.

At any rate, she was enthusiastic about doing whatever she can to help the campus, as her schedule permits. I know I would be very proud to host her on campus, or to host an event in New York City that involved her. It was such a good meeting, confirming what I suspected were strong affinities between UCSC and her mission at Planned Parenthood.

If she follows in her mother's footsteps, I can say right now that I'd vote for her for president any day!

That wasn't the only highlight of my East Coast trip. We had a wonderful breakfast meeting with alumni and other friends of the campus, hosted by Christine and Robert Holo. They've been invaluable champions and supporters of UCSC, and with their help, we are building a strong network in New York City. Considerable credit also goes to Steve Weldon in University Relations, who is—sadly for us—retiring this month. Steve, congratulations, and I promise to build on your successes and carry on your good work!

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April 9, 2014

Sneaking a peek at the Class of 2018

Admissions Director Michael McCawley and SUA Chair Shaz Umer with two UCSC alumni.

Admissions Director Michael McCawley, far left, SUA Chair Shaz Umer, left, and Admissions Outreach Representative Ben Kwak, right, grabbed a quick photo with a recent UCSC graduate at a recent reception in Long Beach for admitted students. Photo by Felicia Young.

You know what's energizing? Talking with high school seniors who can't wait to come to UC Santa Cruz this fall. Their parents are pretty fun, too, but it's the students whose enthusiasm is infectious.

Every spring, the Admissions Office hosts receptions with admitted students. I am always happy to participate, especially when I'm joined by current students, like SUA Chair Shaz Umer, who joined us last week in Berkeley, Fresno, and Long Beach.

Shaz is a great ambassador, talking about the popular airport shuttle he helped launch, the campuswide talent show he helped organize last year (and is reprising this spring), and the upcoming Edge of Eden Music Festival that SUA is cosponsoring with the Dean of Students Office. Alumni spoke at each event, too, including Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore, community organizer Rebecca Rangel in Fresno (who coincidentally is running for city council), and Beverly Yanuaria in Long Beach, an academic adviser to high-achieving students at UCLA. Many other alumni attended the events, interacting with guests and sharing their stories. I wish I could thank each of them personally.

Each get-together was great—all told, more than 1,000 people turned out. I definitely noticed a couple of recurring themes during the question-and-answer sections. Everyone is focused on opportunities—to do research, work with faculty, get hands-on learning, etc.—and, as always, we fielded lots of questions about our colleges. Admissions Director Michael McCawley has the best answer for that one (based on a few years of experience). He reassures students that whichever college they pick, within a few weeks of arriving, they will be absolutely convinced their college is the best one there is!

If last week's preview is any indication, the Class of 2018 is going to be an outstanding group of new Banana Slugs.


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April 8, 2014

Kudos to Kelly

Photo of Morris Ratner and Kelly Weisberg.

Hastings professors Morris Ratner and Kelly Weisberg teamed up to bring a fantastic program to UCSC. Photo by Christopher Dydyk.

My wife, Kelly Weisberg, does a lot for UC Santa Cruz, most of it behind the scenes, so it was pretty nice last night to see her recognized for a very public, very lasting contribution: She was the driving force behind the new 3 + 3 program with UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Kelly is a Hastings professor, and she saw what struck her as a natural affinity between UCSC and Hastings, two campuses with enduring commitments to social justice. Thanks to her leadership, and the hard work of a number of people on both campuses, we now have a new joint program that will enable UCSC students to earn a bachelor's degree and law degree in six years instead of the usual seven. Kudos to you, Kelly!

Kelly was also the inspiration behind the new UC Hastings Social Justice Speakers Series at UCSC, which began last night with an amazing talk by Hastings Professor Morris Ratner. He is well known in legal circles for his successful prosecution of Holocaust-era private law claims on behalf of victims of Nazi persecution. What a fascinating talk—and a convincing reminder of the power of the law to bring about positive change. Who would think it would be possible to recover $8 billion in assets, most of which went to victims who were mere children during the Holocaust, and their heirs? That's the kind of bold, audacious thinking we at UCSC like.

On a final note, Kelly and I recently attended a screening in San Francisco of Anita, the new documentary about Anita Hill, who famously accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings. The really striking – and lesser known -- thing about Hill's life is that she has spent most of the intervening years fighting to safeguard the rights of women and men in the workplace. She has worked tirelessly to put in place sexual-harassment protections so others don't have to endure what she experienced. Another story of using the law for good. One side note: Guess who served on Hill's defense team? None other than Janet Napolitano, current president of the University of California. If you watch Anita, keep an eye out for her.

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February 14, 2014

Lunch with the Dalai Lama

Photo of the Dalai Lama at Santa Clara University.
I snapped a photo of the Dalai Lama -- and his image on the jumbo screen -- with my iPhone.

Santa Clara University President Michael Engh kindly invited a guest and me to the Dalai Lama's appearance at Santa Clara University yesterday. I had no idea how extraordinary it would be.

Mary-Beth Harhen, executive director of the Academic Senate, and I attended an intimate lunch with the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, followed by his public appearance. I was quite taken aback by what happened. When he first walked into the room, he walked straight to me—before anyone else—and gazed into my eyes. It felt like he was looking straight into my soul. I've never experienced anything like it. Mary-Beth, a longtime follower of Tibetan Buddhism, said the Dalai Lama is known for connecting deeply with people in a way that "fully encompasses" them. I daresay that's how it felt. I'm still reflecting on the encounter, even as I head to Hawaii to chair a meeting of the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA).

One note about choosing Mary-Beth to accompany me to the events with the Dalai Lama: Her reaction assured me I'd extended a welcome invitation. "That big swishing sound you hear are the tears of joy rising up from the first floor of Kerr Hall," she said.

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February 14, 2014

Students invite a UC Regent to campus

UC Regent Fred Ruiz met with UCSC students involved in our Engaging Education outreach program..
UC Regent Fred Ruiz, top, met with UCSC students involved in our Engaging Education outreach program. SUA Chair Shaz Umer, middle, and External Vice Chair Tony Milgram teamed up on a great event.

What's on the minds of our students? Tuition, access, affordability, programs, and the budget, if the questions I got during last week's "Appetizers with Administration" event is any indication.

Photo of UCSC student Shaz Umer.

And that's just what students asked me. My colleagues fielded questions about UC's new smoke-free policy, student leadership opportunities, the preparation of student residential assistants, and more.

I have to tip my hat to the SUA leaders who organized the get-together at University House. SUA Chair Shaz Umer brought up the idea to me, and External Vice Chair Tony Milgram took it up a notch by inviting UC Regent Fred Ruiz. Tony is the student observer to the Regents' Committee on Finance, which Ruiz chairs, so Tony showed great initiative inviting Ruiz, who hadn't been to UCSC in quite some time.

It was an impressive turnout, and students majoring in an incredible range of subjects showed up: politics, biochemistry, education, theater, feminist studies, Spanish literature, math, psychology, electrical engineering, neuroscience, global economics, sociology, film and digital media, computer science, and technology and information management. Thanks also to Campus Provost/EVC Alison Galloway, vice chancellors Sarah Latham of Business and Administrative Services, Scott Brandt of the Office of Research, and Richard Hughey of Undergraduate Education, as well as Jean Marie Scott of Risk and Safety Services and Linda Beaston of the EVC's office, for spending time – and sharing appetizers -- with our students. It was fun.

Photo of UCSC student Tony Milgram.The event capped a day-long visit for Ruiz, who met with students, campus diversity officers, and others. He was so impressed with our students, describing them as engaged, enthusiastic, and full of great ideas, especially about diversity. Ruiz cosponsored the Regents Study Group on Diversity, so he knows a lot about the topic. He was impressed by what we're doing at UCSC, which is saying a lot, because he's quite critical of UC's overall track record on faculty diversity. I always remind him that faculty diversity levels change slowly, but we at UCSC are poised to see the pace of change pick up in the next few years as a wave of retirements washes over the campus. Those openings will provide an opportunity for us to further diversify our faculty. That's a change that will be good for our students and the campus as a whole.

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January 31, 2014

UCSC's ripple effects are felt far and wide

Photo of UCSC staff members Seth Sanders, Craig Mortensen, and Tonny Bosso.

Among the staff I met during a workplace tour were (l - r) automotive technician Seth Sanders, senior custodial supervisor Craig Mortensen and locksmith Tony Bosso. Photo by Renee Mayne.

My week started with a powerful reminder of how impactful UCSC people are in the world. The memorial service on Saturday for music professor Fred Lieberman was an incredible testament to a man whose interests and talent literally reached around the world.

I was struck by Fred's intellect, insatiable curiosity, and tireless drive to learn. He was involved in so many projects around the globe. On campus, he's widely recognized for his collaborations with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who spoke at the memorial, and he is certainly responsible for UCSC acquiring the Dead's vast archives. His scholarly contributions were equally monumental, including a seminal paper he wrote in the 1970s about the prospect of abolishing the field of ethnomusicology. Fred was a mover and shaker in his field, a mentor to many, and an inspiration to all who knew him. I wish I had known him better.

Two alumni were in the news this week, too. Santa Clara County has named UCSC alum David Perez to a two-year term as Poet Laureate. This is the latest accolade for David, who earned a BA in literature from Kresge College in 2003. In 2012, he was voted "Best Author in the Bay Area" in the San Francisco Bay Guardian's annual readers' poll. He is the author of Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse, among other works. He teaches English at Ohlone College.

And alum Ryan Seelbach, who earned a BA in Earth Sciences in 1992 and a master's the following year, made the first semi-final round in the recent Body Glove Mavericks Invitational surfing contest. If you've seen any video of the contest, you know it takes courage to ride those monster waves. At UCSC, our alumni make waves -- and ride them, too!

Two other highlights of my week: I met with members of the Student Union Assembly on Tuesday night and was impressed by their questions and engagement, particularly around philanthropy and the support services we provide for students.

The next day, Alison Galloway and I toured the Cogeneration Plant and Physical Plant facilities as part of our ongoing "walk a day in our shoes" outreach to staff. I can't believe I'd never seen our old diesel generator before. Talk about a workhorse! Salvaged off a submarine, it has performed admirably but is about to be replaced by a sleek, modern unit powered by natural gas. None too soon, according to the talented team that's been keeping it online—sometimes by machining replacement parts in their own shop. I also had no idea the variety of vehicles our mechanics service—cars, shuttle buses, trucks, vans—even the OPERS climbing wall was in the shop for a tune-up! And I confess that I got a kick out of going behind the counter at the TAPS window. I was always careful to time the pick-up of my parking pass to avoid those long lines. These tours are a great way to see more of the campus and to learn from the staff who keep this entire campus – including that old generator – running smoothly.

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January 24, 2014

Lunch with a legend

Photo of Alice Waters

How has legendary chef and pioneer of the local, organic food movement Alice Waters achieved so much? That's the question we posed to her during a recent lunch at Chez Panisse, her renowned restaurant in Berkeley. Alice's answer? You have to want it all. Take an uncompromising approach and don't settle for anything less.

What a refreshing and energizing approach. I'm pretty sure Daniel Press, professor of environmental studies and director of our Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, had the same reaction when he heard those words. We were lunching with this legend thanks to an invitation prompted by campus friends Alec and Claudia Webster, great champions of the Center's work and UCSC's leadership in sustainable agriculture, who joined us, along with Daniel's wife Sarah.

Alice knows a lot about UCSC's work – she has hired a number of graduates of our Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture over the years -- and she is eager to learn more. We hope to get her down for a visit this fall. Among her passions is a desire to improve the quality of school lunches, building on the success of her Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley. She appreciates UC's commitment to buying produce from local organic farms and seemed to recognize UCSC as a kindred spirit in many ways.

All in all, it was quite a treat. And the goat cheese, nettle pizza? Outstanding!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Alice" in the subject line.

January 16, 2014

Koalas, kangaroos, and more

Koala eating eucalyptus.
Chancellor Blumenthal with Michael McCawley and Ashish Sahni at the Taj Mahal.

Koalas are indisputably cute, and the Taj Mahal was stunning.

Lions, tigers, and bears? How about koalas, kangas, and roos?

My wife and I took our two adult children to Australia before I split off to meet up with the UCSC delegation in India. It was a great trip, and I can now attest to the cuteness of koalas and kangaroos.

This was my first trip to India, and like every other visitor, I was struck by the sights, sounds, and smells of this nation teeming with people and energy. We had an agenda packed with meetings from Delhi and Punjab in the north to Bangalore in the south, and it was gratifying to see the high level of interest in our campus among educators, government officials, and prospective students. We made good progress on multiple initiatives that I'm confident will benefit the campus.

We did take a couple of breaks during the trip. Admissions Director Michael McCawley and I took time out for a bicycle rickshaw tour of Old Delhi. Michael and I are both pretty big guys, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that our driver actually had to dismount and push the bike the last few blocks. I guess "lose weight" should be on my list of resolutions for 2014!

In many ways, India struck me as a country of contrasts. The disparity between wealth and poverty was inescapable. It was particularly striking at the Taj Mahal, where we marveled at the beauty of the building -- and at the suffering of those who live close by.

Yet throughout the trip, I detected an extraordinary level of optimism everywhere we went; a spirit of entrepreneurship seemed to infuse every conversation and interaction. One impression has really stuck with me: Absolutely everyone has a cell phone, even people who appeared to be living in the most dire circumstances. The tendrils of technology have indeed reached into every nook and cranny of our world.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Koalas" in the subject line.

December 17, 2013

End of another great year

People who've known me since before I became chancellor know I used to wear shorts to work virtually every day. These days I am typically a little more formal--occasionally, I even don a tuxedo. That was the case last week when I attended the award ceremony for the Fundamental Physics Prize and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Milner" in the subject line.

November 22, 2013

50 years ago today

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

Parallel universes

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Universes" in the subject line.

October 31, 2013

Reaching out to Seaside High School

Photo of Michelle Whittingham and Monica Tran.

Associate Vice Chancellor Michelle Whittingham and UCSC student Monica Tran were part of our "Achieve UC" outreach activities at Monica's alma mater in Seaside. Photo by Vera Hampton.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Seaside" in the subject line.

October 28, 2013

A memorable conversation

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Donors" in the subject line.

October 21, 2013

Launching our campaign

Photo of UC President Janet Napolitano with UCSC students.

UC President Janet Napolitano met with UCSC students during her visit. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

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

Outstanding staff

Sammy the Slug helps Chancellor Blumenthal present the Outstanding Staff Award to Elaine Kihara.

Sammy helped me present the 2013 Outstanding Staff Award to Oakes College Academic Preceptor Elaine Kihara. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Staff" in the subject line.

September 9, 2013

New support emerging for an independent Shakespeare theater group

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "SSC-New-Life" in the subject line.

August 15, 2013

Throwback Thursday

1973 black-and-white photo of Bill Mathews and George Blumenthal after a long bike ride.

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Throwback" in the subject line.

August 13, 2013

It's fun to host international conferences

Image of poster promoting SCIPP conference at UCSC.

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

An open letter to President Obama

From sequencing the human genome to discovering new planets, there's no question that UC Santa Cruz research has helped power this state and nation—propelling California and the United States to the forefront of economic strength, technological innovation, and creative expression. That's why I was so proud to add my name to an open letter signed by 165 university leaders calling on President Obama to invest in research and higher education.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Obama" in the subject line.

July 30, 2013

Get thee to the Festival Glen!

Photo of performers in Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Don't miss this production of The Taming of the Shrew. Photo courtesy Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Shakespeare" in the subject line.

July 17, 2013

Launching Online Ed with Holocaust Course

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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July 1, 2013


Photo of Maurene Catto and Gennevie Herbranson

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.

'Tis the season to say good-bye, apparently. University Librarian Ginny Steel is heading to UCLA to oversee their library—a fitting opportunity after all she did here, overseeing the renovation and expansion of McHenry Library, raising funds, and essentially creating a thriving hub at the center of campus. What a lasting and positive legacy she leaves!

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 24, 2013

Celebrating a "champion of change" in our community

Photo of David Haussler

David Haussler attended a White House ceremony honoring "Open Science Champions of Change" last week.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Haussler" in the subject line.

June 21, 2013

Another excellent graduation weekend

Chancellor Blumenthal being interviewed by KSBW-TV reporter.

KSBW-TV covered the Stevenson College commencement, and the LA Times quoted me in a story about the challenge of shaking thousands of hands during graduation. Photo by Adrianne Waite.

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

What I'm hearing from parents

Photo of UCSC graduate at commencement

Graduation is a proud day for everyone, including Slug parents. Photo by Shmuel Thaler.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Parents" in the subject line.

June 3, 2013

On the road... in Los Angeles

Photo of Hector Tobar, Antonio Ramirez, and Chancellor Blumenthal

I was delighted to spend time with emcee Hector Tobar, left, and Antonio Ramirez, whose son is graduating from UCSC next week.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "June 1" in the subject line.

May 9, 2013

The sequester jeopardizes more than airline punctuality

Image of San Francisco Chronicle masthead

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Research" in the subject line.

April 29, 2013

What a great weekend

Photo of students rehearsing for UCSC's Got Talent!

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)

Photo of Stevenson College alumni, class of 1969 and 1970.

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.

Photo of current UCSC students at Alumni Weekend.

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

Spring fling

Photo of Sammy the Slug with an alumni family at Alumni Weekend 2012

Sammy the Slug and I are looking forward to Alumni Weekend. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

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

Everywhere I go, UCSC is making a difference

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal with UCSC alumni and others in Watsonville

Watsonville High School senior Stephanie Barraze, second from right, will be enrolling at UCSC this fall. We were joined, left to right, by Councilmember Daniel Dodge, Watsonville High School Student Body President Itzel Carro, and Mayor Lowell Hurst.

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Watsonville" in the subject line.

April 11, 2013

Slugs reaching out

Photo of UCSC students

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Outreach" in the subject line.

March 26, 2013

The wisdom of Leon Panetta

Photo with Christina Valentino, Donna Blitzer, Leon Panetta, and Chancellor Blumenthal

Christina Valentino, left, and Donna Blitzer joined me at the party for Leon Panetta

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

On the road with our students

Photo of Kane Cunningham with a sea lion

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

The inquiring mind of Jerry Brown

Photo of Governor Jerry Brown

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

What a weekend

Photo of Justice O'Connor with Chancellor Blumenthal and guests

My wife Kelly Weisberg and our son Aaron were joined by first-year law student Sahar Maali at a reception for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

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 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 5, 2013

President Obama honors Sandy Faber

Photo of President Obama
Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal with Sandy Faber and special guests

It was a thrill to be seated just a few rows from the president. Sandy and her husband Andy, far right, were joined by UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and his wife Dilling.

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

UC's next president

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 23, 2013

Renew our commitment

Stop bussing for segregation march James Groppi center 1968
Meeting of NAACP commandos with James Groppi circa 1967 1968

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

Response to our new ad

Reproduction of UCSC's new advertisement

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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May 30, 2013

Congressman Sam Farr's tribute to Sandy Faber

Photo of Alison Galloway, Sandy Faber, Congressman Farr and Chancellor Blumenthal

Sandy Faber was all smiles during the tribute from Congressman Sam Farr. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

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

What I'm hearing from alumni

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.

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Alumni" in the subject line.

April 16, 2013


Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal and campus leaders in the snow in Boulder, Colorado.

UCSC team members Donna Murphy, Donna Blitzer, and Christina Valentino are being good sports about the bad weather.

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put "Boulder" in the subject line.

March 14, 2013

Tonight's the night

Photo of 100% slug buttons

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!

Comments or questions? Write to and put “Admissions-Decisions" in the subject line.

March 7, 2013

Honoring the fallen

Photo of programs from memorial service.

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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January 7, 2013

Great moments

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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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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.