September 18, 2014

Remarks to UC Board of Regents

Chairman Varner, President Napolitano, members of the Board of Regents, colleagues and friends,

I am honored and humbled by this vote of confidence in me, to lead UC Irvine as its sixth chancellor. I am very grateful for your trust and support.

Exactly 38 years ago this month I started my first college classes as a first-generation freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles: Intro to Political Science, Intro to Psychology, Intro to Astronomy – all in Moore 100, a large lecture hall – and freshman writing. It did not take me long before I decided that if I had the chance to spend my life within such a world of inquiry and discovery then I would be a very lucky person.

The University of California made that possible, as I continued to get my Ph.D. at UCLA and afterwards set off to do my life’s work as a scholar and a teacher. My wife, Ellen, also benefited from this extraordinary university, receiving her B.A. from UCSD and her Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA. The University of California also brought us together – we met when we both participated in a program out of Academic Advisement to use advanced graduate students to reach out to freshman who might need a little more support in order to flourish.

A life’s work, a wife and a partner, all of the extraordinary satisfactions that have arisen from those two gifts – you can imagine my gratitude to the University of California.

And this gratitude is shared by countless others who have been educated at one of the campuses, and who understand the value of great research universities to our regions, to our state, and to the world. There is no greater force for the advancement of human progress and enlightenment than the modern research university, and no more important institution serving our democracy than public research universities.

The decision of the people of California to create this extraordinary system should go down in history as one of the most visionary decisions ever made by a free, democratic people in support of their own well-being. We owe it to the people of California to tell the full story of the profound and positive impact we have when we educate undergraduates, prepare the next generation of scholars and professionals, explore the frontiers of science, address pressing social challenges, engage fundamental questions of morality and human value, devise new clinical practices, unleash new forms of creative expression, and forge partnerships with our communities.

I returned to the University of California just over a year ago, attracted to Irvine by the campus’s extraordinary accomplishments, palpable vitality, and ongoing ambitions – and also by the spirit of the region, entrepreneurial, ascendant, committed to sustainability, encouraging of bold ambitions. It has been a tremendously exciting year for me, and I want to thank all of the faculty, students, staff, and supporters at UCI who welcomed me, gave me good advice, and worked together to accelerate our momentum.

My experiences this past year convince me that UCI is poised to rise higher in the ranks of those global institutions of higher education whose preeminence is undisputed because they are viewed as making the very best and most important contributions to knowledge creation, education, arts and culture, clinical and professional practice, and human well-being.

Over the coming months I will be working with the members of our community to forge a path toward increased excellence and impact. Whatever else comes from those conversations I believe there are a few considerations that deserve special attention.

First, the foundation of every great university is its people. UCI got off to such an amazing start fifty years ago because our pioneering founding faculty were attracted to the rolling hills of the Irvine Ranch in order to create one of the “truly great centers of higher learning in the land,” and sought to pursue this vision, not by copying their way to the top, but by taking full advantage of the opportunity to embrace a spirit of innovation. They exceeded everyone’s highest expectations. Today the scholarship produced at UCI is among the most highly cited and influential in the world. As we proceed we need to ensure that we remain a place where the most innovative and transformative faculty come to do their very best work across all fields of inquiry, professional practice, and creative expression.

Second, we must ensure that the educational experiences of our students – undergraduate, graduate, professional – enrich their mind and spirit, enable them to achieve at the highest level of their potential, and open up the best opportunities for them to pursue their goals and have a positive impact on society. Our state and our region benefit tremendously from the contributions of our amazing student body. We already have an outstanding record of success for our undergraduates, including our Pell-eligible and underrepresented minority students. Still, we will find new ways to provide even more support to our students so that they achieve even higher levels of success. We will also find new ways to build on the campus’s existing spirit of innovation and experimentation in how we teach and how we structure academic experiences. Just as we want UCI to be a place that attracts the very best faculty we will also be a first-choice school for outstanding students.

Third, while we will commit ourselves to increasing the importance and impact of our work across the full spectrum of disciplines and practices, we have a special obligation in matters of human health and medicine. Every major research university with an academic medical center has this obligation. It is important to Orange County that our friends and neighbors have access to leading academic clinicians and medical researchers; it is important to the world that we do our part to more effectively fight disease and promote human health. This means not just increasing the reach of our clinical medical practices, but also integrating this mission more systematically with faculty and student expertise across the entire campus. There is hardly an area of study within our many excellent schools that cannot contribute to this effort.

Fourth, we must never lose sight that, when we talk about excellence and achieving ever-higher levels of excellence, we mean inclusive excellence – that is, the kind of excellence that arises from a diverse community of inquiry. Universities have a compelling interest to create diverse communities of inquiry. Diversity of experience and thought is an essential precondition for productive deliberation amidst a robust exchange of ideas. But more than that: when we ensure the access and inclusion of people of all backgrounds and life experiences, we not only uphold our fundamental scholarly and research mission; we make meaningful our shared commitment to a true opportunity society. In a heterogeneous, democratic society, the pathways to success must be open to everyone. The work really isn’t worth doing if this is not the case.

Finally, I believe we should expand the conversations and partnerships between the university and the region more generally. We already do so much for the community, but I believe there is more that can be done. We are still proud to be the youngest university to be invited to join the Association of American Universities. These 62 elite institutions are incredible assets for their regions – not just in terms of economic development, but in the development of a region’s human capital, historical and cultural heritage, arts infrastructure, health promotion, educational responsibilities, sustainability … there’s not an issue that really matters for our region where greater partnerships with the university would not be beneficial. We are a vitally important anchoring institution for Orange County, perhaps the most important anchoring institution. I am convinced that the future of Orange County is inextricably linked to the ongoing development of UCI, and I am looking forward to working with leaders in the region about how we might partner together to advance our shared goals and values.

We will forge this path with confidence knowing that we have one final, incomparable strategic advantage: the most beloved, revered, and feared mascot in all of higher education, the Anteater. When we establish our presence we don’t roar or bark; we zot zot zot.

I look forward to working with you, and with the tremendous faculty, students, staff, and supporters of UCI, to build further on the excellence and impact of this truly great university.

Thank you again.

Fiat Lux.