March 31, 2015

Remarks at Investiture Ceremony

I am overflowing with gratitude:

to President Janet Napolitano and the Board of Regents, for their faith in me;

to former Chancellor Michael Drake, whose investiture at OSU is also today, for his countless contributions to UCI and for inviting me to join this community two years ago;

to our beloved friend, Jack Peltason, who made historic contributions to UCI, to the University of California, and to higher education, while demonstrating that great leadership can be accomplished with good humor, and who stayed engaged with life, and the life of the mind, despite obstacles that would have gotten the better of mere mortals;

to President Max Nikias, not only for his generous remarks today but more importantly for being a great friend and superb mentor;

to the many professional colleagues who over the years have made this work so fun and so satisfying;

to the UCI faculty, staff, students, alumni, and supporters who have offered their support and good guidance;

to the community and civic leaders in Orange County who have reached out so that we can work together to serve this region;

to the great Cary Elwes, for his life’s work, for bringing a special glow to this occasion, and for recently writing a wonderful book (a New York Times bestseller);

to everyone who helped put this event together and participated in the ceremony, too many to thank now, but especially to Ramona Agrela for leading the effort and for keeping me in the dark about it so that I could experience it and enjoy it;

to our friends and family – people from my childhood and people from our neighborhood;

to all of you for taking the time to be here today or watch the webcast;

and especially to my wife, Ellen, and the two people who matter the most to us, our beautiful children, Arielle and Danny, our pride and joy. I could not do this if they were not generous with their love, support, and perspective. Because the responsibilities of this position are borne by them as well as by me, I ask you all to thank them for their service to UCI.

I am also thankful to my parents, Stan and Charlyne Gillman, who never went to college but worked hard to make sure I had that opportunity, who instilled in me simple but enduring values that made everything else possible. Their lives were too short, passing away before they saw their grandchildren come into the world, and before I started my career in earnest. But they had confidence that their only child would be okay.

They would have thought this was very nice – a little over the top, but nice.

Those are some of the people to whom I am thankful. But I am also grateful for the privilege of being part of the Anteater family, a truly inspirational community of scholars, teachers, learners, and supporters, determined to do even more to serve humankind.

In formally accepting the Chancellor’s Medal, I commit to you that I will devote myself to doing justice to your faith in me and to working with you – and with all willing and inspired partners – to advance our indispensable mission. This is an investiture, and make no mistake about it: I am invested in UCI.

High Hopes for Our Future

You can see how one might conclude that investitures are about a person, and you all have made this a day that I will remember for as long as I am capable. But this moment is more fundamentally about the hopes and expectations of everyone who is devoted to UCI and its mission. And I have heard your high hopes for our future.

You have told me that, while there is tremendous pride in what we have done to date, there is also an eagerness, even a fierce determination, to do more: make even stronger contributions in research, education, and service; accelerate our ascendency among globally preeminent research universities; marshal our passions, skills, and ingenuity to further improve people’s lives. There is little appetite for resting on our existing laurels, or imagining merely incremental improvements.

I have heard you say that we must continue to strive to be a sought-after destination for the most talented and ambitious faculty, students, and staff – reflecting all backgrounds and life experiences – who see that UCI is where they can reach their full potential and do their best work. We are especially proud that our vision of excellence is unshakably democratic, an essential component of the still-unfolding promise of America, inclusive of all, including vast numbers of outstanding first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds, many of whom represent the real future of California, who are here because of the opportunities we provide and because of their promise, character, ambition, and drive. As an institution created by the people in order to serve the people, we know that the more we resemble the majestic diversity of this republic, the stronger we will be.

And I have heard one more thing on which there is a clear consensus: we have the most feared, revered, and beloved mascot in all of higher education. Trojans and Bruins may be more well-known (for now), but watch out world, Peter the Anteater will not be stopped. Zot zot zot!

Embracing A New Model for Enhancing Our Excellence and Impact

While we have high hopes for making ever-stronger contributions, and for attracting even more world-class talent to our campus and our region, we also understand that the old models of campus expansion no longer apply.

I am confident that we will continue to be supported by the state, in a way that ensures greater access for the next generation of California’s sons and daughters. But the day is past that the state will be our primary supporter. The state will help, but it will also expect us to rely on more self-help and embrace innovation.

For some colleges and universities the current uncertain and rapidly changing landscape of higher education is a reason for caution, a time to put bolder ambitions on hold. But in my judgment this new reality is a strategic advantage for UCI, for three reasons.

First, this landscape rewards institutions such as ours that have an entrepreneurial culture and a pioneering spirit.

Second, we are located in one of the most vibrant and forward-looking parts of the world, where innovation and bold plans are encouraged and rewarded.

And third, the excellence, ambition, and commitment of our faculty, students, and staff make it possible to attract those new partners and supporters who will help us reach our shared goals.

Understanding this, what is our path forward for continuing our maturation as a globally preeminent research university, and for enhancing and expanding the excellence and impact of our work?

It boils down to three interrelated words: innovation, expansion, partnerships.

Let me begin with innovation.


From the beginning it has been a core credo of UCI to pursue excellence through innovation. Our extraordinary founding faculty did not come to this place in order to copy their way to the top. They came here to do things that were not possible at more established institutions, and they created a culture that embraced the power of “different”:

  • plan the campus around a circle to facilitate interactions across all disciplines;
  • build a school of life sciences that dispensed with familiar departments such as botany and physiology and envisioned instead a “new biology” organized around emergent fields such as molecular biology – soon to be a model for the nation;
  • become an international center for the new field of critical theory, which would soon become a movement that transformed the study and teaching of literature and culture;
  • create the nation’s first Department of Earth System Science well before the country had heard about An Inconvenient Truth;
  • establish the first stand-alone School of Information and Computer Sciences in the University of California, foreshadowing the fundamental transformation of the Big Data/Social Networking revolution.

Our academic planning must take ongoing inspiration from this UCI tradition of achieving excellence and impact through innovation.

From the strengths of our existing structures of schools and departments we must continue to explore those areas on the frontiers of knowledge that cut across these structures, where we have unique opportunities to make especially important and impactful contributions, and where we organize our talent so that we are focusing on global grand challenges, regional imperatives, and the evolving interests and passions of a new generation of students and scholars who seek to explore large ideas rather than the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines.

This commitment to innovation will also allow us to elevate the experiences of our students, as we develop new plans for becoming even more of a number-one choice school for our most inspiring applicants, perfect new methods of teaching and learning, and above all to do all we can to ensure that UCI students succeed in their educational goals.

This campuswide spirit of innovation and creativity will also be advanced through Illuminations, our Arts and Culture Initiative, which will make arts and creative expression a more pervasive part of the UCI experience.

It is not possible, right now, to know precisely all of the innovative areas of inquiry and discovery that will become matters of strategic focus. However, two areas will have to be on the list.

The first has to do with health and medicine. Any AAU research university with an academic medical center has an obligation to marshal its research and clinical expertise to promote human health, more effectively treat disease, and enhance people’s well-being. UCI will continue to be the place that brings to the region the future of medicine and health promotion.

Some of the most important innovations in human health are being made possible by the convergence of research across the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, information and computer science, and the social and behavioral sciences. Work across these disciplines is also yielding critical advances in fields such as energy, food, climate, and water.

This brings me to my second example of a necessary area of innovative research and educational focus: ensuring that faculty and students from these converging fields can work together in a more focused and systematic way.

While we have exciting pockets on campus where these sorts of collaborations take place, we do not have the kind of facility that will allow big scale research on a broad range of global challenges.

To my mind the absence of such a facility on this campus is the single biggest impediment to transformational innovation in our core missions of research, education, and service.

If we are going to contribute to such vital fields as personalized and precision health, nano-scale manufacturing, and the development of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, it is imperative that we be prepared to invest in such a structure.

Accordingly, with leadership from the relevant deans and faculty members, we will create a plan for building a large research and educational building devoted to the Convergence of Science and Engineering, and we will make fundraising for this building a top priority.

A Convergence of Science and Engineering Building will also support the efforts of our Institute for Innovation by dramatically expanding the sort of translational, problem-oriented research that often has real-world applications. It will also allow us to recruit high-impact faculty looking to tackle big questions across disciplinary boundaries.

And this brings me to expansion.


On this beautiful campus we have the great advantage of having the physical ability to grow. And this year we have almost 89,000 students who are applying for seats at our table. We should do all we can to give more of them an opportunity to have a UCI education.

Mindful that old models of expansion are no longer available to us, and that we will need to establish the right combination of new state funding, new students, new revenue sources, and new fundraising, I believe we are in a position to set the following initial goals of expansion:

  • increase the size of our permanent faculty by 250 or around 20 percent;
  • increase our funded research activity from $300 million per year to $500 million per year;
  • increase the size of our student body to 40,000 total students, through a combination of new on-campus and online students.

Expanding the size of the faculty will allow us to recruit in areas of strategic importance; increase the overall impact of our research, scholarly, and creative activity; more quickly diversify the ranks of the faculty; and respond to changing patterns of student interest and societal need.

Levels of research funding are a basic measure of the quality and impact of research universities, and despite our impressive accomplishments, by that measure our peers and aspirational peers are at higher levels than we are, which is why we must establish ambitious goals for improvement.

Increasing the size of our student body will, of course, enable us to serve a larger and more diverse set of students, while at the same time establish a foundation for overall expansion. However, given the dramatic increases we have recently seen in the number of student credit hours delivered online, up to half of the total increase in the student body could take the form of new online students. This will allow us to become a national leader on how to do online and distance education right, so that we reach more students, improve learning outcomes, and give our residential students more options for completing their degrees on time.

The three goals I mentioned do not fully capture the nature and scope of how we seek to expand the excellence and impact of our work. Humanistic inquiry, performance art, and arts scholarship are foundational for the work of any great comprehensive university, and we will identify goals that are appropriate for these disciplines. Our professional schools will continue to increase their influence among their national and international peers and increase the contributions they make to our regional professional organizations. And of course we are firmly committed to dramatically expanding the impact of UCI Health throughout the region.

Committing ourselves to expansion will require a lot of hard work, creativity, and coordination. In particular, there will be infrastructure needs that will be met only with the help of our supporters.

I am especially mindful of the need for new spaces that will serve our students. For example, our students deserve a new building for student services. We will also need help creating the kind of twenty-first century learning spaces that our students desire and deserve. And so these, too, will be priority areas for fundraising. That means that a few lucky persons will have a unique opportunity to associate their names with serving our amazing students and ushering in the future of teaching and learning at UCI. I’ll be talking to you.

As you can see, it is not possible for us to accomplish this all on our own. And this brings me to my final topic, partnerships.


Consider a few recent examples of partnerships that have made us better and increased the impact of our work.

Our work with Southern California Edison has resulted in one of the country’s largest “smart grid” demonstration projects, which will help our region and our country develop energy infrastructures that are more reliable, secure, economic, efficient, and environmentally friendly – and just last week, scholars and executives from around the world came to UCI for a Microgrid Global Summit.

If you have enjoyed our region’s amazing open spaces you should know that our Center for Environmental Biology collaborates with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy on the maintenance of those open spaces, and also provides expert guidance on how best to restore native plants.

Our partnerships with international universities have facilitated unique student and faculty exchanges and allowed us to make important contributions to global challenges, from sustainability research to water policy.

The Beall Family Foundation gave us the start we needed to establish our Institute for Innovation, devoted to being a regional catalyst for technology transfer and commercialization, and the impact of that institute will be expanded by a whole series of partnerships, including a network of more than 200 local experts who will represent the Orange County Entrepreneurial Advisory Network – or as I like to call it, the Antrepreneurial Advisory Network.

A central feature of our Illuminations initiative is the creation of a UCI Community Arts Council, made up of outstanding community arts leaders, through which we will explore ways to contribute to Orange County’s rich arts and culture landscape.

We are committed to expanding the power of partnerships of all kinds, and toward that end we are taking a number of important steps.

Our new Office of Global Engagement will help us forge strategic international partnerships, especially with prominent Pacific Rim institutions.

An enhanced and reenergized Alumni program will open up new connections in the business and nonprofit communities.

Our Chief Executive Roundtable will make sure there is depth of understanding between the regional business community and UCI activities, in order to advance more mutually beneficial relationships, including corporate support for research and internship opportunities for our students.

An enhanced effort to reach out to national foundations will benefit all our high-impact campus programs.

Our long-standing affiliation with the National Academies, via the Beckman Center, will be reenergized.

New and expanded advisory boards for our schools, centers, and institutes will ensure that enthusiastic and influential supporters will benefit all our faculty and students.

And our fantastic Foundation trustees will be hard at work ensuring that we are in contact with people – in the region, across the country, and around the world – who can make a transformational difference in the development of UCI in the years to come.

Forging Our Brilliant Future

As you can see, innovation, expansion, and partnerships are not separate and distinct components of our planning. They are interactive and mutually reinforcing pieces.

Over the next few months we will take these guiding principles and begin the work of devising the next strategic plan for UCI. Our plan will be true to our pioneering spirit, meet the expectations of the people of California, reflect the interests of the upcoming generation of students and their families, resonate with the priorities of federal funding agencies and influential foundations, attract strategic partners, and inspire people of goodwill who are looking for ways to make a real difference in the world.

The difference we continue to make will be on a scale of global significance. After all, where would we be – and where would the rest of the world be – if our own Nobel Prize winner Sherry Rowland didn’t save the ozone layer?

Still, the people who will benefit most persistently from our work, beyond our students, will be the people of our region. These are our neighbors, our friends, our supporters, our advocates. We are, and will continue to be, an essential part of what ensures the people of this region a good quality of life and a promising future. Their promising future is inextricably tied to UCI’s promising future – which, come to think of it, was exactly why visionary leaders decided, more than 50 years ago, to create a large research university on the rolling hills of the Irvine Ranch.

We are proud of our bright past. Let us begin now to work together to forge our brilliant future.

Fiat Lux. Let there be light.