April 25, 2016

Remarks at 48th Annual ABOG Systemwide Conference

Welcome to UCI!  

I’m delighted that you have chosen our campus to host your annual conference. It’s especially fitting that you’re all here, since one of the founders of ABOG’s predecessor organization was the laboratory manager of the UCI physics department, Rodney Rose.

I want to thank you all for the tremendous and essential work that you do to advance one of the most inspirational missions of any modern institution.  We should always remember that our world of inquiry, discovery, and education remains the hope of the world.

As a former department chair – who learned very quickly that I could accomplish nothing without the expertise and good judgment of my academic business officer – I am grateful for the opportunity to thank you for the work you do every to make your department and your campus a great place to work, to study, and to flourish. 

I know that I have more to learn from you than you have to learn from me. And so let me not take this time to offer you advice. Instead, I thought I would talk a bit about UCI’s history, about some of the things that set us apart from our sister UC campuses, some of our plans for the future.

So, here’s a way to get us started:  from the very beginning UCI was different than all the other campuses, because UCI is the only UC campus not named after an existing city.

A little more than 50 years ago, in 1965, UCI was established on 1600 acres of what was then empty rolling ranchland. Empty ranchland. Not a city in sight.  

We were named, not after the city of Irvine (which didn’t come into existence until 6 years after the campus’s creation, in 1971), but rather after the Irvine Ranch, which stretched nine miles along the coast and 22 miles island, a vast expanse.

If you watch enough Hollywood westerns you know that most cities or townships start with a general store, a saloon, and a post office. But this region started instead with the vision of a great research university.  We were designed to be a foundational institution for Orange County.

What would it look like to develop an entire region on the foundation of a great research university?  

The university and the Irvine Company, owners of the Irvine Ranch, together with famed architect William Pereira – best known for the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the distinctive “Theme Building” at Los Angeles International Airport – designed the Irvine Ranch Master Plan. They envisioned a new university-city, combined to amplify the advantages of both, founded on progressive planning principles, dedicated to modern architecture, and committed to creative neighborhood development plans that flowed with the natural landscape.  

When you take a tour of campus later today, you’ll see a lot of Pereira’s handiwork. Using the Brutalist style of exposed concrete construction, he created distinctive, futuristic buildings that, with their broad, cantilevered terraces and inset floors, appear to float above the landscape.  

Those of you who like old science fiction movies may recognize some of the buildings from 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

And he put the original buildings around a large circle to facilitate faculty collaboration across disciplines, which is today still a hallmark of our research efforts.

So that’s one thing that set us apart right from the beginning.  

Another was our founding faculty.  

The focus in those first, early days was on building programs around outstanding people. Leading faculty from around the nation were recruited, excited by the opportunity to create something new from scratch.  

Led by founding Chancellor Dan Aldrich, the faculty organized their departments unburdened by old ideas.  

There was no College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, and the academic divisions that would have been in it were established as independent schools.  

The new social ecology department – the first of its kind in the nation – was an amalgam of urban planning, development, and transportation, but also included law enforcement, ethnic issues, healthcare, and prisons.  

The drama department broke from tradition by stressing performance over theory.  

We developed the first Department of Information and Computer Science in the nation.

The School of Social Sciences emphasized interdisciplinary studies by not even having departments.

No departments.  Can you believe it?

And so, it was an exciting time.

And the early results, of our impact in the world, were amazing – in fact, better than could be imagined by any research university.  

Let’s start with Dr. Sherwood Rowland, founding chair of the Department of Chemistry, who, with one of his graduate students, showed in 1974 how chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, then in wide use as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were rising high in the atmosphere and destroying the ozone layer.  

This research, which came under withering fire from chemical companies but ultimately led to a ban on the use of CFCs, was one of the very first pieces of scientific evidence for mankind’s harmful effects on the world around us.   

When Sherry won the Nobel Prize in science, the citation accompanying the award said he and his Ph.D. student “may have saved the world from catastrophe.”  

Not a bad outcome for a research university.

The 1990s were momentous for UCI.  Early on, we established the Department of Earth System Science, the first academic department in the entire nation devoted to advancing through teaching and research the fundamental scientific understanding of the Earth as a coupled system.  

In 1995, we became the first public university to have faculty win Nobel prizes in two different fields in the same year. Sherwood Rowland received the prize in chemistry for his research on the depletion of the ozone layer and founding dean of the School of Physical Sciences, Frederick Reines, received the prize in physics for his co-discovery of the neutrino, a tiny subatomic particle.  

And in 1996, only 31 years after our first day of classes, UCI was elected to membership in the Association of American Universities. UCI was the youngest member of the AAU at the time.  

In these last two decades we have done much work and received many honors. We built a state-of-the-art teaching hospital at the UCI Medical Center. On the academic side, we established new programs in nursing science, public health, and pharmaceutical sciences; created the first new public law school in California in more than 40 years – already a top-30 school; and established a new School of Education.  

With as many LEED-certified buildings as any campus in America, we have an international reputation in sustainable practices and sustainability education. The Sierra Club has named us the number one “coolest school” for our green efforts for the past two years in a row.

Times Higher Education proclaimed UCI the #1 university in the U.S. under 50 years of age for three years in a row, until we aged out of the ranking this past year.  

Last fall many of our campuses were highlighted by the New York Times as doing the most to provide upward mobility for low income students, and UCI was proud to be ranked #1 on that list.  

Oh, and very importantly – last year Money magazine ranked us the #1 campus in America for beach lovers. (And yes, I know that has to be a sore point for those of you from San Diego and Santa Barbara.)  

The university that opened its doors to 1,589 students in 1965 now has more than 32,000 students. Where there were eight buildings, now there are well more than 100. The 119 members of the founding faculty have become more than 1,100 outstanding teachers and researchers. And the founding staff of 241 now numbers almost 10,000 dedicated men and women who every day enable the faculty and students to do their best work.

And that’s just the beginning.  

Our motto for our 50th anniversary celebration is, “Bright Past, Brilliant Future.” We now have in place a new strategic plan that is about increasing our impact – in research, teaching, every dimension – and about re-imagining how our practices need to be adjusted to a new age.  

We aspire to grow our permanent faculty by 25 percent.

Grow our student body toward 40,000 students.

Dramatically increase our research expenditures, from $300 million to over $500 million.

Become a central catalyst for commercialization and tech transfer in Orange County.

And – importantly – we know that, in order to accomplish all of this, we need to rethink the fundamental practices of the university: be more innovative and entrepreneurial, engage the wisdom and talent of all our staff so that we can improve our processes, unleash the full potential of our faculty and students.

Everyone at UC will be looking to you, and your colleagues, to help us recreate this extraordinary university for the 21st century. The practices and assumptions that, to date, have made our system the best in the world are not the same that will sustain us into the future.  

Thank you in advance for all you will be doing to create for all of us a more brilliant future.

Again, welcome to UCI. We are thrilled and honored that you are here.  

I wish you a productive conference and an enjoyable and rewarding stay.