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Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

UC Davis: Leading innovation at the crossroads of society


(Chancellor Katehi delivered the following address on UC Davis' Vision of Excellence at the Board of Regents meeting on March 17, 2011.)

Innovating at the crossroads

Chancellor Katehi's slide show presentation (PDF).

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today about UC Davis.

I have been anticipating this presentation with mixed feelings.

On one hand, I am eager to tell you about all of the exciting opportunities that lay ahead for us to build the land-grant institution of the 21st century.

On the other hand, I am compelled to share with you the challenges we face that have the potential to harm the students we are educating, the public we are serving and the future we are trying to build.

As you know, I have been chancellor for 18 months.

I clearly remember being drawn to this campus because of its rich history as a land-grant institution and its great commitment to innovate at the crossroads of the world’s most challenging issues especially in the critical areas of food, water, health, society, energy and the environment.

So today, I would like to share with you what I have learned – over the last year and a half – about UC Davis, and describe where we aspire to go from here.

Many of the plans I will outline for you are dependent upon fiscal stability – and some were developed under the assumption that the state would not cut us further.  

Knowing that this assumption does not hold true, not at least for this year, here is what I can predict about UC Davis’ future based on what we know today about our budget picture.


One of the first things we started when I came to campus was an effort to envision our future by first agreeing on the principles that would guide us in this journey.

We developed a framework we call the Vision of Excellence that defines the land-grant university of the 21st century.

This framework is propelling us forward on a number of fronts:

  • Internally: it is helping us achieve the excellence we aspire to – while we transform the university into a more nimble, accountable and fast-paced institution.
  • Externally: it is guiding us as we focus on strategies that will impact technology transfer, partnerships with external constituencies, economic development, research and much more.

To achieve our strategic goals, we rely on some of the world’s brightest minds and strongest intellectual leaders.

I am proud to say that we recently made significant leadership choices:

Provost Ralph Hexter joined us in January after serving as president of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ralph is a highly respected scholar and who was the Executive Dean of Letters and Science at UC Berkeley – we are very happy to have him back in California and here with us today.

Vice Chancellor for Research Harris Lewin joins us later this month.  Harris is an accomplished researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – and was just named a recipient of the 2011 Wolf Prize for his work in genetics and genomic studies.

These two individuals are joining a leadership team that is now fully ready to guide the campus forward.

Who we are

I would like to start by introducing UC Davis to you and our audience.

We have two campuses, our health system based in Sacramento and our Davis campus is only 10 miles away.

Today, we are educating 32,290 students, including 24,737 undergraduates and 7,553 graduate students.

We have 4,453 faculty (tenure track, research and teaching) and 24,158 staff.

We have four colleges and six professional schools – the broadest array of disciplines in the UC system from veterinary medicine to medicine; from agriculture, engineering and business; to education, humanities, arts, science and law.

This allows us to do groundbreaking work that powerfully bridges historically divided disciplines including animal and human medicine to create new initiatives such as "One Health" that can nurture 21st century breakthroughs in medicine.

Because of our excellent education, research and service, UC Davis ranks among the nation’s top 10 public-research universities.

This year has been very productive with a number of unique initiatives:

  • Through "One Health," we started a USAID effort involving more than 20 countries. This is a global early-warning system that will enable us to PREDICT deadly viruses before they cross over from wild animals to humans and create a pandemic.
  • We opened our newest school, The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, with a $100 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
  • We dedicated a $30 million expansion of our School of Law considered to be one of the fastest up and coming law schools in the country – which in just four years has moved from 44th to 23rd in U.S. rankings.
  • We opened the Surgery and Emergency Services Pavilion, a 470,000 square foot, half-billion-dollar addition at our medical center with one of the most advanced ER rooms in the nation. Our hospital has been ranked, this year, as one of the top 60 hospitals in the U.S. – both for its quality health care and for its integrated services.
  • We dedicated the world’s greenest winery, brewery and food facility, which is a privately funded addition to our $100 million Robert Mondavi Institute.
  • And we reopened the UC Center Sacramento, which we are directing on behalf of the University of California to connect policy makers with the UC student interns, world-class research, analysis and fact-finding.

Physically, we are the largest of the UC campuses, with 6,000 acres spread across both campuses and 17 million square feet of maintainable space.

The demand for an education at UC Davis is high. Nearly 60,000 students have applied for fall 2011 admission, which represents a new record increase of 9 percent for us. 

And for the second year in a row, applications for transfer students have jumped by more than 20 percent. High school applicants for freshman status have increased by 5.9 percent.

And yet, while more and more California families want to send their children to UC Davis and while we have the capacity to expand, we do not have the state funding we need to admit these students or to ensure the students we do have on campus can enroll in the classes they need in order to graduate in a timely manner.

Economic impact

As we educate our students and create a major workforce for the state of California, UC Davis has become a significant engine of economic activity in our region.

Our annual budget is $3.1 billion and we employ nearly 29,000 people – making us the second largest employer in the region.

For every two jobs at UC Davis, our campus creates another job in the state of California.

A recent study also determined that our health system has the economic impact of more than $3.4 billion. Economic impact for the whole campus is estimated to be twice that figure. 

Still, we envision a much larger role for the university as an enterprise for innovation and an economic driver.

To that end, we have created a unique incubator, the Engineering Translational Technology Center.

This is an on-campus facility where faculty start-ups can develop their projects while ensuring separation of intellectual property and technology transfer between the campus and start-up companies.

We also established the first university-based Energy Efficiency Center focused on transferring technology into the marketplace. The center has inspired UC Davis' minor in energy efficiency, which is the first in the country.

UC Davis has formed 34 start-up companies since 2004 – nine of them were formed last year alone. Yet, we would like to increase this number to 15 annually.

In addition to the companies we help start, many of our students who graduate from UC Davis are creating their own successful businesses.

A recent alum created KlickNation, a start-up that designs popular Facebook games. It was founded with two employees a year ago, and today it has 52, recruiting to reach 100 by this summer.

And we aspire to do more.

We are in the midst of developing a regional Innovation Hub with local and state partnerships that will accelerate the transfer of campus discoveries into commercial products, give rise to more start-ups and create more jobs in the region.

The Innovation Hub has generated great interest and excitement in our region, but for it to become a reality, we must have fiscal stability.

Exceptional faculty

UC Davis’s innovations and contributions are making a difference around the world, and our exceptional faculty is the reason for that. We now have:

  • 72 members of National Academies and Institutes
  • 102 national award and fellowship winners
  • 34 international academy members and awards
  • 45 members from our 200 faculty in the College of Engineering have earned NSF Early Career Development Awards (CAREER or PECASE Awards).

One example of our faculty’s international reach is another part of the "One Health" initiative I mentioned earlier. Our faculty and researchers are now conserving the world's remaining mountain gorillas in the forests of central Africa. This program was established with $750,000 funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

All of this speaks wonders about our faculty’s ability to excel.

However, while I am always concerend about losing our best and brightest to competitors. In this fiscal climate, I am especially concerned that we will lose our outstanding faculty to private institutions. In the past two months, we have seen an increased activity from private institutions to recruit our best faculty.

Exceptional research

Our strategic goals for research include creating an exceptional enterprise for innovation funded by a truly diversified research portfolio.

Our goal is to reach $1 billion annually in research awards by 2015.

We believe we can succeed in achieving this goal, because we have a strong foundation and a long list of accomplishments:

  • We are among the top 10 public universities in research funding, with a UC Davis record approaching $700 million in 2009-10.
  • We received 280 ARRA awards totaling more than $156 million dollars in research.
  • This year, we were named 1st in the world in publications in academic areas that reflect our strength in sustainability, according to Reuters – ISI.
  • And we are 6th in the nation for contributions to society.

We are a comprehensive university, innovating at the intersections of the world’s most challenging problems and along emerging intellectual pathways such as transportation, bio-technology, food safety and food security.

Exceptional students

Because of the impact of our work, UC Davis is a destination campus for students who are committed to making a difference.

We currently have the highest-scoring, most competitive freshman class in UC Davis history.

We are increasingly more selective. Our admit rate in fall 2010 was 45 percent, down from 67 percent in 2006-07.

We also continue to offer access to excellence.

40 percent of the students in our freshmen class are first generation in their families to attend college.

We have a diverse student body, and each year, it becomes more so: In fall 2010, our underrepresented students were 19 percent of the undergraduate student body, compared to 14 percent in 2005.

But we need to do more. So we are being as creative as possible: we are already partnering with the Los Rios Community College District to be home to the first community college ever built on a UC campus. It will open in 2012.

Our efforts to provide access are also paying off: we have enrolled a record number of low-income undergraduates who are eligible for Pell grants.

This year, nearly 21,000 students received an estimated $264 million in gift aid. More than half is university funding and the remainder is federal, state and private. This represents an increase of $48 million, or about 23 percent, compared with last year.

However, the challenge we face today is clear. This access to education cannot continue at the same pace.

We cannot continue to provide access to California’s students who have the drive, talent and passion to be our future leaders without the state’s commitment to contribute to their education.

Building a more effective enterprise

Even as UC Davis expands its global impact and reach, we are simultaneously becoming a leaner and more effective and efficient institution – in synch with UC’s “Working Smarter” initiative.

Thanks to the hard work of our staff, we have reduced administrative costs by combining major administrative units and reducing executive and management positions. 

Overall, our efforts will have generated more than $40 million in savings by 2013.

Our consolidation efforts include eliminating duplicate services. For example, we have reduced the number of management positions in several units, including the Office of the Administration and Resource Management, and the offices of the Chancellor and the Provost. This will save $12-15 million annually by 2012.

We are also consolidating human resources, finance and technology services within a Shared Service Center. This will reduce costs by at least $12 million annually by 2013, and is expected to improve service through this more coordinated approach.

There is a limit, however, to the budget savings we can reap from efficiencies. At UC Davis, we are reaching a limit to the reductions we can make to solve budget shortfalls.

Building a more inclusive community

In addition to access to education, our students need access to a supportive environment.

At UC Davis, we have a longstanding commitment to inclusiveness.  Twenty one years ago we established our Principles of Community.

Yet, despite this broad commitment, we came to realize last year what we had feared – that economic difficulty can compromise civility – we saw indications of at UC Davis.

We have responded to these incidents of hate and intolerance by reaffirming our values and our commitment to one another.

We created a Hate-Free Campus Initiative, which inspired several actions:

  • We formed partnerships with students, staff, faculty and the city of Davis.
  • We established “Beyond Tolerance Tuesday” which includes free programming for student events that support a more inclusive community.
  • We developed a collaboration with the Museum of Tolerance to confront hate and bias.
  • We initiated the Civility Project, which began with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Four graduate student “Civility Fellows” will use  history and art in individual projects to illuminate the power of the “said” and the “unsaid” in uncivil exchange.
  • On Tuesday, I gave a detailed presentation to the Regents Ad Hoc Group of Campus Climate and I would be pleased to share a copy of this presentation with you.

Building a more sustainable future

Our campus has a long history of accomplishments in sustainability.

For us, sustainability does not represent just a concept we believe in or a value system we rely on.

It is a defining area of education, research and future growth for UC Davis

Our legacy work in sustainability led our campus – in November – to host the Third Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

Our university has become an emerging model for sustainable change. In November, we became the first major institution in California to act on a state mandate to reduce lighting energy by at least 60 percent by 2020, saving at least $3.3 million annually.

Moreover, our plan will allow us to reach that goal in half the time, thanks to the guidance of our California Lighting Technology Center - which is also working in China to help accomplish similar breakthroughs there.

UC Davis continues to lead the way with our environmentally sophisticated brewery, winery and food facility which includes innovations that have the potential to revolutionize the agricultural industry in California.

The campaign

In the past two years it has become clear that state funding remains unpredictable and that UC Davis must develop a new budgeting model for the future.

A key aspect of that model has become The Campaign for UC Davis, our first-ever comprehensive campaign.

We launched it publicly in October 2010 with the ambitious goal of raising $1 billion from 100,000 donors.

Already, $659 million has been committed, by nearly 77,000 donors.

This campaign marks a new era for the campus where fundraising will be a continuous effort to increase the campus’s endowment.

And while our success is noteworthy, the funds we are bringing to the University do not come fast enough to balance the losses from reduced state appropriations.

At the crossroads

Yet, despite the progress we have made and the tremendous potential we have to make even more significant contributions to the state, our future is seriously threatened by our fiscal constraints and state budget reductions.

UC Davis – and California higher education– are at a crossroads.

The governor’s budget calls for more cuts. At UC Davis, that would amount to a nearly 40 percent drop in state support over the last four years.

It would also bring state funding down to about 8.7 percent of our general fund.

This dramatic decrease in our state funding is forcing us to make many and very difficult choices – collectively and individually.

The state’s disinvestment in higher education is forcing us to change dramatically.

The question is whether our efforts to adjust can keep up with the pace of the cuts.

The strategies we have outlined will help us preserve excellence and will make us more self-sustaining and self-sufficient – assuming that we have financial stability in the future.

We are determined that we will not be defined by the cuts we are forced to make, but by the vision we follow the risks we take and the investments we make.

We have developed a plan that will fundamentally redefine UC Davis - without a doubt. We believe that we will emerge a different, but stronger campus.

Yet, none of the above will hold true if the cuts continue.

I cannot help but mention that my recent experiences as a chancellor have left me wondering.

I have been a faculty member for 27 years and an academic administrator for the past 16 years with an experience that spans four public research university campuses.

This is the first time I see a public university been forced to change this much, this fast. I worry that our ability to change will be outpaced and overtaken by the state’s disinvestment.

And I wonder whether, when Californians awaken to the new reality and see how their universities have evolved, whether they will be surprised and disappointed by the outcome.

I hope my presentation gave you a glimpse of where we are now and where we can go from here. We have great people, a bold vision, an aggressive plan, determination and resilience.

Yet we cannot succeed in this alone. We need your continued support and leadership. We need financial stability to be able to implement our plans to create new revenue, improve efficiencies and make strategic cuts and investments.

There are points in time when critical decisions cannot be delayed and lost opportunities cannot be recaptured and/or implicated.

I wonder how U.S. higher education and our society would be today, had President Abraham Lincoln decided to wait after the civil war to sign the Morrill Act.

I wonder how the U.S. economy would have been, had President Kennedy decided to settle the political dispute with the Soviet Union to initiate the Space Program.

I will let you imagine the U.S. today without these programs in place.

I have spent a great deal of time at our state’s capital. We all recognize that our state is plagued with deficits, by unemployment and a suffering economy. Our state leaders and the public recognize the value of the UC System and the importance of higher education.

However, our state leaders  are waiting to fix the budget problem before they address the future of higher education in the state. This is the approach President Lincoln and President Kennedy did not take.

As we move forward, I urge all of us to think whose lead we will follow.

There is a long, bright future ahead for the University of California and for the people of California – who are entrusting us with their dreams and I truly hope we can materialize it.

Thank you.