UC President Janet Napolitano’s Inspiring Talk at UC Irvine

UC President Janet Napolitano gave the annual Jack W. Peltason Lecture for the Center for the Study of Democracy at UC Irvine on May 6, 2014.   Jack Peltason was UC Irvine’s Chancellor from 1984 to 1993.  He was the 16th President of the University of California from 1992 to 1995.  His wife Suzanne Peltason wrote the book UC Irvine, the First Twenty-five Years.

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake introduced President Napolitano as a previous Governor of Arizona, and as past Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama.

President Napolitano started by announcing the Jack Peltason had the President’s Medal bestowed on him.  She talked to Jack earlier today, and asked him what message could she pass on in her talk.  He said that every day has a crisis to deal with.  But don’t lose the sight of the forest for the trees.  Leave time to think, and then to dream.  (My reporting is paraphrased, but someone has to replace CNN until they overcome their fixation.)  Jack Peltason was in the audience, and received a long and warm applause.  President Napolitano asked how many in the audience knew Jack Peltason, and it was most of the audience.

President Napolitano discussed why the UC was a great university, and described it as a miracle developed by California, with a great story of how it came to be.  There is no end to its future, and it will continue to change.  She titled her talk “The Miracle in Our Midst”.  She had Chaired the National Governor’s Association, and that no state has what the University of California has in its 10 campuses.  The idea of the University goes back to the first California Constitutional Convention.  They thought of a University that could match Harvard.  No other public institute of higher education is above us.  We are a research university that asks new questions in basic research.

Janet Napolitano gets to explain the University in Sacramento, our State Capitol.  Andy Sheckman was our Newest Nobel prize winner.  41% of our freshmen were the first college students in their families.  40% of our freshman come from low income families that are eligible for Pell Grants.  The university has to keep moving and evolving.

The Gold Rush was like the Big Bang for the University. The Oakland College of California evolved into UC Berkeley.  Even from the start it struggled financially.  The UC budget is now at $24 billion.  Each new campus went from being considered a boondoggle by some to becoming a success.  Next came UCLA, UC Davis, UC Riverside, and UC Santa Barbara.   Then in the 60’s, the baby boomers and an invading nation required more campuses, and UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Cruz were formed.  UC Merced is our newest campus, a University for the 21st century.

The new campuses were seen as taking away resources from the existing campuses, but also as rescuers for the increases in enrollment.  Yet the institution never succumbed to rivalries.  UC Merced was inspired by UC Irvine’s start as the so-called “Instant University”.

UC Irvine was dedicated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 20, 1964.  UC Irvine has been again ranked as the highest research university in the US under 50 years of age, for the third time.

It was the first to have two Nobel Prizes in two different fields in the same year:  Sherwood Rowland in Chemistry and Fred Reines in Physics.  Since then we have added a third, Irwin Rose.

President Obama is coming for our commencement in June, 50 years after Lyndon Johnson dedicated our campus.

We need to continue for the future with audacious dreams.  “Teach for California, and research for the world.”

UC has concern for the commonwealth, and is following the California dream.  UC is a public good for the entire society.  Her greatest role is to lead the fight for UC to retain excellence and to be an engine for social mobility.  We are now the number one research University in the world.  All in the University must join in this fight to retain our excellence.  Don’t forget about the forest, and keep the big picture.  This miracle in our midst is transforming our lives.  We need to share in our starting vision and in transforming for the future.  This ending was followed by great applause.

President Napolitano then entertained questions that had been submitted.

Q.  Will there be more federal funding for higher education?

A.  Federal funding will remain flat.  In Sacramento she argues for more funding for the University.  California will not thrive unless the University does.  We are producing thousands of graduates and graduate students.  We are the number one recipient of federal research dollars.  We must also look to other ways to bring in more funding.  One source is private-public partnerships.  Another is to instill a spirit that alumni have an obligation to give back to the University, as is done in private universities.  The UC has 1.6 million living alumni.

Q.  What about the challenge of maintaining the California master plan?

A.  We must evolve and change.  We need more seats, and to look at what enrollment requirements will be.  We need public higher education to have a democracy.

Q.  What can be done to reform the immigration system?

A.  We must open up our visas.  We must make immigration easier, especially for our graduates.  Border security is not the solution.  We should get people already here documented, and into the system.  An immigration bill was passed by the Senate.  It was good but it put too much into border security as opposed to Ports of Entry.  We must keep up advocacy on this issue.

Q.  How can the UC Office of the President facilitate entrepreneurship?

A.  We are looking for ways to involve our Ph. D. students.  Part of doing research is to get our research out to the world.

Q.  What is the effect of the Affordable Care Act on our budget?

A.  The ACA is transformational – we want to treat people.  We want to get medical for people at the preventable stage, rather than at the acute stage.  This new act is in a transitional period.  We run five large health centers.  We are fourth in treatment in the state.  The UC is the largest medical researcher in the country.

Q.  What is the role of online education?

A.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) won’t solve all of our problems.  There will be a role for them.  We want to design such courses for students in the system.  We can use them for courses taught on other campuses, or that are only taught every other year.  We can provide courses to staff or to alumni.  We will quickly get better at such courses.

Q.  What about President Obama?

A.  It is great that he is coming here on our 50th year, and on the 50th year of the Great Society program.  He may tell us what he hopes for us.

Q.  The UC Office of the President is ending the Lick Observatory in 2018, but it is still a useful observatory.

A.  We don’t plan to close the observatory.  We are switching responsibility for it to campuses which are using it.  Cal Tech, China, India, and Canada are joining us in planning a 30 meter telescope in Hawaii near the Keck telescope site.




About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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