Inaugural Address


Inaugural Address

President Dynes, President-designate Yudof, Chairman Blum, Regents, Councilman Weiss, distinguished guests, students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends — welcome, and thank you for attending today.

This is certainly a monumental day for me, my wife, Carol, our children and close family. I hope it will also prove to be a landmark day for UCLA and its future.

First, I want to say how deeply honored I am to serve as chancellor of this magnificent institution, to be entrusted with the stewardship of something so important to the people of California. I do not take that responsibility lightly, and I want to thank those of you who had the confidence in me to appoint me as chancellor.

You can read in your program today the story of how one of the greatest institutions in the world, the University of California, came into being. Even before California was a state, its residents envisioned a public university that would attract the very best minds from all walks of life. And they put their resources and will behind it.

Today, few California homes, industries or lives have not been served by UCLA and the UC system. In so many ways, we are living a dream, and we are responsible for ushering it into the 21st century.

More than 50 years ago, UCLA built a state-of-the-art hospital. Today, it serves more than 300,000 patients a year and is one of the top three hospitals in the nation. Soon, we will open its extraordinary replacement, and it will be one of the world’s finest.

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, with its revolutionary design and dazzling technology, was born of a partnership between the federal and state governments and the residents of Los Angeles — those who love UCLA, believe in its infinite capability and want to safeguard the well-being of Californians.

In the arts, UCLA draws 500,000 people a year to campus. We have become a regional center for world-class programming, research and teaching that breaks with classical tradition to embrace many cultures.

And we all know that UCLA is a giant in college athletics. But UCLA athletics is about more than winning. It has always been about producing leaders. You’re familiar with Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. A diagram of it hangs in my office to remind me every day what it takes to be an effective leader. Coach Wooden’s foremost goal was not to win games but to build character; to mold not just good players but good people.

We biologists like to talk about DNA, the genetic material in the cells of living organisms. It is sometimes compared to a set of blueprints that contain instructions. What’s in UCLA’s DNA? What has been handed down to us from those who came before?

First, a commitment to excellence in everything we do: teaching, research and service. We hold tenaciously to the view that these three values are catalytic and not competitive. Excellence in research infuses teaching with enthusiasm; engagement with our community informs research priorities.

Second, a spirit of discovery and collaboration — an eagerness to create knowledge together. One of our distinguished faculty members, Nobel laureate Dr. Paul Boyer, has remarked that at UCLA cooperation trumps competition. He said UCLA’s unique, deliberate research culture capitalizes on breadth and depth and thrives on interchange among researchers and disciplines. That helps explain why UCLA ranks among the nation’s top five in research funding.

Third, a commitment to diversity and opportunities for advancement for people from all walks of life. UCLA serves more students from low-income families than any other major research university in the nation. More than one-third of our undergraduates are on federal Pell Grants. One in four is — as I was — part of their family’s first generation to attend college.

An article in the New York Times Magazine last fall said UCLA can “legitimately claim to be an engine of opportunity. . . . What City College of New York was to the 20th century, U.C.L.A. is to the 21st.”

Last fall, Carol and I attended move-in day at the residence halls up on the hill. On the shuttle from the parking structure, I talked to a new freshman and her mother. When the mother didn’t respond, the student explained that she didn’t speak English. That brought home to me that, in many ways, we serve as today’s Ellis Island.

These three elements — excellence, collegiality and diversity — are the cornerstones of UCLA’s strength, which is enhanced and shaped by our location, in one of the world’s most diverse, forward-looking cities, in a state known for openness to new ideas. Importantly, we also sit on the Pacific Rim, with easy access to Asia and the other Americas, and serve as a gateway to the rest of the U.S.

With so much going for us, what are the challenges?

First, a historic decline in public funding. State government funding for the UC system has fallen from 42 percent a generation ago to less than 18 percent today. It remains vital. But I strongly suspect that the era of generous state funding is behind us.

Second, achieving a level of racial and ethnic diversity consistent with the population of California. The passing of Proposition 209 in 1996, along with the difficulties facing California’s public schools, challenges our ability to serve underrepresented groups.

Third, the high cost of living in Los Angeles. Our faculty and staff struggle to find affordable housing and quality child care and public schools. These are serious quality-of-life issues. Many can only find affordable housing far from campus, preventing them from fully engaging in the UCLA community.

What happens if we don’t adequately address these challenges? Sadly, we risk slipping from great to merely good. We risk becoming detached from the communities and constituencies we serve.

Given the challenges, how do we address our mission in the 21st century? How do we serve Californians, who are projected to number almost 60 million by 2050?

I believe we have before us a remarkable opportunity to define for California and the nation what it means to be a public research university in contemporary urban America.

How do I, as chancellor, help chart that course?

In this effort, I am fortunate to be standing on broad shoulders. Previous leaders, including the first one, Ernest Carroll Moore, plus Franklin Murphy, Charles Young, Albert Carnesale, Norman Abrams and others, have left a solid foundation on which to build. They all advanced UCLA in important ways.

On that base, I want to focus our effort on four areas: academic preeminence, campus diversity, societal engagement and financial security.

First, academic preeminence. UCLA is one of the world’s great research universities. But we need more programs at the very top of their fields, programs that set UCLA apart. We have launched a strategic planning initiative that will help identify the academic areas poised to reach the top, to become “spires of excellence.”

Much of what we need to achieve our academic goals lies in our ability to recruit and retain outstanding faculty. In some cases, this means attracting celebrated senior scholars to build new areas or to enhance existing programs. More often, it means hiring the very best young faculty and ensuring that their careers flourish here. To accomplish this, we must find ways to offer an attractive quality of life. We must make living in Los Angeles appealing and affordable.

We have an urgent need to create faculty and staff housing on and near campus. To address this issue, I have asked Vice Chancellors Morabito and Olsen to develop an approach to creating affordable faculty and staff housing on campus. I suspect that this task will be difficult. It will surely be expensive. But it will transform the life of our campus. It will enhance interactions with students, reduce traffic, cut commuting costs and bring a new vitality to Westwood. I am confident that we will be successful in this effort.

Second, campus diversity. We have made real progress recently in this area with regard to underrepresented students. We just received the numbers for next fall on those who have stated their intent to enroll. The numbers of students from underrepresented groups, especially African American, but also Latino and Chicano, have increased for the second consecutive year.

We have surpassed last year’s total, and our yield rate is the highest ever for any particular group of students — more than one in two admitted African American students chose to attend UCLA. In large part, this is due to the work of alumni, donors, students and community partners.

This is a very good sign, but we can’t let up on our efforts. We are examining our recruitment processes for faculty and staff, enlisting the deans as partners in developing best practices. I am firmly committed to achieving real progress in these areas.

Third, societal engagement. By that, I mean the creation and application of knowledge to better the lives and well-being of these around us. That ultimate goal inspires our research and helps instill a lifelong service ethic among our students.

In this regard, our UCLA in L.A. program of engaged scholarship represents our highest aspirations in community engagement. I believe that UCLA can have its greatest impact by focusing its expertise from across the campus to comprehensively address problems that plague Los Angeles. It is in our vital interests to do so.

I have charged a group of campus and community leaders to recommend how we can marshal our campus-wide intellectual resources toward this kind of intense civic engagement. The group has made remarkable progress in developing an innovative program for next year.

Importantly, we have lined up initial financial support from generous individuals, who are committed, as we are, to fulfilling our public mission. We are well-positioned to launch a major public service initiative that will send a strong signal to the community regarding the depth and breadth of engagement we intend to have.

Fourth, financial security. All of this can only be achieved by increasing our reliance on philanthropy to leverage state and federal funds and to help buffer us from the cyclical fluctuations in public support. In the recent past, deep cuts in state funding have led to steep increases in fees for which our students and their families were not prepared. I suspect that tuition and fees will increase as the cost of an education rises. But we must continue to ensure access and affordability.

We must work to create larger endowments to support our undergraduate and graduate students, to hire and retain the very best faculty, and to partner with the state and others in constructing buildings to meet the needs of a world-class research institution. Public funding is critical to UCLA’s success, but it is private support that will keep us distinguished.

As we move this agenda forward, I will call upon every member of the Bruin family and all the people of Los Angeles and California, the owners of UCLA, to participate. We each have a role to play.

Faculty and staff are great ambassadors; they cultivate future alumni who are committed to giving back. Our donors and volunteers have become advocates in Sacramento and Washington. Our students help transform neighborhoods. Our alumni help us address our most vexing admissions challenges. And Californians must pass vital bond measures to support our research in service to our society. All of us must work together in new and complex ways, imbued with California’s bold thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.

California has always been a place of possibility and imagination. As a teenager, I spent summers here, with my grandparents in Santa Monica or with my aunt and uncle in an apartment where our graduate student housing now stands. For a child from a small town in New York, California was filled with opportunities, enthusiasm and confidence. It still is.

We must ensure that future generations of Californians share in the great dream that we enjoy. We can’t afford to achieve anything less. I’m counting on you as we take steps to propel this great institution through a new age.

In his own inaugural address almost 50 years ago, UCLA Chancellor Franklin Murphy called for the university’s leadership to find “the imagination, the courage and the determination” to make of UCLA “an instrument which can meet squarely the priorities of the twentieth century.”

Today, we dedicate ourselves to that same charge — for the 21st.

Finally, it has been a year this month that one of my greatest fans, my mother, passed away. I doubt that I would be standing here today without her unwavering support and enthusiasm. Thank you, Mom, and thank you all for being here today.