To the UC Davis Community:
I begin with another shout-out to the UC Davis Class of 2020. Today our undergraduates are having their online graduation celebration, where everyone can hear their names called and see their smiling faces, along with a celebration video and video messages from me, Governor Newsom and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, UC President Janet Napolitano, and our distinguished alumni speakers who, if all had gone according to plan, would have been addressing our graduates in UC Davis Health Stadium today, Saturday and Sunday: Nadine Burke Harris, surgeon general of California; Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District; and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, NASA astronaut.
To our graduates: While we cannot celebrate in person with you, we want you to know how proud we are of each and every one of you. The world is in the midst of changes in ways that are both unexpected and also a long time coming. And while this may lead to some nervousness about the uncertainty the future holds, we hope that for you it also offers opportunities to connect to the world in new ways and help us all change for the better.
Congratulations to Jumana Esau, the recipient of our University Medal, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service, and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society.
What’s happening in the fall?
We will make an announcement early next week offering more specifics about our plans for the fall quarter. As you know, the term does not start until Sept. 30, allowing us extra time to prepare for the most appropriate mix of in-person courses and remote options with maximum flexibility for students and faculty alike. We are closely monitoring the pandemic and state and county guidelines to develop a plan that will keep our community’s health and safety as the top priority.
Mrak Hall departures
As the academic year comes to a close, I want to acknowledge and thank three campus leaders who have helped our university transform into the dynamic, top-10 research university that we are today, and who are leaving Mrak Hall: Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor for the last 9½ years; Ken Burtis, faculty advisor to the chancellor and provost, and former dean of the College of Biological Sciences; and Emily Galindo, interim vice chancellor of Student Affairs.
Professor Burtis, who came to UC Davis as a freshman in 1972, is retiring, and so is Vice Chancellor Galindo, who is concluding a 36-year career at UC Davis. Provost Hexter has decided to return to full-time academics in the departments of Classics and Comparative Literature. Please read more about them in the links provided.
Last week and this week, I mourned with the nation during services for George Floyd in Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas. And I repeat my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in everything we do at UC Davis.
Words alone are not enough, of course, so I am pleased to see our community become so engaged. In her DEI newsletter yesterday (June 11), Vice Chancellor Renetta Garrison Tull noted, “There have already been several meetings this week to do the work of reading and learning, developing action strategies, and implementing plans that will make units and departments more equitable. I encourage you to do that good work, so that the changes will challenge and address systemic issues, and so that the solutions that you put into place will last.”
Here is some of what has been happening:
- Vice Chancellor Tull and other faculty members — including Rebecca M. Calisi Rodríguez, Tessa Hill, Dawn Sumner and Titus Brown — joined a national day of action, Wednesday (June 10), using the hashtags #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM in social media posts, encouraging people to pause and learn.
- The College of Biological Sciences used the day to amplify black voices among its ranks: Kishana Taylor, Cameron Jones, Crystal Rogers and Wilsaan Joiner.
- Athletics Director Kevin Blue, who put out a statement June 1 rejecting atrocities impacting the African American community in the strongest possible terms, followed up yesterday (June 11) with an action plan, saying, “We are redoubling our engagement in education about systemic racism so that our actions moving forward will be maximally effective.”
- We held a Racial Healing Circle on Wednesday, hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and we will have another one from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today (June 12), hosted by the Office of Health Equity, Diversion and Inclusion. Look for more programs as they are added to the DEI calendar.
Each day we must take the opportunity to have deep discussions around the roots of hate, bias and discrimination, and how we as a community can engage in productive discussions about how to treat one another in an equitable manner and create actionable steps toward change.
Next Generation Campus Safety
We also have the opportunity at this time to move forward productively to change how we think about campus safety. Yesterday I announced the formation of our Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety Task Force to discuss and assess how the university’s Police Department should evolve to look, operate and engage on both the Davis and Sacramento campuses.
It’s true our Police Department has gone through a major overhaul in recent years. As I told our new task force: “In 2014, we instituted a Police Accountability Board, an independent board composed of students, staff and faculty from both the Davis and Sacramento campuses. It’s the only one of its kind in the UC system and one of very few at other universities across the nation. The department created a student Cadet Academy to train diverse candidates for careers in law enforcement. Many of those students are now serving our campus community. The department has focused on mental health and crisis training for its officers. Finally, the department is meeting all 176 accreditation requirements, which will be completed by fall, for the highest professional standards under the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
“However, as law enforcement departments across the country are scrutinized — and justly so — for how they respond to and interact with others, I’m calling on our community to come together and examine what we can do to improve our community policing.” I’ve asked the task force for recommendations by mid-December, and our plan will be to implement many of those recommendations before the end of the fiscal year.
The coronavirus challenge
Perhaps never before have we seen the Davis and Sacramento campuses more united than the last three months, showing the great strength of a top research institution coupled with a top health system. All of us should be proud of the treatment we are providing, of the testing capability, of the research — and for the support we are giving one another, from one side of the causeway to the other. David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health and vice chancellor of Human Health Sciences, and I had more to say on this subject in a message we sent earlier today to the health system.
We have already started to transition back into our research laboratories doing essential work in other areas, and we are working on the gradual return of staff. Sacramento employees will find more information on this internal-only website, and Davis campus employees will find more information on the “Campus Ready” website. Look under “Training Resources” for a short training course that provides basic information about reducing the spread of coronavirus, describes some of the strategies that may be used on campus to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and identifies where to find the latest information regarding the return to normal campus operations.
In the meantime, UC Davis continues to shine at an international level, winning six Circle of Excellence Awards this week for communication, marketing and development, bestowed by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE. Strategic Communications took two gold awards for Unfold, our podcast that debuted last fall, and the Graduate School of Management received a gold award for its external audience digital newsletter with a series of issues titled the Dean’s Big 3.
Development and Alumni Relations won a silver award for Give Day efforts, and the Office of Global Affairs won a bronze award for its International Student and Scholar Handbook. Strategic Communications took away a third award, a bronze, for “Building Trust Between Students and Chancellor May Through Social Media” — in part, with my “Thursday Thoughts” Instagram videos that have been appearing with these “Checking In” letters. LeShelle and I love making these videos, addressing the campus, answering questions — some of them tough, a lot of them fun. We are here for you — and we hope that comes through.
Gary S. May