State of the Campus: 2024

Chancellor Gary S. May speaking to a crowd
Chancellor Gary S. May speaking at the 2024 State of Campus

State of the Campus: 2024

Update Feb. 27: The percentage of UC Davis’ 2010-11 budget attributable to core funds has been corrected to 19%.

These are Chancellor Gary S. May’s prepared remarks for his 2023 State of the Campus address, which he gave the afternoon of Feb. 22 to the Representative Assembly of the Academic Senate.

Thank you, Ahmet.

I always appreciate this opportunity to meet with the Academic Senate and share the current state of UC Davis.

2023 was certainly a banner year for the university. Together, we took great strides toward the university’s mission of advancing scholarship and research. We are empowering our students to bring their curiosity to their burgeoning careers and ongoing studies. We reached new heights of impact and prestige, all while showing resilience, passion and care for each other.

We’re advancing the scholarship, research and public service that benefit not only our region, but the entire world. The dedication and leadership from faculty is a key foundation for these successes.


Our current rankings place UC Davis at the top.

U.S. News & World Report ranks us at #6 among the best public universities in the nation.

We’re #1 in the nation for both veterinary medicine and agriculture, according to QS World University Rankings.

Also, we’re on the Forbes' list of "Best Employers in California" for the third consecutive year. It's a testament to our university's thriving workplace culture, one that values diversity, competitive pay and a positive work/life balance.


Here's one ranking that's an especially big point of pride.

For the eighth year in a row, UC Davis was named as the greenest university in the nation in the 2023 UI GreenMetric World University rankings. We’ve now been in the top 5 globally for 10 years running.

These annual rankings consider commitments and actions toward sustainability in several categories. Those include: Infrastructure, energy, climate change, waste treatment, recycling, water, transportation, education and research.

In fact, 21 percent of all courses offered at UC Davis include educational content related to sustainability.

Faculty and students across all disciplines are finding innovative ways to create sustainable solutions, like making compostable wind turbine blades from bamboo and fungus, to growing crops with less groundwater.

That's to say, we practice what we teach. Our West Village housing community is the largest planned zero-net energy community in the nation. It serves as a prototype for future campus mixed-use hubs.

The Big Shift is a large-scale infrastructure project that lays the foundation for our university's move away from fossil fuels powering our operations. At the same time, it immediately decreases our energy and water use. After a successful $55 million investment in phase one of the Big Shift, we committed an additional $56 million to continue the work. I'll add to this in a moment.

These are just a few examples of our commitment to climate research and sustainable practices. As a top-tier research institution, we know it's our duty to bring our expertise to bear on the world’s most serious problems. And there is no global issue more pressing than climate change.

Also on this topic, UC Davis’s Fossil Fuel-Free Pathway Plan was published in December of 2023. The plan is the result of a collaborative effort involving more than 75 faculty, staff, and student contributors. It demonstrates ways for UC Davis operations to become 95% fossil fuel-free by 2040 - using 2019 as our baseline.

Between the time the first draft of the pathway plan was developed in June 2023 and the final version that was published in December 2023, I authorized an additional $56 million in campus funds to the Big Shift, which will have a major impact in reducing our fossil fuel use.

As I noted, we have now invested $111 million to prepare our central plant for conversion from natural gas to electrification. This significant investment is testimony to my commitment that UC Davis become fossil fuel-free as soon as feasible. 

Research Funding/Major Awards

Now, let’s turn to our research enterprise, which had a banner year in 2022 through 2023.

For the second year in a row, our annual research awards reached $1 billion dollars. This is a claim that few national universities — including my alma mater, UC Berkeley — can claim.

These research awards not only advance UC Davis initiatives, but they shape a better tomorrow for Californians, the nation and the world by addressing some of society’s greatest challenges.

The largest award was $32.5 million from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It went to Sean Raffuse, associate director of data and software at the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center, to operate the Chemical Speciation Network.

This nationwide network consists of about 150 monitors that collect samples of particles from the atmosphere. Over 45,000 of these samples are analyzed per year at the center’s laboratories to better understand sources of air pollution.

Research Highlights

Here are a couple more quick highlights.

UC Davis researchers are focused on ways to keep wind turbine blades out of landfills. Wind power is a key source of renewable energy. However, a recent study found that decommissioned blades would account for 43 million metric tons in landfills by 2050.

Valeria La Saponara, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is working on a breakthrough. Her vision is to make compostable wind blades made from bamboo and other organic materials.

I'd also like to recognize Antoinette Banks. She is a Ph.D. student at the School of Education, and a recent winner of the $1 million Black Ambition Prize. She developed an app called Expert IEP that uses predictive AI to optimize individualized education plans for children diagnosed with disabilities.

It’s clear that UC Davis experts are being sought out, both from the public and private sectors, to find solutions to challenging problems.

As for the current fiscal year, our research awards are tracking very closely with the last two years, both of which exceeded $1 billion. I'm excited to see how these numbers ultimately land. Either way, we're off to a great start. Our research continues to shape a more sustainable and just future and improve the health of all living beings.

Full Presentation


Now, I want to turn to some exciting campus history made since we last met.

Our Expect Greater Campaign has now surpassed its goal of raising $2 billion dollars. That’s all philanthropic funding that directly supports UC Davis.

This success is due to the hard work and steadfast commitment of the Development and Alumni Relations staff, campus partners, volunteers, and, of course, our generous donors.

Since my arrival 6 years ago, this $2 billion dollar goal was something we talked about and tirelessly worked towards. I’ve provided updates to this group many times, and it was rewarding to watch us inch closer and closer.

This achievement came well ahead of schedule, and we will continue to raise donor support through the campaign’s end date this coming June 30. Just like the campaign’s name of “Expect Greater,” we’ll be going far beyond that $2 billion!

So, mark your calendars now for our Campaign Close celebration on October 18, a communitywide event to showcase the campaign’s university-wide impact.

The gifts we received came from a wide variety of backgrounds and all show a deep belief in UC Davis.

One I'd like to note came from Deborah Neff from our class of 1976. That's her in the lab coat, with me, Dean Mark Winey and professor Kimberley McAllister.

She gave $8 million to the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences for two endowments. The gift is the largest by an individual in the college’s history.

Her gift includes $5 million to establish the Deborah J. Neff Endowed Dean’s Chair in Biological Sciences, which will provide discretionary funding for research and teaching.

$3 million will establish the Janet A. Neff Innovation and Research Endowment at the Center for Neuroscience.

Deb is a life scientist by background. Her own interest in neuroscience was inspired by her younger sister, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Thanks to Deb and all our donors who are so dedicated to supporting UC Davis and our mission. They are truly helping make a difference.


Let’s shift now to enrollment and applications.

Overall, the total fall enrollment for 2023 at all locations — which includes undergraduate, graduate, professional students, interns and residents — is 40,848 students. This enrollment represented an increase of 84 students, or a .2 percent increase over the fall of 2022.

I’d also note that this year we offered freshman and transfer admission to about 10% more applicants and California residents for fall 2023 compared to last year.

Among our new California undergraduates, the percentage of students from historically underrepresented groups increased to 36.2 percent. This marks the highest percentage in 25 years.

Here's how some of these numbers break down for the new students:

Roughly 40.6 percent are first-generation students, who will be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year university.

34.6 percent were recipients of the federal Pell Grant for low-income students.

African Americans rose by 22.5 percent for new California undergraduates. American Indians increased by 15.5 percent. Hispanic/Latnix students increased by 16.9 percent and accounted for 30.5 percent of new California residents.

For the fall 2024, our preliminary data shows we received 98,712 applications for first-time admission, which is an all-time record for UC Davis. The final numbers will be shared in the coming weeks.


Now, let's turn to the budget and financial matters.

UC Davis revenues total over $7.1 billion from many sources that are generally aligned with the overall mix of funds for the entire UC system.

Revenues have increased steadily over the last ten years, from $3.4 billion in 2010-11 to $7.1 billion for 2023-24. The largest increases have occurred at the medical center.

In the same time period, our “core funds,” the combination of state funding and tuition, have decreased from 19% to 16% of all sources.

We continue to identify savings and efficiencies for long-term financial sustainability. 

In 2023, the IDEA$ at Work campaign collected nearly 2,000 ideas from faculty, academics and staff from across the Davis and Sacramento campuses for potential cost savings, new revenue opportunities and efficiency improvements.

These ideas were thoroughly evaluated by the Revenue Generation and Institutional Savings Task Force. Now, we are now beginning to take action in such key areas as developing new graduate and professional academic programs, and maximizing undergraduate programming for Summer Sessions. We are further investigating trademark and licensing opportunities, and supporting a culture of continuous improvement on our campus.

Faculty Honors

At this time, I’d like to turn the spotlight to our faculty and share some significant accolades over the past year.

Let's begin with Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology. Last month, he was awarded $100,000 a National Academy of Science Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences. He was recognized for his - quote - "pioneering studies on the evolutionary genetics of maize, a key crop species for global food production."

Note this is the second year in a row that this prestigious award has gone to a UC Davis researcher. Last year, it went to Huaijun Zhou from the Department of Animal Science for his work in poultry and livestock genomes.

Also, I'd like to recognize Maisha Winn, who was elected to the National Academy of Education last year.

She is the co-director and co-founder of the Transformative Justice in Education Center in the School of Education. Maisha also serves as the Chancellor's Leadership Professor.

Her research examines the ways in which teachers and/or adult allies for youth in schools, and in out-of-school contexts, practice justice in the teaching of literacy. 

Also, I'd like to congratulate our faculty - and leadership - who were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Class of 2023.

They include R. David Britt from the Department of Chemistry. He studies the structure and function of biologically important enzymes, especially those involved in capturing the sun's energy and using them to split water and generate hydrogen.

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan was elected to the academy’s educational and academic leadership section. She is recognized for steering health and safety practices for instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic and for her role in the Healthy Davis Together initiative.

The academy further elected Distinguished Professor Emeritus Phillip R. Shaver from the Department of Psychology. He is recognized as a pioneer in the scholarly field of romantic love, one that branched into a wide body of interdisciplinary research on human bonding.

This is just a small sample of the incredible work that’s generated by our faculty. All around this room, you’ll find leaders and trailblazers in their respective fields. Our faculty are second to none and you continue to take UC Davis to new heights and levels of impact.

Leadership Recruitments

Now, I'd like to share updates on how our UC Davis leadership team is taking shape. We've filled a number of leadership roles since our last meeting.

In October, we announced that Simon Atkinson was named Vice Chancellor of Research. Previously, he held that same role at the University of Kansas, where he oversaw 10 university-level centers and institutes. I’m confident that Simon will further elevate UC Davis's expertise in solving global problems and expanding our scholarship.

In December, I announced that George Baxter was named Chief Innovation and Economic Development Officer. This new position serves on my Leadership Council and manages several large and complex programs on both our Davis campus and UC Davis Health. That includes his leadership for the Aggie Square Innovation District in Sacramento. Construction at Aggie Square continues to move forward and phase one is set to open early in 2025.

George previously served as the CEO of Edinburgh Innovations Ltd., the innovation management company of the University of Edinburgh. He's expected to begin at UC Davis on April 29th.

In the fall, Jeremy Ganter was named executive director for the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. He may be a familiar face to some of you. Jeremy was part of the initial team that launched the Mondavi Center and served as its performing arts curator and arts administrator for more than 20 years. The Mondavi Center is in great hands with his leadership.

In October, Julie Greenwood was named Dean of Continuing and Professional Education. She comes to us from Arizona State University, where she served as vice dean for Educational Initiatives in EdPlus.

At UC Davis, Julie will oversee about 160 staff and 865 contract instructors, and a division that generates $41 million in self-supporting revenue. She is championed as an innovative thinker in expanding access to higher education, especially with nontraditional and underrepresented students.

Christine Williams was named as the UC Davis Health Chief Nursing Executive in November. She has worked for UC Davis Health for more than 30 years, starting as a clinical nurse with inpatient care and, more recently, as Chief Nursing Informatics Officer.

In her new role, Christine is responsible for the professional nursing practice at UC Davis Health. She also provides strategic direction, executive leadership and general management for all Patient Care Services’ departments.

Finally, Thomas Smith was named as Dean of the School of Education at the beginning of this month. He comes to UC Davis from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, where he served as a professor of public policy and education.

He also served in leadership roles at UC Irvine, including interim provost and executive vice chancellor, Dean of the Graduate School of Education, and interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.

Please give Tom a big UC Davis welcome after he starts on June 1.

Leadership Searches

In the meantime, I'd like to update you on current leadership recruitments, including Dean of the School of Law.

After three terms, Dean Kevin Johnson is stepping down at the end of the academic year and returning as a school faculty member. Our goal is to have a new dean in place by July 1.

Another recruitment is underway for the University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship. William Garrity, Deputy University Librarian and Chief Operating Officer, serves currently as the interim University Librarian.

Here are some other big shoes we're looking to fill. We are recruiting for Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This comes after Helene Dillard announced in November that she will retire this year. Under her leadership, the university saw our agricultural school ranked No. 1 in the nation and No. 2 in the world. A kickoff search was launched on January 30th.

And, a couple more leadership changes are underway: Chief Administrator, UC Davis Health Hospital and Chief Operating Officer, Hospital Division; and the Chief Financial Officer for UC Davis Health.

I expect we'll have much more news about these recruitments when we meet next.

Aggie Square

Let's move to Aggie Square and the progress being made there.

First of all, Aggie Square is funded through a public-private partnership. Our developer partner, Wexford Science + Technology, has invested in constructing the buildings. UC Davis will be the anchor tenant in those buildings alongside other tenants from industry.

UC Davis units including the School of Medicine and UC Davis Health, Continuing and Professional Education, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering are bringing their own resources to the project to lease and outfit their spaces.

If you’ve been on our Sacramento campus lately, you’ve seen that construction is well underway. In fact, you can see the site’s building cranes from the freeway. One of the construction project managers says that on a clear day you can see the cranes from El Dorado Hills on highway 50, about 25 miles away.

Aggie Square achieved a major milestone on May 4th, as we held a “topping-off” ceremony for the first two buildings. This commemorated the final structural beam of the framing.

Visiting the Aggie Square site will help you visualize just how it transforms student learning.

The architecture of the learning spaces is designed to facilitate collaboration. With classrooms, lab benches, and startup offices right next to each other, learning at Aggie Square is being designed from the ground up to build connections.

UC Davis researchers and their students will work side by side in a flexible lab space designed for collaboration.

Even the coffee break area–deliberately on only one floor of the learning lab to encourage chance meetings– is built on the idea that collaborative work is more powerful.

Aggie Square’s model challenges the idea of working in isolated silos. Instead, it celebrates the potential unlocked when we come together to build for the future.

I'm excited to tell you we are on track to open our doors on time in the first quarter of 2025. Then, we will launch the first phase of Aggie Square with over 700,000 square feet of classrooms, labs, and community space.

Stay tuned over the next year for updates as we draw closer to this historic day for UC Davis.

Looking Ahead: Basic Needs and Safety

As the year moves along, supporting basic needs and campus safety will remain a key priority.

Looking ahead, the ASUCD Pantry is expected to move to a larger location in the Memorial Union. This new location will provide additional space and serve our campus community even more efficiently. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

We're also aiming to increase the accessibility of our AggieEats food truck. This is a first-of-its-kind program on a college campus: A food truck offering free or low-cost meals with a confidential pay-what-you-want model.

The truck currently serves nearly 600 meals a day. It's been a hit since its launch in April, and our goal is to increase its capacity for providing food.

Overall, I firmly believe that everyone deserves to work, study and research in an environment that is as safe as it can be. Last spring, our leadership team committed to working with our community to explore ways to improve lighting and overall campus safety practices.

As a result of that commitment, we were approved to allocate $20 million in campus funds over the next five years for safety measures. Among them, we will improve lighting on campus, install more security cameras and improve Aggie Access, our system for building access and security.

Campus Climate

Finally, I want to thank you all for doing your part to contribute to a campus that values mutual respect. There's no question we're living in turbulent times, both locally and around the globe. We’ve seen more rallies and protests related to global issues on both campuses over the last few months. We’ve heard from faculty, students and staff, who have expressed their concerns and ideas on how to improve the campus climate.

I have met with several groups and responded to many letters related to incidents on campus and around the world. With a presidential election year underway, more tension and frustration will be expressed and felt here. These are troubling times that we’re navigating together, and I appreciate the open dialogue faculty are willing to have with me and others.

In November, I joined with all of the UC's chancellors and President Michael Drake in calling for a sense of community where no one is dehumanized or intimidated. At the same time, we denounced antisemitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of hate and bigotry. 

President Drake further announced steps being taken to protect civil liberties through the creation of the Systemwide Office of Civil Rights at the UC Office of the President.

The UC Office of the President also set aside $3 million to bring in emergency mental health counselors for students, faculty and staff across the UC system.

$7 million was further dedicated to improving public discourse by developing programs at each campus, including UC Davis. The focus is on better understanding antisemitism and Islamophobia, and ways to recognize and combat extremism.

UC Davis will receive $700,000 and must submit proposals in two phases for the use of these funds. The Office of the Chancellor and Provost will coordinate this process with support from colleagues in Budget and Institutional Analysis.

In the meantime, we will continue to protect free speech, provide resources for our university community, and foster an inclusive campus climate.

Thank You

Once again, I want to give my thanks for all you bring to UC Davis. You are the backbone of this world-class university that drives knowledge and innovation. You are role models and mentors who transform lives. I give my utmost appreciation and wish you all the best for 2024.

Now, if time allows, I'm happy to take any questions. Thank you

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