State of the Campus: 'Transforming Lives'

UC Davis State of the Campus Address

State of the Campus: 'Transforming Lives'

Chancellor Gary S. May presented his 2019 State of the Campus address to the Representative Assembly of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate, Feb. 21, in the International Center's multipurpose room. Here are his prepared remarks. See the accompanying PowerPoint presentation here

First, I’d like to express my appreciation to the Academic Senate for the leadership and shared governance you bring to UC Davis. The voice you give to our university faculty is critical now and as we move forward.

I’m also thankful for this opportunity to share the State of Campus and update you on UC Davis’ key issues and goals.

What you’ll find is a story of excellence across the board. UC Davis continues to transform lives around the world through our research … through our scholarship that empowers students … and through an innovative spirit that shapes a better tomorrow.

You’ll find here a story of aspiration — no matter how much we excel at UC Davis, we always aim higher.

And you’ll find a story filled with excitement. In fact, I have some major news to share with you shortly.

Put it all together, and you have a university that’s perhaps on the cusp of its greatest chapter yet.

So let’s get started.

National rankings

Let’s begin with some numbers that show a UC Davis on the rise.

In 2018, we reached the Top 10 in five different national rankings of universities.

The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education survey says we’re the fifth best public university in the country — up from sixth last year.

U.S. News & World Report says we’re tied for 10th place among publics. This is up from 12th place last year.

I was thrilled that Money magazine ranked UC Davis No. 8 among public colleges. We were also No. 8 on its list of “most transformative” colleges — those that do the most to raise the socioeconomic status of graduates.

And what’s more, we made Washington Monthly’s Top 10 list of all universities — public and private — for the third year running.

I’m especially proud of this one, because their rankings are — quote — "not based on what colleges do for themselves, but on what they do for their country.”

International rankings

On the global scene, UC Davis stands out in many fields.

We’re consistently ranked No. 1 in the world for veterinary studies. Our faculty and staff clinicians treat more than 50,000 animals a year, and much of their activity reveals the best of UC Davis to the world.

I’m thinking about our veterinarians who went viral on social media for using tilapia fish skins to treat bears with third-degree burns on their paws.

More recently, teams from our veterinary hospital showed what kind of quality care and commitment we show at Davis. They worked tirelessly to reunite pets stranded from the Camp Fire in Butte County with their owners. A Facebook photo album showing these reunions had thousands of “likes.”

I also recommend the videos of pets and owners reuniting.  If you need a feel-good moment, these videos will do the trick.

Faculty honors

Our rise in rankings wouldn’t be possible without the exceptional scholarship of our faculty. 

Sarah Stewart’s exceptional creativity in planetary science earned her a spot in this year’s class of MacArthur Foundation fellows — the popularly named “genius” grants.

Professor Stewart recently made headlines when she proposed a novel theory on how Earth got its moon. Her modeling suggests that the moon was actually formed within the Earth when it was still just a big glowing ball of gas, like Jupiter.

Professor Emeritus Jonathan Heritage was just elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his work in optics and photonics. He joins 14 current and emeritus faculty members at UC Davis who’ve received this honor, recognized among the highest of its kind.

Louis Warren, the W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of U.S. Western History at UC Davis, earned one of the highest honors in the field of American history. His book, God’s Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America, won a Bancroft Prize in 2018.  He’s the fourth faculty member in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science’s Department of History to receive this prestigious prize.

This is just a small sample.  Congratulations to all of our illustrious faculty members on their many accomplishments.

Major research awards and discoveries

The spirit of discovery shines at our campus, evidenced by fantastic discoveries and research awards that support our innovations.

Public and private sponsors look to us more and more to make breakthroughs in critical issues. In fact, UC Davis set a record for external research funding in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.  We received more than $846 million in awards, a $64 million increase from the previous year.

Also, the UC Davis School of Medicine ranks among the top 30 institutions in the country for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Total NIH research awards represent a 220 percent growth in NIH funding since 2007.

Now, you’ll find the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Center leading the largest-ever study on Latinos with cognitive impairment.

You’ll find cutting-edge research from the likes of Dr. Laura Marcu, who was inducted to the National Academy of Inventors last year.  She invented a light wand that detects cancerous tissues.

Other research shows promise in finding new ways to feed the world. A team led by Alan Bennett, distinguished professor of plant sciences, is growing corn without synthetic fertilizers. Think of it as a self-fertilizing corn that gets its nitrogen primarily from the air. Some have described this as a “game changer” for agriculture, one that could help farmers in developing countries while aiding food security.

Professor Harris Lewin from the College of Biological Sciences leads the Earth BioGenome Project, a decadelong effort to sequence the genomes of all living beings, including 1.5 million animal, plant, protozoan and fungal species. This is considered the most ambitious effort of its kind and has the potential to change the way we think about evolution and biology.

Leadership searches

Now, let’s switch to campus leadership. We have some recruitments underway, and I want to update you on their progress.

One key recruitment is for the first vuce chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. As our campus becomes more diverse, it’s important that we have a leader who can facilitate student, staff, and faculty success. This leader will provide an integrated vision on all major diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at UC Davis.

We announced our pick on Tuesday following a nationwide search. For this role, I selected Renetta Garrison Tull, who serves currently as associate vice provost for strategic initiatives at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She brings an incredible track record and passion for serving underrepresented students, especially in the STEM fields. I look forward to her starting on July 1 and helping advance our excellence across UC Davis. 

In the meantime, three other leadership searches are underway:

We’re recruiting the dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, who will set the overall vision for the school and serve as its primary spokesperson. In preparation of this search, we hosted three town halls to gather opinions about the ideal qualities we should seek in a candidate.

The School of Medicine is also searching for a dean. We’ve identified five finalists who scheduled visits last month and in early February.

Each of these visits included a public forum, where the candidate presented on the topic, “My Vision for the Future of Academic Medicine.”

Finally, we’re in a nationwide search for the associate vice chancellor for Enrollment Management. This person will provide leadership in recruiting the best and brightest minds at UC Davis. They will make sure we meet our enrollment targets and help shape our student body.

The recruitment advisory committee is reviewing candidate materials, with first-round interviews to follow.  Stay tuned as this search continues to unfold.

Financial prospects

Now, let’s take a look at where UC Davis stands in terms of funding and revenue.

The total budget in 2018-2019 is $5.2 billion. That’s an increase of about $300 million over the previous year.

The primary funds available for general university operations associated with our core instruction and research mission account for about 19 percent of the budget. They are composed of tuition and state unrestricted funding.

For 2018-2019, state appropriations and state unrestricted funds are estimated at $378 million, or about 7 percent of the budgeted revenue.

As you may know, Governor Newsom released his proposed 2019-2020 budget last month. We’re still interpreting the numbers, and other dynamics are in play, but from what we see, the increased state funding for UC is a welcome step. It’s a solid down payment in addressing priorities of the university’s 2019-20 budget plan.

However, the proposal as it currently stands falls short of our needs.

The primary incremental cost increase is for salary and benefit cost increases for faculty and staff. The Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis estimates costs of over $32 million — but our likely share of new state funds is $12 million. And since the governor’s budget assumes a tuition freeze, we have a gap of $20 million.

Also, the governor’s budget does not provide ongoing funding for about $7 million in one-time funds that we received this year in lieu of a tuition increase.

Further, we’ve hit the 18 percent cap for national and international undergraduate students. In recent years, the increasing proportion of nonresidents has added $150 million to our operating budget. This revenue source now increases only very modestly from fee increases. Going forward, our campus’s undergraduate student enrollment will level off unless we receive state funding to support additional undergraduate student enrollment growth.

As a result, the likely impact will be a modest reduction to core funds, even as we will look for ways to increase and leverage other fund sources, such as growing master’s programs and fundraising.

Provost Hexter is working with the deans, the Academic Senate, and others on a budget framework that will guide the process for this year and future years.

Provost Hexter and others met with the Academic Senate Committee on Planning and Budget and the chairs of the Faculty Executive Committee on February 1st.

One topic included the status of several projects underway in response to the Budget Allocation Assessment Report.

Initial efforts are focused on:

  • Incorporating metrics for graduate teaching and simplifying and increasing understanding of the graduate tuition components; and
  • Clarifying and making the provost allocation more transparent. 

Analyses are underway and will be shared with the Academic Senate when completed.


Donors continue to make a substantial difference in the lives of our students, faculty, staff, patients, and veterinary clients.  During 2017-2018, UC Davis raised more than $230 million dollars from nearly 37,000 donors.

These funds provide scholarships, endow faculty positions, fuel research, enhance facilities, and more. 

You don’t have to look far to see how donor gifts are an integral part of UC Davis. These are just a few facilities that were made possible by philanthropy: 

  • The Ann E. Pitzer Center
  • Betty Irene Moore Hall
  • The Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
  • The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
  • The Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

We will continue building on this momentum. As we prepare for the most ambitious fundraising campaign in UC Davis history, philanthropic support will become an even larger percentage of our annual budget.

Task forces: Food insecurity and mental health

Now, I’d like to move to the heart and soul of campus: our students. They have major concerns that we’re addressing, and they go far beyond sleep deprivation and the stress of finals week. 

Our students cannot excel if they’re suffering from chronic anxiety. They can’t excel if they’re not making ends meet to live in proper housing or maintaining a proper diet.

So last year, we established three task forces consisting of students, staff, and faculty to address these issues. We received reports from the task forces in June and approved all of their recommendations. In September, I appointed a Basic Needs Oversight Committee to implement these recommendations.

Our Food Security Task Force was led by Francene Steinburg, chair of the Department of Nutrition. Their recommendations included better promotion of campus services like the ASUCD Pantry. They also recommended assisting students with food and health literacy, and ensuring the fiscal sustainability of such programs.

Cameron Carter, professor of psychiatry, led the Mental Health Task Force, which focused on Student Health and Counseling Services. Our latest survey data shows that 64.8 percent of undergraduates reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety,” and 49 percent were so depressed they had trouble functioning. What’s alarming is these rates have been increasing since 2015.

Student Health and Counseling Services acted quickly to create new workshops on anxiety awareness, provide additional counseling time, and develop other programs that improve accessibility to mental health services.

Task forces: Housing/Wrest Village update

The task force on affordable student housing was led by David Campbell, associate dean in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This group looked for ways to increase campus housing though higher density and more efficient designs.

Like other UC campuses, UC Davis faces a significant shortage of affordable student housing. Meanwhile, the vacancy rate in the city of Davis is less than 1 percent. A recent survey commissioned by UC Davis Student Housing and Dining Services also found that city rents increased by an average of 6.5 percent last year.

This combination of low supply and rising rents places students in a difficult situation. So this task force gathered data from the campus, city, and other sources to identify new funds to support student housing. They also monitored housing trends and engaged with the city of Davis.

I’m encouraged by the progress that we’ve made on this issue. In July, the UC regents approved our new Long Range Development Plan and its environmental impact report. That gave a green light for construction to begin on 9,000 beds of new on-campus housing.

The city of Davis and Yolo County pressed for guarantees on the amount of on-campus housing to be built and timelines on completion over the next five years.

I am very pleased that we reached an agreement on those numbers through a legally binding memorandum of understanding. The agreement guarantees that UC Davis will provide on-campus housing for 100 percent of new growth in student enrollment.

Now, we’re getting our shovels ready. On February 26th, we’re celebrating the groundbreaking of our West Village expansion. Once this project is complete, we’ll be able to accommodate 3,300 additional students in the fall of 2021.

I’m proud that we’re not just making progress on student housing, but we’ve entered a new era of partnership with the city and surrounding region. We have a fresh opportunity to build community and foster student success.

Campus closure

Speaking of overcoming challenges, I’d like to take a moment and talk about the campus closure last November.

First, I want to thank everyone who opened their hearts in response to the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County. The outpouring of compassion to our neighbors in the north was incredible, and I have a few folks that I’d like to single out in a minute.

I know this was a disruptive time, and I thank everyone for your patience. I’d also like to thank the Academic Senate for guidance in helping us manage the closure, especially as it occurred during midterms.

This was nearly an unprecedented event. UC Davis hadn’t closed campus in almost 50 years. But it was the correct decision. The safety of our community comes first.

We’re working to be better prepared if a situation like this happens again. At the time of the Camp Fire, there were no hard-and-fast policies in place for evaluating air quality at UC Davis or for the UC system.

So following the closures, my fellow UC chancellors and I asked UCOP to develop guidelines for handling campus closures due to air quality.

We’ve also formed a local work group at UC Davis to address closure policies. The group is being led by:

  • Provost Ralph Hexter;
  • Karl Mohr, assistant executive vice chancellor;
  • Kelly Ratliffe, vice chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration;
  • Emily Galindo, interim vice chancellor of Student Affairs; and
  • David Lubarsky, vice chancellor of Human Health Sciences and chief executive officer of UC Davis Health.

I charged the group with drafting suggested policy revisions and language related to campus closures. The group has met twice and is on track to deliver those recommendations by the end of April.

Strategic plan overview

We’re preparing for the future in other ways as well. In fact, we’re thinking about how UC Davis should evolve over the next decade.

Toward that end, I’d like to update you on UC Davis strategic plan.

We started over a year ago by asking two key questions: “Where do you think UC Davis should be in 10 years, and how do we get there?”

We reached out to the entire university community for ideas. We organized a steering committee of faculty, staff, and students, and held more than 40 forums on both the Davis and Sacramento campuses. After months of collecting and analyzing the input, we released our 10-year strategic plan last fall.

Our plan, “To Boldly Go,” provides a roadmap for success over the next decade. It also reflects a UC Davis that’s driven by curiosity and a pioneering spirit.

To recap, the strategic plan has five key goals. They include:

  • Providing an unparalleled education for our students that prepares them for the global work force.
  • Using our research strengths to address society’s greatest challenges.
  • Making UC Davis a model of diversity and inclusion.
  • Establishing important and strategic partnerships.
  • And establishing an innovative and entrepreneurial culture.

Let’s take a closer look at the goals and see where we stand. 

Goal 1: Education

In terms of education, students and employers are asking for more experiential learning, more internships, and more networking. They don’t want to start the job search cold after graduation.

Our student body is also growing more diverse in socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. That means we must pay greater attention to both how we teach and what we teach—and how our students learn and how well they learn.

So we’re hiring more educators who are innovators and leaders in pedagogy. They develop new ways to teach and share what they’ve learned with their colleagues.

We’re also changing our classrooms to accommodate new approaches to teaching.

You’ll find one of the most recent examples of this at California Hall. This project was two years in the making and hosted its first classes on January 7th. It’s not only the largest lecture hall on campus — accommodating 600 — it’s also among our most state-of-the-art learning facilities.

California Hall is designed for collaborative learning. Students don’t use traditional desks. Instead, they share tabletops to encourage teamwork. Instructors share notes and slides on touchscreens that are displayed on three massive screens. The room is also outfitted with numerous USB ports and outlets for charging.

I anticipate that more lecture halls will look like this in the future. From what we have seen so far, collaborative learning experiences are resonating well with students and faculty.

Goal 2: Research

Goal No.  focuses on enabling and supporting research that crosses disciplines and addresses societal challenges.

We’re already leveraging our research strengths in the environment, engineering, medicine, and food sciences to advance health worldwide, feed a growing populatio, and weather a changing climate.

Technologies developed at UC Davis have enabled 137 startup companies during the past 10 years — 16 of those were launched just this past fiscal year, which is a record.

Four of these latest technologies are related to cancer therapies. Others include promising treatments for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and other health issues.

We’re planning to do more. The goal is to leverage our partnerships and identify the most promising research areas. We’ll also seek new research facilities and focus on investments for supporting them.

Goal 3: Diversity

As I’ve mentioned before, I was attracted to UC Davis because of its strong commitment to diversity. I’m proud that we’re the top campus for launching women into STEM careers and of our range of support for underrepresented student groups.

Twenty-seven percent of last year’s new undergraduates were from historically underrepresented groups — African American, Native American and Latinx.

We’re experiencing significant growth in applicants from underserved communities. In 2017, our most recent year of data, UC Davis received more than 20,000 applicants from the Latinx community. That’s the second largest demographic of undergraduate applicants behind Asians.

A major milestone is coming in the next few months, right as we’re striving to accelerate diversity.

This spring, we expect UC Davis to be designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, or HSI. This federal designation means we’ve enrolled at least 25 percent of our domestic undergraduate students from Chicanx/Latinx populations.

UC Davis will join a select group of HSI-designated universities with the highest research activity. The UC system is already a majority-HSI system with six designated campuses. At UC Davis, we made the intentional choice in 2008 to reach HSI designation within a decade, and we’re on track to do that.

This is evidence that UC Davis is fulfilling its public service mission, with a student population that’s on track to mirror California’s demographics.

HSI is also a badge of excellence, one that shows we’re empowering more young people from underserved communities. We’re closing the gap on access to higher education.

Our HSI Task Force is working hard to develop recommendations for the vision, goals and metrics that we’ll employ as an HSI. We still have much work to do, and we must continue to invest in outreach and pipeline strategies to help underrepresented students.

But for now, we can be proud that our underrepresented students are occupying the elite spaces of higher education. They’re going where the innovations are happening and the solutions to societal problems are found.

Goal 4: Visibility

Our fourth goal focuses on enhancing the reputation of UC Davis and sharing our story. We’ll also seek new possibilities for partnerships and collaborations, especially those that best illustrate our ideals to the world.

One critical step involves a rebranding of UC Davis and UC Davis Health. We’re also developing a brand for the next comprehensive campaign.

We started by searching for an external creative agency to help with these efforts. After considering a strong field of candidates, we found a partner in Ologie, an Ohio-based firm.

They started last month by engaging in branding research. Next, they’ll turn that discovery into a broad strategy for branding. We expect our new branding to come to life by early 2020, followed by October 2020 for the campaign.

This is our moment to differentiate UC Davis in the marketplace. It’s our time to communicate UC Davis’ amazing story with target audiences, and I look forward to providing more updates in the coming months.

Goal 5: Innovation

Moving on to Goal No. 5 … we will continue to accelerate entrepreneurship and innovation. Pushing boundaries is what UC Davis is about, and we’ll build from the spirit of discovery that’s shaping a better tomorrow.

Here’s one example: It involves two of our biomedical engineering professors who’ve done groundbreaking work in molecular imaging.

Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi developed a PET/CT scanner that can image the entire body in under a minute. They released the first images last month and expect to start scanning patients this spring.

This breakthrough could fundamentally change the way cancers are tracked and treated, while greatly reducing patients’ radiation exposure.

This is just one example of how UC Davis makes substantial contributions. We’ll build on such research strengths to position ourselves as a world leader for innovation.

Goal 5: Entrepreneurship

Our growing commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship is certainly represented in Aggie Square. As you know, this is our 25-acre innovation hub coming to the Sacramento campus.

We experienced much excitement and momentum for this project over the past year. In June, we secured $2.8 million in state funding. In August, we announced the first phase of Aggie Square. We are partnering with Kindred Healthcare to build a 40-bed rehabilitation hospital. The $60 million hospital is expected to create 200 new jobs.

In the meantime, we’re also working closely with Sacramento city leaders and neighborhood associations. We want to maximize the economic and quality of life opportunities that Aggie Square can bring.

We’re guided by the advice of our Aggie Square Partnership Advisory council as this project evolves. We’re also working with faculty to identify the academic programs that will fit best at Aggie Square.

Businesses and entrepreneurs of all types continue to reach out to us. It’s clear that others want to partner with us in Aggie Square.

And, on that note, I want to share some major news.

We’re proud to announce that UC Davis is collaborating with IBM at Aggie Square.

A select group of IBM specialists will join Aggie Square staff and the UC Davis Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement in a newly-leased building on Stockton Boulevard. The building in Sacramento will also include a flexible Innovation Center for UC Davis faculty, IBM and others to host events that demonstrate their latest innovations and collaborative projects.

I believe this is just a preview of even greater things to come. Major companies like IBM see the potential in Aggie Square and what we’re achieving. This is exactly the kind of collaboration we hope to foster over the next decade.

Aggie Square allows us to build on an entrepreneurial culture with more than 900 active patents. Last year alone, UC Davis helped launch 16 startups, made 107 invention disclosures and completed 85 licensing agreements. Also note that more than 75 percent of UC startups launched in the last five years are still active.

Our opportunity to create and collaborate has never been greater. Frankly, the caliber of our faculty is a strong selling point in attracting major companies and other partners.  They want the access to faculty expertise.

For those involved with research, Aggie Square will provide an ideal location to meet and form partnerships, and I want faculty to take full advantage of this opportunity.

You should also know the focus of Aggie Square isn’t limited to technology and life sciences. Ultimately, Aggie Square will be a place to showcase anything and everything that benefits the university, the community and business. That ranges from the arts and humanities, to social sciences and just about everything in between.

If you don’t think you have a home in Aggie Square, well, you do now.  As Aggie Square expands, so will the opportunities.


As you can see, the past year for UC Davis was filled with incredible accomplishments, inspirational stories and exciting goals.

You can feel a sense of confidence and optimism just by walking around campus. You may also see many of our students wearing “Aggie Heroes” T-shirts.

“Aggie Heroes” reflect our spirit of good works. They are those in the UC Davis community, especially our students, who go above and beyond to help others. Aggie Heroes represent the best in our character and inspire us to become better people.

I’m thinking of the Aggie Heroes like those from our Sikh Cultural Association. These students jumped into action when relief efforts were desperately needed in Butte County. They rallied with other members of the campus community to collect and deliver food, clothing and household goods for the Salvation Army distribution center in Chico.

Aggie Heroes are people like Michael O’Hearn, a 62-year old trumpet player who graduated in December with a music degree.

Michael was diagnosed 30 years ago with a rare degenerative disease that left him unable to walk. And then, he did something at fall commencement that brought the crowd to its feet and to tears. With the help of his physical therapist, Michael rose from his wheelchair and walked across the commencement to receive his diploma.

I was proud not only for Michael, but for our entire UC Davis community. To hear them roar with applause and shout encouragement for Michael as he took those steps showed the heart of UC Davis.

Do you know someone who fits the role of an Aggie Hero?  Think of someone on campus who’s shown a deep dedication to serving the public good, or someone who’s kept pushing despite great challenges.

We now have a process to nominate students, faculty, and staff who shine as Aggie Heroes. They’ll not only be recognized on social media and UC Davis’ website, but I’ll be hosting a special event in their honor. Send your nominees to

These Aggie Heroes, combined with your faculty leadership and the vibrancy of our UC Davis community, gives us much to be grateful for. But we’re far from done, and we have so much to look forward to in the coming year. Thank you for being on this journey with us as we climb to greater heights.

Go Ags!


Dateline UC Davis has highlights of the State of the Campus address here.