My March newsletter

March 3, 2015

Dear friends and colleagues,

In my last newsletter I touched on the link between the University of California and California’s economic and social well being. This is at the center of the conversations we are engaged in with state leaders about the importance of full state support for UC, so I think it’s worth spending a little more time on the subject.

The importance of innovation to a state’s ongoing vitality, and the critical role that research universities like UC play in fueling that innovation, is something we must never lose sight of. In 1997, former UC President Richard Atkinson gave a speech about the migration of research activity in America away from private enterprise — the Bell lab model, if you will — and into the realm of research universities, both public and private. He was of the view that research, particularly university research, is not truly understood, and therefore not appreciated, by the broader public. He closed his speech with the following remarks, which seem equally as relevant today:

“We need to have a passionate conversation about higher education in California. This conversation should encompass more than just the role of research universities in economic growth. But this conversation should also recognize that the discovery and application of knowledge are not at the periphery, but at the heart of what research universities are all about.”

I believe those words are just as important now as they were nearly 20 years ago. We need to have a passionate conversation about higher education in California today. And in particular, that conversation needs to focus on the unique role research universities have played in making California a bastion of innovation, and a world leader in its own right.

California was given one great gold rush. The world rushed in and almost overnight, it seemed, California found itself on course to become the nation’s “great exception,” to borrow a phrase from that great social commentator Carey McWilliams. And in the 165 years that have followed, Californians have done the hard work of building and nurturing an iconic society known to the world as a beacon of progress, hope, and opportunity.

They built this society with a native creativity and ceaseless innovation, introducing to the world everything from the silicon chip to fine Napa Valley wine to the wet suit. They built it with a strong sense of common purpose, fostering a true commonwealth where those with dreams and ideas about the next big thing found themselves on equal footing with those born to privilege.

And, in the spirit of a commonwealth, they built it with a deep commitment to education and research — particularly public education. That commitment, in time, would give rise to the 10-campus University of California, to the Cal State system, and to the California Community Colleges, as well as to private universities such as USC and Stanford and Caltech and the Claremonts. These were the institutions that in large measure produced the innovators and propelled the innovation. Collectively, these were, and still are, California’s best idea.

Today UC is funded by the state, in constant dollars, at the same level as it was when President Atkinson gave his speech in 1997. At the same time, and with that same level of funding, UC educates 75,000 more students than it did in 1997. That’s the statistical equivalent of adding an additional UCLA and UC Berkeley — without receiving a dime more from the state.

One thing this startling fact tells us is that the need for the urgent and passionate conversation about higher education in California has not gone away. It has only grown.

Accordingly, my staff and I are spending a good deal of time in Sacramento, testifying in hearings before legislative committees and in one-on-one meetings with individual lawmakers. My ongoing discussions with Governor Brown are very substantive and represent a serious collaboration between the two of us. And in talking with our state leaders — including Speaker Atkins and President Pro Tem de Leon — I am optimistic that this collective process will end in a good place not just for the University of California, but for all Californians.

In a larger sense, however, our negotiations with the state over funding for UC are not about dollars. They are about a down payment on the future of California. Full investment in UC is ultimately a full investment in the California dream.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to share an idea or comment, feel free to email me at janet@ucop.edu. And please pass this note on to friends and colleagues you think might be interested. If they like it, encourage them to sign up for future newsletters.

Yours very truly,

Janet Napolitano

President