Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

July 14, 2014

President Janet Napolitano delivered the the keynote at the Joint Summer Meeting of the APLU on July 14, 2014.

Here are Napolitano's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Peter, and thank you all for that warm welcome. 

It’s wonderful to see such broad representation from our APLU member institutions, including from my own university. And I’m pleased that two UC chancellors—Nicholas Dirks and Linda Katehi—are addressing you as well at this important meeting.

I’ve been asked to speak to you today about international research. And so I’d like to spend some time this morning sharing my thoughts with you on what it means for universities like ours to undertake international research—specifically international research that tackles major global challenges. 

I’d like to begin by telling you a story. 

Straight up the hill from where we meet today stands Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It is home to thirteen Nobel Prizes. It is home to ground-breaking discoveries in energy, physics, cosmology, and other scientific fields. 

But Berkeley Lab, as it is called, is also home to one of the most simple yet transformative inventions of the 21st century.

About ten years ago, the conflict in Darfur, a region of Sudan, was reaching a terrible pitch. The violence undertaken against the people of Darfur was horrific—particularly the violence against Darfuri women. 

The international community was outraged. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. More than two million were ultimately driven from their homes. Most lived in internally displaced persons camps throughout Darfur. 

The scientists at Berkeley Lab wanted to do something to help. They knew they could not stop the overall conflict. But they also knew that the Darfuri people in the camps needed to eat. They knew that to cook food for their families, Darfuri women had to walk hours to gather the firewood to fuel the stoves. They knew that the women faced violence with every footstep they took away from the camps. 

The scientists examined what they knew. Then they asked themselves, is there a scientific solution? And by piecing together the puzzle, they settled on a possibility that would prove to be pivotal for thousands of women. 

They would build a better stove.

First, the scientists traveled to Darfur on a fact-finding mission. Mind you, this is nobody’s idea of a junket. They interviewed the Darfuri women. Then they started working with students and volunteers. They tested a version of a fuel-efficient stove that had been developed in India. They modified that stove so that it was better suited to the climate and cuisine of Darfur. 

Then they found partners. The Blum Center for Developing Economies on the Berkeley campus stepped up to support the stove project. Oxfam America signed on to distribute the stoves on the ground in Darfur, and train the women how to use them.  

It’s a simple contraption, no more than a dozen pounds. The stove is still fueled by wood, but it requires far less—meaning less foraging, and less exposure to risk. 

In the end, the Berkeley-Darfur stove has saved thousands of lives, and reduced harmful emissions by more than 50% from the stoves originally used in the camps.  It’s no surprise, then, that just a few months ago, the lead scientist, Dr. Ashok Gadgil, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The story of the Berkeley-Darfur stove is a story about the power of public engagement. Specifically, the public engagement that is unique to public research universities. Researchers, students, volunteer staff—they all worked together. And they did so on a project that stands as a monument to the public service mission that our universities embrace. 

Let’s be clear, public service is not confined by state boundaries. Our research can and does reach far beyond our home states, and it is utterly appropriate that it does so. The export of knowledge is not only our stock and trade, it is a moral imperative. That’s why I’ve adopted the motto that UC teaches for California, and researches for the world. 

This brings me to another story. Let me tell you about the woman who taught rice how to hold its breath underwater.   

Her name is Dr. Pamela Ronald. She is a Professor of Plant Pathology at UC Davis. She is also responsible for increasing food security for millions of people around the world.   

Dr. Ronald and her colleagues were curious about which genes in rice plants made them vulnerable when they were submerged in water for too long. 
At first blush, this may seem like a prosaic question. As you know, a lot of basic research questions can seem pedestrian—opaque even. But the potential ramifications are often profound. 

For billions of people on our planet, rice is a staple food. Millions of farmers grow it. But a considerable amount of the global rice crop is grown in regions where seasonal flooding is extreme and unpredictable. And although rice can survive submergence, it usually dies if it is underwater for too long. 

Dr. Ronald and her colleagues first found a cluster of genes that appeared to answer their question. Then, they took the time to look more closely. 
Basic research, of course, requires patience. There is always pressure to find a quick fix. This is especially true if there’s a need for real-world application. But just like the rice, basic research needs to breathe.  

Ultimately, Dr. Ronald and her colleagues honed in on a specific gene that affects the rice plants’ tolerance of submergence in water. It’s called the Sub1A gene. And when the Sub1A gene is hyper-activated, rice that could not survive total submergence is suddenly able to withstand it.  

Then Dr. Ronald and her team decided to take their basic research and apply it. Mindful of monsoons and the destructive flash flooding they can create, they introduced Sub1A into a type of rice that is grown in India—right in the heart of monsoon country.  

The rice didn’t just survive. It flourished. And since then, more than four million subsistence farmers in South Asia have grown what is now known as “scuba rice”.    

This is a story about the balancing act between basic research, and applied research. It is one that public research universities like ours manage well, particularly when it comes to tackling major global challenges.

Scuba rice, and the Berkeley-Darfur Stove, are two ends of a wide-ranging research spectrum. And they inspired me when I began working with the ten UC chancellors to create the University of California Global Food Initiative, which we announced earlier this month. They demonstrate how immersed the University of California is in this broader category called “food”. 

By the year 2025, we are told that one billion additional people will live on this already stressed planet. As we meet here today, a billion people — most of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious micronutrient deficiencies. Another 1/2 billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world — are obese. Put on top of that the increasing pressure on our natural resources, land, and water, and you can see the magnitude of what we have before us.

With this in mind, the goal of the Global Food Initiative is audacious. It is to do everything in the University’s power to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable. 

The point of this initiative is to harness research like scuba rice and the stove in a focused way. It is to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university—in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world—to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues. 

Now, a word about food. It’s about more than just what we eat. It’s about delivery systems. Climate issues. Markets. Population growth. Microeconomies. Policy. Energy. Water. All of these and more come into play when you begin to think about the colliding forces that shape the world’s food future.  

In the context of public research universities like UC, audacious goals are appropriate—if not us, then who? The challenges institutions like ours attempt to remedy are often complex, demanding, multi-faceted. With our faculty, staff, students, laboratories, clinics, and our collective expertise and knowledge, public research universities are better positioned than any other type of institution to tackle those problems. 

You see, the world we live in is no longer defined by strict boundaries. Even the phrase “international research” seems almost precious. What our universities do is just “research”—but it’s research for the world. There’s no such thing as a local problem anymore. 

Food is not the only global challenge we face, nor is it the only research sphere in which we play a celebrated role. The fundamental point is that UC, like our fellow APLU institutions, is well positioned to take complex world problems and begin solving it from dozens of different angles. 

I want to be clear that this is not a one-way street. As much as we need to send our researchers out into the world, we also need to bring researchers from the world into our institutions. The same is true of our students. It is beneficial for our students to study overseas. It is beneficial for a reasonable number of our students to hail from places beyond our state borders. 

And this brings me to the final story I want to share with you this morning. 

Almost fifty years ago, some administrators (like us) had the bright idea that it would be nice to build a garden for the students at UC Santa Cruz. Pervasive construction dominated the new campus. A pretty, three-acre garden seemed like it would be a good spot for students seeking relief from the chaos. 

And so the campus hired a gardener from England. This man traveled down to the land of the Banana Slugs, and marked out a garden plot on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.  

This garden was destined to become more than a garden. It would become, in full bloom, a world-renowned living laboratory. 
That’s because this gardener was not just any gardener. His name was Alan Chadwick. He was a pioneer of modern organic farming methods. The Slow Food movement, organic horticulture, urban gardening—all can be traced, in part, to him.

The garden Chadwick built was the first organic and biointensive garden at any university in the United States. The gardening methods he and his student apprentices experimented with and employed have since become standard practice for organic farmers—even for those in the developing world. 

A few years after the garden was built, it inspired the creation of the 25 acre UC Santa Cruz farm. 

Then, the informal student apprenticeship program Chadwick started became a celebrated full-time, year-round program through UC Extension. 
Today, the farm and the garden together are the home base for the internationally-renowned Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. And it is this sort of center—found throughout our ten campuses and three national labs—that allow us with confidence to take on global challenges, such as those inherent to the UC Global Food Initiative.

Let me close with a comment about Abraham Lincoln.

It is not possible, of course, to address any body of the APLU without at least one nod to good old Abe.

When President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act, in 1862, the fundamental objective was to educate America. He was preparing the country for its next era. He was looking to the future even as the nation was being torn apart by the Civil War. The grants of 30,000 acres of land for each Senator or Congressman to their respective states were transactions that seeded the transformation of an expanding nation.

Today, the member institutions of the APLU are preparing the world for its next era. 

The missions of our universities have not changed. They have multiplied. 

Though our horizon is now global, not national, our universities still possess the pioneering spirit. It is one that infuses all the efforts we undertake—from research to public service, and everything in between. 

For generations, our universities have served the youth of this country, transforming our nation into a more equitable and advanced society. We still serve the states. But the states are not well served if we do not maintain a global perspective in our work. It’s a round and turning planet, and every problem—and every advance—eventually circumnavigates the globe. State borders will not stop them. 

Thank you.