UC President Drake – Opening Remarks UC Board of Regents Meeting

July 19, 2023

Thank you very much Chair Leib.

As you said, it’s wonderful to welcome several new people to the Board this month: New Student and Alumni Regents, a new Staff Advisor, as well as two new appointees to the Board, Nancy Lee and Greg Sarris. I had the honor of partnering with Regent Sarris on the creation of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan. I look forward to getting to know Regent Lee better – I was thinking actually, I haven’t met you but your workplace has been featured on many of our Christmas cards for years, so I appreciate that and look forward to getting to know you as well. Welcome to you both!

I also want to acknowledge a longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Talmadge King, who has agreed to serve as Interim Executive Vice President for UC Health, pending Regents’ approval later in this meeting – I’m sorry, Regents’ hoped-for approval later this meeting, I should say. Dr. King currently serves as the dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and the vice chancellor for medical affairs at UCSF. Dr. King will be here tomorrow to present on UC Health’s strategic plan and budget, and we appreciate his support during this leadership transition.

Last month, our quarter campuses held their commencement ceremonies, and our students and families got to celebrate their remarkable achievements. You can see a few photos of these events on the screen behind me, if I’m correct about that.

The class of 2023 was truly remarkable. These students are living examples of the University of California’s story of opportunity, access, and excellence. Regents will find in their materials today information that highlights important data about this year’s graduates; let me share just a few points:

  • 41 percent are first-generation college students. That’s well above the national average and much higher than rates at other selective public and private universities. We take a lot of pride in our first-gen student support structure, and these very high graduation rates show that this support is working.
  • Meanwhile, 30 percent of this year’s graduates transferred to the University from a community college. Improving the transfer pipeline has been a top priority for the University for many years – and it shows. We enroll more community college transfer students than any other similar university in the nation.
  • Importantly, also, more than 43 percent of this year’s graduates got help paying for college with Pell Grants. The University and the State of California provide even more financial help. Together, this strong financial aid system means that more than half of current undergraduates have all of their systemwide tuition and fees covered by grants and scholarships. More than half. Our data shows that the University’s Pell Grant students go on to earn more than their parents within just five years of graduation, and that their incomes double within 10 years of graduation.

I want to congratulate all of our 2023 graduates, and especially recognize those who overcame a variety of obstacles to pursue and achieve their UC degree. We’re proud to be part of your higher education journey, and to welcome you into the UC alumni family.

Last month also brought some sobering moments as the Supreme Court of the United States issued opinions that directly affect the University and many members of our University community.

First, the court barred the use of race in college admissions, taking away a valuable practice that has helped higher education institutions increase diversity and address historical wrongs over the past several decades. The consideration of race in admissions was banned in California by Proposition 209 in 1996. This posed a challenge for the University in our efforts to admit classes reflecting the demographics of the state that we serve. Since then, we’ve carefully adjusted our practices to comply with the law while continuing to aggressively pursue avenues for increasing diverse student applications, admissions, enrollment and retention.

We still have a long way to go, but our efforts are paying off and we will continue to work to improve access and create clearer paths to college for all. As I shared with Vice President Kamala Harris and the U.S. Department of Education during my last visit to Washington DC, the University of California stands ready to share our experience with higher education partners across the country. To that end, the Department of Education is convening a National Summit on Educational Opportunity later this month, and I will be pleased to attend that convening along with UC Davis Chancellor May and Student Regent Tesfai.

The Court also rejected the Biden Administration’s plan to discharge billions of dollars of student loan debt. This historic relief program would have made a significant impact on the lives of college graduates, particularly those from low-income backgrounds who are more likely to take on debt to complete their education.

In light of the ruling, we’re strongly encouraging our students and alumni to consider all of the loan repayment options that the Department of Education has developed for borrowers who may be struggling to pay back their loans. The University is partnering with the Department of Education to offer a free webinar on July 27 to review new repayment options and help those with student debt make their best choice in their current situation. Those who are interested can register for this free event on the University of California website, and anyone is welcome to attend.

Just a few days ago, Governor Newsom signed the final state budget that maintains strong support for the University of California. I’d like to put a different comment there – signed the final state budget. This maintains strong support for the University of California and demonstrates a continued commitment for the compact between the University and the Governor.

The budget includes funding for the University’s core operations, which will help us expand access, affordability, and student success even more. It includes funding to replace nonresident students with California undergraduates that will enable us to grow resident enrollment at our most in-demand campuses. The budget also provides student housing funding, additional support for student services, and capital outlay funds that will help us add more classrooms, improve energy efficiency, and modernize facilities.

I want to sincerely thank Gov. Newsom and the State Legislature for achieving a budget that serves Californians and preserves support for the University, even during these challenging fiscal times. I look forward to our continued partnership on our shared priorities.

I’m also pleased to share with the Board that the University has adopted a new, stronger climate protection policy – one that prioritizes direct emission reductions, limits the use of carbon offsets, and encompasses transportation emissions in its reduction targets. Climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time, and this new policy builds on the University’s already significant achievements in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to clean, carbon-free electricity. This new policy also better aligns the University with the goals set by the State of California. It will provide our campuses with the flexibility to enact climate action plans that account for their specific circumstances and challenges.

As it stands, the University’s carbon emissions are now 25 percent lower than they were in 2009, despite significant growth across the University. Those reductions are the result of concerted efforts at every UC campus. Those efforts have also saved the University hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.

I’m proud of the University’s leadership role in this area, and especially the commitment of our staff, faculty, students, and campus leaders to pushing further and harder toward a more sustainable future. Setting new, increasingly bolder goals is what the University is all about. My mother would want me to say setting new increasingly bold goals, forgive me. This work isn’t easy or simple; but the climate crisis is here, and the University of California is doing its part to respond.

I’ll close today with a few words of appreciation for UC Academic Senate Chair Susan Cochran. As Chair Leib indicated, Susan’s service on the Board ends this month. During her tenure as Senate Chair, Susan and I worked together on many complex issues, and she has proven to be a laser-focused, passionate, and precise person in her work. She has always advocated for academic excellence and represented the position of the faculty strongly and consistently.

Susan, I’ve also appreciated working with you on behalf of the University these past two years – and in particular, I always enjoyed your eloquent remarks here at our Board meetings. We wish you the very best and thank you very much for your service.

Chair Leib, that concludes my remarks. Back to you.