University of California president Mark G. Yudof, during his final UC Board of Regents meeting as university president, made the following remarks today (July 17) reflecting on his tenure and sharing some thoughts on future stewardship of UC. His remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chair Varner.
As this is my last meeting, I thought it might be appropriate to share a few parting thoughts with you today.
Let me begin by saying that I am honored and grateful to have had the privilege of serving as president of the University of California. This is a phenomenal institution. It gives me tremendous hope for the future of California, and for the future of higher education. I hold great confidence in the university that my successor will inherit. And I wish my successor well.
My list of thank-yous is too long for a speech, but I would be remiss not to mention the most important ones.
I want to thank the UC faculty members, who are critical to university governance. I was fortunate to share a high level of collaboration with them. I want to thank the UC students, who have kept the university leadership on its toes. They need to continue to do so, for they are the primary reason we are here. And I want to thank UC's staff members, who are deeply committed to this university and the state it serves.
I am particularly grateful to the UC regents for five years of a productive, positive working relationship. They understand that UC cannot be ruled from the boardroom, and they do not try to do so. The relationship between the president and the board has never been stronger. And I congratulate the regents on a job that was very well done.
I also want to thank Governor Brown, Speaker Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg for their enduring support of the university, and their willingness to work with university leadership.
The standard for remarks like these was probably set by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Three days before he left the United States presidency, he famously warned the nation about the perils of an emerging military-industrial complex.
If only he had foreseen the coming of MOOCs.
Looking at the text of his remarks the other day, however, a less known passage from that speech jumped out at me. It was an observation on the choices that leaders weigh when faced with crises, challenges, progress - in other words, change.
He said, "Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether [...] great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties [...] but each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance [...] balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable [...] balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment," he concluded, "seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration."
When I read that passage I thought, Ike, you have been reading my mail.
I receive letters all the time that call for UC to sell two campuses, or to jettison its graduate programs, or to close various departments. All of these actions would be "spectacular"; none of them would work. They are suggested without due consideration of the university as a whole. They would fail to save money, and they would damage, perhaps irrevocably, the spirit of the enterprise.
I have led public university systems for 16 years now. During that time, I learned that strong university leadership tends to coalesce around one objective: pursuing the balance that Eisenhower cites, in such a way that any crisis, challenge, or broad change will more likely enhance, not diminish, the institution.
And so the critical yet never-ending task before any UC president is to balance the "actions of the moment" against those of the future, all while accommodating progress. Eisenhower calls this "good judgment" — I call it "reflective evolution."
By "reflective evolution" I mean this: The University of California requires thoughtful, consistent and constant reform efforts — but not extreme ones. "Balance and progress," to quote Eisenhower, must be weighed equally.
Like any institution, UC must change or it will deteriorate. The change must be systemic, however, and rooted in the university's multiple constituencies and cultures and core values. If we all dig our heels in place, then UC will wither and weaken. If we all are bent on implementing reforms, but never build a strong base of support, then the reforms will fail.
This brings me to a few points:
First, UC is one university, and it is 10 universities. "Reflective evolution," as a result, is critical to the federalism that underlies the UC system. Processes like re-benching and the funding streams initiative, which concern the funding relationship between UCOP and the campuses, need to be re-examined every year. UC may not need 10 Offices of a General Counsel, or nine university presses. On the other hand, a case can certainly be made for nine English departments, or nine engineering schools, or nine mascots.
The second point is this: To spend time in universities is to learn that they possess unwritten constitutions. And universities ultimately work best when authority is constrained in relation to these constitutions' unwritten rules.
The university president, for example, has authority over academic matters. But that authority should rarely be exercised if the faculty members do not concur with its usage.
[As a side note, it is interesting to consider that university presidents historically played the role of public intellectuals, weighing in on the great issues of the times. Today, however, the presidents are often viewed as apologists for the purported shortcomings of the academy.]
The regents have virtual plenary power — except as they have delegated authority. Still, the regents should not attempt to micromanage how the campuses operate — whether in athletics, or in construction.
The system office must remember that it is not a university, and take care not to step on the toes of the campuses. Each campus should understand that it is not the only university in the system. There are times when UC's larger mission to serve the state of California is best served by collective actions that subsume the needs of the individual campuses to those of the system. Each campus must remember that the system possesses power as whole. This power benefits the campuses through measures as varied as a central payroll system, shared procurement, and so on. But it also benefits them through their membership in a flexible, yet united, academic enterprise that is peerless.
Let me move to a third point. Leadership of this university demands an awareness of and a devotion to the concept of reflective evolution. That is why it is extremely important that the president never loses sight of the fiduciary obligations inherent to the position of this enormous enterprise. Managing the internal administration cannot be a low priority.
This includes efforts like streamlined operations. Real initiatives to spend less money. The creation and management of an annual budget. The people who work at UCOP are good people who are good at their jobs, but no one who assumes the presidency should believe that UCOP will run itself. This is a bureaucracy that will grow, expand, and spend money. It requires regular, vigorous oversight from both a strong president and a strong team. And it is imperative that the president, and the university, do not betray the public trust in this or any other regard.
The same applies to the changes that must occur to the university's financing and educational delivery models. The former is broken, and the latter may be unaffordable in the future. But the changes must take place within the framework of reflective evolution, not as a destructive leap. The university needs a glide-path for migration, not a precipice from which to fall.
When I accepted the charge of stewardship of the University of California, it was not one that I accepted lightly. Eisenhower also made two points in his speech that are salient to how I view this great responsibility.
He noted that the days of "the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop" had ended. They were "overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields." At the same time, "the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, [had] experienced a revolution in the conduct of research."
This statement bears even more truth today than it did in 1961, when the speech was delivered. With the waning of private R&D groups like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, universities are now, almost exclusively, the homes of long-term basic research. These efforts are thus critical not only to UC's research mission, but to society as a whole. And they must be preserved by the stewards of this university.
Eisenhower also said this: "we [...] must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow." Anyone charged with stewardship recognizes this impulse. Many of the needs that demand resources today are essential. They would not be categorized under "ease and convenience." These range from health care for children to wages for employees.
Universities, on the other hand, are reservoirs of the resources of tomorrow. Stewardship demands that their resources should not be plundered in the short term without due allowance for the future.
Ultimately, UC is a world-class university because of the people who populate it. The best professors and students do not come to UC for the retirement plan, or the buildings. They come here because there are other remarkable people here.
In the context of reflective evolution, any short term fixes must be balanced against the message they might send to the talented people already here, or to those who might be waiting in the wings.
Doing so also acknowledges the contingent history of UC. Let me explain what I mean by that term:
To say that history is contingent is to say that every historical outcome depended on a set of prior, interconnected circumstances, which depended on an earlier set of circumstances, and so on.
The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once argued that human evolution is explained as much by contingent history as it is by traditional scientific thinking. To illustrate his point, Gould cited a scene from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."
In this scene, the guardian angel, Clarence, replays a tape of the lives of everyone George Bailey knows - but as if George had never existed. George then sees how differently things would have turned out without him. To keep it brief, not so wonderfully.
Likewise, human evolution, Gould wrote, may be seen as "a staggeringly improbable series of events, sensible enough in retrospect and subject to rigorous explanation, but utterly unpredictable and unrepeatable. Wind back the tape of life [...] and the chance becomes vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay."
The University of California — and the state for that matter — is no different. Wind back the tape of UC's history, and the chance that the same university would emerge becomes vanishingly small. James Marshall might never discover gold at Sutter's Mill. President Lincoln might not sign the Morrill Act. Ernest Lawrence might stay at Yale. Clark Kerr might prefer the University of Washington. We cannot identify the exact contingent sets of circumstances that made UC the university it is today. Nor can we follow the decisions of the past mindlessly by rote, expecting that the same outcomes will occur.
What we can do is preserve the fundamental attributes of what make this university great.
In the realm of higher education, UC has always been in a class of its own. Other universities and colleges might enroll more low-income students — but not with the world-renowned faculty necessary to conduct research and scholarship of the highest order. Others compete with the University of California on the research front — but they don't serve the rising generations with the same vigor.
Going forward, this must remain the defining ethos of UC. It must be protected at all costs. The future of the university, and arguably that of the state it serves, hang in the balance.
Thank you for the opportunity to have been president of this great university.
Chair Varner, this concludes my remarks.