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Chancellor’s 1st Quarter: Listening and Leading

By Dave Jones on December 19, 2017 in University

He called it a listening tour, and that’s exactly what he did as UC Davis’ seventh chancellor, from his first day on the job Aug. 1 and all through his first academic quarter.

But Gary S. May also spoke up. Just 16 days after taking office he was in downtown Davis’ Central Park addressing a Unity Rally organized in the wake of the deadly white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Chancellor Gary S. May speaks at a Unity Rally.
Chancellor Gary S. May speaks at Unity Rally in downtown Davis. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“Incitement to violence is not speech. Terrorism is not dialogue. Freedom of speech is about new ideas, not old hate.”

— Unity Rally, Central Park, Aug. 16

He defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, speaking on behalf of the University of California at an Oct. 25 congressional news conference in Washington, D.C.

On social media, where he has more than 3,600 friends on Facebook, someone asked him in November if he was going to address Republican efforts to repeal the tax exemption on graduate students’ tuition waivers. He replied, “Stay tuned” — and the next day, Nov. 10, there he was with Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, at a Sacramento news conference, speaking out against the proposal.

As the tax legislation made its way through Congress, Chancellor May spoke up again in a Sacramento Bee op-ed, expressing his “wholehearted” support for a “Grad Tax Walkout,” and calling the House bill “an attack on higher education in the name of reform.”

Future Forward and investiture

May introduced himself to the university community at Future Forward, Sept. 25, the first day of the fall quarter. “As chancellor, I get to be head cheerleader for a university that has so much going for it, a university on the rise with exceptional capabilities to address the humanitarian crises of our time, be it health care or public health, immigration or climate change, poverty or environmental impoverishment,” he said.

He formally assumed the authority of his office during his investiture, Oct. 27, in Jackson Hall at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

Chancellor Gary S. May and his mother, Gloria.
Chancellor Gary S. May and his mother, Gloria, the day of his investiture. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

“In the South, there’s an expression that goes like this: If a turtle is sitting on a fence post, it didn't get there by itself. Somebody helped the turtle.”

— investiture address, Oct. 27, talking about his postal worker father and schoolteacher mother and others who help him along the way

Now he is helping UC Davis get to the top of the fence post. “It’s clear that public agencies and private companies are depending on UC Davis’ innovative spirit and expertise to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges,” he said in announcing the university had received $783 million in external research funding for fiscal year 2016-17, up $23 million from the previous year.

And he aims to see we have the faculty and the facilities to get the job done.

“This program really speaks to my own core goals and my passions. UC Davis’ dedication to diversity and inclusion are actually a key reason I was attracted to the university and decided to come here.”

— remarks at welcome reception Nov. 20 for UC Davis’ newest faculty scholars in CAMPOS, the Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science, which focuses on building diversity in STEM

Chancellor May celebrated the grand opening of Betty Irene Moore Hall, home of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing; and joined the School of Veterinary Medicine when it launched its “Leading the Way” campaign for the development of the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Center. "So let’s take some much-needed next steps, ones that ensure that UC Davis will continue to offer world-class care and an unbeatable education for students with a comprehensive veterinary medical center that builds on UC Davis’ strengths and reinforces our role as a world leader," he said.

At times it seemed as if he were everywhere at once, visiting student centers, and meeting with our Mandela Fellows from Africa; the UC Davis Foundation Board; alumni groups and donors in Placer County, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego and Washington, D.C.; the Shields Society and the University Farm Circle; African and African American Alumni; the Graduate Student Association and the Quarter Century Club; and on and on.

LeShelle greets women's soccer team.
LeShelle May meets soccer team during ice cream social, Aug. 1. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

We saw him at athletic contests, and he and his wife, LeShelle May, hosted the men’s and women’s basketball teams for dinners at the Chancellor’s Residence, honoring the teams for their post-season runs in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Women’s Invitational tournaments. He hosted Breakfasts With the Chancellor.

In all of his interactions, Chancellor May is connecting — connecting with students past, present and future (like those he inspired Nov. 28 on a recruiting trip to King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles), connecting with the campus community, and connecting with state and national leaders — raising UC Davis’ profile ever higher.

He’s connecting in person and on social media, even hosting a Facebook Live event just a few days after taking office.

Innovation and bold planning

He proudly accepted, on behalf of UC Davis, a Sacramento Region Innovation Award, Nov. 7, saying, “We are grateful to be recognized for our innovation, because innovation defines so much of our university mission and spirit.”

He is taking bold steps, like his proposal for “Aggie Square,” as he calls it, an innovation hub in Sacramento. He helped launch Atlanta’s Tech Square while serving as dean of engineering at Georgia Tech — and he and Mayor Darrell Steinberg are discussing the possibilities for Sacramento.

He is bold, too, in the strategic planning process he calls “To Boldly Go,” never mind the split infinitive, preferring the phrasing of his beloved Star Trek.

“UC Davis is a powerful education, research and public service force working to make the world a better place,” he said. “With all of our strengths, however, we remain a sleeping giant. I’m asking the collective community to come together and contribute creative and bold ideas that will propel us to accomplish things we’ve only dreamed of in the past.”

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