Gary S. May delivered his first major address as UC Davis’ new chancellor on Monday (Sept. 25), saying he is honored to be leading “a university with so much going for it” — including academics and research, and commitments to diversity and equal opportunity, freedom of expression and contributing to the social good.
And there is so much more to come, he said in his “Future Forward” speech, outlining his goals of boosting UC Davis’ presence in the greater Sacramento region (perhaps by developing an innovation hub), and raising the university’s stature across the nation and around the world.
“UC Davis has been described to me by many alums and others as kind of a sleeping giant. Maybe that explains the hammocks, by the way (on the Quad)!” he said. “But it’s time for that giant to wake up!
“We’ve got some of the best programs in the world. We’re in a great location. We’ve got an engaged alumni and business and community leaders who are truly interested in our success.”
‘Most exciting chapter in our history’
Chancellor May said he is honored to serve as chancellor of UC Davis during what he believes is “the most exciting chapter of our history.”
“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.”
The “Future Forward” audience included some of the university’s 9,165 new freshmen and transfer students. “So, why are they all coming here? Why UC Davis?” May asked. “I bet their reasons are much the same as mine were.”
First and foremost, he said, UC Davis has an excellent record in teaching, scholarship and research. “Students know that a degree from UC Davis is a golden ticket,” he said. “They know that success here puts them on the road to success in the job market and fulfilling their careers.”
He said other factors that brought him to UC Davis included the university’s reputation as a “socioeconomic escalator” for students from all backgrounds, and contributions to the “public good.” Washington Monthly magazine recently gave UC Davis top-10 rankings in both categories.
Chancellor May also cited the university’s strong commitment to diversity among students, faculty and staff. “As of last fall, our enrollment of new undergraduates from historically underrepresented groups — African American, American Indian and Chicano/Latino — stood at 26 percent,” and this year’s entering class is expected to be the most diverse ever, he said.
He reiterated his opposition to the Trump administration’s decision, effective this coming March 5, to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which immigrant students are protected from deportation.
“At UC Davis, we open our doors to the world and give the best and brightest a chance to shine, no matter where they happened to be born,” May said. “Abandoning DACA ... runs counter to our principles of open and equal access to higher education for students of all backgrounds.”
A commitment to excellence
Chancellor May also spoke about the “intensive listening-and-learning tour,” on and off campus, that he has been on since taking office Aug. 1.
“What I’ve learned is that our stakeholders are very passionate about UC Davis. They feel very strongly about their connection to us. They feel very close to their UC Davis family — long after they graduate — and they’re nostalgic about the campus grounds — the Quad, the arboretum, the water towers, the hammocks. They want us to be successful. They want us to be a leader.”
And lead is what UC Davis will do, May said. On the Sacramento front, for example, the chancellor is exploring the development of an innovation hub called Aggie Square, modeled after Atlanta’s Tech Square, which May helped bring about during his time as Georgia Tech’s engineering dean.
The innovation hub is likely to be included in a UC Davis strategic plan, “To Boldly Go,” a title selected by the chancellor “to set a tone that UC Davis is moving forward with confidence and a commitment to excellence like never before.”
“To Boldly Go” is a signature line from Star Trek — May is a fan of the sci-fi classic, as well as superhero comics, with a collection of some 13,000. “The fact is that the X-Men, the Avengers and the Justice League are using their powers for good, and that continues to appeal to me,” he said.
“The way I live my life is that I try every day to learn something, to help someone and to make the world better. And I challenge everyone here to do the same.
“I don’t want UC Davis to be a place that only trains and educates students. I want us to actually empower them — like superheroes — to be agents of their own success, their career and their destiny, and to do some good in the world.”