Editorial Board meets with Gary May

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

May discusses positions on boards, UCOP audit, free speech

The Aggie Editorial Board sat down with incoming Chancellor Gary May on Monday to talk about issues concerning UC Davis students, including his positions on private boards. Below is a full transcript of the meeting.

Dr. May, you had brought up the idea of meeting after reading the editorial. So, to start, did you want to address the editorial?

I will. I first just wanted to say couple things. What I want to happen from this meeting going forward is to talk about how we can talk about making Davis better. The board issue is an issue but it’s not really the overarching reason why I wanted to meet with you. I think I want to get off on the right foot, I want us to have a good relationship, I want you to help me get the message to the students.

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Well I didn’t have a problem with the editorial. I just wanted to make sure we had very clear and correct info on both sides. I’ll just say very generally, I’m certainly very philanthropically inclined and I can give you some examples. But I don’t think what I will do is to direct all my philanthropy in one spot. Right now, I give to the university where I work and I’ll certainly give to Davis. In fact, I gave to Davis today, I gave to Engineers Without Borders today for an activity they’re having May 13. Some examples of things I’ve done at Georgia Tech, there’s a tutoring lounge in the undergraduate tutoring commons that’s named after me and my family — I’d really rather not give dollar amounts — but you know that’s a significant donation.

There are two scholarships in my name at Georgia Tech, one’s co-sponsored by BP that started when I became dean and just a couple weeks ago, at the final College of Engineering program, a group surprised me and announced there would be a scholarship for engineering students of color that already has six figures from pledges and I’ll also be contributing to that myself. So I do do philanthropy regularly.

Some things outside the university: church, American Cancer Society — my dad passed away from cancer. American Diabetes Association — my mom was diabetic. And then a variety of who comes at me with the right pitch

I don’t wanna feel like I should direct all my philanthropy at Davis because that’s not really how I roll. If you guys don’t mind, a significant fraction of the money that comes in — not just from the board service but from salary as well — goes to philanthropy.

 

How would you describe the benefit to students of serving on a board like Leidos?

There’s some direct and some indirect benefits. For Leidos in particular, I think I mentioned this in one of the comments I made to the Sac Bee, in their eye-opening headline article, that it’s resulted in literally millions of dollars of philanthropy at Georgia Tech.

 

And then for the Draper board — how much time do you plan on spending on that board?

So those meetings are quarterly. They’re in Boston so I have to fly so there’s travel time. And there’s dinner and the next day’s the board meeting so there’ll be four of those a year. We should talk about timing but I think that question’s come up more than once — board service. The way I address with it the student group. There’s 168 hours in the week. Probably 40 if I’m lucky I’ll be sleeping. Probably 80 I’ll be working for Davis. So there’s a few hours left in the week that I can do other things. It won’t impact or detract from any way my service as chancellor. The way you can calibrate that is, I’ve been on the Leidos board for two years and the last year my own supervisor said it was my best year as Dean of Engineering. So these things do not detract from my current position. I think, quite frankly, if I was serving on a board of a charity or something, it wouldn’t be an issue. Tell me if I’m wrong.

 

While the optics are a big part of it, [your board positions are] still a real issue to students — how would you address their concerns?

This is kind of a cultural thing. When it was announced at Georgia Tech that I’d been selected for this board, it was celebrated. There was an article, none of these sorts of concerns arose but I’m sure this is partly due to the historical issue that you had with previous chancellors so I get that. But really board service is an indicator of thought leadership and it’s really a feather in the cap of any university or institution. I’m not the only chancellor who serves on boards nor am I the only faculty member in the system that’s on boards. A good friend of mine is on the board at Intel and she’s a professor at UC Berkeley. Faculty members in general get outside income from many sources — there’s people who consult, people who are expert witnesses for legal cases, a football coach has camps, people are comedians or concert pianists. Outside income is not necessarily a bad thing. So I’m disappointed it’s received this kind of stigma and I understand why, but I’m disappointed and I hope to be able to turn that around.

 

There are some students protesting the board positions because they believe it profits off war. How would you respond to that?

The company, Leidos, does not make manufactured or deploy weapons or make decisions that impact that. They have three business areas: defense, civil infrastructure and health. Defense does intelligence, info gathering, security, sensors, occasionally a prototype is built like there’s an unmanned underwater vehicle that was prototyped in our San Diego office. But by the same logic, the university itself — many faculty have contracts with the Department of Defense and other places so the university benefits off war if you use that same logic and I don’t necessarily prescribe to that logic.

[…]

I’ll characterize what Leidos does on the defense side is keeping both citizenry and the soldiers in the military safe by providing information, reconnaissance, all those sorts of things that help people out on the field and give them more info to do a better job. The company does not necessarily benefit from war. I think that’s really crazy because the company existed from a company called SAIC which has been in existence for 30 to 40 years and has been profitable in times of peace and in times of war, has nothing to do with whether there’s a war going on. I actually consider myself a pacifist and I also don’t like crime but I’m glad there’s police.

 

Do you believe that former Chancellor Katehi’s positions on external boards like Wiley and Sons and DeVry posed an implicit conflict of interest?

Now I’ve heard it argued both ways. Now when you look at Wiley, the argument that says it’s a conflict says Wiley’s a textbook company and she could influence what textbooks are bought on campus. But if you know anything about how textbooks are selected for classes, chancellors has very little influence on that at all. You know, the faculty guard their curriculum very jealously and if I tried to stick my nose in textbooks for a particular course, I wouldn’t get much out of it. So there’s a perceived conflict, which I get, but I don’t think there’s an actual conflict in that case.

Now, DeVry is a little different because DeVry was being investigated for some bad behavior. You could argue whether she should have used better judgment about that but as a board member you have some liability because you had fiduciary responsibilities to the company. So if the behavior had resulted in some judgment that could have impacted her as well as the company. So I’d rather, rather than talk about her positions and decisions, I’d rather have us moving forward because I don’t want to come off as being critical of my predecessor, I don’t think that’s productive.

 

A lot of the problem with Katehi had to do with her transparency. […] How do you plan on [keeping up the dialogue between yourself and students on campus], since there will most likely be people who continue to take issue with [your board positions]?

Well all I can do is continue to express my side of the story and why I think what I’m doing is not illegal, unethical or immoral. I fully disclosed all these relationships to the search committee and search firm involved in selecting me and the president’s office and I’m in total compliance with UC policies otherwise I wouldn’t be here. In fact, I brought it up before it was even asked of me so I could be completely transparent. If it was gonna be an issue, I shouldn’t be a candidate or I should give up the positions before I become a candidate if it is an issue. I explained the whole frequency of meetings, the compensation, and all the other things to the search committee and they were satisfied.

 

Would you consider utilizing income from board position for philanthropic purposes?

I do now. Some of the philanthropy I’m engaged in now is a result of that income. Now I should say — I should make some clarifying remarks about the income. So for Leidos it’s approximately $250,000 a year: $100,000 cash and $150,000 in stock. The stock does not vest until a year after it’s granted so it doesn’t do anything for me until a year later and I have to maintain a certain amount of stock ownership in order to be a board member because you have to have skin in the game, otherwise you don’t have enough personal interest to be effective. Thus far, in two years, the funny thing that happens is the stock vests, it becomes income that’s taxable and I actually lose money because I haven’t sold any of it.

 

How important is campus presence to you?

Very important. We spent part of today looking at my calendar of the first 60 days or so and lining up accessibility, visibility, meetings. I plan to be quite accessible for not just the students but the staff and faculty. One of the things I’ll be doing is something I do now called Dean’s Office Hours where I go to every school in the college once a semester and sit in an office and have office hours for anyone who wants to come. That could be students, faculty or staff — usually it’s faculty who want to compliment me on doing a good job.

It’s often people who have particular axes to grind. But I think it’s good to be out there, to be accessible and available so I’m going to do something like that so I’m going to figure out  calendar-wise how to do it. You know, try to be at the health system once a month in Sacramento. I’ll figure out different ways, when I give speeches, maybe make those available by streaming and other mechanisms. I’ve pretty much said yes to every invitation I’ve had so far and I’ll continue to be as accessible as I can be.

 

A recent issue which is not just particular to Davis, but also schools like Berkeley and across the country, has been when a student group invites a controversial figure to campus. What’s your stance on inviting inflammatory figures and how to accommodate them?

So first rule is follow the law and the law says you have free speech. And I’m an advocate of free speech. If you were to invite — I think Ann Coulter was the last one that was controversial — you know, the only thing Ann Coulter and I agree on is that she has the right to speak. But she does have the right and we have to make it safe and secure for everyone participating because campus security is part of my job. So to the extent that we can ensure the security and safety of all the students, we let them speak. Now I think that I was asked about this in the interview with the search committee and I’d say our freedoms have limits. My ability to swing my arm to the right ends where Scott’s nose begins, right? So the analogy is when someone’s speech causes an environment where students don’t feel like they can learn, then you have to look how we can put some constraints on whatever activity it is.

 

So, had you been chancellor in January, how would you have handled the Milo Yiannopoulos situation here?

From what I know about it I would’ve said yes, he can speak here. We would put some constraints around making sure the venue is secure and safe and et cetera and we’d have concerns about outside agitators and things like that so I’d take advice from the police and others about that but we will not curtail anyone’s right to express themselves.

 

Do you think that it’s the responsibility of UC Davis to pay for security at these events?

I think it’s the responsibility of UC Davis to make sure that all our campus stakeholders are safe and if that means we have to pay then that means we have to pay.

 

What’s your vision for UC Davis’ presence in Sacramento? Can you talk about what a business incubator there might look like?

Yeah. First I would say we’re already in Sacramento, that’s where the hospital and the medical system is so they would get mad if I didn’t say that. […] But beyond that […] I’ve already had the interim chancellor, Ralph Hexter, visit me in Atlanta and we took a tour of a place connecting to our campus, Georgia Tech’s campus, which they call “Technology Square,” which I think is a model for what we would like to be able to do in Sacramento. There’s a business incubator, there are landing spots for companies to come innovate there. Georgia Tech’s campus is very mission-focused on STEM, I would expect if we do that here at Davis it would be a little bit broader in scope than just the STEM fields, but the whole idea is innovation and connection to the city and the environment. I had a brief conversation with the mayor and he wants to come visit Atlanta to see what the Tech Square looks like. Harvard Business Review did a nice writeup of it, I can send you the link if you’re interested. The idea is for the university to be better connected the city in a variety of ways, it gives the participants in the Tech Square access to students and faculty for employment purposes and also allows them to collaborate on research. The unintended consequence we didn’t know would happen is there’s like 15 companies in Tech Square, all these innovation centers, and they get to work with each other and collaborate on their colleagues’ clients customers of each other, it could expand that was as well.

 

Is the Tech Square kind of like a satellite campus?

No, it’s a set of buildings that many of them are part of our campus, our bookstore is there […] the business school is there, and there are some research buildings, there’s retail, there’s the world’s smallest WalMart, there’s a waffle house, restaurants.

 

Georgia Tech is a STEM-focused school. What are you [planning on doing at UC Davis] to engage faculty and students in the humanities?

Well, I think these things are not separate, what I told the search committee is that we’d like to be able to do is to make UC Davis a focal point for addressing societal issues broadly. Some of those issues might require a new device or invention, some of those issues might require a new policy, some of those issues might just require better arts and entertainment. I talk about the dichotomy of STEM and the humanities in this way: some things that we study in the university are because we want to discover more about the world and about life, so the science, and some things we want to use to improve the quality of life, so engineering and business and some things we study because they make life worth living, so the humanities and the arts and those types of pursuits that fall in that category.

 

Katehi’s term was obviously a lot shorter than previously anticipated; are there any existing initiatives of hers that you would like to see continued?

I think the Sacramento piece is something she was in favor of. I don’t know how far it got, we talked about a food center of some sort, a public policy center of some sort. I’m not saying those will be the areas I’ll focus on, I think better engagement with Sacramento is a part of something I’m told that she was interested in having.

 

Have you met with her?

I have not. I’ve known Linda for a long time, we’re both electrical engineers, we’ve been on committees together. I’ve known her for 15 to 20 years.

 

Do you anticipate using her as a resource now that she’ll be on campus as a faculty member next year?

She’s offered that, she’s reached out and said ‘Congratulations, if you have questions or would like to discuss anything, I’m open to that,’ depending on what the issue is I may or may not. I have not, other than saying thank you and all that I have not actually used her as a resource yet but it’s possible.

 

How does the process of choosing your fellow members of the administration go? Do you anticipate keeping the existing staffers there?

There are several interim folks and some vacancies, and each will be a different strategy for filling those […] Immediately, I think it would be foolish for me to start making changes coming in the door, because I don’t know anything or anybody. So the existing staff will probably be in place for some period of time as I get the lay of the land and learn how things work and try to figure out the best way to execute my vision.

 

One issue that we’ve dealt with on campus recently is that for the first time in 12 years, the number of international students applying to UC Davis has decreased. Since 12 years ago it was the start of the Iraq war, this [drop in applicants] might also be perceived as political. You’ve written against the travel ban as something that prevents talent from coming from abroad. In this high time of political tension, how would you make UC Davis attractive to students abroad?

We have to provide a welcoming environment and a lot of that is by how people are treated when they’re here. My sense is that’s the case, right? I think if international, not just students but faculty as well, do feel safe and secure and welcome on campus, getting from where they are to here […] It’s going to be an ongoing issue, I think, under this administration that they haven’t given up on the travel ban […] and the whole atmosphere of nativism versus local is — if I can put it that way — going to be discussed not just here in California, but nationally for the next several years, even internationally. The French just had an election where they made a pretty strong statement about what they’d like to do.

 

Are there any specific steps you would take?

So, I just got out of a meeting with Joanna Regulska about an initiative that tentatively we’re calling “Global Education For All,” where she would like to have all Davis students have some sort of experience either physically at another country or bring the students here, or some sort of project related thing, or employment, it could take many different forms. I’m very supportive of that sort of initiative.

 

It came out recently that the UC Office of the President had about $175 million in funds that weren’t previously disclosed. The lieutenant governor has called for the UC to reverse its tuition increase, and same with the assembly speaker. What are your thoughts on that?

Let’s first deal with the $175 million, I think when you dig a little deeper there most of those funds were encumbered in already designated for specific uses so I think when you strip all that away you get to like, $40 million is the number? And I think $40 million is a reasonable amount of money to have for emergencies and different contingencies that you can’t foresee out of a system that has a $30 billion budget. So having a savings account of $40 million is not unreasonable to me. Now, the tuition increase, I believe there has not been one in five years? And at the same time costs have been increasing over those five years and so to maintain the same quality of education experience for you guys, you know we have to address that. I think one of the big misconceptions about higher ed is that tuition has been growing at a rate higher than inflation and those sort of things, I’m not saying those are false, but at state institutions, at public institutions, the state contributions to higher ed have been declining. So really the costs have not been escalating at that same rate, but what’s happening is tuition is being used to make up for the decline in state contributions. That’s true in Georgia, I’m assuming that’s also true in California. So, the question is: How do we cover the cost? Do we pass it on to the consumers in the form of tuition? Or do we try to make the state be more responsible for the cost and maintaining what is the best system in the county, the UC system. I’m sure there are arguments on both sides of that, I think 2.5 percent is relatively modest, particularly if you factor in five years of flat tuition and know that the materials and supplies your professors use and labs, buildings, the land and the salaries and everything else is going up, so there’s gotta be some way to account for that.

 

Do you think that Napolitano should have been more transparent with those funds?

So, I don’t want to be in a position of criticizing my boss, but I’m a big fan of transparency.

 

The city of Davis is a sanctuary city. How are you planning on upholding sanctuary status on the UC Davis campus?

I’m supportive of it, I don’t know what particular levers I have as chancellor to address it, but I’m certainly going to support the city’s effort, or any city’s effort to maintain sanctuary status. I know that the federal administration is going to try and take some actions to limit that. I’ve already — there was something announced just yesterday by the attorney general, but again that’s not a position that I agree with.

 

Black students have been traditionally underrepresented at UC Davis. You’ve had a lot of success at Georgia Tech, especially in the engineering department, graduating black students. What programs or initiatives would you undertake here to achieve similar results?

We’ve been successful at Georgia Tech […] there have been a variety of interventions and enrichment activities, workshops, whatever. I think the most important thing early on was the establishment of the partnership with the […] university center’s schools that were historically black college universities […] all there in Atlanta unfortunately, Georgia Tech has a geographic advantage in that sense that Davis may not have. But partnerships are certainly very important in trying to address this, providing a pathway and a vehicle for the students to matriculate and also be successful requires some resources. It’s tricky to navigate the resource situation here because of Prop 209, so we’ll have to figure out how to push that envelope while still being in compliance with the law. But we’ve had a lot of success in getting federal money from the National Science Foundation and others for specific programs and undergraduate research, fellowships for students, for a variety of different mechanisms that have been useful, but I think the most important thing has been — other than partnerships — has been role models on campus in faculty and staff. That’s been pretty essential to that success. I hope to be able to duplicate that and see what we can do. And I don’t think it’ll necessarily be a specific laser focus on African American students, although I certainly will pay attention to those students, but I think what you want is for the student demographic to look like the state and the country and not have anyone be underrepresented, in a sense.

 

So a large issue at UC Davis both on campus and in the city is overcrowding. There’s very little vacancy and it’s really hard for a lot of people to find housing. How would you use your position as chancellor to advocate for students within the city?

I have a dinner meeting tonight with the Davis mayor and city manager to discuss this very issue. And I cannot completely converse to all the nuances yet, but I know that the vacancy rate in the city is like 0.1 percent. We’re going to be building some new housing on campus to address the growth of the undergraduate population primarily, they would like us to cover all the growth and even more I think. There’s a costs associated with that, so again we don’t want your tuition to go up, but we have to house you, so there are tradeoffs. Potentially, this initiative in Sacramento might be able to get at that a little bit depending on students’ willingness to travel to campus, I’m spitballing stuff so don’t hold me to this later […] But I really need to hear from the Davis government to hear their side of the story and what they’d like to see happen […] we’d like to have sufficient quality housing for all of our students and at the same time we want to be a good neighbor to the city.

 

If you were talking about using Sacramento as a way of solving this problem, would that entail a satellite campus?

I wouldn’t put it that way, I’d call it — you know, if we do this ‘Tech Square’-type thing, I actually have a name for it: Innovation Station, near the train station […] if we do that I mentioned that in Tech Square we have Georgia Tech Hotel, we also have two high-rise student housing buildings going up that we didn’t pay for, this is just a commercial developer saying ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity here,’ students want to live near campus and they want to live near this Tech Square area, and it just happened as a result of this initiative. So something similar could happen to us.

 

Gary May special announcement:

What we’re going to be announcing on Wednesday is a student interior design contest for the residence, for the public portion of the residence. It’ll be two rooms and basically the idea is for students that come up with design ideas that say, my whole idea was to say: ‘This residence belongs to the university, not to me. It belongs to you, the Davis student.’ So I want you to feel some ownership in it, and feel like you have some say in how it looks and how it’s used […] all I know for sure is that my wife said she has to be a judge. There will be other rules and requirements, and we’ll have nice prizes and the winner will implement their design at the residence.

 

And when do you move in?
I arrive July 24, and I officially start August 1.