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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor Gary May

May discusses positions on commencement, student safety, employment, among other issues

The California Aggie Editorial Board sat down with Chancellor Gary May on Monday to talk about issues concerning UC Davis students and faculty. Below is a transcript of the meeting that has been edited for length and clarity.


TCA: With respect to your recent Letter to the Editor in response to our editorial about commencement, why did you choose to release this information through The Aggie instead of through a university platform?

GM: We announced it quite a bit — we had an article on Dateline in the spring that explained all the changes and the reasons for the changes, [but] I guess students don’t read Dateline. As I said in the letter, we’ve had students involved in all phases of the process, from planning to selecting speakers, and those students are my student advisors to the chancellor, the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Advisory Board and ASUCD leadership. I guess we should maybe own that we didn’t have a broader announcement to students so they would know your name is going to be read. We kind of hoped that the associate deans that are in charge of the undergraduate programs would help us with that, but that didn’t go as well as it might have.

Student Marching Band

TCA: What is the university specifically doing in regards to overseeing the new UC Davis Marching Band?

GM: We decided to eliminate the alumni band and bring the student band under the auspices of the university. We hired an interim band director — he’s doing a great job and will hopefully want to be the permanent director, but I don’t know that yet — [to] try to eliminate issues with excessive drinking and sexual harassment and this whole culture of bad behavior that had evolved with the band. We think that having the band be under the direction of Student Affairs will help us with that, and we’ll see how it goes. I know that there’s still some people that are disappointed, particularly about the alumni band being eliminated — I’m still getting emails about this. But I think it’s the way to go. 

We’ve had several examples of other universities that have had trouble with their bands that have had to make drastic action. We really want members of the student band to have a better experience overall, I don’t think anyone joins a band thinking they’re going to have a creepy alumni asking for a date, right? That’s the part that we’re trying to improve to have a better experience for the student band members.

TCA: How is the university making sure that people who had been in positions of authority, or who had uplifted old traditions that survivors have called harmful, do not re-establish these traditions either officially or unofficially? How is the university making sure that the UCDMB has fresh leadership?

GM: We’re doing the best we can — I don’t know that we’ll be able to eliminate it immediately, but over time I think that we’re going to try to minimize or move away from the sort of traditions that have been problematic. There’s a book that they use, the hymnal, we’re trying to get rid of. But some of these things are hard to police because you can’t keep somebody from keeping a copy themselves and giving it to other people. But we think by having leadership and regular events and activities for the band members — and trying to inculcate a culture of respect — that we’ll be able to minimize or eliminate those bad behaviors over time. And I think if we can get to a better culture and baseline, we may get to the point where we can revisit or reconsider an alumni band. But I think for now, the best thing to do is to make a clean break and try to reset the organization.

TCA: Do you foresee any issues in resetting the organization, considering that people who were in the former band can continue to be in this new UC Davis Marching Band?

GM: That remains to be seen — I hope not. I think, based on the report, the majority of the bad behavior seems to have been focused inside the alumni members and not the current members. That’s not 100%, I’m sure there are some current members who were not doing everything correctly as well, but we think that by taking those two steps — eliminating the alumni band and having a professional band director who works for Student Affairs — we think that we can mitigate all that.


TCA: With the number of delays toward the implementation of UCPath at UC Davis, why are there seemingly so many issues with UCPath on campus already?

GM: UCPath, as you know, is a large, system-wide initiative, and the way they implemented it was sort of one or two campuses at a time. October was Davis’ turn and, in theory, each iteration more problems were being worked out. But in a big, complex human resources piece of software, there’s going to be unanticipated problems. I think that the October 1 switchover was pretty smooth. And this most recent bi-weekly period, there was some issue with timesheets being recorded properly and being recorded into the system, which I think is being addressed now. 

A lot of the problems — not all — but a lot of the problems have been us not knowing about the issue and all of our employees actually doing what they’re supposed to do in terms of setting up their electronic pay, having all their records correct in the system, having an address and all those sorts of things. I think a lot of people don’t realize that even in the old system, every month, roughly 3-4% of the checks were wrong. So we’ve never been at 100% — nobody has. It’s not unanticipated that there will be some glitches and some problems that make a major transition to a new system, but we have people that are working very hard to make sure that those issues are getting addressed and fixed as soon as possible, and hopefully we’ll have a smooth November 1.

TCA: How has the university worked on ways to help students find job opportunity and increase employment rates post-graduation?

GM: We’ve actually measured this, and I think the number of students who have a job offer in hand when they graduate right now is low — it’s on the order of 40%. That’s terrible, we need to do a lot better. We need to change the culture of our faculty, who sometimes look at this stuff as, “We’re not a vocational school, so why do we care about that?” We’re going to have to be doing some attitude adjustment among our faculty and staff and expanding the resources and opportunities through the Internship and Career Center. I have a personal goal that every student that walks across the stage should have either a job offer or an acceptance into a graduate program when they finish at UC Davis.


TCA: How is the university making sure that students can live and work in Davis so the university doesn’t become a commuter school?

GM: We’re in the midst of the largest housing initiative in the history of the university. We have about a half a billion dollars in housing projects — about $600 million in projects currently — the biggest of which is West Village, which will bring 1,000 more beds online next fall and a total of 3,300 more beds total by 2022. In addition to that, other dorms are opening up — Yosemite opened this year, another one over in the Cuarto area will be opening next year, both expanded capacity. Orchard Park for our graduate students is in the early planning stages for both renovation and expansion. There will be housing at Aggie Square — about 200 units at Aggie Square. We just did a town hall meeting with the city, mainly about housing but about a few other things, where we provided all this data and where we are in the planning. But by 2025, we’ll be able to house nearly 50% of all our enrollment here on campus.

TCA: How is the university leveraging its large position in the housing market to make sure housing in the City of Davis is affordable?

GM: Our housing director has a team that’s specifically looking at things we can do to enhance affordability. I think the thing that students may not realize as much is that we have to build for a 50-year time horizon because we don’t tear the dorms down in 20 years — like if you’re building a house, many houses are 20 to 25 years lifetime — but we build for much longer, which means it’s more expensive. We also live in a market where both the construction costs and the maintenance costs are higher. The purpose of our housing is not to make money, but to not lose money as well, so we have to live under those constraints to sort of make the housing that’s attractive and accessible and meets the functional needs but also has the range of affordability that’s reasonable for our students. So it’s a challenge.

TCA: Does UC Davis have any facilities for students when they face a situation that places them in homelessness? 

GM: Housing has a certain number of vacant units that exist because they’re just not full, and part of what will happen with rapid rehousing is some of those units will be available on a temporary basis. I don’t know if the plans are finalized, but that’s sort of the thinking there.

TCA: In what ways is the university proactive when it comes to conflicts between students and their landlords in terms of ensuring UC Davis students are not being taken advantage of?

GM: We have a group that cooperates with the city and county that meets regularly to discuss these issues. I can’t tell you what their latest information is, but we not only provide availability information to the students about this mechanism but also have some checklists — some Do’s and Don’ts and frequently asked questions that we provide. High priority for the city is to try to minimize some of these behaviors, and so they have some plans as well, and we support those and stay informed about them.

Student Health

TCA: How do you feel about the fact that the UC system has no official policy or standard on reporting suicide data and does not require campuses to report or keep track of this data?

GM: We keep track of the numbers, we don’t report it broadly. It’s a challenging issue — I think there’s a group of folks that would like for us to announce whenever a suicide happens, I think there’s some privacy issues with the family that you have to be concerned about there. We do actually have a protocol for, not just suicide, but any student deaths on how we record it and report it to the coroner and other official agencies and families. I would be nervous and not comfortable with having a broad reporting of specifics on suicides. We want to keep track of the numbers, which are hopefully low, only because we want to make sure we’re doing all we can to prevent them. I guess the question is whether more reporting leads to the reduced numbers. I’m not sure there’s a conclusion on that.

TCA: Given that many of the nation’s leading mental health experts say suicide data can be a critical tool for prevention efforts, what’s keeping UC Davis from implementing a standard and process for collection and publicly releasing the data?

GM: Some of that has just been leadership transitions in Student Affairs — as you know, they’ve gone through a couple of transitions. I think that once we [undergo those leadership transitions], we’ll have a set of policies and procedures in place to standardize that in the future and it won’t be a concern, at least in terms of keeping the records.

Student Safety

TCA: What are the latest updates in terms of the university’s response to conversations about changing Title IX policy occurring at the federal level?

GM: We’re kind of in the same boat as everyone else, we’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode on what ends up happening with Title IX. We’ve expressed some concerns about the change and the way the sexual violence cases are adjudicated, and we have some real concerns about the hearing model versus the investigation model, thinking that if we go to the hearing model it’s going to have a chilling effect on reporting. We’ve expressed those concerns to the people that need to hear them, but the Department of Education is in a pretty significant transition mode under this administration, and we will have to do whatever the law says we have to do.

TCA: Have there been any new focused efforts by the university to protect students from sexual assault, especially given that UC Davis has one of the higher rates of sexual assault in the UC system?

GM: Yes, we had all these task forces last year, so I suggested to our folks that we should have a task force on this issue. Then, I was told that we already have a group that meets quasi-regularly, so we’re trying to revive that, and I’m actually going to attend some of those meetings. Compliance and police and counseling and maybe a few other professional groups as well as participation from faculty and staff and students on this group — I’d like if there’s some more creative energy we might apply to how we can reduce those numbers. I know we’ve had a spike in the number of sexual assaults reported this year versus last year. Some of that can probably be explained by more confidence in being able to report, but not all of it. This is an issue of particular concern for me and, quite frankly, my wife is very concerned about this and expressed a desire to be a part of the solution to this problem.

TCA: What are the steps that the university is taking in terms of safety measures on campus in the wake of Bainer Hall and Art Building break-ins?

GM: [Police] Chief Farrow and Dean Curtis have charged a group with looking specifically at Bainer and improving the card key access and other things and more cameras around Bainer. We’re going to increase patrolling as well, more cameras and better coordination of those activities. Chief Farrow has been successful in the past couple of years in getting funding for blue lights — the goal is if you’re standing anywhere on campus, you should be able to look around you and see one. When all is said and done, that’s a long process, but we’re very aware and focused on that. We actually have a weekly meeting where we sit down [and] discuss security and safety, among other things.

TCA: Can you discuss criticism from students in regards to increased surveillance on campus and what the university is doing to assuage these concerns?

GM: I actually have not heard that from a student myself, but I think that surveillance is kind of a strong word — I don’t think anybody is spying on students. The first thing that happens when somebody puts a poster up or something that’s racist or sexist or anti-Semitic, the students will ask us, “Do we have cameras in that area?” Well, we’d like to have cameras in those areas so that we can catch those kind of perpetrators, but we can’t have it both ways — either we have ways of addressing those issues or we don’t. There’s no one here that has the objective of spying on students or anything nefarious.

TCA: How has the university responded to instances of white supremacy and anti-Semitism on campus? 

GM: We actually just had, last week, an email message that went to some of the ethnic studies departments — it’s okay to be white was the topic — and we responded to that in terms of a statement by me. The police have investigated it and actually, fortunately, found out that the person who did it is somebody in Arizona who’s not affiliated with the university. But we have ongoing discussions in diversity equity and inclusion about these issues and how to address them, how to do better education and training — implicit bias training, various other types of training, bullying training that we do — making sure that we have enough of those types of trainings available and making sure that people know about them. 

TCA: Last year, in a meeting with Jewish student leaders following the posting of anti-Semitic flyers on campus, it was agreed that the university would host workshops and a town hall in response. Are those planned?

GM: I think we did the training. The town hall was postponed by the students, so I don’t know if they want to do it or not. I’m certainly open to it. But I’d have to ask Karl Engelbach, Chief of Staff, who’s interfacing with Aggies for Israel, and I don’t know what the status of that is right now.

After the interview, The Aggie sent a follow-up to Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Dana Topousis addressing the fact that the university had expressly unaffiliated itself with the two workshops previously held on campus focused on combatting anti-Semitism — one held by individuals from the Anti-Defamation League and the other held by officials from Jewish Voice for Peace — and asked whether other workshops had been held on campus supported by the administration. Topousis said via email, “No, there have not been any other workshops.”

Electric Buses

TCA: In a recent investigation by The Aggie into the new electric buses coming next year, some riders of the current shuttle expressed concerns about the new service, calling this change an elimination of the current shuttle, as the new buses are not a shuttle but a public bus route. Could you comment on this new service? And how is the university ensuring that current riders’ needs, such as storage, are being taken into consideration?

GM: There’s only one non-UC Davis stop: the downtown stop. The three stops right now, and there may be more added, are here, UC Davis Health and downtown Sacramento. There’s one extra stop, more buses [and] more frequency. Right now, we’re thinking it should be running about every half an hour. Mayor Steinberg wants them to run faster than that, and so we’re trying to work that out. It’s going to cost money, so we’re trying to see if he will contribute to helping them run faster. They’ll be nicer vehicles, they’ll have WiFi, much nicer interiors and that sort of thing, they’ll be branded UC Davis, they’re blue and gold with all sorts of logos. We think it’s going to be a better rider experience as well and a more convenient rider experience since they’ll be more frequent. I think the one extra stop is not going to be too negative for the riders. We’ll still have the one [bus] that just goes back and forth in addition to the one that’s going to all three places. We’re planning to start late March [or] early April. The only major issue is that they’re smaller, so there’s less room for bikes. We hope some of that will be mitigated by the fact that the service will be more frequent, but the vehicle itself won’t have the capacity for as many bikes as the current vehicles now — we’re still trying to work through that.


TCA: What progress has the university made in terms of its goal to become a Hispanic Serving Institute — especially in terms of hiring Latinx/Chicanx faculty members and providing resources to students?

GM: The HSI task force was created and issued a report at the end of spring. We actually still are not quite at HSI formal federal government status — we’re very close, but turns out we were counting our undocumented students differently. The federal government requires that you count them the federal designation, so we’re just a little bit short on the federal designation. 

In terms of faculty hiring, we had a minority faculty hiring initiative that was funded through faculty affairs, where we hired eight faculty of color this year, and we have more money to do at least that number next year. Not all of those numbers are Latinx faculty, some are African American faculty and other faculty of color, but we are going to continue to run this initiative. We have a proposal that we’re putting together for some private donors very soon, so there’s a whole plethora of activities.

TCA: What is the university doing to address tensions on campus between students protesting about the conflict in Hong Kong and China and what is the university doing to protect all students’ right to protest?

GM: We issued another statement from Global Affairs, Diversity [the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] and Student Affairs, and that’s on the website. Student Affairs has been sort of managing the particular tensions of those two groups on the ground. I think there were some better awareness of our policies regarding posting information, and that’s been addressed as well. Upholding the Principles of Community is really our stance and just making sure that students are aware of that and respect each other’s right to express opinions that are different from theirs and treat each other civilly.

TCA: What is the university doing to increase diversity among professors and graduate students on campus?

GM: We’ve got a set of programs — graduate studies has one that I will take some credit for called Envision. Basically, we bring several hundred undergraduate students who are prospective graduate students to campus and we split them up into various disciplines and they’d go around campus and learn about how to apply and what the benefits of coming to graduate school here at UC Davis are in their particular discipline and they meet some other graduate students. It’s kind of patterned after something I did at Georgia Tech, which was called the Focus Program, which was very similar.


TCA: How is UC Davis and the UC leading a charge for lobbying at the state level to ensure state funding is at adequate levels to receive in-state students and to ensure tuition rates don’t increase?

GM: Every legislative session, we have not just me, but a whole set of staff up at the Capitol discussing and lobbying with legislators around these issues. We bring students with me [to] visit various members all the time. We have legislative gatherings where we talk about these issues. We’re in an ongoing lobbying mode about all these various issues. Tuition is one, but another one that’s really important is capital. The GO bond that’s going to be on the ballot [is] a $2 billion bond that will allow us to do more construction around campus and modernize some of our deferred maintenance problems. All the issues related to the state are sort of in constant lobbying mode.

TCA: What are some of the deferred maintenance issues? 

GM: UC Davis has about $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance — the biggest number in the system. The total number for the whole system is $4 to $4.3 billion, so we have more than a quarter of the system’s whole deferred maintenance here in one campus. A significant fraction of whatever our share of this GO bond is, assuming it passes, will be going toward this deferred maintenance issue. We have seismic problems, we have 13 buildings rated at a six or above, and six [is] bad — higher number means worse in seismic. We have about 1,100 to 1,200 buildings on campus and many of them have deferred maintenance and/or seismic issues that have to be addressed. We’ve been spending, of our own resources, about $70 to $80 million a year, but if the number that you’re trying to get to is $1.2 billion, it takes a long time to get to that number spending $70 million a year. So hopefully the GO bond and some other fundraising things will help us with that.

Sustainability Goals

TCA: Is the UC and UC Davis on track to achieve its goal to be waste free by 2020 and carbon neutral by 2025? 

GM: We are on track to get to carbon neutral by 2025. We have some goals beyond that to get to more renewables, less waste — we don’t have specific targets or dates on those yet, but those are all part of what [the] sustainability team on campus works on.

Following the interview, The Aggie inquired as to whether the university was on track to meet the systemwide goal of being waste free by 2020, as the chancellor did not address this point in his response. Topousis said via email that the university “will not be meeting the zero waste goal for 2020. Our campus sustainability team is preparing a revised zero waste plan with strategies and steps that will be available for review in the coming months.”

TCA: What more could the university be doing to ensure it achieves this goal — for example, more compost bins on campus?

GM: That’s one idea for sure. More presence of our arrays of trash for glass and metal and other waste — there are quite a few of them, but there could be more maybe in and around the residence halls, for example. Those are some things that have been discussed. Better use of solar and other renewable sources of energy around campus, that’s been discussed as well. We’re kind of just in the discussion stage and not the implementation stage.

Demolition of Freeborn Hall

TCA: Why were redevelopment costs not factored into the announcement that Freeborn Hall was going to be demolished and what plans are there to redevelop that space?

GM: The costs of doing the renovation were a little bit beyond our capacity. There were a couple of studies that were done and we eventually made the determination that it was a better idea to do the demolition and build other structures for serving some of the same purposes that Freeborn used to rather than trying to renovate. I don’t know if there are any plans for that specific space.


TCA: What is the administration’s point of view on ASUCD’s deficit?

GM: I think we’re trying to help give advice, and ASUCD leadership and I have talked about the fee increase that they’re proposing and giving advice on how to make that happen and a little bit better stewardship of the funds and management of the funds, maybe with some professional help as they go forward. We generally stay out of ASUCD’s business, because it’s a student-managed, owned and run organization, unless asked for help.

Bonus Question:

TCA: How do you feel about the fact that students often make you the subject of memes in the official UC Davis memes page?

GM: I don’t look at the meme page. Dana [Topousis] and her staff sometimes will send me a good one because […] I don’t want to see the bad ones. But it’s fine, I think it’s part of the job, and it’s kind of fun actually. I saw [one] recently — you may have seen them — it had a picture of me and said, “Picture you see before you die.” It was kind of over the top. That was positive, but a little too positive. And then there was one, “What’s your favorite campus landmark?” and it was like, “Whenever I see Chancellor May walking across campus.” There have been some that have been not as flattering but, you know, it’s part of the job.

Looking Forward

TCA: What is the university’s stance on the ‘Fair Pay to Play’ Act that was just signed into law in California?

GM: There’s going to be a big court battle, so nothing’s going to happen for several years. But I’ll tell you my personal view and I’ll tell you the university’s: I do think there’s merit in people owning their likeness and name. How that gets actualized from a practical standpoint is really the crux of the issue. We don’t want some students [to] have disproportionate advantages over other students. You don’t want to have students making a franchise out of himself or herself. I do think that we are definitely moving in that direction — and this train has left the station. But somebody had a pretty good idea at the last [Association of American Universities] Presidents & Chancellors meeting that we have student athletes kind of act like how we treat our professors that are doing entrepreneurship or commercializing their research. There’s a set of policies that govern that, and there may be a portion that comes back to the university, but it’s a little bit more controlled than sort of a Wild Wild West. It’s probably not going to have much impact at UC Davis in the near term.

TCA: How do you see the student population changing 10 years from now?
GM: As I said earlier, I think the undergraduate population is pretty stable for  the next five years — in 10 years something might change. That’s going to depend on enrollment targets and discussion with the Office of the President and what the system is doing. The biggest growth area for us will be in graduate, professional and online degrees. We just launched the online MBA this fall, and that was the first in the UC system. That, for us, is going to be the first of many. I hope that we’ll have opportunities for online enrollment in a variety of fields. The next probable target is going to be in nursing. In terms of growth, I think physical growth on Davis campus is going to be probably limited — there will be some availability of growth in Aggie Square when that’s done, and then the online portion will be the biggest opportunity.

Written by: The Editorial Board


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