The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor Gary May

The Editorial Board meets with Chancellor Gary May

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Chancellor talks UCPath, AFSCME, diversity, what shows he’s watching

The California Aggie Editorial Board sat down with Chancellor Gary May on Feb. 7 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.

Communication

The California Aggie: The Aggie recently attended the UC newspaper convention and learned that many chancellors do not communicate with the student publications on their campuses. Why do you feel it’s important to keep a dialogue with The Aggie?

Gary May: I always think communication is important. One of the things I pride myself on is being accessible, not just to students, but [to] faculty and staff as well. I think it’s surprising to hear that other chancellors don’t do this — I would have not guessed that. But I think it’s a natural part — or should be — of the job.

TCA: In terms of communication and in light of the UCPath and graduation issues, have you made any changes or plans in terms of informing the student body of pressing issues moving forward?

GM: I think we’re doing what we said we were going to do when we issued the first letter right after school started to the whole student body, saying that they should look to my leadership page and the Dateline page for information. And that’s what we’ve been consistently doing. I reserve mass emails for emergencies, and I think I’m going to stick to that policy unless somebody talks me out of it. I think it’s worked reasonably well. I try to continue to encourage people to look to the appropriate places for the information. And if it’s something we think we need to push out to you, we will do that.

Student Workload

TCA: In a recent editorial, we talked about how students often feel constrained and overwhelmed by the pace of each quarter, particularly when it comes to finals week. Some schools have dead weeks to prepare for finals, and not having a dead week to prepare for final exams can place a heavy burden on students mentally, physically and emotionally. Would you, in theory, support a dead week initiative?

GM: I think I could probably support it. I will say [that] you have to be careful with asking me that question because the curriculum and all the associated matters are the purview of the Academic Senate. I would not be able to unilaterally say, ‘Let’s have a dead week.’ Some news that might enlighten or make you feel a little bit better is that there’s quite a bit of discussion among the chancellors about moving to semester system uniformly across the entire UC. Right now, only Berkeley and Merced are on semesters, and the rest of us are on quarters. But the UC president has said that she thinks she’d like for us all to be on the same calendar. Most of us agree that it’s probably a good idea, so I think we’re going to be moving in that direction. But again, that’s something that the Academic Senate has to take ownership of. Many studies have shown a longer term length, like semesters, will result in a little bit better outcomes in terms of mental health and things like that.

TCA: Are these talks still preliminary?

GM: For current students, it probably doesn’t mean anything to you, because I’ve gone through [a similar] conversation when I was in Georgia Tech, and it takes about three years to do it.

Student Marching Band

TCA: We’ve recently become aware that the UC Davis student marching band no longer has a student leadership board and that a number of members of the band were removed after an incident at the end of Fall Quarter 2019. What is your knowledge of the situation?

GM: I don’t have a great deal of detailed knowledge; I would encourage you to talk to Emily Galindo from Student Affairs to get more information. I understand that there was a breach of whatever terms of conduct were made when the band transition happened by several members, and that resulted in some of the discipline that you saw.

TCA: Since the last time we spoke to you, are there any new updates about the marching band, its leadership structure or membership that you can provide? 

GM: I don’t think there’s anything new. I think we’re pretty well settled and there’s a director that’s been hired. And it’s now the UC Davis Marching Band as opposed to the marching band now.

ASUCD Basic Needs and Services Referendum

TCA: What is your stance on the Basic Needs and Services Referendum?

GM: I’m not supposed to take a formal public stance, but I do understand the need for the increase in the fee to support ASUCD operations. 

TCA: Is the university prepared to help take over the association should the referendum fail, so it can avoid cutting crucial units like The Pantry and student jobs? 

GM: There’s a number of different scenarios that have been evaluated by student affairs, primarily by Greg Ortiz. He’s got sort of a doomsday scenario and a best case scenario and situations in between. We’re going to try to help them manage in each of these scenarios. 

TCA: In what ways has the UC Davis administration been proactive about the fee referendum, such as in getting the word out, and especially in terms of ballot language that was sent to UCOP?

GM: We did assist with putting the language together. The first version we got was a little bit too [biased], so we gave some advice and got it to be sort of a neutral ballot in terms of language. We’ve been helping with promoting [and] getting out the vote. I just met with ASUCD leadership last week, and ASUCD leadership also met with strategic communications on Monday to help get the word out in a variety of ways to work.

Tuition Hike

TCA: The proposed UC tuition hike has generated a significant amount of backlash, particularly among students. What is your stance on the matter?

GM: I’m leaning toward the cohort model. If we have a tuition increase, that model will ensure that no current undergraduate students will be impacted by a tuition increase. If this passes, they’re proposing [that] the incoming class of 2020 would get an increase of 5%, which is CPI plus 2%. So it’ll be about 5% or less. And then that would decrease over the next five years to adjust the CPI increase every year for each cohort, but each individual cohort is guaranteed to pay whatever their tuition is for up to the six years that they are at one of the UCs. 

TCA: Are you in favor of the tuition hike? 

GM: Yeah, I think it’s needed given the natural cost of living increases that we’re all experiencing. We’ve only had one tuition increase in the last eight years. And, you know, looking at the AFSCME agreement alone, the insourcing that’s going to result from these labor agreements are [thought to be] tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in costs that will occur to the system. Faculty want raises, you know, nobody wants less money. On top of all that, with the return to aid, one third of all tuition goes to financial aid so an increase in tuition results in an increase of financial aid that is available to the students who need it.

TCA: What kind of power or say do you have in whether or not the tuition is raised?

GM: Zero. The regents vote. 

TCA: A couple of years ago, there was a slight tuition decrease of about $60. It’s just interesting to me that we had that decrease and now we’re talking about a potential increase in tuition.

GM: That $60 fee was something that had a time limit, and I think what happened was that the time expired and it was taken away, as promised. The last couple years we’ve had some amount of bailout through one-time funds from the governor, but it hasn’t been ongoing. One-time funds are nice, but if you give us a one-time fund, say $100 million, we need that $100 million the next year plus another hundred. The same costs continue after one year or one time. But the governor’s budget this year did provide a 5.5% increase to the system. You have to think about how some of these funds have been directly allocated to things like the Medical School of Riverside and some other specific line items that don’t accrue to the amount that gets divided between the nine undergraduate universities for teaching and student services, etc. 

TCA: We, and many others, have criticized the fact that the UC Regents meetings are held, more often than not, at UCSF — the only UC that doesn’t have an undergraduate program. It seems to us like an attempt by the Regents to avoid protest and confrontation. Do you think that criticism is valid?

GM: I think you should ask the Regents. I think that part of it is the venue, and the venues that lend themselves to the type of meeting they have to have. The upcoming meeting in March is at UCLA, not UCSF. I would be reluctant to have a Regents meeting here because of the extra costs of security and the various other things we have to do to make it happen in a reasonable way. I think a lot of other chancellors, frankly, feel the same way as me, and we’re happy that it’s at UCSF most of the time. I can understand the cynical reaction that the Regents are trying to avoid protest, but they don’t seem to be able to avoid it very well because there’s a pretty healthy amount of public comments and protests about those venues. I would encourage you to ask the Regents directly when you have a chance or write a letter.

TCA: Do you foresee any negative impacts that a tuition hike might have on a particular group?

GM: Nobody wants to raise tuition. I should have said at the very beginning, that’s not something that we think is a pleasant thing to do. I imagine it will cause some hardship, mostly on our middle class students where that one third doesn’t really get to them as readily as it does to the neediest students. But we have $1.2 billion of deferred maintenance just at UC Davis. In fact, we have about a fourth of the deferred maintenance for the whole system just on our campus. We’ve got various other needs that are not being attended to — I mentioned some of the personnel costs. There’s not a lot of different sources of revenue we can point to. I’d love for the state to fully fund the system, I’m not meaning this is a criticism of the current budget that the governor has proposed because I think we’re grateful for that. But it just does not equal the costs that we’re facing. 

UCPath

TCA: In regards to UCPath, what has the university done to earn the trust back of students who were negatively impacted by the implementation?

GM: I’m glad you asked. [May pulls out a printed out graph, everyone chuckles]. First, we remain very sorry that students were affected in the way that they were by the changes to UCPath. Last time we met, I think what I was trying to say was that after the Oct. 1 initial changeover, I was not getting complaints to my office. I will say that part of the reason I was optimistic initially was because the error rate in the checks that were distributed was about 1.5%. Now we issue about 40,000 or so checks a month, and the error rate was about 1.5%, while in the previous system before us, the error rate was about 4%. So it was much higher, and that’s why I sounded like Pollyanna when I was saying that things were looking good. I had no idea that the error rate was so focused on ASUCD operations.

We are currently evaluating a way to make restitution for the students. First of all, we paid everyone who needed to get paid. We’re also adding additional discussion about additional amounts issued to students who were impacted. In fact, Kelly Ratliff is meeting with ASUCD leadership today or maybe Monday about that, because we had a resolution — we’re going to be paying back specific dollar amounts to specific categories of students depending on how long it took them to get their checks. But I will say that we issued them when we found out the problem — we issued 355 emergency checks to 320 students. The reason why those numbers are not the same is because some students got two checks because they missed two or more checks. By the way, 40 of those checks still have not been picked up, which makes you wonder about the dire nature of the that need. We think we responded as quickly as humanly possible. I was pretty stern with the folks that were responsible for getting those emergency checks out and making sure that the system got fixed so that for the next pay period, things would be resolved. Luckily, as far as I know, that happened.

And then finally, we have sort of a forensic audit going on right now. Internal audit is looking at why this all happened and how we can make sure things like this don’t happen in the future. We probably know a lot of the problems were due to the way we onboard student employees in the ASUCD department, and we’re trying to make sure we correct all the problems through the audit.

TCA: At a recent ASUCD Senate meeting, our student body Vice President Shreya Deshpande said the issues of UCPath that impacted payroll for students employees in ASUCD were a result of “negligence” and “greed.” They said: “This was something they knew was going to happen and that there was a directive not to prioritize student workers both on the UC Davis and UCOP level. To me, it felt like they shrugged it off and said ASUCD was the only department that faced that much collateral damage.” Can you respond to these comments? 

GM: I just have to fervently disagree with that characterization. Other departments that employ a lot of students, such as Housing and Dining, didn’t have the same level of difficulties. I don’t understand the greed comment at all because the money didn’t go to anybody else. So I don’t know how someone really would have benefited from the mistakes that were made. I will say that the UCPath staff [both] here as well as at the center have really been putting [in] a lot of time trying to get this right. Many missteps [have] been well documented, but it’s not because anyone was willfully disregarding student welfare or anyone’s welfare, for that matter. When you implement a large enterprise software system, problems happen. If you read the news about Iowa this week, you see these things happen. And it’s unfortunate that it did happen. But it did. All we can do is try to rectify it.

TCA: Given the amount of issues with UCPath implementation at other UCs prior to the implementation here, do you feel that there was enough proactive preparedness to account for and protect against issues like pay delays and discrepancies?

GM: I think there was, I think the staff did everything they knew to do ahead of time. I think we have such a decentralized payroll system here that a lot of these things were unanticipated. You’ll notice that with each implementation, a problem got fixed. So, UCLA, for example, had big problems with the graduate student population. We had very little issues with our graduate student pay here. The problems that we had had not occurred [at] other places. I think a lot of it was because [of] the way we’ve been doing onboarding here for students in ASUCD operations at UC Davis, so it was kind of unique in the way we’re operating. You could argue that maybe we should have anticipated it, but I think what really happened was not so much a UCPath glitch, or a set of glitches, but more of UCPath revealing problems in our own operations that we should have corrected before this all happened. 

Graduation

TCA: How are students directly benefited by the university’s decision to consolidate the number of graduation ceremonies to only three?

GM: I think I answered this in the letter that we wrote, but in my mind, graduation is a culmination of students’ hard work and their families support. I think it should be a big, grand occasion that everyone at the university celebrates. I get the fact that the colleges want to have some of that attention and celebratory atmosphere themselves. But you don’t graduate from the College of Ag, you graduate from UC Davis. We want this to be an experience for the university to say congratulations and good luck. We want it to be festive, with lots of people and high profile. I know people have had various pains about getting high profile speakers, but I think that’s part of it. I just feel that’s a better way to say congratulations and good luck and goodbye to the students who are finishing, as opposed to these piecemeal college graduations that we had in the past.

TCA: Do you feel that the university’s image is being prioritized over student interests?

GM: No, the university’s graduation will be like every other university. I don’t think it differentiates us to have a large graduation ceremony. That wasn’t the motivation for the change, if that’s what you’re thinking.

TCA: Why are students only able to petition for one extra ticket? And why will they only be notified if they got it by May 29, giving their families only a two-week notice to plan for travel time?

GM: I’m really not aware of those details. Maybe Karl [Engelbach] can help.

Karl Engelbach: Sure. Absolutely. So you can petition for more than just one ticket.

TCA: No, you can only petition for one. 

KE: I don’t quite know where you got that information from, because that’s inconsistent with what our plans are. 

TCA: I just petitioned for my one ticket on the registration for commencement website. It’s very explicit — it says you may only do one, and when you go to petition, the only option is one. And then you have 200 characters to say why you deserve one ticket.

KE: I’ll look into that. My understanding is that we’re going to allow students to petition for additional tickets, and it’s not just one. We can’t guarantee that anybody will get tickets if they petition, but that it was going to be a review process based on the reasons that students present for why they need additional tickets. So I’ll look into that. And we are going to have the Pavilion open with a live stream, so for family members who can’t be in the stadium, they will be able to be on campus and they can celebrate with you and not just some fields as normal. 

TCA: Are there any specific initiatives that you’re working on in regards to improving the rate of student employment post-graduation?

GM: Aggie Launch is in conjunction with the Internship and Career Center. We’re not only trying to raise additional resources, but we’re also piloting various mentoring and networking and internship opportunities around the campus. More details are on the website. 

Greek life

TCA: Can you comment on the recent suspension of numerous Greek organizations on campus? And can you comment on what you think the role of Greek life is at our university?

GM: I don’t really have that information. That’s a Student Affairs purview kind of question. I’m a supporter of having Greek life available. I think it enriches the experience of students who want to be a part of those organizations. My daughter is in a sorority. I think if it’s done properly, it helps us with our service missions well and helps with students, certainly with their social outlets, but also helps with mental health. Many of the Greek organizations value academic performance very highly and have tutoring and other sorts of things available to their members so there’s lots of positives for every Greek organization.

TCA: Do you have any particular views about your role in terms of setting the tone for how Greek organizations should conduct themselves and behave on campus?

GM: We do have rules. We have policies around conduct that all organizations, including Greek organizations, need to adhere to. And so when I think in terms of my role, my role is going to set an example and — I don’t want to say an enforcer — but to make sure the rules are followed and fairly enforced.

TCA: Do you believe that the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life has been effective in terms of sexual assault and hazing prevention?

GM: I think we can always improve. I think one of the things that came to my early attention when I got here was sexual violence. And sexual assault was an issue that I wanted to take on, and it’s actually been platform issue for my wife. I think we still have some improvement that we can make in that as well as alcohol abuse and various other issues. I think we are moving in the right direction, but maybe not as quickly as we might. 

Discrimination

TCA: How can or should students be dealing with professors who might say discriminative or racist things or use coded microaggressions in the classroom?

GM: We do have a mechanism for students to file grievances around those types of incidents through HDAPP. We also now have an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion specifically for issues around race or gender or orientation. That office can be involved in proactively putting on programs and trainings or other things for professors. I think students should not be shy about letting us know those things when they happen, but we’re not going to completely eliminate that activity. I get microaggressions. So we’re going to do all we can to reduce and minimize them on our campus and improve the environment on campus. But it would be a lie to say we’re going to eliminate them or make them go down to zero. 

TCA: Does the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have any specific plans to combat any of the recent white supremacy or ideology? 

GM: I know they’ve been brainstorming some ideas. I don’t have specifics on what they’re planning. This is budget season here in the Office of the Provost and Chancellor, and I think they’re going to be presenting some ideas and programmatic ideas that will require some resources that we will look at.

TCA: AFSCME and the UC recently reached a tentative agreement after two years of negotiations and numerous strikes. Now, having witnessed the entire process, do you believe there was a way in which the two parties could have reached an agreement sooner? 

GM: I have a lot of thoughts about this. I’ll just confide in you — I feel kind of helpless in this process, because all of the negotiations happen in Oakland in the Office of the President. This is not to criticize the negotiators, but it’s to say that locally, on the campuses, we’re kind of at the whim of whatever happens. Even if we have good ideas — I think we have good relationships with those employees here — it gets mitigated by what’s happening at the leadership level. In my own head, I toss around the idea if it would be better if we had local control over our local negotiations with our unions, not just AFSCME. But then again, that would give me a lot more work to do and headache. So, on that note, I’m kind of happy that they do it in Oakland. But I do think throughout the entire two years we have maintained pretty good relationships. There have been some blips along the way, but I think we, with those workers as well as other unions, have maintained pretty good relationships here at UC Davis. 

TCA: In light of the UC’s contract with UC-AFT expiring despite nine months of negotiations, what is UC Davis doing to support its lecturers and librarians in a time of uncertainty?

GM: All those negotiations happen in Oakland, so there’s not a lot we can do other than listen to their concerns and try to reflect with the folks that are doing the actual negotiation. Yesterday or Wednesday, in the monthly Chancellor’s meeting, for the first time I got a list of the demands or concerns that that particular union has. I’ve shared them with leadership here on campus. We’ll try to be supportive to the extent that we think we should be. Frankly, there are some things that are being requested that I don’t think are appropriate, and those will get negotiated.

Dignity Health

TCA: What is your stance on the UC’s partnership with Dignity Health?

GM: That’s a real thorny issue, which I think about quite a bit and actually have gone back and forth on. I’m usually not wishy washy, but I’ve been going back and forth. I mean, your first visceral reaction is that these people discriminate, we should not be involved with them, bad things happen and we should be separate from that. But then, if you take out that piece and logically draw a Venn diagram, thinking about it from the patient’s point of view, it appears none of the circle of patients under the UC’s care would [be harmed] if we make the circle bigger, right? In other words, none of our UC patients are harmed by the fact that we take in patients from Dignity. And by the way, it is a one way thing — we don’t send patients to Dignity. They come in, and when a patient comes to a UC hospital, they get all the services — abortion services and all the rest that the doctrine prevents dignity from offering. 

But then, as I go back and forth, I said to myself, ‘What if we were going to partner with a hospital who didn’t want to treat black people?’ I probably wouldn’t be for that. But that’s a bit of a red herring because one, that’s illegal, and then two, it’s not that they’re not treating a certain people. They’re not providing specific services to people. Anybody who has a gunshot wound, they would be treated, right? But there are specific services that they’re not providing.

Ultimately, I don’t know where it’s going to land. I do think if we have a certain set of values in the UC that we want to uphold, and we think they have merit and we want to promote and propagate our values, then we do a better job at that by being inclusive than we do by separating. Maybe there’s some chance that if we have some agreements and partnerships, our values will start to rub off on partners. But we’d have to have very clear rules. Our doctors, if they’re in a Dignity hospital, they follow our rules. If a patient needs a particular service from a UC doctor, they have to have the ability to perform that service wherever they are. I don’t know if the Catholic hospitals would agree to that. But I think that most of our consideration should be on patient care. It’s not on the money, nothing else. It’s what helps the most number of patients, or what won’t harm patients. And we should be moving in the direction of what helps patients.

Math Department Chair Abigail Thompson’s Criticism of UC Diversity Statements

TCA: Math Department Chair Abigail Thompson recently published two op-eds, one in the Wall Street Journal, in which she amounted the UC’s diversity statements to nothing more than a political litmus test. In response, you co-wrote an opinion column also published in the Wall Street Journal publicly and explicitly disagreeing with her. Why did you feel it was important to address her piece in such a way? 

GM: There are a lot of things I disagree with Professor Thompson about. First of all, I will give her credit — in both of her articles, she does talk about the value of diversity. But referring to her criticism of these diversity statements, calling them a ‘loyalty oath’ is absurd. You guys probably don’t know how faculty recruitment happens, but every candidate writes a research statement, a teaching statement and now a diversity statement. You’re basically telling the potential employer at the university you’re trying to get a job at how you’re going to bring value. All we’re doing is asking candidates in this diversity statement is to think about the students that you’re going to be serving in the most diverse state in the United States, that has 44% first generations and almost 25% Chicano/Latino students and 36 or 37% underrepresented students overall. Think about how you’re going to be teaching this cohort of students. We’re not asking everybody to be sort of a programmatic champion of diversity who wins an award from President Obama, like me — I’ve been there [Laughter from everyone]. We’re just asking them to at least give it some thought. Just like you’re thinking about, ‘What classes will I teach, how will I enhance the curriculum, what research am I going to do, how will I get it funded?’ All those kinds of things you’re thinking about as you’re applying for a job. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask a candidate to do that. Now, we also ask faculty, in their annual evaluations, to comment on their contribution to diversity. So if we’re going to ask them to do it while they’re here, why not prospectively ask them to think about it before they come here?

TCA: Some of our readers defended and agreed with Thompson’s statement about diversity statements. Beyond what you said in your letter, why do you think diversity statements are important? And why should staff, faculty and community members back and support these missions? 

GM: I think diversity adds value. I give speeches all the time about how diversity leads to better outcomes. It’s not just the right thing to do, which I think it is. In my field of engineering, it’s been very much shown and proven, or at least are many examples, of diversity giving better products and services. A few quick examples: The first voice activated devices didn’t respond to female voices because there were no females on the design team. Facial recognition on phones is not as accurate for darker-skinned faces. Automated vehicles are more likely to hit a pedestrian who has darker complexion. All these things show that having diversity in mind leads to better outcomes. And I think you can lawyers have done this as well — a study I read showed that diverse juries give more accurate verdicts than homogenous juries. So you can go to each profession and show this, so I think valuing diversity makes a better university and helps us to educate students in a better way and perform research turns out to have better outcomes.

Controversy Regarding Yuval Peres, Math Professor With Series of Sexual Misconduct Allegations Levied Against Him

TCA: Last Winter Quarter, there was a guest speaker, Yuval Peres, who was invited to the Math Department and had previous ties with the UC. Were you aware of this situation?

GM: Not until the day before it happened. Emails were going everywhere and everyone was panicking. I found out about it then. I think often in lecture series, there is not an approval process. Not to say that there always has to be approval at certain levels, but I think there should be some vetting that occurs. I don’t remember even who invited this particular speaker, but it was in the Math Department. Some subset of faculty thought he would be a good speaker. I think the Senate is looking at processes by which we hire speakers and how we vet the speakers.

TCA: If you would have been able to prevent this speaker from speaking on campus, would you have?

GM: I don’t know if I would say I alone should make those decisions. I think there should be some sort of process that has the opportunity for many people to weigh in. Maybe not many, but more than one. I personally probably would prefer that speaker not present, but others would disagree with me. And hopefully there will be some process that will allow us to get to some resolution.

Enrollment

TCA: This is the fourth consecutive year when enrollment in the UC undergraduate population grew. Do you think that the UC should continue to expand?

GM: We’re getting a lot of pressure to expand from the legislature, and there are many elected officials that are saying we’re not enrolling in graduating enough Californians. You’ll see in the budgets put out by the Office of the President that there’s enrollment growth every year, and I expect that to continue. That’s putting a little bit of a strain on us because we have housing and other infrastructure constraints that are limiting the number of students that we can accept. We would hope that those legislators who want us to take more students would be willing to pay for them. We’re not planning to grow significantly more, at least not in the traditional student model. We may grow more online students as we bring online degree programs on, along with Aggie Square and satellite campuses which will be places where we can grow.

SAT and ACT Requirements

TCA: It was recently announced that the UC will be keeping the SAT and ACT requirements for the admissions process. Do you have a personal opinion on this?

GM: Well, the SAT/ACT requirement is one of 14 criteria used in the admissions process. The fact that we have 13 other criteria kind of mitigates the potential bias that might occur. I do understand the arguments that it may bias disadvantaged students in a way that we don’t necessarily like. And there were many studies about this, when people say the SAT is more correlated with your zip code than your success. Right? However, the fact that we do this in local context, and that we have all these other measures that we look at. Using all 14 factors actually mitigates problems that arise with the SAT/ACT. 

TCA: In light of Latitude and the new Cuarto dorms, are there additional measures we are taking in terms of expanding on resources for students. 

GM: We’re sort of always in that business. Have you guys tried Latitude?

TCA: Yes, it was delicious. I will say, when I went, there was no dessert. 

GM: We’re always trying to improve the student experience in ways like that. The food that you get, the mental health services, various other social outlets and sports and Greek life — Student Affairs is always looking for ways to have students have the best possible experience, [and] at the same time they’re progressing through their degrees and graduating.

Student Housing

TCA: How is the university ensuring that off-campus housing is affordable for a majority of students?

GM: One of the ways is by increasing the supply because increased supply means prices generally go down. More than half of a billion dollars worth of construction is going on right now, all in West Village. A few other spots — Yosemite [Hall] opened last year, and there’s at least two or three others, including graduate student housing in Orchard Park and other places. One of the things that we’re looking at in terms of affordability — rather than just relying on economics and market conditions — is [how] some of the new developments in the city are using this model where they reserve 15% of the beds for lower income residents. We’re looking at possible solutions like that, but I don’t think we’ve settled on any yet. And I would encourage you to talk with Mike Sheehan, the director of housing, about that. He and his team are keenly aware of affordability and want to make sure that we don’t just build a bunch of houses that no one can afford to live in.

TCA: How is the university working with the city to accommodate affordable student housing and balance space for Davis residents? 

GM: We have an MOU with the city that covers several things including housing, transportation, where we have a good bilateral partnership. We have an annual town hall with Davis residents. We meet regularly with the elected leadership — Mayor [Brett] Lee and I are regularly in communication, as well as some of the City Council members. We get consulted on some of the projects they’re considering, and sometimes they ask us to support ballot measures and things. We really can’t do that explicitly, but we can, you know, in the Nishi thing we were asked if we would support the tunnel they wanted to build under the railroad tracks, which is not gonna be an overpass, but that’s another story. We obviously collaborate with the city on getting data, and we do work with the city on emergency housing as well. 

Zero Waste Initiative

TCA: When it was realized that UC Davis and the UC wouldn’t be meeting the collective Zero Waste by 2020 goal, what was the initial reaction of the administration?

GM: I’ll be totally honest, I had no idea there was a zero waste goal. You don’t necessarily get a good transition from your predecessor, and I didn’t really get any. But I didn’t know about the zero waste goal, and I was conflating that with the carbon neutrality goal we talked about last time. So I apologize. I would encourage you to talk with Camille Kirk about this. I think when we realized we weren’t going to make the goal by the deadline, I think other plans were made through her office. I don’t have the specifics on what plans are in place, but I do know that certainly reducing waste is still a high priority for campus.

New UC President

TCA: UC President Janet Napolitano recently stated she was stepping down. What, specifically, would you like to see in a replacement for UC president? 

GM: First, I don’t want it to be me. I was asked [to be a candidate] though, and I said no. I’ve said several things when we’ve had the opportunity to give input. The chancellors were all asked for their input. First, I want someone with a really strong understanding of university campus. This is not a knock on Janet, who I respect very much and enjoy working for, but I think someone with an academic background — whether it’s a current academic or someone in their past experience has been an academic — [is] important. Second, we want someone who’s politically astute — and Janet is very politically astute from her career — because you’re dealing with Sacramento and our legislative leaders and our Regents. And finally, from a personal perspective, I want someone who’s not a micromanager. Janet is not, and has not been, but I’ve had bosses that have been and it’s not pleasant. So really, someone [who] kind of gives the chancellors their autonomy within certain guidelines and constraints is important to me.

TCA: What issues or goals do you think the new UC president should both focus on and prioritize?

GM: They’re going to have to deal with these issues of enrollment and growth and the end goal. Within that is the proportion of non-residents to residents, and they’re going to have to deal with resource issues which is an obvious one, and how to have a strong partnership with the state such that we get a resource allocation that keeps the university at the very top, as it has been in the past. Labor will remain an issue as long as we’re doing labor negotiations with the president’s office, that that leader will have to be able to grapple with. I think there’s some more forward-thinking goals too, like carbon neutrality and sustainability. We have to think about going forward, political things like DACA and free speech. These sorts of things are things we continually have to grapple with. 

Goals and Room for Improvement

TCA: Outside of enrollment and labor, where do you generally see room for improvement within the UC? And how do you think that could be accomplished?

GM: I don’t want to say anything that gets me in trouble, but I marveled at the amount of bureaucracy that exists in the UC compared to where I was. I’m not saying the campus is perfect either. But just getting better on campus, certainly in our interactions and operations with the Office of the President.

TCA: Given that it’s now 2020, can you speak to the university’s goals for this new decade?

GM: First, I will refer you to our strategic plan, where we have outlined all the goals for the next 10 years. But we have some really exciting things that are going to be happening this year. One was the launch of our new brand, which you may have read about or heard about: Outgrow the Expected. But there will also be a brand for what will be our biggest fundraising campaign in the history of university, which will launch on Oct. 10 — 10/10/2020. Kinda catchy. We will likely have a $2 billion goal for that campaign. I was just meeting with our foundation earlier this morning and they said 10 years ago, that’s not a feasible goal. It’s not realistic. Now, I think we can make that goal, maybe even a little more. For the last three years, we’ve had the highest research awards in the history of the university. I think that trend should continue this year and our Vice Chancellor for research said that we’re about running about 10% ahead of where we were this time last year, and with research awards and we’re getting close to a billion dollars in research awards. That’s a big deal. I expect our rankings to continue to be strong and even hopefully inch up a little bit. I always pick the story that gives us the best ranking. So Money Magazine says we’re [the] fourth best public university in the country, Wall Street Journal says fifth, US News says eleventh — but what do they know? I hope that will continue. 

TCA: What would you like that $2 billion to go toward? 

GM: We have a variety of projects, both capital projects, endowment for scholarships and fellowships for students. Support for faculty, and various programmatic things — such as the museum getting $1 million this week from a donor for new acquisitions. There’s things like that. But the development and alumni relations has a whole list of spreadsheets that have all the priorities and goals.

TCA: Can you elaborate a little more on the new motto, Outgrow the Expected?

GM: I’m going to defer to our Director of Marketing and Communications, Dana [Topousis]. 

Dana Topousis: We did a lot of research and with students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, friends, city of Davis and Sacramento just to get a sense of how people perceive UC Davis. We sort of saw what you might predict: that we’re known as the Ag school, and we love being [the] number one Ag school, but we have a million other strengths as well. I think what we also heard from a lot of students and faculty, in particular, faculty, was that we have a hard time bragging about how great we are. People here are very humble. 

GM: Pathologically humble. 

DT: And the faculty themselves say it’s time for us to stop being so humble. We are amazing. We have incredible faculty who study here, we have incredible, bright students who graduate from here — how do we start owning that more like the other UCs do? Outgrow the Expected is a nod to the ag and the vet med, but it also talks about everything else. And especially with students — when we talk to students about that, it really resonated with them because they feel like they could think differently about what they could do with their lives, both professionally and personally. That really felt like a good way for us to celebrate and I will say, we did this internal launch last week with faculty and staff. But for Picnic Day, we’re doing something with students and with alumni, so stay tuned.

TCA: Our staff is dying to know — what shows are you watching?

GM: I’m watching The Bachelor because that’s what my wife is watching. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV — I kind of binge, you know, once seasons are over. So I’ll catch up on some of the new Star Trek shows that are coming out. I watch a lot of the impeachment trials. I watch sports, but there’s not any series right now that I watch regularly. I joke around, I say if I was the bachelor back when I was single, it would be a very short season. There would be two episodes. Episode one, meet the candidates. In episode two, I would select one.

Written by: The Editorial Board

1 Comment on this Post

  1. The response on diversity statements is extremely disappointing because, much like the other half-baked defenses, it conflates disagreement with a specific and mandatory diversity statement with an overall disagreement with diversity measures; the two are not the same thing. I hoped the chancellor would have a more thoughtful and well-reasoned take than a bunch of ideologue undergrads.

    If you can’t even accurately sum up the opponent’s view point, then what the hell are you arguing against? If you’re deliberately mis-characterizing their views, then all you’re doing is exposing how weak your position is. And so far the people in favor of the diversity statement have betrayed their paucity of substance.

    Berkeley has eliminated 76% of applicants for having inadequate diversity statements. That’s right, 76% rejected before even looking at their academic qualifications or teaching ability. This shit is downright dystopian.

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