Good Morning, Riverside

April 9, 2015

President Janet Napolitano addressed Good Morning, Riverside on April 9, 2015. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, ______.

Good Morning, Riverside!

Now can I please go back to bed?

Seriously, it’s my great pleasure to be here in the heart of Riverside, and back at the beautiful Mission Inn. I have always enjoyed my visits to Riverside, with the warm and welcoming members of the Greater Riverside community. I’d like to thank Cindy Roth, the CEO of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce, and Bob Stockton, the Chair of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce, for extending the invitation to speak to you.

I’d like to thank Jack Clarke, a proud Highlander and UCR alum, for serving as our emcee today. And I’d like to congratulate Chuck Washington, who was just appointed to serve as a Riverside County Supervisor by Governor Brown.

And last but certainly not least, I’d like to thank all of you, the leaders of Riverside’s business, civic, and military communities, for spending your early morning with us.

I assume you are not all here at this hour because you like to rise with the chickens. I am confident you’re here because you are willing, and eager, and dedicated participants in the public conversation about how we can best move our society forward. You are here because you care about what’s happening in Riverside County, and in California, and more broadly, in the country and in the world.

So, as we allow the coffee to kick in, I’d like to talk to you this morning a bit about the University of California and why it matters to you, to the county of Riverside, to California, and yes, more broadly to the country and the world.

When I began my tenure as UC President, one of the first things I did was go out and visit the campuses. I knew about the wonders of UC from a distance. But to get on the ground and see the research and meet the students, faculty, and staff; to begin to understand the complexities of the University and the consequences of any obstacle that might keep it from performing its mission—this was a learning journey that opened my eyes in new ways, and confirmed my belief not only in UC, but also in the realm of public higher education writ large.  

My first visit to Riverside was in early November, about a month after I started. On my first day, in a campus lab about ten minutes from here, I met a man I call the mosquito whisperer.

His name is Anand Ray. He is a scientist who runs a world-renowned entomology lab at UCR. Whispering to mosquitos sounds funny—no, it is funny. And I know firsthand, because I was a guinea pig in that mosquito lab. Dr. Ray wanted the mosquitos to get a good whiff of me. Why? Because Dr. Ray’s research into how mosquitoes’ and fruit flies’ sense of smell works has the potential to protect the lives of millions of people who might otherwise succumb to malaria or dengue fever.

Later that same day, I met a scientist named Susan Wessler. Dr. Wessler runs UCR’s Campbell Learning Lab. The Lab is revolutionizing how young college students learn science. Instead of taking notes in a lecture hall, freshmen learn the core principles of biology while conducting cutting-edge research in the Learning Lab itself. This is the kind of research that most students don’t experience until they are upperclassmen—or graduate students.  

Her methods are replicable, and they are scalable—and at about this point, it began to dawn on me that UC “teaches for California, but it also researches for the world.”

Then I sat in on a seminar with the Poet Laureate of California, Juan Felipe Herrera. This was in a room at the new medical school. The Poet Laureate lit up that room and everyone in it—including me. Before too long, I was singing and laughing and composing a few lines of poetry right along with them.

But my main takeaway was the relationship between the professor and the poetry learners—the magic of instruction.

I dropped in unexpectedly on a meeting with some student veterans, and discussed with them the issues they are facing as they re-enter civilian life—and how together we might solve them.

I met with staff members, and heard what they love about living in the Inland Empire and working at its research university.

I shared a meal with UCR students from all across campus. They were engaging, thoughtful, inspiring.

And just to top things off, I had my photo taken with Scotty Highlander near the HUB. Search hard enough, and you can still find it on the internet.

When I boarded the plane at Ontario to return to Oakland, I was charged with optimism. UCR, and the Highlander community as a whole, are just incredible. And if you haven’t visited UCR for a while—or have never visited at all—I encourage you to head over and spend some time there.  

But wait, there’s more.

This was just one campus visit. Now multiply my experience ten times over, to every UC campus, agricultural outpost, and national laboratory. There’s a reason the University of California is held up as a world model and marvel.

A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to share a stage with the Secretary of the Interior. She was there to talk about the national park movement, and I was there to talk about public higher education. And as the conversation unfolded, it occurred to me the case could be made that UC is to higher education what Yosemite is to America’s national parks.

And the world at large knows it, because throughout the years—just as the Valley draws international tourists by the busload—UC has hosted delegations from around the globe that come to see and learn from the University. They want the Colonel’s secret recipe.

It’s true that any enduring institution—no matter how lauded or renowned—inevitably over time will give rise to misunderstandings or myths that left untended could undercut the integrity of the institution.  Like weeds in a garden, they must be whacked down lest they overtake the tomatoes.

UC has its own set of myths, and if you will indulge me, I’d like to address a few of them.

There are myths about basic research—about how much basic research costs, or about its purported irrelevance to the University. As President of UC, I won’t deny how time-consuming—not to mention how expensive—it can be.

But basic research is the lifeblood of the University of California—and for that matter, all great research universities. It transforms what our professors teach, and how they teach it. It re-shapes the curriculum at universities and colleges, in high schools—even in elementary schools. It creates new knowledge about the world in which we live.

It was a UC Berkeley scientist who identified the BRCA1 gene after years of basic research. This is the single gene that can cause not only breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer.

It was a UC Santa Cruz astronomer who revolutionized our understanding of the large-scale structure of our universe.

It was a biologist just down the road at UC Riverside who discovered that plants produce a stress hormone in times of drought. His name is Dr. Sean Cutler, and thanks to him, we now know how to improve the growth of plants despite extreme drought conditions, like those in which our state now finds itself.

A basic research mission is what distinguishes research universities from the rest.  And the University of California is a research university. That means our professors don’t just transmit knowledge—they transform it and transmit it, from the croplands and computer centers of California to all corners of the world.

There are also misunderstandings about the range of our student body, and there are flat-out myths about who foots the bill.

When UC was founded in 1868, up in Oakland, its initial class contained 12 students.

Today, the University is home to more than 235,000 students.

Nearly 90% of the undergraduate students at UC are California residents. Nearly one in three of them are transfer students from California Community Colleges.

Forty-two percent come from low-income families. And 42% percent of our undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college. That’s 79,000 students. And as these students graduate and later go on to start families of their own, my hope is that they won’t be the last.

Advancing social mobility is not a by-product of what UC does. It is a fundamental piece of its California mission.

Now let’s talk about the “T” word. Yes, that’s right—“tuition.”

Annual tuition at UC currently stands just north of 12,000 dollars a year.

To put that in perspective, the sticker price of four years at UC is equal to the same amount you would pay for a nicely equipped Ford pick-up. And a college degree, unlike an F150, does not depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot. In fact, the opposite is true. And it remains true for life.

That said, 75% of UC California resident undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid, and 55% of our California resident undergraduates pay no tuition at all. For those whose families earn 80,000 dollars in annual income or less, their tuition is fully covered. And for those whose families make up to 150,000 dollars a year, more than half receive financial aid, with an average grant from UC of more than 7,500 dollars.

That brings me to the myths about UC’s budget.

For the 2015-16 year, UC’s budget is 26.7 billion dollars. If it were a state, UC would rank somewhere in the top 25 based on budget size.

Roughly 50% of that budget is accounted for by our medical centers, clinical care and auxiliary enterprises. Roughly another 25% is research and private support, virtually all of which is donor-restricted.

The actual core operating budget of the University is about 6.9 billion dollars. It is comprised primarily of two parts: state appropriations and tuition. When the state slashed 1 billion dollars from the University’s budget during the Recession, that cut was a huge, impactful one. It reduced by a third the state’s contribution to our core budget.

Put another way, the state now provides the exact amount of dollars to UC as it did in 1997. Meanwhile, UC has enrolled 75,000 additional students—the equivalent of adding three more UC Riverside campuses.

Sadly, since those cuts took effect, UC students now pay a larger portion of the costs of their education that the state does. None of us should be happy about that.

When pressed to identify a silver lining, I say that the good news is a recession teaches you to focus on what counts. That was certainly the case at UC. The University focused on tightening its belt, cutting waste, creating efficiencies, and consolidating where it could.

The University launched an efficiency initiative called Working Smarter. To date, it has created more than 660 million dollars in annual savings and improved fiscal performance. We’re still at it. Administrative costs per student have decreased by hundreds of dollars

UC created UC Path, right here in Riverside, a central payroll system for all ten UC campuses. I’m pleased that the people of this region are taking the lead on this critical project. (And by the way, that’s my next stop after we wrap up here.) 

My belief—no, my pledge—is that every dollar that can be saved must be saved. Every potential stream of new revenue must be explored.

Still, the fact remains that even with state revenue up and the recession behind us, Sacramento has restored only about half of its recession cuts even as UC continued to meet demand and satisfy the enrollment commitments under the Master Plan.  

Now, as a former Governor, I realize there are always competing priorities in a state budget. But at some point, I have to wonder…when did public higher education fall to the bottom of our priorities?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine California without the stimulus—societal, economic, and intellectual—provided by UC. Nor is it possible to imagine UC without the energy of California. The ten campus university system is the envy of other states and other countries (and I ought to know).

It’s not a stretch to say what California has done is create the Ivy League of the West, but a public, not a private one. Along the way, this symbiosis evolved cities like Riverside and Irvine into university towns. Riverside is no longer perceived solely through the lenses of citrus and suburbia, just as Irvine is understood to be more than just lima bean fields.

There are advantages to these relationships. UCR is the largest employer in the City of Riverside. Through the University Eastside Community Collaborative, UCR works directly with Riverside Unified, helping to tutor and provide extra-curricular activities to economically disadvantaged youth. Tens of thousands Riverside community members enroll each year in University Extension, the campus’s continuing education program.

All of you here today have played a major role in helping those efforts. UCR is not a gift that was delivered fully formed from on high. It was built collectively by Californians.


Now, I want to be clear—this is not my university. This is our university. And the benefits from our university extend far beyond the borders of any one campus. That’s how it’s worked for almost 150 years. It’s a public good, a commonwealth good. UC needs to serve future generations as well as it served those in the past.

It’s thanks to the Riverside business community that UC and UCR’s growth initiatives have such strong support. To the County of Riverside, Senator Richard Roth, Assemblymember Jose Medina, and Assemblymember Eric Linder let me say thank you for securing the funding for the School of Medicine, and for welcoming UCR’s newest school—the School of Public Policy.

Again, multiply those sorts of collaborations by ten—in Merced, Irvine, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Davis, Los Angeles, and Berkeley—and you begin to get a sense of UC and its place in our state, its purpose in our state, its partnership with our state, and the platform it provides for the future of this state.

Now, let me move from platitudes to practicalities.

We are knee-deep in the state budget process, and our University is in a big fight.

Your help would be invaluable. Our University needs a stable, long-term budget that will enable us to keep tuition as low and as predictable as possible. In a state with a 113 billion dollar budget, it is difficult to believe that more funding is not available for UC, and for the Cal State system, too, for that matter. An increase equating to 100 million dollars per year will allow us to admit thousands more California undergraduates; recruit and retain top faculty; and continue our robust financial aid programs.

So let’s cut to the chase—this is what is needed today to preserve UC quality for tomorrow.

You are all interested and engaged citizens. You made it here at 6:45 this morning, for Wilcox’s sake.

I’m not going to tell you what buttons to push, or what emails to send. You know that stuff. You know the right people to call. But I am here to tell you this:

Our university needs a Verizon army standing at the ready. When you call on our state leaders and ask, “Do you hear us now?,” there ought to be an unequivocal “Yes”—loud and clear, coming from the other end of the line.

This is about much more than 100 million dollars. This is one of those clarifying moments in the public narrative where we might well find out a bit about who we are—as a state, as a society, and I’d say as a people, too. It’s about what our society represents, and what our society values.

Do we want Riverside and its neighbors to lead California with home-grown doctors and teachers and policy makers—or do we want to import them from elsewhere?

Do we want Riverside to be a region that retains and even attracts young people who are starting out on their own—or a region where young people leave in droves to pursue the caliber of education they can’t receive at home?

Adjusting the aperture, do we want California to remain known throughout the world as a beacon of opportunity and fairness and hope for a better life—or are we going let that long-burning light flicker out?

Are we a state that honors the future, and plays fair?

You see, there’s really a moral imperative driving all this. Are we going to let the California Dream wither away? Are we going to stand by idly and let it become an artifact—something that was great for the Baby Boomers, but that’s now an unaffordable luxury for the rising Californians in our midst?

The University of California will not thrive without your support and your advocacy. And Riverside, and California itself, will not thrive if its great public research university does not thrive.

Thank you. And Go Highlanders!