President’s Annual Address
to the University Community
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 // 4–5 p.m.
Jack, thank you. I want to tell everyone from the very beginning how much I have enjoyed working with this Faculty Senate.
Its members are passionate and committed to academic excellence in a way I’ve never seen before.
I appreciate the opportunity to work with them.
Our opportunity for shared governance is as much them as it is me.
I’m very grateful for that opportunity. I love working together with great faculty, people who are so much smarter than I am, who can figure out what we want to be doing and how to do it. Jack, thank you.
I also want to take a moment today to thank our Board of Regents, many of whom are with us today– Regents Bill Ayer, Joanne Harrell, Jeremy Jaech, Constance Rice, Rogelio Riojas, our newest regent, Kiana Scott and Orin Smith. We appreciate all you do for this university.
They are terrific civic leaders who give an enormous amount of time to make this university what it is. Please join me in thanking them.
And I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t welcome Bill Gates, who has the title, I think the only person who has the title, of Regent Emeritus, which means honorary Regent or Regent of great honor, and he has served with distinction for so many years. Bill, it’s wonderful to have you with us as well.
We have elected officials who are with us today, and we very much appreciate them joining us. Members of our alumni board, and members of the UW Foundation Board, and members of our student government are with us as well, taking furious notes to hold me to account for whatever I say today.
Thank you all for being with us.
But most importantly, thank you to all of you for being here, as well as those of you who are watching this from afar or who may watch this later.
I really enjoyed the video we just watched.
I have to tell you, it gives me goose bumps as I see all the exciting things happening at this university, everything that’s going on.
The students in particular are so extraordinary. Everything we do at the end of the day is because of the students. And you saw a remarkable representation of that.
I am also just thrilled—I don’t think there’s any other word to describe it—about what our faculty does. Someone told me that the only reason to become a university president is to become a member of a faculty you otherwise couldn’t become a member of.
This is an important address for me, pivotal in a significant way. For the last two years, we’ve been engrossed with budget issues. Some of you may have noticed.
We’re still focused on those issues to be sure. But this year, we feel that the ship has turned enough that we can now focus on charting a course ahead.
I’m eager to work with you to realize a collective vision that I have crystalized today by listening to you, listening to faculty, to staff, to students, to alumni, to board members, to all of our supporters. I’m eager to tell you about what one might call my vision, but based on what you have told me, it really is our vision.
But I want to start in a place that’s a little unusual for me. I want to start with a story. It’s a little more autobiographical or perhaps personal than I’m accustomed to, but I thought it would help you know a little bit more about where this comes from. The story is about courage, leadership, it’s about belief in the future. It’s about me to be sure, but I believe at the end of the day, it’s about all of us.
I grew up in a small town called Chester in northern California, about five hours north of Sacramento. Many of you may not have even known that California extends five hours north of Sacramento, but it does.
My father was a proprietor of Young’s supermarket. And if you ever went camping in the Sierra Nevadas near Lake Almanor, you probably bought groceries there for your campout. And if it was around 30 years ago, you would have seen me there, wearing an apron, stocking shelves, sweeping floors, which I did from the time I was about 11 until I went away to law school.
It was a privilege to work in the family business to be sure. But it also gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life, something that I might do with a little more passion and a little more energy, despite the clean, hard work that I knew this to be.
I had an opportunity to go to college and then on to law school. And after law school, I had an opportunity to serve as a law clerk to then Justice William Rehnquist. It was a genuinely great experience.
He once told me he was hardly capable of discretion much less secrecy. So he told us everything that was going on in the Court, and we got a bird’s-eye view of what the Court was doing and how it operated. I learned a great deal about how the justice system works—and sometimes doesn’t work. We agreed sometimes and disagreed at others. But he was willing to passionately fight and argue with us, and it was an extraordinary experience.
Some years later, after Justice Rehnquist was elevated to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, he bestowed on me what I considered a great honor. He appointed me to serve on the National Commission Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Brown versus the Board of Education, the 1954 landmark case that overruled Plessy vs. Ferguson, that terrible case which had held that separate was equal. The Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling held for the first time that we are all inherently equal and that separate never is equal.
Serving on this commission was a transformative experience for me. Among many great opportunities to review the impact of this seminal decision, I had a chance to sit down and hear the stories of the people who were really involved intimately with that case—the lawyers, the other participants, but, most importantly, the children of the parents who brought this historic case. I got to hear directly their stories. We heard not what was in the newspapers or the history books, but their very personal experiences and perspectives as they were living through this extraordinary time.
I remember sitting in a small conference room in Washington, D.C., while these children now all adults— described how their mothers pressed their fathers to bring this case, knowing full well they could lose their jobs, their livelihoods, they could be ostracized from their communities, and they could be subject to physical violence and even death. They knew that, and knew it well.
I can’t even imagine what it was like. And, indeed, all those things and more happened to these people.
In fact, some elected officials were so incensed by the case that they actually closed all the schools in their jurisdiction, not just the segregated schools for the minorities but all the schools in the jurisdiction all the way from the Deep South up to the north.
I then asked these heroic people why their parents were willing to go to that extreme. Why were their parents willing to jeopardize their jobs, their capacity to meet their basic needs and even their lives? Why were they willing to do it?
And they said to me, it was very simple, it was the only way to break the cycle of segregation. For children to be equal in America, education is and always will be the key.
These parents understood that with utter clarity. They weren’t highly educated, but they understood that realization of the American dream depended on their children having access to education. It was the key that would unlock a better, more equitable future for all. It was an extraordinary moment. These parents were willing to risk everything for their children, absolutely everything. And they did this because they knew in their hearts that education was the great equalizer.
Now, understanding what drove those parents to put themselves on the line in this way underscored for me in a way that it never had before the importance of education, how central it was to realizing the American dream. The broad availability of public education was a practical necessity, but even more, much more, it was a moral imperative. I understood in the most profound way possible that all the early cases in the civil rights area were focused on public education and what it meant for children, children who were trying to access what I completely took for granted. I learned that then, and I now know that more than ever.
That experience inspired me to be passionate about public education in a way that I never had been before. I had spent most of my life in private education. I had been educated in private institutions, I had taught at a variety of excellent private institutions, and I had loved it. But at that moment I decided that if the opportunity to change career direction and teach at a great public institution ever arose, I would jump at the chance. Such a move for me would be more than a practical necessity; it would likewise be, for me, a moral imperative.
Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to move to Utah and become the president of the University of Utah, the flagship university of that state. And indeed, it led me to experience in reality and in real time all the great contributions that I had imagined a great public education could provide. We educated the children of Utah, and that education was just as important for those children as it was 50 years ago for the children of the plaintiffs in Brown versus the Board of Education. Education was indeed the key. We were able to do good work, and I am proud of my time there.
But when the opportunity arose at the University of Washington, I knew it was something special. I knew we could do things here that were truly exceptional and different from anywhere else in the world.
And I want to tell you a little bit about why I thought that then and why I think that now more than ever.
I saw a 21st century leader to be sure, but I saw a leader in a particular way. I saw several things that seemed to me to stand out as I looked at this great University, and it made me think that this is where I wanted to commit the rest of my career.
First, I saw that intellectual excellence was the hallmark of everything that went on at the University of Washington. The passion, the commitment to teaching and research. Just look at the number of National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners, and MacArthur “genius award” recipients and on and on.
Indeed, we receive more research funding than almost any other university in the world. In fact, despite the sequestration and all the federal budget cuts, we received more research money this year than last year.
We know what excellence looks like. We strive for it every single day and in every conceivable way. And that was absolutely critical to my decision.
Second, I saw that the University of Washington was excellent in ways and in areas that I think really matter, particularly as the world evolves and develops.
We’re excellent in areas that are calculated to make extraordinary impact on the world. It isn’t enough just to be excellent, but to be excellent in the areas that matter most.
Look at our extraordinary computer science department, what we do in genomic science, everything we do at the molecular level. Think of our work in big data and our capacity to wrestle with and understand that. Consider our international lead in research relating to visualization, human-computer interface, applied mathematics, environmental science. We’re able to look at everything from the oceans to the forests to the energy with biofuels all the way to the sun. And so many more areas, areas that are critical to future development of the world.
Thirdly, I saw a capacity for creativity that seemed to me unique. A place that included innovation, collaboration across disciplinary and every kind of boundary you could think of, a place that is committed to applying knowledge in a very real-world setting. Not an Ivory Tower, but a place that looks to make the world a better place. That to me seemed critical, a place that does what it does to an end, to a purpose.
I’ve been at great universities in the past. I taught at Columbia, at Yale, at George Washington University, and at the University of Utah, all great universities, but I’ve never seen anything like what goes on at the University of Washington.
And finally, it occurred to me this was a unique location, unlike anywhere else in the world.
We’re located in the northern-most major city in the United States and part of the Far West. So it truly has a world view. We don’t just look up and down, we look east and west, we look in every direction imaginable.
And we live in a community that shares all these important characteristics of the University. The intellectual ambition, the creativity, the imagination, the innovation that goes on here are incomparable. We are surrounded on all sides by companies and people who are on the cutting edge. Recently, Forbes magazine listed the 25 most innovative companies in the world. Five—five of those companies, fully one-fifth of those companies started and reside here in Washington.
So, there was a constellation of factors that made me think the University of Washington is truly something special. Higher education is going to transform, particularly the great public research universities that are absolutely critical to our future. It seemed to me the one place in the world most likely to get it right was the University of Washington. And I thought if I had the opportunity to be here, it would be the great professional privilege and opportunity of my life.
So that was my impression when I arrived two years ago.
And those characteristics that I thought were here turned out not only to be here, but to be here far more than I had even anticipated.
I’ve had a chance to see Chuck Murry’s work and his lab in stem cell research. I experienced what Ginger Armbrust and John Delaney do in ocean research. I’ve visited the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the stunning work that Chris Murray and his colleagues do.
These are epochal, extraordinary things. Research programs like DUBS, that focuses on human-computer interface and creating our patterns and ways of interacting with all the machines that make our lives what they are (just before the machines take over the world) are creating the future.
Shwetak Patel and what he does with sensors and battery life is another example. And just today I heard one more example–every time I turn around I hear this–Nathan Kutz, chair of our Applied Mathematics Department, gave a speech on applied mathematics, and I was going to get out my pillow and blanket out and lie down, knowing that may not exactly be my area of keenest interest.
But, it was spectacular because he made clear our applied mathematics department (number one in the world) does things that make our computer science department great, make our neuroscience department great, and so many other departments great, as they help those departments figure out how we understand and process information. It’s all truly extraordinary.
And it isn’t in any way limited just to the faculty. I look at the Dream Project, entirely created and run by our students. They help literally thousands of young people across the breadth of the entire state learn how they can become part of a college experience. The work our students have done on sustainability to make us the number one campus in the country for environmental sensitivity is equally riveting. All of those things I’ve seen have just put an exclamation point behind us.
And what the staff does is equally amazing. The administrative efficiencies that have been squeezed out of this University in the past few years are absolutely startling. In fact, under this rubric of LEAN technology, we have become not only the leader of the state, but university after university is coming to Seattle to learn from us. And this doesn’t happen just around campus.
Marti and I visited alumni in Asia a few months ago. In the process, I happened to have with me the New York Times, Asian Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. I opened up all three. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation was featured in one article, our work in stem cells in another article, and a third talked about the extraordinary work with crows done by researchers on our campus. And this was absolutely random.
Last night I opened up the July issue of National Geographic. In it I found the great work of David Joswiak and Donald Brownlee of our Astronomy Department and how the chaos that created our solar system is to be understood. It was in the lead paragraph of the lead article.
Everywhere I turn, everything I thought and hoped I would find at the University of Washington is here in far greater measure than I think I ever could have anticipated.
The excellence of this University and its capacity for collaborations are more than I possibly could have imagined. So I know to an absolute certainty that we are a great public research university uniquely positioned to do the work that’s required in the 21st century, to make a real impact, to change the world.
Each and every day, I am deeply grateful and humbled to be here. In a movie I saw some years ago, one character asks another, “What do you do when your reality exceeds your dream?”
The person to whom he was talking said, “Don’t tell anybody.” So my reality greatly exceeds my dreams. I just won’t tell anybody.
But now, I think is the time to push ahead in even new ways.
We’ve just come through a very difficult economic situation, the worst we’ve probably ever experienced at the University. When I came here two years ago, our primary goal and our highest priority, was to address those financial challenges. Certainly, there’s much more work to do. There will always be important work to do in that regard.
But I think we have turned a corner. Now is an opportunity for us to chart a course. When I walk around campus, I can feel this, I can feel the energy and the excitement and the engagement. We are ready to move.
It is not enough merely to sustain our operations. We need to do more, and we know it — in order to fulfill our purpose as one of the truly great public research universities, as one that is uniquely situated to be the leader in ways that have never been demanded of us before, but that are absolutely essential to the future of this state, this country, and indeed the world.
So I’m here today to talk about four foundations—four columns, if you please— upon which the University should be built.
Four columns: Accessible. Experimental. Global. Enterprising. We have four columns in the Sylvan Theater as many of you that have strolled over to the area have seen. They are the original four columns, restored, that were in the first University building constructed on Denny’s Knoll in 1861. I go to the Sylvan Theater occasionally to reflect on the University, its extraordinary history and promising future.
We honor that past, and know that it calls us forward as well. We hear across the generations our founders’ ambitions and their goals, and it calls us to be equally ambitious and visionary as well.
So with that in mind, I offer four columns for today. Four columns to define a shared vision of who we need to be and what we need to become. I commit to you that I will pursue this for the rest of my presidency.
These are, indeed, in some ways my columns, but, more importantly, they are yours as well. They come from listening to you, from walking around campus, from listening to people all the way from Tokyo to Toronto, to Bellingham, to Beijing to Bellevue, talking to people on campus, in every conceivable lab I could visit, talking to people at faculty meetings, talking to the Faculty Senate, talking to students, talking to the staff. These are our shared vision.
First, the University of Washington needs to be accessible. Second, it must be experimental. Third, it must be global. And fourth, it must be enterprising.
So let me turn to each of these and tell you a bit of what I mean. The first column is accessibility.
Now, what does this mean? As a public research university, it means that we are inclusive, inclusive in the broadest sense possible.
It means making it possible for individuals who have the ability and ambition to come to the University to actually come and take advantage of all it has to offer.
Our undergraduate research programs, our leadership programs, our 800 student organizations, all of those things must be available and accessible to all students. But it is more. And let me explain.
I think of it in at least three ways.
One, it’s about providing resources to bring prepared, capable, ambitious students to campus to realize their full potential. It means ensuring that the Husky Promise is sustainable for the long-term, so that our resources are available to the best Washington students that need it the most. This is the promise that allows us to say, if you are prepared, if you are ready to come to the University of Washington, we will ensure resources are available for you to come regardless of your financial circumstances.
This promise has enormous impact. I sat next to a young woman at an event not long ago. She said the Husky Promise was financially very helpful to be sure. But she went on to say that that was not the most important part. Rather, she said, “It was evidence that somebody believed in me. Somebody believed in me enough to write a check. For the first time in my life, somebody believed in my potential.” I thought that extraordinary.
We must be accessible. We must make it possible for people like this extraordinary young woman to attend this University.
But I also think it means even more than that.
Secondly, it means access to the great content beyond the borders of the University. We must find ways to bring our ideas, our knowledge, and our inventions to people wherever they are. We must make our offerings available to individuals and, in the process, make their lives better.
Let me give you an example. Beginning this fall, the UW is offering its first online degree completion program. This will enable students with 70 transferrable credit hours or more to finish their degrees completely online, with genuine UW quality. This is a design approved by the faculty, as it should be, but one that permits people who are largely place-bound, time-bound, who can’t come to campus, who have jobs, families and lives, to change their lives by taking advantage of the great education we offer. They are going to have a chance to finish their college education and finish it in a way that will allow them to be teachers to the young people in this state.
Imagine for a minute what it would be like if every child in this state, before they go to kindergarten, had had somebody teach them, someone who understands the importance of that space, the importance of what goes on in those first five years and who can optimally prepare them to be ready for that kindergarten experience, someone who can help their minds develop in ways that they can unleash their full potential. We can do that. We must.
Another social science online program designed by the faculty is pending review as well. These programs make it possible for place-bound and time-bound people to have the great benefits of a UW education to unleash their full potential.
Let me give a third way of thinking about accessibility. It’s finding avenues to bring outside expertise from around the world into our University to enhance our research.
For example, consider David Baker’s Institute for Protein Design. His research on campus, with UW faculty and students, is extraordinary. It looks at how we fold and build and create proteins, which are the building blocks of life, the things that switch the DNA on and off, the things that can take medicine directly to sick places within our bodies, rather than just launching the medicine out into the blood stream and hoping it occasionally arrives where it should. It’s amazing work.
But it’s very difficult to figure out how to fold and construct these proteins. So what do they do?
They created a computer game called Fold-it. In this game, over 300,000 people around the world—scientists, accountants, secretaries, truck drivers, everybody plays Fold-it and learns and discovers how to fold these proteins, which in turn allows us to develop capacity to cure a range of diseases.
Imagine that, 300,000 more researchers at the University of Washington. This is extraordinary work.
These are just three examples of the way that the University must be accessible. People have needs and interests, their life circumstances are different, their abilities, capabilities, and what will benefit them vary dramatically. We need to think about how what we do can be projected internally and externally into their lives and into the world. We must make all we do available to all.
We don’t have the luxury to leave anyone out. We must continue to increase accessibility to all students, regardless of their type, their background, their circumstances, their ability to pay, their location, or any other barriers they face.
Now, let me turn to the second column.
We must be experimental. We already have, actually, an experimental college in the ASUW, where the students offer non-credit courses on a broad variety of topics of interest. That’s a model, to be sure.
We need to be experimental in a way that honors the spirit of learning for the sake of learning, out of curiosity, not just to fulfill a degree requirement, but to genuinely learn.
But experimental also means more. It means approaching a problem in a different way, embracing trial and error and starting again with a different strategy if it doesn’t work. We need to become an experimental university. It’s great to have an experimental college; but we need to be an experimental university.
We must do that in as many important ways as possible. Whether in the research lab, in the field, in the classroom, being experimental is having the courage to move forward with a simple or complex idea that might lead to a great invention, a cure for cancer or a better way of learning and teaching the myriad things we need to teach our students to be truly educated citizens in the 21st century. We need to be even more experimental going forward.
Let me illustrate another example: UW professors Tom Montine and Eric Holland at the School of Medicine. In collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the UW genome science and pathology department has created something called precision medicine. This was based on the very simple but important insight that took cancer research in an entirely different direction. The insight was the following: We get different forms of cancer, and we generally define it based on where it occurs in the body. Lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer. That’s the way we talk about it and, historically, have thought and researched about it.
But based on a very simple observation, our professors changed the course of how we think about this. They noticed that we have treatments for many of these diseases, but that people sometimes get better and sometimes don’t. Why do some people get better and some do not? Starting from that simple insight, they began to look at the treatment of cancer at the molecular and the genetic level. What is different about people that may mean this kind of intervention works for one person, but not for another? They began to think about the person as opposed to the location. This is transforming how we understand, think about, research, and ultimately cure cancer. That’s so far out of the box that you can’t quite see where the box was any more.
Everybody is affected by cancer in one way or another. To be able to think in these extremely imaginative and creative ways is truly extraordinary.
It’s being nimble, adjusting course when something doesn’t work, and anchoring it in when it does, thinking so imaginatively that we don’t think out of the box, but we don’t even know where the box is anymore.
This is often associated with the research space. And we certainly need to be experimental in that space.
But we also need to be experimental in the teaching space.
In summer quarter this last year, for example, 120,000 people from over 200 countries signed up for UW Professor Matt McGarrity’s MOOC on public speaking. They watched lectures, they analyzed presentations, and they recorded and evaluated each other’s speeches.
By its conclusion, this course had helped literally tens of thousands of people not only increase their public speaking skills, but their confidence. I read a few course evaluations.
A Canadian woman, a writing professor, said this has helped her become a more effective instructor.
A quadriplegic from England said the course “made it possible for me to get involved in learning public speaking like never before.” What a way of allowing that person, who was so constrained physically, to unleash her potential.
A Ugandan thanked the course instructor for helping him regain his confidence after he recently moved to Australia. He said the following, and it sounds simple, but listen to how profound it is: “Now I can talk to my boss.” Something that simple, and as deep as that, was made possible by this course, and to a person who was thousands of miles away. Hundreds of these stories poured in. This course represents what the University can do when it combines that innovative spirit with its core mission: to improve people’s lives.
At this great University, we must continue to be experimental in our laboratories, our classrooms, our libraries, our offices, and cultivate a culture that accepts and makes room for failure. We have to be able to fail if we’re going to be experimental, and we have to be accepting of that, and then we have to figure out how to reward success as well.
We have to support experimentation, whatever the methodology, in whatever ways we can. We need to be bold. We need to be fearless, unafraid of failure and enthusiastic to embrace success.
Now let me turn to my third column: being global.
I told the incoming freshmen a few weeks ago that many people thought our students from Beijing or Bangladesh or other countries were the only international students on campus. I pointed out that all of our students are international students, whether they’re from Bangladesh, Beijing, Bremerton, Bellingham, or Bellevue, they are all international students.
And we are all international faculty and staff, too.
The world no longer is defined by geographic boundaries. People, goods, money, ideas, and, as our good doctors tell us, even germs cross borders seamlessly.
We live in a world where there are very few things we can think about that don’t have international and comparative dimensions. That includes many of the things we are doing here at the University of Washington.
We have added, to our great delight, a vice-provost for global affairs, Jeff Reidinger, to help us organize some of our efforts in that regard.
Let me tell you about how I’m thinking about global.
Take the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This is the work that looks at the global burden of a disease across literally hundreds of countries around the world over a time period, broken down by numerous factors: age, gender, location, along with a slew of health factors. Through this analytical tool, we can find out what’s happening with any number of diseases. Are they increasing in frequency and among which populations in a given country? Are they decreasing? What trends are we seeing? What is causing people to become ill? What is causing death in the population? This, in turn, allows policy makers to determine which policy prescriptions are changing these results and which are not. This analysis makes an extraordinary difference to governments and health care workers and ultimately to people around the globe.
Here’s another example:
We have hundreds of internationally and comparatively focused courses on this campus. We are indeed one of only two universities in the country that have eight federally funded National Resource Centers, which permits us to study, in a systematic, collaborative way, countries in every part of the globe. And, we also send our students abroad to study and conduct research.
In 2010, the King and Queen of Spain officially opened our new UW center in Leon, Spain, in the Conde Luna palace. Under the leadership of Professor Tony Geist, the Leon Center has hosted programs for a number of our different colleges, including the School of Law, the School of Art, the Foster School of Business, the College of Education, Department of English, the Hellenic Studies Program and the list goes on and on. Last year, over 100 UW students studied in Leon.
This is very personal to me as well. I spent most of my career studying Japan and trying to learn about its history, culture, politics, sociology and laws and its commonalities with the United States.
What I learned most about wasn’t, in the final analysis, Japan. Rather, I understood the United States much better. When I examined Japan and its attempts to deal with many of the same problems we deal with in the United States, I could examine more closely why we do it in a particular way in the United States, and how it could be done differently to greater effect.
It helped me unravel the political, social, and institutional differences that were critical in all legal development.
But I also think we need to think about being global in additional ways.
We must engage globally. We need to interact with people from other places, to talk to them, to share ideas, to find commonalities, to manage differences.
A moment ago I mentioned the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is examining 25 countries around the globe with respect to the incidence of meningitis. In this process, they have discovered the impact of vaccinations. Somebody dies every hour from meningitis in Uganda, for example, but not in other similarly situated countries. What has happened that has allowed those countries to largely eradicate meningitis, and Uganda not?
That’s the kind of engagement that takes the scholarship we do, the comparative understanding we develop, and puts it into the lives of real people. That’s global engagement.
The same is true of the Leon Center. It aspires to much more than simply encouraging students to show up, take a few classes, and go home. Rather, it aspires to actively engage the community, which enhances the learning and enhances our capacity to understand how we use that learning on behalf of others. It’s an important resource for the city and indeed the whole region.
Our programs strive to give back. Curt Labitzke has a studio art program from which our students auction off their art for charitable purposes. Other students volunteer to teach English classes in public schools. They teach storytelling workshops for grade school children. And the Center sponsors and curates art exhibits that the entire community enjoys.
I believe that kind of engagement is central. We are not apart from the world; we are a part of it. Our worldview needs to be big enough to answer the world’s greatest challenges, to bring students from all over the world, to send them all over the world, to understand the world in every discipline in every corner of this University.
We have to engage across cultures, languages, countries, and global challenges. Even locally, international and global understanding is critical. For example, in the Seattle public schools, over 100 different languages are spoken as a native language.
How can we possibly hope to teach them if we don’t understand what they know and what they don’t know, if we don’t understand how they think, how their minds work? We must understand this. Fortunately, we have a great College of Education. Dean Tom Stritikus has people in over 100 different schools in the state in 20 different school districts. But clearly even success in something as local as our neighborhood schools requires international and comparative understanding.
I’ve often observed that intellectual boundaries are mattering less and less. It’s the same for geographic boundaries. We need leaders with global and comparative perspectives and an appreciation of cultures, languages, and understanding the world, whether that world is as close as South Seattle or as far away as Uganda. We need to produce global citizens. We’re all connected. Being global is essential.
Finally, the fourth column: Enterprising. Now, what do I mean when I say enterprising?
As I think about it, enterprising is the essence of how we pursue our vision, with emotional and intellectual intensity, imagination, ambition, a sense of urgency, and a genuine determination to succeed.
Nothing can stop us. Nobody can out-plan us. Nobody can execute better than us. Our drive will be unsurpassed. And this will involve everyone.
As I was thinking about this, I started to sing, there ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough. And I thought: That ought to be a song.
This is vitally important for this university. Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I think about when I think about enterprising.
I had an opportunity last spring to talk with the UW Transportation Department managers. And as we talked, we really circled around the notion that parking and transportation personnel are often the first and last impression that anybody has of this University.
The way those employees do their job is critical to the impression that people may have, critical to how people get to where they’re going, how they feel about the University when they got there, and how they feel about it when they leave. That is important.
Flash forward a few months. Unbeknownst to me, the managers scheduled a day-long retreat with all of our transportation employees during which they collectively developed their own plans to make the best impression possible on all visitors.
Now, they are implementing it, and you may have seen some of the results. Employees are wearing uniforms; they step out of the booth to greet people, asking if you are here for the first time, helping you find your way. You may have seen the signage that shows Welcome Back to UW. You can see pictures of Huskies in the garage.
They are working—and they’re just getting started — in finding ways to really accomplish all that and more.
In fact, just yesterday, a very distinguished professor told me he had recently been to Commuter Services to clear up a problem that, in a moment of absolute candor — unusual candor — was willing to confess was an error on his part. He said he received the best customer service he’s received in many years. He said the associate that helped him was positive and upbeat, resolved the problem more than satisfactorily, and was as friendly as he possibly could be.
So the professor left the building feeling good about the result, and thinking, as he told me, what the hell just happened? In fact, I know exactly what happened. Our people were enterprising!
The energy and ambition of people to take whatever their job is at this University and ask, what can I do to make this University great? That’s enterprising.
Now, the second example is more serious. It shows how the unthinkable can lead to something redemptive, how someone can lead the way with drive, determination, and a belief that barriers are to be surmounted, not embraced, that barriers don’t defeat us, nor do they define us.
Two years ago, Assistant Professor Jennifer Stuber in the School of Social Work experienced a terrible loss: the death of her husband, Matt Adler, from suicide.
But that personal tragedy has become the catalyst for remarkable developments in suicide prevention. Professor Stuber and Des Moines state Rep. Tina Orwell worked together during the last legislative session to pass a law that requires all mental health professionals in the state to get training in suicide assessment and treatment.
That makes Washington the first state to mandate that these health care providers understand the risk of suicide, which take more lives each year than car accidents, homicides, and HIV/AIDS, combined.
Just last month, Professor Stuber and colleagues from campus and across the state founded a new UW-based center, a center for excellence, called Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention.
Forefront wants to make the UW a national leader in suicide research, policy change, media outreach and survivor support.
And it’s off to a superb start. It was launched at an event where they raised over $70,000, which was quickly followed by a $300,000 federal grant to expand the suicide prevention efforts here on our campus.
That, I believe, is a model for all of us. That ambition, that drive, that belief that no matter what, we are going to do great things. I believe that entrepreneurial spirit is central to this University in the most profound and powerful way imaginable. It’s also reflective of this state.
Think about it. Airplanes, neighborhood coffee shops, software for every computer, five-pound jars of mayonnaise, ordering anything you can think of online, kidney dialysis…that is Washington.
Some institutions worry about preserving what they have rather than building on their successes. Others rest on their laurels, or hoard their excellence.
Here at the University of Washington, we build and expand on our excellence.
The economic downturn we’ve been experiencing has been challenging. But like all worthwhile challenges, it required us to rise to the occasion — and we have.
For example, last year, I announced an ambitious goal. I said that over the next three years, we would double the number of companies that we would start out of UW research and innovation. We would double the number of companies and take this great work and get it out into the lives of real people.
Well, in less than one year, we exceeded that goal: 17 startup companies. That puts us among the very best universities in the nation for moving our ideas, our technology, our medical inventions, out of the University into the lives of real people.
That enterprising spirit is what allowed us to exceed our goal. Everyone played a role in their respective jobs with ambition and drive.
But being enterprising is not exclusive to the Center for Commercialization. We need to instill that concept into every classroom, residence hall, laboratory, and campus facility, and in faculty, staff, and students. We must not be afraid to fail. Failure is required for transformation to occur. Indeed, failure is often the prelude to succeeding, but we must be ambitious.
Finally, and this is absolutely critical, being enterprising is an invitation for everyone—faculty, staff, and students, alumni, supporters, Board of Regents—to do what they do in a way that’s forward thinking, that’s creative, that’s different and proactive, that’s wildly ambitious and visionary.
Everyone at every level has to look at his or her position and ask: How can I contribute? What else needs to be done? Who else needs to be involved? What is the goal and how can I use my position to get us closer to achieving it? What do I want to accomplish in this position? What’s the most ambitious thing I can think of? How can I make this university better?
And then ask what resources do I need and tell us. And I promise you, my commitment to you is that I will move heaven and earth to help you get those resources. That’s my personal commitment to all of you. We will support you to be enterprising; we want to make sure you will succeed.
So in closing, let me bring this all together. Let’s go back to the historic Brown versus the Board of Education decision for just a moment.
I want to stress two points. First, the people involved in that case had a vision, they had a goal in mind, a critically important goal, and they stuck to it.
And indeed, I remember an opportunity to sit with Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had been the lawyer in those cases, as well as his principal assistant Jack Greenburg, who was a close friend and colleague of mine at Columbia. And we talked about the goal and the strategy they developed to achieve it.
I suggested that perhaps the case was just a lucky stroke; you got lucky with the right case. They both looked at me with absolute disgust. No, they said, we had a 10-year plan. We started with looking at those parts of the system that we thought would be the lowest hanging fruit legally, and moved little by little, creating building blocks, so that by the time we brought that decision, it was one the country was ready for and the legal system was ready for.
They had a plan. They had a 10-year plan. And the power of that plan resulted in the desegregation of American schools.
And I learned an important lesson about the importance and the power of plans, and strategy, and of systematic sustained execution. That’s what we need collectively to do!
Secondly, it was clear to me how many different people had to be involved to integrate public schools and provide that opportunity that those parents so desperately wanted for their children, and that those children so richly deserved.
Parents, children, lawyers, churches, local community members, students, legislators, people who were willing to say, I will drink from that fountain, I will not ride in the back of that bus.
Federal judges who wrote heroic opinions, and sometimes were run out of town because of those opinions. And, of course, Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wrote that startling Supreme Court opinion. Every person was critical.
In fact, there was an enormously telling moment that occurred when Earl Warren read that opinion. He had worked behind the scenes to persuade all of the Justices to join him, knowing there was a moral force that would be evident if it were a unanimous opinion. So he worked Justice after Justice after Justice to persuade them to join. One of them had a somewhat checkered racial history, and it wasn’t clear that he would join. But he did.
Chief Justice Marshall reports that as this opinion was being read, at the moment at which Warren said this was a unanimous opinion of the Court, that Justice looked at then attorney Thurgood Marshall and nodded at him.
They knew that now everybody was involved in making that decision and all the changes in the country that followed were possible.
That’s what we need to do at this great University. Everything we do, we need to be collaborative and everybody, absolutely everybody needs to participate.
I have outlined four columns today. We must be Accessible, we must be Experimental, we must be Global, and we must be Enterprising. And I am inviting you to embrace these columns as truly our vision. I couldn’t stand up and recite this if I didn’t feel it was deeply rooted in all of us.
I’ve walked the halls, I’ve talked to countless people to get a sense of what this great University is and what it can do and, most importantly, what you want it to do. This is our goal.
And it’s something that I intend now to continue in a much more robust way.
This is the beginning. We will start over the course of the next few months a series of, for lack of a better word, town hall meetings, where we can all get together and talk about everybody’s roles. Our vision is to ensure that every student who comes out of the University of Washington is different from when they came in.
And that everybody who can possibly benefit from what we have and what we do on this campus, wherever they are, can benefit, whether it’s out of our research labs or out of our teaching. Our vision is to lead more research projects from our labs out into the world to change the world. We are going to teach, gloriously, effectively, locally, and globally.
That’s what we’re going to do. This is our ambition and our vision with which to do it.
I just finished reading Neil Hines’ book, Denny’s Knoll. It’s a fascinating account of the Metropolitan Tract, down in the center of Seattle, where the University of Washington started. Many of you may know it now as the location of the Fairmont Hotel. That’s of course where our first building with its four columns was located.
Two things really struck me. First, I was struck by the fact that the University of Washington was built by people from all over the state. It was not Seattle’s university, and it wasn’t even Seattle-centric. It was a collective effort supported by every corner of the state, Bellingham, Port Madison, Seabeck, Port Orchard, people, goods, materials, all shared a vision of what this great University could be and participated in the building of it.
That kind of collaboration is essential as we go forward.
Secondly, and I think even more importantly, 152 years ago, the founders of this university were impelled by a goal that superseded all others.
They were committed to an excellent university to be sure, but more to the point, they knew the university could and, if done well, would create the state in which they wanted to live, and they were very explicit about that.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 30 years later that statehood followed.
But they knew to create the kind of society, the kind of economy, the kind of world that they wanted to live in, that the catalyst had to be a great university.
And so they put their energy, their time and their resources in. As I stand in Sylvan Theater and look at those four columns, they call us forward. They remind us of the great ambitions and accomplishments of the past, but they inevitably call us forward to the next 150 years. Not just to continue to create a great state, but now to raise our eyes to create a great nation and a great world.
And there’s no university in the world better situated to do that.
I want to work together with you to create that world, to realize that vision on an even grander scale than was originally conceived. I came here because I was inspired by what I saw. I knew about our challenges, and I knew they were great, but I knew we were equal to the moment, and so much more. Together, we can do this. Together, we can lead into the next 150 years. And together, I know that we will.