UW News

October 21, 2022

Video: Highlights from 2022 Annual President’s Address

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce delivered her annual address to the community on Oct. 20. Highlights of the speech are reflected in this video. The audience was invited to attend the event remotely via livestream.

President Cauce talked about the power of public research universities to bring communities together across differences to address some of the world’s greatest challenges. Higher-education institutions, particularly the UW, are being called on to do great things, and “we will answer that call,” Cauce said. “Together.”

Watch a full replay of the speech.

Click to see the full transcript of the speech

Accelerating change for the public good: Expanding the role of public research universities


President Ana Mari Cauce
The Henry Art Gallery Auditorium Thursday, October 20, 2022
Remarks as prepared for delivery


Thank you, Gautham, for that kind introduction and for your collaborative leadership as Faculty Senate Chair.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Coast Salish peoples of this land I stand on, land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.

I also want to thank our Regents, including Regent Constance Rice who is here today and Regents Elizabeth Lee, Leonor Fuller, Blaine Tamaki and David Zeeck who are joining us remotely. As the people appointed by the Governor to oversee and steward the University of Washington, I’m continually grateful for your leadership and commitment to our students, our mission, and the communities we serve across the state and the world.

And above all, thank you to everyone who is joining us today, whether you’re watching on a screen, or from here in our Henry Art Gallery. The Henry is home to challenging and engaging work by contemporary artists. Exhibits change regularly, so if you haven’t visited recently, it’s well worth your time.

After three years of holding this talk remotely, it is wonderful to be back in community with you in person. In recent weeks, we’ve had many, many wonderful gatherings, for example, to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Interdisciplinary Engineering Science building and the opening of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Building — I love that they are both interdisciplinary! And just yesterday I attended a reception to celebrate the wonderful work of CREATE – The Center for Research and on Accessible Technology and Education. We’ve also celebrated “W” day and Parent and Family weekend — not to mention a really great win by our football team at Husky Stadium. Go Dawgs! And during a time out at the game, there was a great procession to celebrate 50 years of Title IX in sports – Mighty are the Women!

I know well that COVID is not gone and I can assure you that we remain vigilant; our UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases continues to meet on a weekly basis. And if you haven’t gotten your booster or your flu shot, the time is now!

So yes, there’s still some anxiety about in-person gathering and about how to interact in person. In some cases our social skills have gotten a bit rusty. We’re all re-learning or refreshing our communication and turn-taking skills. In person, if you get bored or don’t like what I’m saying, there’s no way to mute me with civility, and there’s no chat room that allows you to politely have sidebar conversations when someone else has the floor. The years of isolation and almost exclusively virtual communication have taken a toll on our ability to relate to each other, see things from another’s perspective, or have patience with each other’s foibles. But, despite some anxiety and tension, what I hear again and again, from students, faculty, staff, and other supporters and friends, is how wonderful and downright joyous it feels to be in community. To share spaces that allow us to engage in conversations, and arguments too, that lead to collaborative discovery and problem solving.

Today, I want to take the opportunity to talk about the importance and power of such authentic partnerships and collaborations, both across our own university and across the various sectors of our society. In doing so, I will be underscoring the unique role that comprehensive public research universities like ours can play in fostering those collaborations, both locally and across the globe, in order to create the positive change that our world needs.

We know a thing or two about how to do this work. And I’ll be talking about some of the collaborative community-engaged work that is ongoing. But, there is no better time than now to build on these successes and accelerate that work. In this time of disruption and change, we have the opportunity and responsibility to reimagine our role so that we can better apply our unique assets to addressing the planet’s most pressing challenges: issues like race and economic inequity, local and global threats to democracy, climate change, pandemics present and future, and the health care crisis.

This does not change our deep commitment to study and assessment, or to curiosity driven research and discovery. Our UW motto is “Lux Sit” and our commitment to seeking out truth and to create light in the world remains. Universities are the only institutions that do this as a core mission. But, we can’t stop there. It’s no longer enough.

However, the impact we seek to create doesn’t originate in the President’s Office, although I hope to give it a jump start. I’m asking us all to join together in envisioning and re-imagining how the outstanding work, already going on in every corner of the UW, can be better leveraged to contribute to the larger mission of accelerating change for the public good. The urgency of this moment, requires it of us. We can, we must embrace a more proactive problem-solving role.

The problems we face are not new. The problem of inequitable access to education and economic opportunity that disproportionately affects BIPOC and underserved communities locally and globally has been persistent and pervasive. So is our concern for our environment and a healthcare system that too often fails our most vulnerable populations. But, the urgency of this moment is not only clear in our statistical modeling – we can see it in the smoke that has filled our air these last few days and in the intensity and frequency of storms that are ravaging communities around the world. In the U.S. we are experiencing the steepest peacetime decline in educational attainment in our history.

In our own state of Washington, healthcare is reaching a crisis point as our hospitals and healthcare workers are facing unprecedented turmoil in the wake of the most intense phase of the pandemic. We have a pent-up need for healthcare at the same time as we face workforce shortages. Between these challenges and the rising cost of care, right now is one of the most difficult times for hospitals and healthcare in recent history. And, this is especially true for systems like UW Medicine with a public mission and commitment to healthcare equity. Our mission both inspires and requires us to provide services to marginalized populations that are not always fully reimbursed or reimbursable.

At the same time, around the globe, democracies are now declining more than at any point in the last century and that the trend is accelerating. Women’s rights that we took for granted are now under attack or being rolled back.

And these challenges are colliding with a historical moment of extreme intransigence and polarization, which both fuels and is fueled by diminishing faith in the institutions that have traditionally served as trusted brokers of information and agents of progress.

Ironically, the one thing that most Americans can agree on is that their faith in government, the justice system, the news media, and the businesses world is at an all time low. Coupled with deeply fractured media consumption and rampant misinformation, people with opposing viewpoints often can’t even agree on the most basic facts or view of reality.

The urgency is real.

A large public research university like the UW stands apart from other kinds of institutions. We are home to spaces and programs with enormous capacity to establish common ground and convene conversations across genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, political affiliations and disciplinary backgrounds.

From the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, to the Burke Museum, to the Rosling Population Health Center, to the UW Tacoma Center for the Study of Community and Society, to the UW Bothell Activities & Recreation Center, our campuses and research centers are rich environments for creating shared experiences. These experiences can forge connections that may spark larger collaborations or simply rebuild that sense of community that dwindled during the pandemic.

And every corner of our institution has a role to play.

It’s fitting that we’re here in the Henry because the arts are essential to this endeavor. They spark connections on an emotional level and have the power to bring people into community in ways that no Zoom or Teams call can compete with. They can uplift our spirits when we grow tired, and snap us out of the cynicism that can so easily grow out of our of critical analysis of unpleasant realities.

Last month, I was joined by dozens of people – faculty, staff and students, as well as members of Seattle’s Chinese American community – at Odegaard Library for a ribbon-cutting and dragon dance in honor of the art installation, “Bruce Lee Ascending.” The artwork was designed by Han Eckelberg, a multiracial UW student, and the event was a moving celebration of our pride in Bruce Lee as a former UW student. It was also a vibrant reminder of the joy that comes from simply experiencing something together that unites our past with our present and our communities inside and outside the borders of our campuses.

Likewise, the humanities have the power to connect us to ourselves in ways that allow us to heal and thrive. A UW alumna, Ada Limón was recently named the U.S. Poet Laureate. She has described poetry as:

“[O]ne of the few art forms that has breath built right into it.

It literally wants us to breathe, to pause for a moment and pay attention to what matters.

Perhaps more than ever before, these uncertain times require the humanity that poetry offers.”

Universities can also partner with other universities in ways that leverage and amplify their effectiveness – and the examples are all around us:

In eastern Washington, our medical school’s Health Partnership with Gonzaga University shows how we can work together to educate and retain physicians in the underserved parts of our state. And the state-of-the-art facility we just opened in Spokane is a big leap forward for medical education, research and innovation in the region. And to be clear, medical students enrolled through this partnership will have access to training in the full spectrum of reproductive care.

Another example is the Weill Neurohub, a partnership between Berkeley, UCSF and the UW, funded by Joan and “Sandy” Weill and the Weill Family Foundation. It brings together research across many disciplines, including imaging, engineering, biology, genomics, psychiatry and computation – to name just a few – to speed the development of new treatments for neurological and brain diseases, such Alzheimer’s and related diseases, or severe, intractable depression.

These types of collaborations across universities or research institutes that focus on solving real world problems help to build public trust and support. They also attract philanthropic investment. Just last week, we learned that the Bezos family made a transformative $710 million commitment, their largest gift ever by far, to the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center. In making this gift, Mike Bezos noted “[W]e were encouraged to see the recent merger expand its capacity to aggressively investigate and treat cancer and infectious diseases.” This kind of investment reflects the power of the partnership between UW Medicine and Fred Hutch that seeks to shorten the distance from discovery in the lab to cancer treatment in the clinic.

The UW is also reimagining how universities partner with industry. Our Global Innovation Exchange in Bellevue is a hub for project-based interdisciplinary learning. Delivered in partnership with Microsoft, TMobile and other leading tech companies, GIX lets talented graduate students and professionals from around the globe have real-world impact through the responsible application of advanced technologies.

UW research is also leading to evidence-based policy changes.

You may have read that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is now planning to close or reduce the use of multiple detention centers across the southeast. Research by the UW Center For Human Rights, which showed systemic human rights abuses in ICE detention centers, was instrumental in the closure of the Northwest detention center in Tacoma and is contributing to this broader decline in their nationwide use.

As part of state efforts to strengthen public confidence in election integrity, our Secretary of State requested funding for the Evans School to evaluate ways to address rejected ballots that disproportionately affect BIPOC voters in Washington.

And thanks to a study co-led by the UW and Harvard Schools of Public Health, Congress has reliable data showing that two COVID-era programs designed to combat child hunger successfully provided meals to more than 30 million children in need each month in 2020. Knowing that this program was successful, and understanding the factors that led to its success are key to replicating similar programs, which are likely to be needed in response to future health or environmental crises.

Much of this collaborative work falls under the broad umbrella of our three University Initiatives: Population Health, Race and Equity and the Innovation Imperative, which require us to work across the full breadth and depth of our large, comprehensive research university.

The handful of examples I shared are just a few of many ways that the UW serves the public through knowledge creation, expertise, and engagement with issues that affect everyone. We are already making a difference – through inspiration, education and research that matters. But we must accelerate and amplify our role not only as sites of knowledge dissemination and production, but when it comes to communicating this knowledge, and its limits, to the public at large, engaging with the community in problem definition and problem solving, and in shaping public policy.

This may challenge the traditional conception of the role of universities as ivory towers, removed from the hurly burly of everyday life. Since the very beginnings of my time as president, you’ve heard me say that our goal is to be the greatest public university in the world as measured by our impact. To further advance this work, last year, I charged a sub-committee of the Board of Deans and Chancellors to focus on how we can re-wire our large institution to achieve those ends. At minimum, we first need to work even more effectively across our many disciplines, schools, colleges and campuses. Second, we need to work in authentic partnership with our communities, local and global. To quote (or at least paraphrase) our Dean of the College of the Environment, Maya Tolstoy, no matter how well intentioned or well informed, what you are not doing with the community, you’re doing to the community.

This mission of impact that I’ve been talking about, has also been a focus of more and more conversations in other universities. It was the focus of a meeting of university presidents from around the globe that I attended last summer, and this commitment to impact is becoming more widely embraced across many European and Asian universities, where ties to government are often stronger. (In fact, there was concern in some corners about the need to retain their autonomy from government — which is also important). But this desire to focus on impact is emerging as a growing movement across the higher education sector more broadly, including here in the U.S.

Increasingly, leaders of academic institutions are recognizing that we have a special ability to engage in what has been called “knowledge diplomacy.” At a time when government to government interactions and traditional channels of diplomacy are stymied by political polarization, we can engage in discovery, research, innovation, and problem solving, scholar to scholar, scientist to scientist across our many professional organizations, and university to university.

We can create and share data about what types of programs or interventions help to alleviate hunger, or curb the spread of disease. We can then shape those projects and programs so that they account for “place” and are suited to the communities we partner with. This can lead to broader changes in public policy and practice in places where government-to-government collaboration is not always possible or fruitful.

I recently returned from the Science Technology and Society conference held in Japan where I learned that collaborative research between the UW and the University of Texas on Japan’s Nankai subduction zone could lead to better earthquake forecasts both in Nankai and in other megathrust faults, like our own Cascadia subduction zone on the Washington and Oregon coast.

In Africa, Marwo Caafimaad is a UW collaboration with Seattle based non-profits aimed at reducing the high maternal mortality rates in Puntland, Somalia. The project is providing enhanced training and resources for female health workers. This is especially noteworthy because Puntland is a semi autonomous region with very little government infrastructure. But as a research university, we have the skills, latitude and flexibility to work directly with affected communities.

And this work is bearing fruit closer to home. Elements of the project are being implemented in Seattle’s Somali community through the local Somali Health Board. Thanks to the work in Puntland, Somali women in South King County are getting training from local Somali doulas and nurses about issues related to pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum life. The work we do abroad can and does make a difference in our local communities. And it can work the other way around as well.

Just a few light rail stops away, in the Rainier Valley neighborhood, our College of Education is leading a campaign to build the Rainier Valley Early Learning Campus. This project is based on research showing the critical importance of early childhood learning for improved lifelong outcomes. By leveraging partnerships, new transportation infrastructure, public investment and philanthropic support, we have the potential to transform early childhood education by working with the communities we serve there. And if we are successful, this program has the potential to be a model with national reach, planting the seeds for transformational impact.

And in the Foster School, the Business Development Center has worked for decades in partnership with tribes, including the Yakama Nation and the Muckleshoot Tribe, to improve business knowledge and training and expand entrepreneurial opportunities for Indigenous people in Washington. It, too, is being explored as a national model.

Clearly, our work truly is “glocal.” Even when we focus on problems in our own backyards, we assess our interventions and measure our impact in a manner that allows us to generalize our findings to other communities and regions with differences and similarities. But, for people to see and understand that our work does make a difference in their lives, whether they ever step foot on any of our campuses or not, we must create more inroads for members of the public to find connection and communion with and at the UW

Let me be clear: without question, for our campus and the surrounding areas need to be welcoming places, we must address safety concerns in the U District. The gun violence that occurred there earlier this month – as well as ongoing safety issues – are a top priority for me and everyone in the administration.

We have long worked closely with City Hall and the U District Partnership on safety issues. We continue to be in close communication with them, as well as the Seattle police, to ensure safety in the neighborhood. We also remain committed to the work of police reform and preventing violence by providing better services to our marginalized and underserved communities, and at using non-police responses where appropriate.

The work of re-imagining how we keep our campus and surrounding areas safe is crucial both because our students, faculty, and staff cannot do their best work when they feel unsafe and because we to want our campuses to be welcoming hubs for engagement.

In Seattle, we’re currently campaigning to the restore the historic ASUW Shell House into a convening space for both students and members of our community. This is where the “Boys in the Boat” trained to become the 1936 Olympic rowing champions — an event that has special resonance today.

In the U District, we are also working in partnership with the University Book Store and the UW Alumni Association to open a new center to welcome the many people who visit our campus and our neighborhood each year — creating a clear entry point for those seeking to engage with us.

This is why we were very intentional in making sure that our three newest buildings along 15th Avenue – the Life Sciences Building, the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, and the Burke Museum – all have floor to ceiling windows that face out to the community. Through architecture and design, we are signaling that the university is not walled off from the community and that we welcome the public in.

Our ambitions are boundless, but we have a special responsibility to contribute to the life of the cities and communities where we reside, helping to shape them in ways that make them more livable for us all.

Here on our Seattle campus, we are now served by two light rail stations that connect our students, faculty and staff to neighborhoods throughout the city, and make it easier for our neighbors to come to us.

To the south, UW Tacoma has evolved into a model urban-serving university, with renovated historic warehouses and industrial facilities, like the Mattress Factory, connecting students to Tacoma’s workingclass past and creating unique spaces for collaborative work and shared experiences. And UW Bothell will soon triple its residential capacity, creating on campus housing for more than a thousand students when its new residence hall project is completed adding to the vibrancy of the community.

Our impact upon our state and local community is especially clear in the area of healthcare. In healthcare education, our programs routinely rank among the very best in the nation. The UW School of Medicine consistently earns U.S. News’ number one spot in the nation for primary care education — in fact, it’s been ranked as one of the top two medical schools for primary care education every year since 1995! And an incredible 41 of our medical school graduate and professional programs and specialties are ranked among the top 10 in the nation.

Our tri-campus School of Nursing is also recognized as one of the very best. Its bachelor’s program earned the number two spot in the nation, and is number one in the nation for its Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Across the healthcare disciplines, our Schools and Colleges in Public Health, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Social Work, and Clinical Psychology all appear among the top five in the nation in numerous rankings.

As a leading health care network, not just in Washington, but in the nation, we see more than 1.7 million patients a year in our four hospitals and hundreds of clinics. This includes providing more than $729 million in uncompensated care. We are the healthcare safety net for Washington.

And through programs like Airlift Northwest, the RIDE program, and the WWAMI Regional Family Resident Network, we help ensure that people in some of the most remote parts of our region have access to critical medical and dental care. Indeed, across our region, UW-trained healthcare providers are treating patients with the knowledge, expertise and values that they learned here.

But, to continue and expand this impact, we need public support and investment. This year, we have made a significant request of the Washington State Legislature to support our hospitals with both onetime and permanent ongoing appropriations. We hope the one-time funding can provide a bridge for UW Medicine as our hospitals work with state and federal agencies to improve federal reimbursement for the Medicaid services we provide. And we are asking for permanent appropriations to provide ongoing support for the important mission-driven care and teaching aspects of our work that benefit Washingtonians statewide.

And whether it’s providing excellent clinical care or ensuring that our laboratories are conducting cutting edge research, we can only do our best work through the lens of equity, diversity and inclusion. These values are inseparable from our commitment to excellence.

It’s still a work in progress, but I’m proud of the committed work taking place across the UW, including our practices, programs and culture around hiring and retention. Creating a culture that attracts and welcomes faculty and staff who represent diverse human experiences is critical for learning and discovery. And it does not happen by accident. It grows from intentionality, including the Faculty Diversity Initiative and the Faculty Development Program, both of which were launched with the strong support of Provost Mark Richards.

As you may know, Mark plans to step down as provost in summer of 2023 at the end of his five year term. During that term, he has provided outstanding leadership and created significant impact that has bettered our University and our community in countless ways, including making our graduate students a priority, nearly doubling the amount of financial support available to them.

Mark – you will be missed! And as we begin the process of launching an upcoming national search for a new provost, it will take all hands on deck to find someone who will carry that work forward. So talk to your friends and colleagues about great potential candidates. We’ll soon have a web page with information on how you can nominate them.

Leadership matters, and that is also reflected in our Board of Regents (soon to include a faculty regent) and our chancellors, deans and other senior leaders. The diversity they bring to the table and their commitment to equity and access for students is evident across our units in programs like STARS, LSAMP and the Husky Promise, which work to ensure that we don’t leave talented students on the sidelines. It’s also why we invest in programs and spaces that support degree completion and create a culture of belonging like the Ethnic Cultural Center, the Office of Graduate Student Equity & Excellence, and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity Instructional Center, the Center for Equity and Inclusion at UW Tacoma and the Student Diversity Center at Bothell.

As we continue the process of rebuilding our sense of community in order to tackle the big challenges, how we live up to these values will help determine how successful we are at creating impact for the public good.

For many people listening right now, I know that furthering our mission to accelerate change for the public good is exactly what you’re already doing. And that’s a good thing! Because I recognize that this isn’t the best time for a major change of course or to launch large new initiatives de novo. As I often tell our deans and chancellors, vice presidents, provosts and our faculty senate — we need to prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

Many of us are still reeling from the most difficult phases of the pandemic and the many traumas piled on top of it. We have all struggled and many of us continue to face hardships. I know that some of you are exhausted and some are quite frankly feeling demoralized. We still need space and support for healing and recovery.

Stretch goals are certainly fine, but we shouldn’t take on too much more than we can succeed at within reasonable time frames. Failures set us back and lead to further disengagement and cynicism, but even small victories energize us, allowing us to build upon them in ways that lead into the larger victories we can create through partnerships and by embracing a more expansive definition of the public research university’s role in the world.

And that begins here, in the places and spaces that bring us together to share ideas, hopes and dreams than can be turned into action. In closing, I ask you to consider a couple of stories about how impact begins at the University of Washington:

In the early 2000s, Alula Asfaw didn’t see himself as college material, but thanks to teachers and advisors who were invested in him, he applied and was accepted to the UW. He felt lucky to have found a pathway here, where he formed deep bonds with faculty members who recognized and nurtured his passion for giving other students the same opportunities he had.

As a student, he worked with UW faculty, including Professor Stan Chernicoff and Dean Ed Taylor, to found the Dream Project, which sends UW undergraduates into middle and high schools to help students overcome barriers to college – that project is still going strong with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But Alula wasn’t done. After graduating, he went on to earn a masters from Cambridge and a law degree from Yale. Through it all, he dreamed of giving every kid a chance to see themselves in his shoes. So he founded the Ascend Initiative, a pilot project in Cleveland that coaches the highest-need 4th graders in math skills, social-emotional skills and critical thinking. The pilot has proven to be so successful that the model is now expanding to other schools where students need these critical early supports and interventions.

Or this one:

For generations, the logging industry helped sustain Washington’s economy, but as the environmental costs of deforestation became painfully clear, the industry declined, devastating local economies.

ecently, an innovative new type of engineered wood, called cross-laminated timber, or CLT was developed. CLT is a stronger, more durable building material that can be more sustainably harvested and does a better job of sequestering carbon.

Research by the UW’s Olympic Natural Resources Center, the UW Center for International Trade in Forest Products, the College of Built Environments and the College of the Environment showed what a game-changer CLT could be. That led to a rise in the commercial use of CLT in Washington and this year, a new CLT plant is opening in Snohomish County, not far from the site of the Oso Landslide. The plant is expected to create more than 120 jobs. Here on our own campus, the newly-opened Founders Hall just become one of the first buildings in the state to be constructed with CLT. Go check it out — it’s sustainable and beautiful.

What these stories – and so many others – make clear is that impact begins here —in our labs, and classrooms, over coffee or in a symposium. It begins with an idea, which becomes a successful research collaboration, that leads to a new program, constructed through a community partnership, which becomes a coalition that leads to a policy change in our city or county.

It is then adopted across the state or nation and ripples outward and outward, touching more people and communities and ultimately, changing the world.

Just yesterday, Dean of our Law School Tamara Lawson who I’ve been talking to on several occasions, and whose been helping me – along with other faculty, deans, staff and students, think more deeply about our UW vision – gave me a children’s book called “What do you do with an idea?” In it, a young boy gets an idea and struggles with what to do with it. Others laugh at it, and he thinks about simply ignoring it. But he can’t, and instead he makes friends with it and nurtures it. Then, “something amazing happened. It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky. It went from being here to being everywhere. It wasn’t just a part of me anymore. It was now a part of everything. And then, I realized what you do with an idea. You change the world.”

Out of the mouth of babes (or at least those who write for babes). Truth!

But it doesn’t just magically happen; the work of turning an idea into impact is well, work. It is intentional, and often rests on the foundation of years of practice in the studio, countless manuscripts some of them rejected, years of running experiments that work, and don’t work. And even after you know, after you’ve proven, that the idea is a good one worth turning into something concrete or actionable, it needs to be refined and adapted in partnership with those who will be most affected when the idea turns into a program or performance or project or policy that can change the world.

That work begins with us – our great public research university is being called on to do great things. We will answer the call.