The #falcons may have lost, but the birders won Twitter with #Superb_Owls vs. #Superbowl

Was fun yesterday watching all the punny posts about #Superb_Owls. I really love owls. I posted some too and also made a Storify of some of the posts of the day. Here are mine:

Here is the full Storify

Good day at Yolo Basin – Birds, Otters and more

I love Yolo Basin Wildlife Area. Only a 5-10 minute drive from Davis or a 20-30 minute bike ride.  It is phenomenal.  For more about it see the links below:

I drove over there there yesterday as a way of clearing my head after a bit of a rough day the day before.  Drove around the gravel roads in the park for a bit and got out a few times to look around.

First sighting of something of interest – off in the distance
A little far away for a good pic – but nice American Kestrel

Kestrel again
Some flowers out

Ruddy duck just off the road

Another ruddy duck

A group of Northern shovelers

More Northern Shovelers

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails

Northern Pintails
Northern Harrier (a lot of Northern things I guess)

Coots (they are everywhere in the park)

Northern shoveler

More pintails

Kingfisher off in the distance 

Forster’s tern (I think)

Forster’s tern (I think)
Forster’s tern (I think)

And then the best moment – there in front of me, running across the road – river otters. They
caught me by surprise but I got this pic through my windshield.  Six of them in total.

I went to where they crossed and looked around for 3-4 minutes
and saw nothing.  As I was getting ready to go I saw
some rippling in the water.  And then ..

One crossed the road.

And off to the other side.

There was a little trail of water in the road.

And then another crossed.

And another

And off into the bushes to the water.

And they then hung out clicking at each other and maybe at me.

They had left a little gift by the side of the road. 
I kept watching 

And then I realized maybe they were waiting for the other three. So
I backed away and looked across in the water on the other side and there they were.

Add caption

Overall a good day at the Basin.

Fun visit to the #UCDavis Bohart Entomology Museum w/ my daughter’s Daisy Troop (led by my wife)

Kudos to the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology for the tour they gave to the Daisy Troop my daughter is in (which is run by my wife and a friend of hers). I got there a little late and embarrassed myself by thinking one of the dads was one of the museum workers and introducing myself (even though I know the dad pretty well).  Oh well, live and let learn.  The visit went great – the kids got to play with bugs, got to open the stacks and even pull out drawers of various bugs (note – the general term, not the Homoptera).  The museum staff were wonderful and the museum itself is very nice.  A great kids activity in Davis and good for adults too.  Always great to see passionate science education and outreach.

Vote early/often for #DavisCA house Holiday lights, help win $100K for Davis schools

Just a quick request for Davis folks or fans … there is a vote going on for best Holiday light display and a house in Davis is one of the finalists with the winner getting $100,000 for their local public schools. It would be great to get some more votes … See to vote (you will need a Facebook account).

And I note you can vote 1x/ day … so vote early and often.

My accidental encounter with the #OccupyUCDavis crowd at #UCDavis #impressed

Well, yesterday was certainly interesting.  In the morning I biked into Davis to go to the Farmer’s Market to pick up some goodies.  It was a spectacular fall day – crisp – clear – a bit chilly – and I great day to be on a bike.

I got to the market, wandered through the crowd and bumped into a few colleagues and friends and was a bit stunned to find out that none of them had even heard about the pepper spraying incident the day before on UC Davis Campus.  Wow.  It had taken over my life in a way all night – see my post about it here: A day of almost pure joy in #DavisCA and at #UCDavis, until … #OccupyUCDavis

So I told them about the incident, and then did some shopping.  It all seemed a bit surreal.  I felt disconnected.  So after filling up my panniers, I biked over to campus.  The Quad at UC Davis – where the whole pepper spray incident had gone down – was eerily quiet.

I stopped to post the pics:
  • Went by #ucdavis quad today – hauntingly empty – but talked to protestor planning massive event Monday

I biked around the quad and it all seemed a bit creepy with nobody out there.  Then I saw a UC Davis Tour being led through the quad and I wondered what exactly they would say about the incident.  But they headed inside the Student Union so I decided it was time to bike home.  I headed back around the top of the quad area and saw another tour.  This time, a biker came up next to me and then passed and went up to the tour.  And he shouted something about “better tell them about the pepper spray”.  And then he kept riding towards downtown Davis.  I caught up to him and asked him, in my still sultry laryngitis tinged voice – if he had been there the day before.  He said yes – he had been sprayed and was still pissed off.  We talked for a bit about the craziness of the whole thing (he was an undergrad) and then he told me that Monday they planned a much bigger operation in the Quad with hundreds of tents.  He said they had received many donations of tents to help set things up.
We then went our separate ways but I was left with a feeling of being a bit out of touch.
I went home and kind of stewed in my own juices, reading about the incident and the responses and the calls for the Chancellor to resign. Now – I really like the UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.  I think she has done an absolutely fantastic job as chancellor in every single thing she has done (prior to this incident).  She has hired excellent administrators.  She has gotten rid of bad ones.  She has tried to reduce expenses on campus in a humane way.  She has been pushing to get private funds to supplement the ever reducing funds from the State.  And I think she is in general a great leader – inspiring in many ways.  So the calls for her to resign over this felt like a kick in the gut.  Now mind you – I have not been impressed with what has transpired here – first the order to bring in the police and then the responses to what happened.  But prior to this event I would have gone to the end to the world for her.  And I was not going to join the call for her to resign without some clearer picture of what happened here.
Then I heard from a tweet from the California Aggie that there was going to be a press conference at 4 PM on Campus in a Building Called Surge II with Katehi and the UC Davis Police Chief. This seemed like it was the most important incident perhaps in the history of UC Davis or at least in the last 10-20 years.  And as I am a prominent promoter of UC Davis in my blog, I figured I should go.  I figured, they probably would not let me in but I should try.  After all – I am a blogger – that could count as the press right?
So at 3:10 PM I hopped in my car (bike had some issues that needed fixing) and drove to campus – scouted out parking by Surge II (nobody was there yet) but decided to park a bit further away in case crowds grew.  So I parked in a lot a few hundred yards away and got out and walked over to the small building where the Press Conference was going to be.  I got there and outside there were about 15 people milling around.  

I went up to them and asked if they were letting people in to the Press Conference.  They said they were not allowed in.  So I stopped and chatted with a few of the people there and took a few pictures.  

I guess this was some of the heart of the OccupyUCDavis protest crowd.  They were discussing with each other how Katehi had come out a few minutes before to talk to them and what she had said.  But I felt a bit awkward joining in their conversation because I was not there to officially join the protest.  I was there to try and get into the Press Conference.  So I tried to get in.  I knocked on the door and was told that the room was too small to allow anyone else in.  I did not tell them that all the public affairs and UCD press people in there probably knew me – that seemed lame.  I said “well, I am kind of a reporter” or something like that.  But no go.  I tweeted a comment:
  • Oh well – just got told I cannot attend the #ucdavis press conference on pepper spray incident “room to small” #occupyucdavis

O got some responses including from MarilynM on twitter

Other people tried to get in too a little bit later and were also herded away.

Oh well.  So I posted the pic with a complaint.

So I had now turned from someone who had hoped to ask questions and report on the press conference to someone who was going to report from the outside.

I then saw a TV truck pull by down the street and took a picture and posted it

And then Marilyn M responded

And so I realized there were people reading my live tweets and interested in them.  And so I decided to be the eyes for people on the ground.  A reporter if you will.  So that is then what I tried to be.
And I took some more pics of the TV trucks as they arrived:

The crowd began to grow a bit and I focused for a while on taking some pics and video of the crowd:

I basically lingered outside the SurgeII building as the protestors tried to disrupt the press conference and have their voices be heard.  While I was there I must say I was generally impressed with the OccupyUCDavis crowd.  They were very upset about the pepper spraying but were trying to turn their anger into something useful.  They wanted their voices to be heard.  They very friendly overall, dedicated to peaceful protest mostly (there were some chants here and there that I did not like – like one calling for the police officer involved in the spraying to come out – but this chant was stopped quickly from within the crowd).  And overall they seemed genuinely concerned with UC Davis and its future.  They were also very very upset that the Chancellor did not choose to have a press conference where they could attend.

The crowd was also quite mixed in background.  There were many undergrads and grad students there.  But also post docs, faculty and others.  I saw some faculty I knew and talked to them for a bit.  And I saw a few students I knew too.  The crowd eventually grew to be maybe a few hundred people.

And at one point they decided it was time to try and disrupt the press conference.  They then proceeded to march from one side of the building to another where a door was open and they thought maybe they could be heard better through the door.  I filmed the march:

Every once in a while during this someone would report on what was going on in the press conference which was live streaming on some channels.  Cheers erupted when apparently the chanting from outside put the conference on hold.  Information was pretty fluid outside the building.  At one point someone went up and down the aisles of people saying the Hiliary Clinton had just called for Katehi to resign on twitter.  I figured that must be misinformation, but it did get the crowd excited for a minute.

I filmed some other videos too

Eventually it was clear the press conference was over and Chancellor Katehi was looking for a way to get out of the building.  The protestors clearly wanted to see her and engage her in some way and they waited and waited but no Katehi.  They kept trying to coordinate placing people at the various exits to the building and at one point they were even allowed into the building through various entrances but I guess there were not allowed into the room where the press conference was happening.

I was impressed with how the crowd desperately wanted to be peaceful.  They kept offering (in the form of chants) statements that they would give Katehi a clear way out of the building when she wanted to leave.  And then another chant would break out saying something about how she should resign.

And then alas I had to go home to my kids.  As I was getting ready to go the crowd was trying to form a line of sorts in which Katehi would be allowed to pass if she came out.

And then it was time for me to go

Overall I left being very impressed with the OccupyUCDavis protestors.  I still did not agree with the call for Katehi to resign.  I guess I want(ed) more information about who decided what. And that is why I wanted to go to the press conference.  I was going there open to the possibility that she made mistakes but that the most egregious ones may have ben made by others.  I still have not seen the press conference so I am going to check it out and see if it adds anything to the story.  In the end, I think she has been such a great Chancellor so far that I am going into this willing to wait for more details before joining the choruses calling for resignation.

Though I note – I am so far extremely disappointed with the UCD responses to the incident and extremely disturbed by the incident itself.  There must be major changes and they should not wait for a 90 day investigation.  It seems pretty clear that the truth is not emerging from the UC Davis officials – it is only coming out via video and interviews and posts from the protestors and witnesses.  From what I can tell the UCD police are definitely being deceptive and/or completely dishonest about what happened.  I personally have ben unsure whether the UCD administration is doing the same.  But it certainly is starting to seem like a possibility.   I think the jobs of many of the UCD higher ups involved in this hang by a thin thread right now.  But when I left the protests, I was not willing to say we should cut that thread just yet.  I wanted to be measured in response to the outrageous unmeasured actions of the UCD police.

So I went home.  And then I saw the most amazing thing.  The video of the response of the protestors to Katehi leaving the building is incredible.  An absolutely amazing show of solidarity, peace and wisdom.

All I can say is – wow.  An iconic moment.  Though I was not there for the actual moment I felt like I was there in spirit.  The OccupyUCDavis protestors in a single moment have made a statement that will last forever.  And they alone seem to be the ones carrying the torch for a restoration of the good name of UC Davis that has been plunged into the depths by this crisis.  It is these silent protestors that hold the spirit of the University.  Whose University?  Our University.

A day of almost pure joy in #DavisCA and at #UCDavis, until … #OccupyUCDavis

Well, yesterday seemed to be such a good day at first.  In the AM my wife dropped my daughter off at her school (Birch Lane Elementary School famous for the scroll they sent the New York Times earlier in the year) and I stayed at home to watch my son (he does not have school on Friday’s).  Normally I take my daughter to school by bike but today she wanted mommy to take her.

While watching my son, I had a conference call to “discuss” the education series for PLoS Biology.  I put discuss in quotes since I have laryngitis and could not really speak.  But Liza Gross signed on to gchat during the call and I sent her messages which she then read to the crowd.  While on the phone I posted a few things to twitter too (must multitask):

Then, after my wife got back, I opened up my new purchase that had come in the mail the day before:

This is a “Tree of Life” collage by Michele Banks that I had purchased from her Etsy site.  Spectacularly gorgeous by the way.  

After this,  we all headed off to my daughter’s school for her class’s “heritage festival.” All the parent’s were there and they had made various foods reflective of their kids heritage (my wife made alfajores – she is from Argentina).  Here are some pics from the classroom:

To kick off the event, the kids sang a bunch of songs including “This land is your land”

And when everyone sat down to eat, I headed off to UC Davis campus where I work. But first I stopped at “The Paint Chip” in Davis to get my new Tree of Life art framed.  I was not really sure what to do so I sent a twitter DM to Michele Banks the artist to ask for advice and she emailed me some suggestions.  And I had sent her my phone number and she ended up calling to give some additional suggestions (we had communicated a lot on twitter but never by phone – with my voice the way it was, I am sure my first impression on the phone to her was a bit unusual).

And then I headed in to work.  I got to my office that I have on “Main Campus” (where I go when I am teaching) and did a little bit of work (reviewing papers, sending email).  And then at 2 PM I had another conference call, this one about the UC Davis search for a Librarian (we were getting a presentation by the Education Advisory Board about a study they had done on libraries).  I called in on my cell phone, put in on mute (after introducing myself in a hoarse whisper) and started walking to the UC Davis Student Union area to get some tea.  I had about an hour to “kill” before I needed to go to see Brad Shaffer lecture for our Intro Bio class at 3PM.

This was the first of two lectures for the class.  The next was at 5.  In this lecture I posted to twitter some of the things Shaffer was saying and had an interesting discussion with various folks that continued into the night:

  • Brad Shaffer in intro bio at #ucdavis asks “what is the most meaningful measure of evolutionary success of a lineage?” 

And while I was trying to engage in this discussion, I noticed some tweets from the outside world about the protests in the UC Davis Quad.  I reposted some of these

And then class ended and I rushed across the street to a meeting I had at the Student Union in the Coffee House about a project I am working on.  We had our meeting and while we were there we could hear and see some hints at a commotion going on outside in the Quad but I had put down my phone and it was unclear exactly what was going on.  Finally at 4:40 or so our meeting ended and I rushed out to the quad to see what was going on.  Not much sign of commotion there though I did hear some people discussion “police action.”  Then I ran into some of the students from my class who told me the police had pepper sprayed the protestors and that there was some serious confrontation.  I took a few pictures before heading in to the next lecture for our intro bio class:

But I really had no clue what had happened.

I posted a little “ditty” about how happy I was with the Tree of Life poster I had received:

In class, I continued with the posting stuff to twitter (I really like to promote UC Davis to the world and this class was kind of fun … so I kept posting away).

And I kept an eye on twitter and started to see more detail about the police-student interaction. I RTd some of these but did not get to look at details.

And then class ended and I rushed home.  It was then that I was able to see some of the photos and video of the interaction between the police and the students.  And to be honest, my day turned from one of nearly pure joy, into one of deep sadness, shock and dismay.  Here are some of the pics and vids from the scene:


Ugggh.  I don’t really know what to say here.  I usually sympathize with police in some of the interactions with protestors because the police are frequently put in a really hard spot trying to maintain control, enforce laws, and deal with dangerous situations.  But this just seems from every way I look at it to be completely unacceptable.  UC Davis, a campus that takes pride in the “Principles of Community” has turned into this?  Students camping in the quad to express their opinions about a particular issue needed to be removed why?  And they needed to be pepper sprayed why?  I get that cities and campuses are freaked out about what to do with all these protestors camping in places.  But there must have been an alternative to this.  I am a bit tired now since I tossed and turned all night in regard to what happened yesterday.  I am very worried about my campus now – what happened yesterday is not a path I expected UC Davis to go down.  And I have no idea where it is going to go from here.

What’s Lurking in Your (Work) Basement

Well, sad as it may be I finally made it into the basement in the building where I have worked for five + years – the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility (GBSF) at UC Davis (the Genome Center is in the same building).  There, down in the basement they were having an Open House for the CMGI – the Center for Molecular and Genomic Imaging.  I knew of some of the stuff they did but had never been down to see their facility and their, well, toys.  And it was really cool.

They also had a nice food spread upstairs on the first floor of our building that I discovered later.  The best part of this spread were the animal chocolates and carvings:

Anyway – just a little post here.  Oh, and they do some pretty cool science at the CMGI, including some interesting uses of CT, PET, SPECT, MRI, and more.   You just never know what you will find in the basement …

When Universities Grow in the Wrong Places

A bit of a rambling post here but here goes anyway …

Well, normally I have avoided digging in to UC Davis too much here on my blog.  Mostly because it does not really fit with the themes of evolution, open access, microbiology, genomics, etc.  Plus, overall, I really really like Davis and UC Davis.  The town is very pleasant – simple – but very nice.  I lived on my bike in the Washington DC area, taking my life into my own hands, and now living in bike town USA is great.  In fact, I even have a blog about life in Davis.  And UC Davis is overall a great place to be for me, especially with its strengths in evolution and ecology, population biology, and various aspects of microbiology.

But alas, now all is perfect here in blissville. And one thing that drives me crazy is the mind numbing complexity of the bureaucracy.  I note, I moved to Davis from The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a small non profit research institute that helped lead the genomics revolution.  And mostly I have suffered annoyances of the crazy giant complex system here in silence (except for with a few colleagues here and there).  However, I have been planning to start to discuss some of these issues in public more.  And just as I was thinking about this, it seems that others are also discussing some issues with the need to reform some UC Davis admin activities.

You see, last year we got a new Chancellor (the name they use here for the head of the University).  The new Chancellor is Linda Katehi.  I have met her a few times and overall I am very impressed.  Perhaps the thing that impresses me most is that in times of somewhat bad financial struggles she has decided to take on the bloat in the administrative side of things as one of her first activities.  And it seems this is not all talk.  For example our great local newspaper, the Davis Enterprise has been running a series of articles, most by Cory Golden, on some reports and announcements from UC Davis suggesting that Katehi really will be trying to change things around here.  Alas, the Davis Enterprise is not available for free on the web for all to read.  If you want to get some really insightful stories about UC and UC Davis, you should subscribe.  It is not much and if you have any connection to Davis it is worth the money.

Fortunately for me, and perhaps for you, the Davis Enterprise has agreed to let me post extensive quotes from their articles especially as they relate to UC Davis.  I will delay a bit in posting to try and respect their need for subscribers (unlike with scientific publications, which should all be open and freely available, I do not feel that way about private enterprises like newspapers).  Anyway – I am posting below two stories by Cory Golden of relevance to the UC Davis attempts to change the way things are done here.  One is about reorganization of some administrative functions.  And one is about an outside evaluating group that just wrote a report on some of the challenges for research at UC Davis.  A third is about a campus “vision” statement put out by Katehi.

The main gist is, that UC Davis has enormous potential that is being impeded by some bureaucratic complexities and inefficiencies.  Some good quotes include:

Those included “overstaffing, ineffective personnel and playing ‘lawyer games’ to be sure that no risks threaten the organization.”

“Over many decades Davis has developed a culture that permeates its institutions and people, one that can best be described as risk-averse, modest and insular.”

And Katehi seems like she is going to try and fix many of them.  No – the plans are not exactly what I would do.  But more on that later.  The direction things are moving is very appealing to me.  I was not inspired by the previous leadership of UC Davis.  I am much more hopeful now and am awaiting these changes very impatiently.

Anyway – thanks to the Davis Enterprise for allowing me to post here.  And please consider subscribing to the paper.  That way you will get stories as they come out …


Reorganization ramps up at UCD

By Cory Golden

August 18th, 2010

Enterprise staff writer

UC Davis leaders have OK’d in spirit a plan to cut up to $16 million in staff positions while rolling campus information technology, human resources and finance offices into a single shared services center.

An all-staff forum about the reorganization is set for Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the UCD Conference Center Ballroom.

Chancellor Linda Katehi said last week that her goals for the effort, dubbed the “Organizational Excellence Initiative,” are to redirect money to academics, student services and other priorities while improving the service given to the campus.

For now, staff members are left with questions and union leaders have growing concerns.

Among them: how many jobs will be eliminated, how positions in the proposed new center willbe filled, how fast UCD will make the changes and how much money the campus will invest in technology intended to increase efficiency.

Some answers may come from a meeting of the chancellor’s cabinet Aug. 31.

At its last two-hour meeting, last week, the cabinet decided to move forward on the outlines of recommendations made by the Atlanta-based consulting firm ScottMadden, based on more than three months of on-site assessment.

About 6,500 finance, HR and IT employees would be affected by the first phase of the project, as drawn up by the consultant.

“On the amount of savings projected, what percentage of that is from staff positions?” asked a woman in the audience during a presentation Monday to employees of administrative units that would be part of the proposed center.

Answered Karen Hull, associate vice chancellor for human resources, “Those savings reflect staff positions.”

Just how many would be cut, she said she didn’t know.

“We don’t know that for a couple of reasons,” Hull said. “One is that we don’t know for sure whether the cabinet will support the recommendation that ScottMadden has made, so that’s one big variable.

“(It) would be very misleading to connect the (estimated savings) to actual positions,” she added. “There’s a lot of dynamic changes that occur. We have natural attrition every year. We have natural turnover. We have retirements. We will not be wanting to fill any of those positions while we are forming the shared service center.

“I know that it sounds alarming — and it is alarming. These are your jobs, but I think that when we get the picture painted in a more detailed manner it will be more clear as to what will be the potential job loss.”

The consultant found that, at a core cost of $54 million a year, the campus’ human resources, information technology and finance staffing exceeded those of similarly sized organizations.

Among its recommendations: creating a shared structure with one director, improving the use of technology for timekeeping, purchasing, accounting and other tasks, and simplifying policies and processes.

The report pegged one-time or recurring costs, much of it from computer software systems, at about $19.5 million. If UCD follows its suggested timeline, the report says the university should begin saving money in less than three years.

Under the proposed model, about 80 percent of faculty, staff and student questions would be handled through self-service, either through a web portal or interactive phone system.

In what’s likely to be a controversial recommendation, the consultant suggests that the campus create job descriptions for the shared services center, then have employees apply for those positions.

“They recommend kind of an open slate. Everyone has an opportunity, and you compete for those jobs,” Hull explained, adding that the administration may yet choose another way to staff the center.

Among existing problems the consultant’s report pinpointed: large amounts of the same or similar work being done by multiple departments, excessive reviews, delayed service and multiple IT help desks. It also found “manual data collection, transcription of data, high error rates and significant rework.”

One employee at UCD might process about 1,065 invoices per year, working on paper with a long approval process. At Johns Hopkins University, which uses a shared service center model and automated system, one employee can process 45,000, the report says.

Union leaders interviewed Tuesday wondered aloud if the reorganization was an attempt to weed out their members.

Dorie Decosta, president of UCD’s chapter of the Coalition of University Employees Local No. 7, said there was a “general feeling of unrest and discomfort” among staff.

The prospect of automation replacing personalized customer service “sounds like hogwash,” she said.

“You need that element of continuity and what UCD says it stands for: caring about students, caring about staff, caring about faculty.”

Wrote Susan McCormick, president of the University Professional and Technical Employees Local No. 6, in an e-mail message, “I am getting the feeling that UC is finding ways to eliminate the highest-paid employees. They are eliminating at the top of the pay scales, those at UC the longest and those with the most knowledge.”

ScottMadden’s contract calls for a fee of $350,000, plus up to $70,000 in expenses.

The proposed reorganization comes as UCD continues to grapple with an unprecedented $150 million in state budget cuts since 2008-09. It has cut 1,062 positions: 459 layoffs or employees who had hours cut, the rest through attrition or voluntary separation.

The campus has cut 30 percent of its administration’s core budget, compared to a 15.4 percent cut for academic units.

UCD faces another $38 million to $78 million shortfall depending on the outcome of state budget talks this year.

— Reach Cory Golden at Track him at

Reports rap UCD research
By Cory Golden
August 15th, 2010

Enterprise staff writer
If UC Davis is to continue its climb in national status, it has its work cut out for it, according to a blunt assessment by an outside consultant.
While the campus has its share of advantages, including its broad research portfolio and location, it has been stymied by a risk-averse culture and a bottleneck in its research support structure, according to the Washington Advisory Group.
The advisory group, led by Eric Bloch, a former director of the National Science Foundation, interviewed more than 100 people on campus, from senior administrators to graduate students, over three days.
Many of the themes its 74-page assessment sounded were echoed in recently completed reports by two in-house “blue-ribbon” committees, one each on research and technology transfer. In an interview last week, Chancellor Linda Katehi said the campus would begin making changes in response to the three reports this academic year.
UCD ranked 36th among U.S. universities in the 2009 Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Despite state general fund cuts that could total more than $228 million since 2008, depending on the outcome of state budget talks, UCD “knows what it has to do,” the consultants write, to improve to a rank of between 20th and 30th. That group includes Northwestern University, UC Santa Barbara and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Katehi has set a new goal of $1 billion in outside research support. UCD more than doubled such funding from $295 million in 2001 to a preliminary estimate of $679 million for 2009-10.
Claire Pomeroy, the chair of the blue-ribbon committee on research and dean of the School of Medicine, called it “a new era” for research.
“There’s a pent-up desire among the faculty and the staff and the students to really optimize how our research enterprise is functioning and a recognition that we have some work to do in that area,” she said.
“The statement that we made in the blue-ribbon report on research that UC Davis is ‘less than the sum of its parts’ reflects the idea that we have incredible excellence here, and if we can just bring it together and support the people and give them the administrative support and infrastructure support, then we can really propel this university up to the next level.”
Campus culture
To reach such heights, UCD will need to undergo a personality change, the advisory group writes:
“Over many decades Davis has developed a culture that permeates its institutions and people, one that can best be described as risk-averse, modest and insular.”
While collegiality can result in the interdisciplinary research that UCD touts, it “can also have negative consequences when events and behaviors are tolerated that in other similar institutions would cause friction and result in remedies. The prime example we heard about is tolerating decision-making delays that at times may have dire consequences.”
The university has been slower than its peers to embrace partnerships with industry, described by the consultant’s report as “frowned upon by former administrations as counter to what a university is all about.”
A lack of aggressiveness has sometime been costly in other ways, the advisory group writes. For instance, UCD “seems to have missed the opportunity to expand programs in human genetics, genomics and other ‘omics at a time of explosive growth in funding in these fields. This problem must be rectified swiftly.
“UCD and its accomplishments are not as well-known as they deserve to be, in large part because of some of the cultural traits discussed,” the report says.
Andrew Hargadon, chairman of the blue-ribbon committee on tech transfer and professor of technology management at the Graduate School of Management, said he did not think the campus suffered from “collegiality to the point of complacency.” However, he acknowledged “a long history of cultural conditioning” on the campus: feeling forever overshadowed by UC Berkeley and UCLA.
“We had such a huge growth of faculty in the last decade, and the increase of research dollars as a result,” Hargadon said. “When you look at the faculty we’ve got — they weren’t there in the ’50s and ’60s; they weren’t there when that identity was being shaped.
“They would very much like to have an impact, even if it comes at the cost of driving their agenda forward.”
Research support
The main target of the complaints that the advisory group heard: the Office of Research.
Those included “overstaffing, ineffective personnel and playing ‘lawyer games’ to be sure that no risks threaten the organization.”
The office is made up of three sections: sponsored programs, which submits thousand of grant applications; institutional review boards, which govern protocols for clinical trials; and technology transfer and business development, which handles applications for patents and royalties and acts as a broker between researchers and the corporate world.
Those interviewed by the advisory group said the sponsored research group is often “overbearing,” “dictatorial” and “prone to almost missing filing dates for proposals, thus jeopardizing the opportunity to participate in important competitions,” the report reads.
The blue-ribbon committee on research, in its own 20-page reported submitted Thursday, writes that its members are “greatly concerned that UC Davis, including its research administration, has become overly bureaucratic and risk-averse, and is too narrowly focused on compliance with rules and constraints. This risks frustrating creative researchers and reducing the level of scholarly creativity and productivity.”
Said Pomeroy, “We need to find the right balance between, of course, emphasizing safety and research quality and research compliance with being at the cutting edge of discovery. I think there has been a desire to minimize risk, sometimes at the expense of efficiently processing some of the research applications.”
Additions like expanded use of technology can help speed the process, she said.
The 12-page report by the tech transfer committee recommends creating a new office that would concentrate decision-making authority for technology licensing and industry research agreements. It also urges the establishment of standards for transparency, timeliness and accountability of patenting, licensing and processing industry research agreements.
The advisory group also found that area sorely lacking: “We did not get the impression that UCD has taken this general subject of intellectual property rights and technology transfer very seriously.”
UCD doesn’t have a long tradition of spinning off businesses, Hargadon said. That means that while there are faculty who have started a business, they aren’t great in number. So those who aspire to do so must lean on the tech transfer office for help.
“There’s no hard and fast rules on tech transfer. There’s no clear value with any intellectual property,” he said. “There’s a lot of clear-cut ways to go wrong, in terms of the legality of contracts and conflicts of interest, but there’s not clear-cut ways to go right.
“It would have taken a lot of strong leadership and vision to get the process to one where the university could make bold bets and make a claim that a particular patent would have more impact if it got out than if it got out with some sort of onerous revenue obligation associated with it. As a result, the office, without that sort of leadership vision, ended up weighing compliance and weighing risk mitigation higher than was really good for the system.
“Basically, we spent more time trying to stay out of trouble than trying to launch companies.”
Increased workload
The doubling of research funding has meant a greater workload for staff. That money has increasingly come from the federal government, which has steadily imposed more stringent regulations and reporting guidelines.
At the same time, the office’s staff has been trimmed from about 90 to about 75, said outgoing Vice Chancellor for Research Barry Klein.
He said of his staff, “These are very good people working very hard for the university, but very good people working hard doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make our organization better; there are.
“If you look across the country at organizations that have these sort of hot-button service roles as we have, they are always subject to criticism. It’s impossible to be perfect,” Klein added.
“The faculty are like thoroughbreds. They want to win the race. It’s a mad dash to the finish line, but that causes a lot of tension and getting things in at the last minute and quickly, so there’s always this dynamic tension with the research office.”
Klein said being less “risk-averse” will increase the risk of violations and fines, but his staff would oblige.
“The people in my office don’t make the rules, they implement the campus culture,” he said. “And if it’s a culture that’s emerging now where you’re putting more things back to individual responsibility — having less oversight of details and assuming the departments and colleges and individuals will follow the rules — staff will move in that direction as well.”
One of the longest-serving vice chancellors for research in the UC system, Klein was due to step down in June 2009 but he said he stayed on to smooth the transition for the new chancellor, who arrived last August. His return to the physics department, announced last December, was a joint decision with Katehi.
“I was ready for a change and it was good for her to bring in some fresh blood,” Klein said.
Other findings
Among the other findings in the advisory group’s report, UCD:
** Lacks a five-year strategic financial plan;
** Needs a new strategy for technology transfer and business development;
** Suffers high student-faculty ratios in some areas;
** Should invest in technology on par with peer institutions;
** Needs a well-organized campaign to make itself and its faculty more visible if it’s to become a household name; and
n Faces a space crunch, including a lack of Biosafety Level 3 and 4 containment facilities, and should build them elsewhere if the community is opposed.
The advisory group also found that school- and college-level strategic plans were “meaningful and well-documented” but that “an institution as complex and broad as Davis requires a five- or 10-year strategy, plan and budget. No such interlinking documents exist today.”
Katehi recently unveiled a vision statement for the campus. Next, units will set out plans to meet those newly stated goals and, sometime next year, UCD will begin funding those priorities, the chancellor said.
The advisory group found it worrying that it received different financial information about research depending on who provided it.
“One wonders: What are the numbers that are at the chancellor’s disposal?” the report asks.
The advisory group also received complaints of “bloated” administration generally, despite recent cuts. UCD is rolling out a new effort this month to further reduce and reorganize its administration.
UCD paid the Washington Advisory Group $226,000, plus up to $30,000 in expenses.

— Reach Cory Golden at Track him at

Katehi details campus vision
By Cory Golden
July 30th, 2010

Enterprise staff writer
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and other campus leaders have crafted a “Vision of Excellence,” 10 months in the making, to guide the campus for the next 10 years.
The 17-page document combines many of the themes Katehi has sounded since her arrival last year, about the campus’ readiness for greater national and international prominence, with long-standing notions of UCD’s land-grant identity.
Released last week, the vision statement received a warm response from faculty, staff and student leaders reached for comment for its positive tenor, even against a backdrop of ongoing financial turmoil.
“To transform our university, we must chart a new course of action, an equally transformative vision to guide our actions and define our future,” Katehi writes in the document. It lays out goals like “foster a vibrant community of learning and scholarship” and “champion health, education, access and opportunity.” The document also describes how progress toward each goal will be assessed.
Bob Powell, chair of the Academic Senate, said the vision statement spells out change in ways both big and small.
“Before, it was about collaboration and now it’s about leadership,” he said. “It’s one thing to say you’re going to develop joint or international programs to enhance UC Davis, but this, to me, is a step above anything we were talking about before.”
Powell read one line aloud: “UC Davis will provide an efficient, professional administrative organization that is committed to serving and advancing the university’s academic mission.”
“From the outside, people would say, ‘Isn’t that obvious?’ Well, I’ve been here 26 years and it’s never been obvious,” he said. “To have that as an explicit statement is really important.”
Powell said he believed the document would go a long way toward building “grassroots support” when it falls to the colleges, schools and divisions to flesh out corresponding goals and plans to realize them.
An example of the document’s approach is its emphasis on increasing UCD’s international reach.
UCD will seek to increase the number of faculty, scholars and students from abroad and the number of students and faculty who pursue academic experiences overseas, the document says.
To accomplish those goals it will evaluate its needs in attracting, retaining and supporting international students; develop joint, collaborative international graduate programs; launch academic and clinical health research projects that tackle global challenges; strengthen and expand international alumni and global business ties; and provide the technological tools, cultural programs and student services to expand international dialogue.
Linda Bisson, professor of viticulture and enology and past chair of the Academic Senate, said the “solid” document is important for what it includes — and what it does not.
“It is different than what we’re used to because it has metrics,” Bisson said. “Typically, these kinds of vision statements are kind of just platitudes stuck together.
“This is going to sound weird,” she added, “but the change of focus that I see is that we’re not apologizing for who and what we are. Previously, things like this have read like we’re apologizing for not being (UC) Berkeley, the jewel of the UC crown.
“But this says, this is our value internationally: We’re problem-solvers — we’re a different kind of animal than Berkeley. It says we are very strong and proud of what we do — and that we’re not going to chase esoteric things when there are real things to be addressed.”
Though talk of breakthrough discoveries and spinning off research into new businesses can sometimes leave those in the humanities left wondering where they fit in, Margaret Ferguson, a professor of English and former chair of her department, said in an e-mail message that she felt that was not the case here.
“Im thrilled to say that this vision statement does speak to many of the questions that preoccupy those of us in the humanities, arts and humanistic social sciences,” she said. “These areas are mentioned early on as among the comprehensive research universitys ‘core disciplines,’ and the vision statement includes among its goals some that will particularly excite those students and faculty whose work focuses on deepening and expanding our understanding of past cultures as well as on creating new ideas for the future.”
She said she also was happy to see the goal of increasing need- and merit-based financial aid for both undergraduate and graduate students — which is “especially important for humanities graduate students, who are rarely supported by federal grants.”
Dan Wilson, chair of the Academic Federation, praised the vision statement’s emphasis on collaboration across disciplines, its promise of incentivizing success and its commitment to UCD’s land-grant role in improving the fates of the state and region.
Money, of course, remains the $228 million question mark. That may yet be the size of state cuts, dating back to July 1, 2008, depending on the outcome of the stalled state budget.
Bruno Nachtergaele, chair of the mathematics department, said in an e-mail message that he and many of his colleagues felt the document took into account their goals while also showing “the personal vision and commitment of the chancellor.”
“The recession we all suffer through is a hurdle, but not one that will stop her from promoting this vision and the long-term project of making UC Davis into the best university it can be,” Nachtergaele said.
Chair Peter Blando said in an e-mail message that the Staff Assembly was “extremely pleased to see a positive campus vision that takes us beyond the near daily concern over our job security and the university budget.
“While both are important,” he added, “staff morale is helped by providing any positive vision of the campus.”
Jack Zwald, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, said he liked what he read, too, but was left wondering how Katehi would manage to increase the size of the university’s endowment while expanding programs. Likewise, he had questions about how UCD will be able to expand need- and merit-based aid to students.
“I think they’re going to give it a shot, but do I think it’s going to get done? I’m not overly optimistic it’s going to happen,” he said.
Wilson said the chancellor was right not to set the university’s sights lower because of the financial crisis.
“We don’t want to crawl into a shell — we want to move forward as a university,” he said.
To read the full document, see
— Reach Cory Golden at Track him at

New hotel at #UCDavis is quite nice

Here is a little video I made when I went to pick up Rebecca Skloot for her talk at UC Davis last week. She was staying at the new UC Davis hotel University of California Davis Hotel | Hyatt Place which is on campus right near the Mondavi Center. The hotel seemed very very nice.

Just thought I would post the vid — seems like it is a good addition to the area hotels with the one exception that it is not in downtown.

Davis, CA schools and their class size issues

Cross posting here from my “normal” non science life as a parent and resident of Davis, CA. This video was made by Hal And Carin Sloane, who are both neighbors and friends of mine. It is part of a fundraising effort for the Davis Schools Foundation and a general awareness raising campaign about the effects of budget cuts on K-12 education.

Davis Schools Foundation “Class Size” from Hal Sloane on Vimeo.