Chancellor's Friday Letters

Our ‘elephant’ is taking the lead

Our ‘elephant’ is taking the lead

October 21, 2011

Dear Friends,

This past week I held my first Chancellor’s Townhall Discussion of the academic year.

A few hundred gathered in a large hall, and many more joined via webcast. If you are interested in viewing the discussion, it is available at http://chancellor.ucr.edu/.

One issue that was discussed is something I characterized as the proverbial elephant in the room, illustrated by a slide showing a hand-carved wooden elephant given to me some years ago by a family in Thailand…an intriguing point that I’ll return to at the end.

The elephant in the room is the tension between our current economic malaise and our goal of achieving the aspirations articulated in our academic plan of growth and improvement, called UCR 2020:  The Path to Preeminence.

The question is how we – both individually and collectively – provide the leadership necessary to achieve our strategic goals, despite economic realities.

Leadership comes with positional authority at a University, but it also is incumbent upon each of us at UCR, regardless of “title.”  Both types of leadership are vitally important.  Those with positional authority directly influence decisions and resources both on and off campus.  In reality, however, leadership occurs at all levels… as we interact with co-workers, students, community members, and others.

Strong leadership acknowledges the disappointment and frustration that we sometimes experience, but at the same time works to suppress anger, pessimism, and cynicism about the future.  These are counter-productive.  Instead, strong leaders capitalize on our greatest strength, which is our human capital – capable of critical analysis, focus, strategic thinking, and optimism about the future.

Indeed, one of the reasons I am so grateful to be part of the University of California, Riverside, is that UC is society’s most powerful antidote of hope to all the difficult issues that confront us today…from our personal situations to campus issues to worldwide concerns.

The challenge I ask you to think about deeply and to discuss with others, is how best to manage these tensions during these times, because they are our times.

Although we live in a new reality of economics, we must believe in ourselves and be self-actualizing.  We must be leaders.  At the same time we must remain actively committed to making the case clearly and repeatedly to lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington DC that predictable, sufficient, and sustained public investment in public higher education is in the best interest of everyone.

Returning to the ‘elephant in the room’ metaphor, which I used in a Western sense… Please also consider the elephant from the Buddhist view, since mine came from Thailand. Some excerpts from various sources: “The elephant is acknowledged as having many wide attributes, and perhaps the most obvious is talent…for a stately presence… agility…intelligence…a particular gentleness that makes the elephant not only a highly respected creature of the land but also one that is appreciated and loved…a symbol of responsibility because it takes great care of its offspring as well as its elders.”

Not a bad characterization of a great University.



Tim White, Chancellor

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I’m supposed to be doing something else right now
Philosophy faculty member John Perry has introduced the concept of structured procrastination. He recently won an “Ig Nobel Prize in Literature” for writing a paper that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think. A Chronicle of Higher Education story explains the concept.

A grand botanical tradition
This weekend’s traditional fall plant sale for the garden enthusiasts of the region, features 500 varieties of plants, including vegetables and herbs, and free lectures.  The sale raises funds for the UCR Botanic Garden.  It runs from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.  Friends of the U.C. Riverside Botanic Garden are treated to a special preview sale from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Shaking up earthquake science
A $4.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the dynamics of earthquake fault systems may help to better predict when the shaking will start. Useful news, especially the day after the Great California Shakeout.

What else is happening on campus?  View: http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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