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Five UC presidents share stories about the university’s bold rise over the last 150 years

Before the electric light bulb changed the world, another illuminating idea took shape: The University of California. Founded in 1868, UC has continued to shine brightly for 150 years, driving positive change across California and around the world.

On April 10, in honor of the milestone anniversary, five distinguished UC presidents convened at UC San Diego’s Birch Aquarium for a candid conversation about their unique challenges and successes as leaders of one of the world’s top public universities. The panel included current president Janet Napolitano, as well as former presidents Mark Yudof, Robert Dynes, Richard Atkinson and David Gardner.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla welcomed more than 150 guests, including George Kieffer, chair of the UC Board of Regents, as well as alumni from across the University of California’s 10 campuses. In his opening remarks, Khosla recognized UC’s unique, long-lasting impact.

“It was a bold idea at the time to recognize that education should be accessible and affordable to all,” he said. “If this idea was to be implemented, there was only one state, and one system that could do it—California, by creating the University of California. It’s a system that is making a difference, which could not be done without great leadership.”

During the panel—moderated by Monica Lozano, former chair of the UC Board of Regents—the presidents delved into many topics, including the university serving as a pathway of social mobility for California students; how countless jobs, technologies and companies can be traced back to UC; and the university giving rise to the birth of the free speech movement.

California’s university

The University of California was founded on March 23, 1868 on the principle that college should be accessible to all Californians. What began with just 10 faculty members and 40 students at Berkeley has multiplied to 10 campuses and 273,000 students.

With the university serving as an engine of social mobility, more than one-third of all students come from low-income families, and nearly half are the first in their families to attend a university. And true to its promise, UC enrolls more Californians now than any other time in the university’s history.

“It is a great privilege to lead UC. It is without a doubt the world’s best public research university,” Napolitano said. “One of the things that we have been focused on is to ensure that this is California’s public university.”

Added President Emeritus and UC San Diego Chancellor Emeritus Robert Dynes, “I travel around the world a lot and I’ve discovered that people are in awe of the University of California…about the jobs created by UC, the healthcare delivered by people who were trained at the university, and all the innovation that comes from UC.”

You can read the full story in the UC San Diego News Center.

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