Speeches & Writings

Messages to the Caltech Community

Federal Budget Proposal

March 20, 2017
The President's budget savages science, the arts, and the humanities. This is only the opening salvo in a complicated negotiation with Congress, and many of the most draconian cuts are unlikely to survive. However, it does underscore the need for us as an academic community to make a better case for the centrality of inquiry, research, and innovation to the nation's well being. We must generally and specifically defend analyses substantiated by data and arguments based on evidence.

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Immigration Update

February 21, 2017
The success of America and, in particular, American higher education has been our ability to attract extraordinary talent from around the world. We welcome diverse perspectives and new approaches to problems as the surest means to create knowledge and improve society. Whether we are the immigrants, or our parents or our grandparents, the opportunity to contribute to the success of our country – through the arts, through science, through technology, through business – has been an animating principle of the American ideal.

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Executive Order Issued January 27, 2017

January 28, 2017
Friday's executive order limiting immigration and entry to the United States has heightened anxieties for members of our community on campus and at JPL.  This order immediately impacts the personal and professional travel of a subset of students, postdocs, faculty, and staff from abroad and elevates uncertainties for the next few months and likely beyond.

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Year-End Message

December 12, 2016
The recent election brought into sharp focus a substantial divide in American society. It illuminated very different conceptions of where this country is and should be heading, and challenged assumptions about the relationships between its denizens. It also raises for us, the members of the Caltech community, questions about the role of universities in the fabric of American life.

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Academic Year Welcome

September 26, 2016
The most impressive feature of Caltech to me is the Institute's spirit of reinvention. Members of our community switch fields, make abrupt turns in career directions, if the problem to be solved is fundamental, entrancing, and impactful. This ethos not only leads to new ways of understanding and manipulating nature—geobiology, quantum information, medical engineering, to name a few recent examples—but it also sustains a powerful culture of fearlessness and ambition.

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Academic Year-End Message

June 13, 2016
June is a natural time to think of transitions. Newly minted Caltech graduates flow from Pasadena across academia, industry, and society, fearless if not yet confident about solving problems that matter. On the horizon is a new retinue of enthusiastic young people, ready to reinvigorate the spirit of the Institute and remind us of why we choose to be part of the academic enterprise.  We transition from the classroom to SURF and savor uninterrupted time for research.

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Year-End Message

December 7, 2015
As the new year approaches, it is a time to celebrate the special ways that our students, faculty, and staff contribute to knowledge and to society by doing what we do best: challenging the accepted wisdom, rigorously analyzing problems, and devising innovative solutions. It is also a propitious time to reflect on our values as an intellectual community in the context of the national conversation about diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression.

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Thank You

December 11, 2014
It has been an exhilarating first few months at the Institute and I am deeply grateful for your generous welcome. There is indeed only one Caltech! As the late President Murph Goldberger aptly observed when asked to explain Caltech's distinction:

"If any single factor can be called responsible for this. . . . it is Caltech's absolute unwillingness to compromise on excellence: excellence of faculty, excellence of students, excellence of facilities."

Speeches on Video

Caltech: The Next 125 Years

November 17, 2016

Honoring Civil Engagement

September 14, 2016

Address at Caltech Campaign Gala

April 28, 2016

Speech Transcripts

Address at Ripples in Spacetime: Our New Window on the Universe

February 23, 2016
In 1752, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson of the Royal Society and described his famous experiment in Letter XI of Observations on Electricity:

"As soon as any of the thunder clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At this key the phial may be charged; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments may be performed…"

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Address at Shanghai Jiao Tong University Graduate Commencement

March 21, 2015
It is a great pleasure to join you here today. I am honored to accept an honorary doctorate and in so doing reinforce my personal and professional ties to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a formidable center of learning in one of the world's great cities.

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Inaugural Address

October 24, 2014
…This inauguration ceremony provides an occasion for us as a community to stand outside the hurly burly of everyday life and to connect to the values that animate this glorious Institute. It is a time to ensure that Caltech's fundamental identity comes from within and that it is never imposed from without. It is an opportunity for us to distill the hard-won experience of the past so that we may create a sense of magic and wholeness for the future.

The California Institute of Technology is one of a select few institutions in the world devoted to unraveling the mysteries of the universe, to creating knowledge for the ages. Although these most basic of pursuits can seem esoteric in a torn world, in the aftermath of the nihilism and pressing immediacy of a 9/11, it informs our identity as human beings…

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In the Press

Yahoo Finance Video: "Caltech is doing fascinating research on the brain"

January 19, 2017


Interview with Times Higher Education

June 23, 2016
We can do things because of our small size that other places can't…the major advantage [we have is] the interactions between people. We have a culture that emphasises people asking big questions, talking to each other about it, being unintimidated by disciplinary boundaries.

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Op-Ed for SFGate

November 12, 2014
From our perspectives in the world of private research universities, we have been watching with mounting alarm the general disinvestment by states in public higher education. This is painfully true in California, and we are especially concerned about the impact on the University of California and what it bodes for our state's future.

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