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Messages to the Caltech Community

2020-21 Academic Year Welcome

September 21, 2020
As I write these words on the east edge of campus, the sun is glowing an eerie pink, rising above the horizon. The atmosphere has a yellow cast; shadows are tinged blue. You can taste the smoke in the air and feel the burn in your lungs from the wildfires raging across California.
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2019-20 Academic Year-End Letter

June 4, 2020
In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responded from a Birmingham jail cell to admonitions from eight white clergymen for leading a nonviolent protest against segregation: "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." The ideals that Dr. King expressed a half century ago remain true today. Tragically, we are still far from realizing them. The burdens of violence and racism weigh heavily on the shoulders of the Black community here and across the nation.
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2019 End of Year Message

December 9, 2019
At a special college assembly on February 11, 1920, President James A.B. Scherer announced that the Board of Trustees had voted to change the name of the Throop College of Technology to the California Institute of Technology. According to The Pasadena Star-News of that same date, "the trustees felt impelled to change the name of the institution in order to denote and signalize its altered scope, recent developments having transformed it from a college of primarily local significance into a scientific school of national importance."
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2019-20 Academic Year Welcome

October 3, 2019
The start of a new academic year is one of my favorite times, full of potential and renewal. There are old friends to greet and new students and colleagues to welcome. The easy mingling of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff emphasizes the advantages of Caltech's small size and the intimate nature of our campus.
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Mary Webster Retirement

September 4, 2019
Mary Webster, who has served the Institute with unparalleled distinction for 53 years, will retire in January 2020. Mary defined the positions of secretary of the Board of Trustees and executive assistant in the Office of the President. Although irreplaceable, I have appointed a joint trustee, faculty, and staff search committee to identify a new secretary of the Board.
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New General Counsel

July 29, 2019
I am delighted to announce that Jennifer Lum, currently Caltech's deputy general counsel, has been appointed Caltech's general counsel, effective September 1, 2019. In her new role, Jennifer will provide advice and legal counsel to the senior leadership of campus and JPL, as well as the Board of Trustees, on a broad spectrum of issues pertaining to the management and governance of the Institute.
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Our International Community of Scholars

July 11, 2019
The strength of the United States as a scientific, technological, and economic power has depended crucially on the contributions of scholars and entrepreneurs from all over the world. Our universities, in particular, have long opened their doors to foreign talent, seeking to become destinations for the most creative, original minds, irrespective of heritage or national origin.
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New Vice President

June 17, 2019
I am delighted to announce that Dexter A. Bailey, Jr., senior vice president for advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation since 2011, will join Caltech as vice president for advancement and alumni relations effective July 15, 2019.
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2018-19 Academic Year-End Message

June 11, 2019

Last week, a delegation of faculty from GPS and the Seismological Laboratory presented their latest results to Caltech alumni and friends in Seattle. With its high-tech gleam, Seattle has become a popular destination for our graduates. Just offshore is the Cascadia Subduction Zone, with the potential to unleash a magnitude 9.0 Earthquake.
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Caltech Launches Merkin Institute for Translational Research

May 30, 2019
We are delighted to announce the launch of the Richard N. Merkin Institute for Translational Research, made possible by an extraordinary philanthropic commitment from Caltech Trustee Dr. Richard Merkin. The new Institute will propel scientific discoveries into technologies that improve human health. 
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2019 Commencement Speaker

March 28, 2019
It is my pleasure to announce that Dr. France Córdova, distinguished astrophysicist, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Caltech alumna (PhD '79), will be Caltech's 2019 commencement speaker. She brings to the Institute perspectives on governmental and academic leadership, grounded in her scientific training at Caltech.
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Update: Partial Government Shutdown

January 15, 2019
As the partial federal government shutdown enters a record fourth week, Caltech operations continue apace, but future negative consequences remain a possibility.
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Victoria Stratman to Retire

January 13, 2019
Victoria Stratman, who has served the Institute with distinction and dedication as Caltech's general counsel since 2009, will retire from her position this coming summer. I have appointed an Institute-wide search committee to identify Vicci's successor.
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2018 End of Year Message

December 10, 2018
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I sat nervously in the back row of the JPL Mission Support Area (MSA) control room. To my left was Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator; to his left, Michael Watkins, the director of JPL; to my right, Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate; and to his right, Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator. The InSight spacecraft was fast approaching Mars, the culmination of a many decade's long dream of Banerdt's to probe the interior of Mars: to measure Marsquakes and to understand how the magnetic dynamo that protected Mars' atmosphere billions of years ago disappeared and, along with it, Mars' rivers and lakes.
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2018-19 Academic Year Welcome

September 30, 2018
As we start the new academic year, national debates swirl around the relationship of higher education to society. These issues center on two areas: taxes and undergraduate admissions. With last year's changes to the tax law, endowment gains at select universities, either those with very large endowments or those with very small student bodies like Caltech, are suddenly taxable. 
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Brian K. Lee

September 23, 2018
Brian K. Lee, Caltech's Vice President for Development and Institute Relations, has announced his intention to step down on November 2, 2018. Brian has accepted the position of vice president for alumni affairs and development at Harvard University.
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2017–18 Academic Year-End Message

May 25, 2018
Today is Ditch Day (not the eternal "tomorrow" of Institute tradition!). Months of planning and hard work by Caltech seniors culminate in Ditch Day, where for almost 90 years seniors ditch classes and escape campus for the day. They leave behind complex challenges known as stacks to divert the remaining students from interest in the temporarily abandoned rooms and possessions.
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Message on the DACA Program

April 12, 2018
In the absence of action by the legislative and executive branches of government, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program lies with the courts.  Caltech, along with sixteen peer institutions (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, Stanford, Chicago, Penn, Vanderbilt, and Yale), filed a brief of amici curiae yesterday with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The brief makes a powerful statement about our shared core values and educational mission. It can be found online at
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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Update

March 12, 2018
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was approved in December 2017. The Act resulted in changes to tax rates and brackets, and deductions for federal taxes at the new tax rates were reflected in paychecks starting on February 1, 2018.
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2018 Commencement Speaker

February 26, 2018
It is my pleasure to announce that the Honorable John Lewis, United States congressman and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, will be Caltech's 2018 commencement speaker. Lewis's visit to our campus will mark the 60-year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s three-day visit to Caltech in February 1958.
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Message from the President and Provost on the Federal Tax Bill

January 2, 2018
When we wrote to you in November about the pending federal tax bills, we were responding to concerns expressed by our faculty, students, and staff. Some of those concerns were personal, triggered by the possibility of increased personal tax liabilities, while others were directed toward the potential impact of the legislation on higher education and research and on Caltech in particular.
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President's 2017 Year-End Message

December 7, 2017
As the end of the calendar year approaches, we look forward to what the next year will bring. The desire to wipe the slate clean and start anew is often palpable, but the ideas and passions of the past are never far below the surface. We experience this keenly in the ebb and flow of the Institute's intellectual pursuits.
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Message from the President and Provost on the 2017 Federal Tax Bill

November 21, 2017
Some members of our community have expressed concern about provisions in the 2017 federal tax reform proposals that are likely to have negative effects on the educational and research programs of the nation's colleges and universities. Several of these provisions are included in the bill that was passed by the House of Representatives; some appear in a related proposal that awaits action by the Senate. All provisions approved in either chamber will be on the table for conference consideration if the Senate passes a tax bill.
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2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

October 3, 2017
We are delighted and honored to congratulate Kip Thorne (BS '62) and Barry Barish of Caltech and Rai Weiss of MIT on the award this morning of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. The first direct observation of gravitational waves by LIGO is an extraordinary demonstration of scientific vision and persistence. Through four decades of development of exquisitely sensitive instrumentation – pushing the capacity of our imaginations – we are now able to glimpse cosmic processes that were previously undetectable. It is truly the start of a new era in astrophysics.
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2017–18 Academic Year Welcome

September 25, 2017
The highlight of the summer was undoubtedly the great American eclipse. Many of us shared in the experience as a band of totality cut a swath across the United States. We were reminded of the magnificence of nature, and the satisfaction derived from understanding and being able to accurately predict how the world around us behaves (at least at the level of celestial mechanics!).
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Statement on DACA

September 5, 2017
Earlier today, President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This action puts at risk more than 800,000 students who were raised in the United States, students who have flourished as scholars and leaders, and who have enriched their campuses and communities, intellectually, socially, and economically. It cuts to the core of what we stand for as an educational institution: to identify, attract, and support talented individuals, and to create a community where students, staff, and faculty alike can learn from each other and thrive.  In this way, we create knowledge and improve society, helping our nation realize its aspirations. 
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Statement on Charlottesville

August 16, 2017
The hate-filled and race-tinged violence in Charlottesville has been a jarring challenge to our colleagues at the University of Virginia, to the academic community as a whole, and to our nation.

As an academic community, and as a nation, we must reject hate speech and violence as incompatible with our mission and our aspirations. In particular, as an Institute devoted to creating knowledge and committed to the scientific method, we have a special responsibility to stand up for tolerance and freedom of expression whenever fundamental threats arise.
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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."
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