EVCP Expresso – December 2022

Our Steadfast Commitment to Hope

Dear UCSF Friends,

With this, my 89th and final edition of Expresso, you won’t be surprised that I am using the occasion to share some reflections on what has been, for me, an amazing seven years and ten months serving as your Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost.

What a time we’ve been through. As is the case in most long journeys, it has been a combination of high points and low points, inspiration and despair. In reading through all the editions of Expresso this past week, here is just a portion of the notable experiences, issues, and topics we’ve shared:

a word cloud including words such as DEI, antiracism, covid, pandemic, Parnassus, climate change, health, vaccines, and mental health

In this opportunity to connect with you one last time, I’ll ask your indulgence to find a moment to read on, when you can sit back, not feel rushed, take in a few deep, centering breaths, and turn your awareness to the entire UCSF community and the people we serve.

Here are a few thoughts:

Dan Lowenstein, seated and in a small group discussion.UCSF is an astonishing place, and it’s all about the peopleit’s all because of you. One aspect of being the EVCP, which I share with the Chancellor and other members of his leadership team, is that the range of my responsibility includes our entire university, which has allowed me to interact with many, many other people outside of my home department and school. These experiences have made it clearer than ever that our greatness at UCSF is a direct reflection, a summation, of the depth of qualities that each and every one of you brings to our community – your commitment, dedication, creativity, drive, professionalism, excellence, and so much more. When we bring our full selves to work, intent on doing our best, despite all the obstacles we wish were otherwise – that’s when amazing things happen. That’s why we have always risen to the challenge and continue to have such a profound impact on the world.

We have the great fortune to be united on an unambiguous, laser-focused mission – to lessen the suffering in the world that is a consequence of illness and disease. What a calling! Every single day and night, people come to us with the hope that we can fully understand the nature of their sickness or their struggle, provide effective therapies and cures, and, always, bear witness. When, for the moment, we have our own health and good fortune, it is easy to fall into the trapped mindset that we’re different from those we serve. The fact is, we have one fundamental thing in common – every one of us has faced, is facing, or will face the suffering and the losses that are an inevitable part of this imperfect world.

Keeping this reality close to our hearts allows us to live the meaning of our mission, the meaning of what we do collectively as members of the UCSF community. Whether you are driving our shuttles, helping to submit a grant submission, preparing food, caring for patients, providing IT services, transplanting a heart, doing a lab experiment, ensuring a safe and clean environment, teaching our students, studying for an exam, staring at financial spreadsheets, working for climate relief or equity in opportunity… or any of the other myriad tasks that enable us to do what we do, I hope you see the very real contribution you are making to our noble mission. You are making the world a far better place.

We recognize the need to care for one another. The most common question I get asked from friends and colleagues across the country is: “What is it that makes UCSF such a special place? What’s the secret ingredient to your phenomenal success?” Actually, the answer is easy – for reasons that are a bit mysterious (although I think our being in the Bay Area has something to do with it), the people who grab the opportunity to work and study at UCSF are attracted, in large part, by a culture that emphasizes a very real sense of caring for one another and sees the huge advantages that arise from collaboration. Each of us is challenged by the intense personal struggle between selfishness and selflessness – the sages tell us to be selfless, and our ego says otherwise.

But harking back to the notion that our UCSF culture is a reflection of us all, I believe our individual willingness to think about the wellbeing and success of others is the magic of UCSF.

During my almost 40 years here, I have been astounded by the number of times I’ve witnessed first-hand how people coalesce around a problem with a seemingly natural, preset agreement that says: “Of course this is something we should do together.” However, I know we have not yet created the earthly paradise of Shangri-La. There remain vast differences in the experiences of people working and studying at UCSF, with so many who feel unsupported, unsafe, unseen. The roots of these disparities run deep, despite all the work we are doing to dismantle structural racism and the many other “isms.” Let’s beware of allowing our great collaborative successes to lead to complacency about the ongoing injustices. There is much more work to be done.

Two students wearing white coats, seen from behind with arms linked. A detail of the artwork, Columns, featuring portraits of individuals from UCSF’s history, is visible.We must be steadfast in our commitment to hope. Recent years have been incredibly tumultuous, and I’ve devoted a fair number of these pages to thoughts about political upheaval, our divided nation, gun violence, climate change, the pandemic, a broken healthcare system… At times I’ve felt pushed toward the depths of despair, questioning our capacity as individuals and a society to create a truly equitable and just world, including even the framework of our democracy here at home. And this is on top of the personal experiences of disappointment and loss we all carry. But I always check myself, recognizing that these challenging times are hardly unique in the course of history, and there are innumerable ways that life has improved for many people across the planet. I have so much for which to be thankful, and we have the imagination and commitment to turn our dreams of a better world into reality. In the end, it is our ability to love that fuels infinite hope and will carry the day.

In closing, I thank you for your gift of allowing me to serve as your EVCP. There are so many individuals to whom I am indebted that I run the risk of missing folks who are on a very, very long list. Instead, I will convey my deep gratitude to “Team UCSF” – and I mean you, all of you!

And I’ll leave you with two final items. The first is my favorite passage from Mahatma Gandhi that I’ve shared before, entitled “The Path”:

I know the path: it is straight and narrow.
It is like the edge of a sword.
I rejoice to walk on it.
I weep when I slip.
God’s word is:
“They who strive never perish.”
I have implicit faith in that promise.
Though, therefore, from my weakness
I fail a thousand times,
I shall not lose faith.

The second is my favorite story. It’s the story I’ve told to countless students over the years and that I included in my “Last Lecture” back in 2013 – here’s the clip of the story.

Dan Lowenstein hiking. He is smiling broadly and wearing a hat, sunglasses, large technical backpack, and gray t-shirt. Rocky terrain and evergreen trees are visible behind him, and mountain and sky in the distance.With gratitude and love,

back to top