President Rosenbaum: Speeches & Writings

Messages to the Caltech Community

2017-18 Academic Year-End Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

Speeches on Video

Advanced LIGO Documentary Project

Stockholm, Sweden
December 2017

Caltech Instrumentation

November 16, 2017

Caltech: The Next 125 Years

November 17, 2016

Honoring Civil Engagement

September 14, 2016

Address at Caltech Campaign Gala

April 28, 2016

Inaugural Address

October 24, 2014

Speech Transcripts

Commencement Address, 2018

June 15, 2018
On March 3, 1958, in a letter sent from 309 South Jackson Street, Montgomery, Alabama, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote to thank Wesley L. Hershey, Executive Secretary of the Caltech Y, for "…making my recent visit to the campus of Caltech such a meaningful one…I was deeply stimulated by all of the discussions and the contact with the students." 

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

This Is Exactly the Wrong Time to Retreat from Space

February 20, 2018
At the dawn of the space age, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to set foot on the moon. The quest was grand, but the reason was simple: "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained…" Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounded across the lunar surface as Michael Collins orbited above.

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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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Letters to Friends of Caltech

June 11, 2018
Traversing the Caltech campus these days can be an adventure. Fenced off areas mark the sites of no fewer than four construction projects hammering away, and one has to be mindful of heavy trucks on the usually idyllic pathways. The new buildings, three slated to open this fall, will contribute powerfully to Caltech's mission of excellence in research and education.

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February 20, 2018
December's Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm was very much a Caltech affair. No Southern California sunshine as the winter sun hovered just over the horizon, but Stockholm was lit by intellectual ambition and accomplishment. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Caltech faculty members Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, who propelled the effort to invent an entirely new type of observational astronomy through gravitational wave detection.

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October 12, 2017
Caltech researchers have never been satisfied with conventional views of the universe. To move beyond the predictable, it is necessary to devise new ways to interrogate nature, to reveal phenomena existing instruments cannot sense. Take any thriving field of science and you will find great instrument makers. More often than not, they will be from Caltech or building upon Caltech breakthroughs.

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April 28, 2017
As part of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign, I have been crisscrossing the country, meeting with Caltech alumni and friends. It is a wonderful time for science and engineering, with major questions ripe for breakthroughs: Does life exist elsewhere in our solar system or on planets orbiting other suns? Can we elucidate the architecture of the human brain to reveal how we make decisions, to alleviate human suffering, and to inspire new approaches to computation?

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January 11, 2017
A few weeks ago, we announced a transformative $115 million gift from Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo to help launch a major neuroscience initiative at Caltech. The Chen Neuroscience Institute will probe the workings of the brain, from the signaling of a single neuron to the collective behavior of networks of neurons to the way people perceive the world and make decisions to designing medical devices to relieve suffering and improve lives.

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July 7, 2016
It has been a heady few months at Caltech, with the announcement of the first direct observation of gravitational waves, the once-in-a-century prediction of a new planet in our solar system, and the launch of the most ambitious campaign in Caltech's history.

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December 4, 2015
Just over a year ago I had the privilege of being inaugurated as Caltech's 9th president. It has been a whirlwind of discovery, with extraordinary colleagues—faculty, students, and staff alike—pushing at the boundaries of knowledge with verve and determination.

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