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Dr. Chameau's Statement to the Community

February 19, 2013

Dear colleagues and friends,

For the past seven years, I have been honored to be the president of Caltech, and I am proud of the many things we have accomplished. Serving Caltech has been the experience of a lifetime and a privilege I will always cherish. However, it is my intention in this memorandum to let you know that I will be stepping down from the presidency later this year.

The most important accomplishments, to me, are the achievements of our faculty and students. Every year, one of my most gratifying activities as president is to welcome our new faculty, students, and postdoctoral fellows to the Caltech family. They join talented colleagues who share their commitment to excellence and desire to have a disproportionate impact on science and society. The discoveries, recognition, and impact of the Caltech faculty in a typical year are the envy of our peers. The opportunity to interact with such a special group, and to support their endeavors, is a reward in itself.

Caltech's unique scale and breadth of excellence provide fertile ground for breakthrough collaborations. In addition to strengthening all our disciplinary programs in recent years, we have also launched or expanded a number of cross-disciplinary initiatives in areas critical to society and the future of Caltech: energy, the environment, medical science, information science, and others. The leadership of our division chairs and vice provosts Mory Gharib and Steve Mayo was critical to these endeavors.

Reflecting upon the past few years, I feel pleased and proud of the dedication and commitment our faculty and administration have shown toward enhancing education and learning. The changes to the core curriculum, the introduction of innovative courses and technology through the Innovation in Education Fund, the creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and more recently, the offering of MOOCs (massive open online courses) to people beyond the Institute's walls will pay dividends for Caltech. The leadership of vice provost Melany Hunt in these areas is to be commended.

One of Caltech's jewels is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Promoting the special partnership between Caltech, JPL, and NASA is a fun part of the president's job! I am proud that these relationships are stronger than ever, and of our recently renewed contract with NASA. JPL's accomplishments are spectacular and of national and international importance. I will always remember that special night of August 5, 2012, when Curiosity landed on Mars. It was a thrilling experience, and Charles Elachi and the entire JPL team made it look so easy!

Another accomplishment I am especially gratified by was the completion of the "There's Only One. Caltech" campaign and to raise about $900 million since 2006. More importantly than those numbers, I believe, is that we are building the foundation of a first-class advancement and development program under the superb leadership of Brian Lee. The great support of our donors has helped us provide endowments to major research initiatives as well as open new buildings (Schlinger, Cahill, and Annenberg) and complete important renovations (Guggenheim, Linde + Robinson, and Jorgensen). Furthermore, we have ongoing planning for and construction of several other projects (Bechtel Residence, Hameetman Center, a new day-care center, and renovations of the Tolman-Bacher and Thomas buildings). Our facilities team is second to none. In addition to its excellent work on these individual projects, the facilities team has also transformed the campus into a model of sustainability and energy efficiency.

I cannot reflect on my presidency without mentioning our administration and finances. When I was appointed, it was clear that improvements were needed to ensure the long-term success of Caltech. It is comforting that now, despite a recession, Caltech is in a very strong financial position, with operating surpluses and the accumulation of reserves. In addition, the changes our trustees supported and helped orchestrate in the management of our endowment, now under the able stewardship of Scott Richland, are providing a strong foundation for the future. Under the leadership of Dean Currie, our administration has made amazing strides: Caltech is an institution where the administrative services are performing at a level of excellence commensurate with the excellence of its scientific research. Our staff members in all the units and divisions are to be commended for their dedication to Caltech. They work hard every day to enable so many great achievements on campus and at JPL.

At a time of uncertainty and change for higher education, there is no doubt in my mind that Caltech will continue to excel and be a distinctive institution. This will be the case because the Institute will continue to recruit and support outstanding people, because of its culture of excellence, and also because it has a strong foundation on which to support its future endeavors.

Whatever contributions I have been able to make to the Institute, they have been made possible by a spectacular team. In addition to the individuals I mentioned earlier, I need to add Anneila Sargent, Vicci Stratman, Mary Webster, and the staff in my office. The trustees of Caltech are a truly remarkable group totally dedicated to the Institute, and I thank them for their support and friendship. Special thanks go to our chair, David Lee; Kent Kresa, past chair; and Ron Linde, vice chair. They and the trustees have indeed been my most trusted advisors and mentors.

The list of thank yous would not be complete without mentioning our provost, Ed Stolper. Ed has Caltech written in his DNA, and he has been a remarkable partner. I am grateful to him, and to all of you, members of the Caltech community.

This is a long memo, and I will close with a few words about my future plans. Until recently, Carol and I believed we would complete our careers at Caltech and retire in Pasadena. It would be difficult not to feel that way when working in such a special place and community. We did not expect, however, to be presented with a unique and life-changing opportunity: to lead the recently created King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

As I considered accepting the position at KAUST and as I spoke with individuals involved in its founding, I was struck by the attention paid to establishing a culture of excellence, and how its planning had been influenced by great institutions from around the world, including Caltech. I was impressed with the clarity of their vision of a 21st century university that can be a beacon for learning and research, and that shines a light on the contributions that both make to human welfare.

Because of its unique location and its charter as an international and diverse center of learning and research, KAUST is positioned to have a dramatic impact on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the world. For that reason, it is more than a university. It is an undertaking of historic importance. I will be joining KAUST as its president and will dedicate my energy to leading it toward achieving its bold vision.

In the near future, you will be hearing from Dr. David Lee, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Dr. John Dabiri, chair of the faculty, about the process of organizing a presidential search and the composition of the Trustee Selection Committee and the Faculty Search Committee.

This is a bittersweet time for Carol and me; we will miss Caltech immensely and look forward to hearing about the continued successes of this extraordinary community.