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Jean-Lou Chameau

JL Chame
JL Chameau
Credit: Helmy Al Sagaff

Jean-Lou Chameau

Jean-Lou Chameau

President Emeritus of Caltech

By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project
February 8, March 2, 10, 25, April 15, May 5, 2022

DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Tuesday, February 8th, 2022. I am delighted to be here with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it is great to be with you. Thank you for joining me today.

JEAN-LOU CHAMEAU: My pleasure.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, to start, would you please tell me your current or most recent title and institutional affiliation?

CHAMEAU: The most recent one in the US was President of Caltech, until 2013. Then, as you know, I took a position to become the President of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, KAUST, which was a new university in Saudi Arabia, and I spent a little bit more than four years there. Since 2018, I am based in Paris. I am serving as a consultant in higher education, research innovation, and I serve on a number of boards as well. I am President, Emeritus of Caltech, and former President of KAUST, and now an independent consultant!

ZIERLER: Who are some of your clients currently in your consulting work?

CHAMEAU: Some of the work I do is in the US, for instance serving as chair of the accreditation process for MIT, as well as advisor to another private university. I am also helping a new university in India, the JIO Institute, which is being created in Mumbai, and has the aspiration to develop into a destination-type university, as I call them. It is a project which is going to be a private university funded by the Reliance Foundation. Mr. Mukesh Ambani is the person trying to develop that project. I also am advising, still, my friends in Saudi Arabia. A fairly large project in Saudi Arabia, called NEOM. I also worked on a project in France that led to the creation of a new institution called L'Institute Polytechnique de Paris, which is centered around the very well-known École Polytechnique. We regrouped several other major schools and universities around it. It was a project the French government asked me to work on in 2018, and the project has now been approved by all the different boards of directors of those programs. Soon after its creation, the Institute Polytechnique of Paris appeared in the top 50 of the QS World Rankings; I am pleased and proud of this early recognition.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what were the circumstances of the regrouping that led to this project in 2018?

CHAMEAU: The idea had been discussed a number of times. There had been several iterations of the initiative. But it is very hard to ask a number of major institutions, because several of them are very well-known, to agree to join forces. I think the timing was right. They had tried for a number of years. The new president of France, President Macron, made it a priority, from an education standpoint. I came back to France just at the time he made that request. People here knew me, and they felt I could spend time with those five different schools, their boards, their management, their faculty, and try to get a consensus around what a new program could be, and it worked out. It has been launched. Deeply, the reason is to try to create, just south of Paris, in the outskirts of Paris, a university that will look very much like an MIT, in many ways. It is MIT-like, a little bit Caltech-like as well, but it's bigger than Caltech. It is a science and technology driven, major research university. That has been fun to do.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'm curious, when you stepped down as president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, was the plan to embrace a consulting career in higher education, or that came about more happenstance?

CHAMEAU: It happened. I was already serving on a number of boards. Those things can lead to opportunities. No, I didn't plan it—I did not want to consider another presidency —I felt that after having done two of those, having been a provost before, it was not my intention to look for another university presidency. There were a couple of people who contacted me to join some nonprofits, including a couple in the US, but it didn't feel right—I was not excited, let's say. The consulting came—the first big project, which was a project that in fact I did pro bono, was the one for the French government. It lasted almost a year, in 2018. It happened because the French government, the president, ministers, contacted me and it was hard to say no. It's like, I remember in the US, from time to time, when you are a university president or a dean, you are asked to serve on a committee in Washington to help different organizations, you cannot say no to things like that. It is part of serving society. It happened like that, there was no big plan. In fact, if you want to talk a bit more about my life and career, I'm not a person who is always thinking about the next step. I try to do what I'm supposed to do well, and then we see what happens.

ZIERLER: But clearly, you're enjoying this work currently, that's why you continue to do it.

CHAMEAU: Yes. In fact, I can tell you the reason why I enjoy it too. Talk about timing. I find myself—in 2018, I did that work for the French government. In 2019, suddenly, a couple of those fairly large consulting opportunities come up. I engage in them, and I've very busy. I'm traveling all over the world: for a while, I was traveling as much as I was when I was at Caltech, or even more, and suddenly COVID hit. So what has been fun the last two years now, is to be able to do everything I do in consulting from where I am, from my apartment in Paris. I have a small office. It has been fun, especially last year and the year before when we had some fairly stringent confinements. Yeah, I was confined, but I was doing the kind of work I like from home. It has been good timing.

ZIERLER: Do you remain on the jury for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering?

CHAMEAU: Yes. In fact, yes, it's one of the activities I have also—the latest prize was announced a few days ago.

ZIERLER: I'm curious, Jean-Lou, you're involved of course at a very high level in higher education. Are you still connected at all to teaching or research, are there fields that you keep up on, in terms of the literature?

CHAMEAU: Very technical literature—I'm not reading the most scientific papers even in domains I knew relatively well, because after a while you're losing your touch a bit. But I remain aware of important developments, especially in areas of interest to everybody now. Energy, environment, medicine. But without going into reading technical scientific papers.

ZIERLER: I'd like to engage you on a series of questions that look at the state of higher education at a global level, given the depth and breadth of your experience. You mentioned COVID and the pandemic, so let's start there. What do you think, thinking strategically, say five years down the line, what will be the long-term historic response from higher education to COVID, in all of the ways that we have been affected by the pandemic? From remote learning to a sense of community to the importance of science and technology. What do you see as the long-term impact of the pandemic?

CHAMEAU: OK, first, every time there is a major crisis in the world, like ten years ago or more, when we had the big economic crisis, or now with COVID, you hear, especially when the crisis strikes, in the first few months, that the world will never be the same after that. I don't agree with that. A major part of the world will remain, will still be the same. There were many on the many people and speakers in the media who were convinced that the physical university was going to disappear. Education had to be more efficient, and places like Stanford and Caltech would be totally on line and disappear as physical entities. Obviously, a few years later, you realize that the world changed, as it always foes, but universities did not disappear.

That being said, since you mentioned the online activities, it is clear that it really heightened, increased the intensity, in that area. You had many, many professors at Caltech, I'm sure, that even before the pandemic, maybe not all of them, but almost all of them, who had their courses available in some way online. I remember encouraging it when I was president, and I'm sure that more has been done. For many, many faculty in universities across the world, there were already some somewhat active, some very active. But during the pandemic most had no choice, even those who had not done it, their administration, their colleagues, they were forced to engage. So I think it increased the intensity in that area. The students also got into it, and so the intensity there also increased. I expect you're going to see a continuation of that. I have a colleague who started to do some comparison in his discipline. He contacted many people around the world who were doing work online, and they were comparing their approaches. From the person who was using a very formal process, like a Coursera or an edX, to others who were using stuff like going on Zoom and doing their work there. People are learning what works for them. So I expect you're going to see a continuation of that, and likely better than it was, because it really focuses faculty and students to learn more how to do it.

This being said, I believe that the model of, especially the Anglo-Saxon type university, which has been adopted in many parts of the world, where being physically on the campus is still a major part of the experience, will continue and will keep doing very well. But, it will continue to evolve as it has for decades. You're seeing more and more that students are learning differently— I used to teach courses, maybe 20 to 30 years ago, that I would teach very differently now. I would likely do most of the formal part in some online format, and in my field, where hands-on was important, do much more hands-on when the students come to see me in the laboratory, or in a classroom. I expect also that we should not think only about the classical four years plus graduate studies type education, early in your life, when you are a teenager or a young person. But in terms of flexible degrees and credentials for lifelong learning, the activities online are going also to be—they're already very important, but even more in coming years, because people are so adjusted to that. Even to improve your skills, more and more people the past two years have realized that many things can be done via online programs and activities. I think those things will continue.

In terms of the science and the research, I think there has been two things that I've observed lately. First, a good one, I hope at least. A majority of the public has realized that, oh yes, when all that science that we support and that research that we hear about when we go to the moon or we go to Mars, but also, suddenly people realize, hmm, all that biology, that medicine, it's great. In a matter of a year or less, they came up with some vaccines. I think there has been a positive impression of science on the majority of the public. As you know, it's not 100% by far, especially in the US, or in western Europe. Because over the last two or three decades, my impression is science, research, is more and more taken for granted. Some people don't like it, because they don't believe in it, and some people, maybe take it for granted. Covid also has had a positive impact on the importance of industry-university interaction—not necessarily in the US, because the idea of the interaction between industry and universities, or startups working with industry, was already fairly well-engrained—but very much in western Europe where this did not exist as much. I see it very much in France, even Germany, where there is this motion to working much more closely between startups, large corporations, and the universities, together.

On the somewhat negative side, I've been surprised to see too many scientists and doctors making lots of statements, predictions, that are not always based on enough hard data or science. I think there has been, I don't want to say some embarrassment, but contradiction among the scientific community that became public in real time. Scientists, typically, they publish papers. When you read a paper, and you feel that there are things that are not correct, you write a counterargument. There is a process that is used in science and research to reach conclusions, or the lack of, to agree or disagree. But it is done in a very deliberate process. What we have seen the last two years are, sometimes, people speaking a lot, not always having enough information, and some are almost embarrassing. I hope that we are going to learn that it is good for scientists and engineers and researchers to always, in communicating, say things that are well-rooted in facts and in evidence. Most of the time, by the way, scientists are being told that they should participate more in society, that they don't get involved enough. Suddenly they got involved, some of them at a very high level, and they have gone a bit too far. Nevertheless, I expect that the impact, at large, not only in the US, but all over the world (I see it a lot in western Europe and in the work I do; I'm very much in touch with people in the Middle East and in Asia too, one of the groups I am advising is in India) and support for research, for science, will come out in a positive way out of all this.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, on the question of scientists becoming more socially involved, of course in the United States one of the major challenges being threatened in higher education, is a sense of distrust of science. Whether it's vaccine skepticism or climate change denialism. Do you see this as a uniquely American phenomenon or is there a deeper global undercurrent at play?

CHAMEAU: It is a frustration of mine, being back in France. I left France in 1976 and I came back only a few years ago. Obviously in between I was in France regularly, I have family. But over more than 40 years, I forgot what it was to be French and in France. I was a young man when I left France and, in my view at the time, everybody loved science and believed in science and engineering. In the US I discovered that, sometimes, not everybody, but there is a significant percentage of the population, that has mixed feelings about science, and in some cases, is clearly opposed to, you mentioned vaccines, and even evolution. And in my mind, in my memory as a young man, it didn't exist in France. But I have realized it exists here too and, as polls suggest, at a higher level than in the US. It exists in Germany, in England, everywhere.

I remember when I was in Atlanta many years ago, at Georgia Tech as the provost, we had people in the state that we knew were opposed to the teaching of evolution in schools, or in the university. At least what has been good, it does exist, but it doesn't seem to prevent people, educators, researchers, to do what they need to do. The US is great at supporting research and fundamental science. It's an irritant that exists. It is complex, because as you said it's great for scientists, engineers to communicate more, but I'm not sure they are believed, or trusted, as much as they were trusted maybe even 30 or, I guess, 50 years ago. It will remain a complex topic—especially because it is, again in the US and France, highly politicized. It is hard to believe, and it happened in France too, in Europe, but things like wearing a mask should not become a political issue. Having a vaccination, even if you disagree with it and believe that there is a risk and do not want to do it, it shouldn't be a political issue. I think it is being used as a political issue, and that's, in a sense, very sad, to see it happening that way.

ZIERLER: As you well know, the drive to create world-class universities all over the globe, from places like Saudi Arabia to Mexico to Japan, is tied up in national aspirations, for nations to become greater. Because in the United States so much of the strength of institutions like Caltech draw on their advantage from attracting the best students and professors from all over the world, what strategic challenges does this pose an institution like Caltech, given what we see happening in a place like Saudi Arabia?

CHAMEAU: Maybe this is the kind of topic we could discuss even more in subsequent meetings, because it requires that I think a bit more about it. But I will answer your question at two levels. There are few institutions in the US or in the world that have such a history and culture of performance that they will remain among the best, irrespective of new entrants; in fact, they often help the new entrants. You mentioned Caltech; Take Stanford in California, or Imperial College in London, another one, you may not know as well, but has really risen dramatically over the past 30 years, EPFL in Switzerland, in Lausanne. I could name others in the US and in other parts of the world, including some now in Asia, in Singapore, SHU in China, that have also emerged. I think those universities. Caltech, unless it makes some stupid moves, and Caltech will not make stupid moves, will always attract outstanding people. Stanford, MIT, will always attract outstanding people and give them great opportunities.

On the other hand, there is a larger set of universities that have relied a lot on foreign students. I think they will have to look carefully at their marketing and the kind of students they want to attract, because more and more of these foreign students are having great opportunities in their own countries, or other countries. In this case, and I will not cite another institution, but having the next tier of students coming to you, who are the ones just below those going to Caltech and MIT, maybe great, but if you happen in the future to get the tier below or a tier below that, I think it may not be any more what the US has done so well since World War II. In fact, it was part of the whole strategy to attract outstanding people, and to encourage quite a number of them to stay in the US. As you know, it has worked extremely well. You look at California, it's a great example of that. I think the US wants to continue doing that, and it is clear that you will have to be a bit more attentive to it—competition will be stronger in coming years. Especially for—I'm not worried about Caltech, MIT, Stanford, unless they make stupid moves—other institutions may have to pay more attention.

It is a small example, because KAUST is a small institution by design. But during my last year there, I remember that there were some Saudi students, and also some students from the Middle East, that decided to do their graduate work at KAUST, although they had been admitted by very good, excellent US universities. There is nothing wrong with that. In the same way, some others still went to MIT or Princeton or elsewhere. I spent quite a bit of the last 30 years involved in universities outside the US for diverse reasons. I remember in 1998, I believe it was, I came back to the US after a series of lectures I had given in China. Maybe one day we'll talk about it—I went to China the first time in 1981, and I went regularly year after year since then. I've seen the changes before they became obvious to many people. I remember in '98 I came back, and I told my colleagues, I was at Georgia Tech at the time, and also in meetings in the US, that I was impressed by the changes I was seeing there at the time. I said, it will not take too many years for some universities in China to start entering into the big league, and a few years later, they will be in the big league. Including in research. I even discussed things like the impact they will have on patents and innovation. At the time, I can tell you, many of my colleagues at Georgia Tech and across the US, said, "ah, no, it will take another two generations. It takes time to develop great institutions." Look where we are now. You have a large number of great institutions that exist in China and, in fact, the entire region. They are performing at a level that is quite impressive. The world is changing.

On the other side of the coin, you hear sometimes, and you see articles in the press from time to time, it is the end of California, the end of Silicon Valley. It is the end of US superiority in research and so on. I don't believe that either. We will continue to be a driver and likely still the main driver for a long time. But the competition is at a different level. It will focus us to be even better. I look at it in a very positive way, rather than a negative way.

ZIERLER: Let a thousand flowers bloom, essentially.

CHAMEAU: In a sense, yes.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, because you've been involved, either in building new universities such as KAUST, or reorganizing established universities in places like Paris, that obviously has given you an opportunity to think about new models in higher education. What are some of the sacrosanct areas of higher education where the wisdom is, don't change things, and where is there opportunity, because with a brand-new infrastructure you can think about new models for the new 21st century?

CHAMEAU: That's something again that will require a long answer. But a few things come to mind. When you are designing new programs, from an educational standpoint, to start with programs where you feel the needs are the most for years to come, or they are emerging areas. I'll give you an example. I am helping an institution which is starting by creating programs that are in artificial science and data science, and obviously, that's part of computer science, but they don't start by a bachelor's degree in computer science. You start by something that is more connected to what we believe the action is going to be. It is not the only action in the world, but that's one area of interest. You can try to focus on things that are more emerging, and that are slightly different from ones in the past.

Similarly, and KAUST is a good example, and you will see I will come to Caltech because of that, is to create programs that tend to be a bit more inter-disciplinary than the more classical academic programs. If you look at a place like KAUST, you don't find a department of mechanical engineering, a department of chemistry, all those things, you find programs that are more inter-disciplinary and broader. A program in material science which has a bit of everything. Programs in energy and environment that have a bit of everything, all the way to social sciences. By the way, not very different from what Caltech happens to be, and has been—when I talked about Caltech when I was president, I always tried to show that Caltech—yes, you find the classical disciplines everywhere—but it is not made of silos. There is only half a dozen, six divisions so far, and I think there is no plan to change that. Caltech was, maybe, a new model for the future before it realized it.

It is even more true in research. What I see in research is really to start new initiatives, not worrying too much about the different classical pieces that are part of it. Now, in terms of the expertise you will need, in terms of the people you will need, yes, you will need those things. But you try to focus on the goal, on the driver, without starting from, necessarily, the discipline. This opportunity to be more inter-disciplinary, to not be stuck in silos. Also, coming back to your question earlier with education, more and more I see these new programs trying to encourage the students to learn by doing. Lots of people who work in studios, who work in laboratories, are encouraged to do things and learn by doing. Again, Caltech has lots of that, because we are very proud at Caltech that all the students, I believe it was 90-plus% when I was there, are engaged in research. Talking about undergraduate education, if you look at the way it is done at Caltech, it is not by going to a lab for two weeks at some time during your four years. At Caltech, very often students do research throughout their courses, their curriculum. I don't know if you're aware of it, but KAUST was based in major part on a Caltech model, plus a twist of MIT, and a twist of Georgia Tech. I think it was one of the chemists at Caltech who used to say, it takes discipline to do multi-disciplinary work. There are two ways to look at that. He doesn't mean that in the end you are totally different compared to established universities, but you have a slightly different twist and, more importantly, culture and ways of doing things.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what about the tenure model specifically? Do you see that as something that's here to stay, or is that being questioned?

CHAMEAU: It's being questioned, and I wouldn't be surprised if, over time, it disappears. I was never worried about it myself. I changed universities several times, and I went from tenured to untenured several times. In the university environment, as long as you do your work well and you follow your passion, tenure is a non-event. Let me give you an example of that. There is no tenure at KAUST. They have what I call NBA-type contracts, where they provide five-year rolling contracts. Which means every year, your contract is renewed for five years. Except if you are not performing, if you start spending your time daydreaming, then you're told, "OK, it will be only a four-year contract," and even during those four years, you have the opportunity to regain momentum and keep going. It has been a non-event, in terms of hiring senior faculty, or junior faculty. For junior faculty they have, like in a tenure system, six to seven years to prove that you have what it takes. Like it is in the US to get tenure. That part remains. But after that, you are on five-year rolling contracts. A number of universities are starting to do it, including a number of state universities in the US where the states have requested that, every five years, you have to go through a formal process to show that things are still going well.

I believe it could disappear. The tenure system in western Europe is not as strong as it is in the US. Many people work more on contracts. I don't think it's a major issue either way. I should rephrase what I'm saying. For the very good institutions, it is not a major issue either way. Now, for institutions that are not among the very good, I'm not sure I would say the same. Because it's possible, obviously, to remain in place without maybe the level of performance students should expect. But at Caltech, and you could ask the current president, but, when I was there, there may have been a handful of faculty that really I felt it was time for them to retire, but the majority of people do a great job. At the same time, there has to be enough of a combination of administrative and peer pressure. Nobody likes, at the end of the year, to have a bad performance evaluation. Especially, if in all those things (they're never in confidence!), it gets known, your colleagues know you're not going as well as you should. Peer pressure, I think, is important. What I always loved at Caltech is that for the many faculty I talked to over these years, you could feel that they were competing with themselves, more than competing with their peers. That's where the culture has worked its best! You would feel bad if you were at Caltech and not performing at a high level. You would feel that you don't belong. So the pressure is really on yourself, and that's a great achievement for the institution.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, one of the major trends in higher education, in technical education, over the last several decades, has been increasing partnerships between institutions and fundamental research, and business ventures, translational applications. Going forward, what do you see as the ideal combination, where there is fundamental research that is kept aside, and there are business interests that are part of the university identity?

CHAMEAU: By that question, you are preaching to the choir, because if you read the talks I gave over the past 25 years, I always talk about that. I even said many times at Caltech and since then, that the difference we used to make between fundamental research, applied research, and then translation and so on, those differences, those boundaries, should not apply. It has become a spectrum. And again, there are many faculty at Caltech who are good examples of that. Take my good friend Frances Arnold. I'm not sure if you know Frances. She's a great example. There are days when her work is somewhere on the far side here, and there are days where it is on the other side, and it is a spectrum of activities. Our dear Bob Grubbs, who passed away unfortunately is another example. Bob often told me that he got his inspirations two ways. Some were at being curious about things. And the other, when he was talking to medical doctors who had needs and issues. So the continuous spectrum within science and technology is there, but that there are still people who view the two as two distinct pieces. It is a spectrum, and most faculty now, especially in areas like materials, biology, chemistry, environment, they see it and they are part of it.

Furthermore, and maybe this is because of my personal field, I never viewed there to be a conflict with industry or with startups or large corporations. First, there are policies and regulations in place, and processes that make sure that you manage any possible conflict of interest, any possible issue. I have never seen a situation where a corporation, because they put money into Caltech or Georgia Tech or elsewhere, wanted to interfere with the way the university was working, or how the faculty was working. I'll tell you a good example. At Caltech, there was a major, and it may not be in place anymore—maybe ten years ago, we put a very significant partnership in place with Dow Chemical. The amount of funding was for several years, and there were some people of Dow, who were going to be on campus on a regular basis.

The statement made by the CEO of Dow Chemical at the time was interesting. It was Andrew Liveris. He said, "yes, we are sponsoring research at Caltech in areas of interest to us, and there are some programs where jointly we decided what we are going to do." There are some programs totally curiosity led. A mix of programs that will be curiosity-led, and a mix that are more mission-oriented. "But," he said, "all this to me is incidental. What I came for, is to have my people connected to very good students and professors at Caltech, and new things coming out of that, that are not part of what we are funding now." This is what, sometimes without realizing it, there has been the best of that very good relationship in the US, historically, between the corporate world and the university world. Which, I think, was dramatically enhanced in the early 80s, with the Bayh-Dole Act. You may be aware of that. The relationship always existed, it started after World War II, but there was a dramatic enhancement of it with the Bayh-Dole Act.

Culturally, I think it fits the US culture quite well. Maybe more than the western European one. That osmotic relationship between the corporate world and the university world is not as good in western Europe as it is in the US. One of my contributions to Caltech was to reinforce it, because when I came to Caltech some trustees felt it could be stronger. An institution like MIT, historically, had been more engaged with the corporate world than Caltech. I always view it as very positive. I saw at Georgia Tech as well. Many years ago, the leaders of Siemens were engaged with Georgia Tech. They said, "we have no interest in you spending time solving our today's problems because if we don't know how to solve our problems today, we are not where we should be. What we want is to look at is 10 years from now, 15 years from now. I don't care about what Siemens is doing now, but what could Siemens do years from now." I think, sometimes, there was among faculty in the past, not many anymore, this feeling that business is too short-term oriented. I think it was the case in the past, but it is not the case now.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, a question more personal to you and your academic background. Thinking, for me, so deeply about Caltech institutional history, there has been a pendulum shift, at least since Murph Goldberger, between a scientist and then an engineer and then a scientist, leading Caltech. I'm curious, for you, if you see your approach to educational leadership and administration specifically through the lens of your approach as an engineer?

CHAMEAU: I'm going to correct you first, because I believe, and you should check, that I am not the first engineer who was president of Caltech. Tom Everhart had a graduate degree, a PhD, in electrical engineering! He is a physicist by background but also an engineer! When I came to Caltech, many people among the faculty made that remark to me, that I was really the first engineer, because my bachelor's degree in France is dégrée d'ingénieur. So I'm the first true engineer to be the president of Caltech! In the past, there were relatively few scientists and engineers who were presidents of universities. If you look at the past 20 years, it has become more and more the case. Before that, it was mostly people from the humanities, social sciences, law background, who were typically presidents of universities. I remember that when I became Provost of Georgia Tech, somebody, who was not an engineer, said, "I don't mind having an engineer in charge, an engineer likes to solve problems." That's good for a person in charge of a university.

You are the president of the university, you are not the president of engineers or scientists. As long as you are a person who can appreciate the differences in culture, the different needs, because they do vary from some disciplines to others. Caltech is an interesting case, because not only is Caltech heavily involved in science, but it is also involved in what some people refer to as Big Science.


CHAMEAU: Astronomy, planetary science, and all those things—you can mention the LIGO project, and others—that many universities do not have, because those require typically facilities that are fairly unique. Many scientists who, even if they have been in administration elsewhere, would not necessarily be immersed in what big science is. When I was interviewed for the Caltech presidency, I remember that the astronomers, there was one on the committee, always asked me if I knew what big science was, because he wanted to make sure I knew that big science required large pieces of equipment in Hawaii and other parts of the world, and special care and especially long term sustained commitment and support.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, finally, last question for today. Looking to the future, what are you most excited about, what are things that are happening across higher education globally, that will be most useful for the future?

CHAMEAU: Interestingly enough, it is the one that, especially today, as we remain concerned about international relationships—you take the US-China tension, in real time the US-Russia-Ukraine-European tensions, all those things that exist in the world, and the pandemic in many ways has not helped——I feel that the ties between scientists, engineers, researchers, across the world, and the way information flows among those people, is very high and is going to keep increasing and the entire world will continue benefiting from it. It is not the only answer to your question. We could come back to your it later. But I always viewed science, research—when I say science I also mean social science, I could even include engineering in that. Science and research has still been a language for people in the world in a way to assure that we can continue having a better world. I view this as being important and driven in major part especially by the most talented young people. The ones I see in the US, the ones I see in France, in Saudi Arabia, the most talented people are becoming more and more people of the world. I know there are lots of issues with globalization. There are lots of things we need to work upon and everything. But deep down I think it's a good thing. Education is a major part of that.

I hope that you come back to what you asked me earlier about the pandemic, I think what would be interesting for the scientific community to start to speak a little bit about how, in the next crisis, be it COVID-like, or something else, major environmental crisis, for instance, how could we try to get the best people in the world to start to work together very quickly, and leverage their resources, and leverage their talent. That, I think, would be, maybe as a learning exercise, post-COVID, a good thing that could be best driven by organizations like the academies. I don't expect governments will get together and start discussing how we are going to get our scientists together in the next crisis. All the questions you are asking, we could spend one hour on each of them, so we'll have more to do.

ZIERLER: On that note, Jean-Lou, we'll pick up next time, we'll develop your personal narrative.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022. I am delighted to be back with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it is great to be with you again.

CHAMEAU: Good to be here too.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, today what we're going to do, after our initial discussion where we went on a wonderful tour of your approach to administration and education and research, I'd like to go all the way back to the beginning, for your own personal history. Perhaps let's start with your parents, tell me a little bit about them.

CHAMEAU: First is to tell you that I come from a very humble background. My mother was a homemaker, she was at home, which in those days was not unusual. My father was basically a r boilermaker, a piping industry worker, working on construction sites and things of that type. My parents got married when my father was 19, my mother 17, which was again not unusual in those days, early 50s. I was raised in a very, very humble family. My father was sent to the military. France, at the time, still had the war in Algeria going on. For a couple of years—I don't remember those things, as I was very young, but when he came back there was no job for him. I heard that for one winter he was working for the city where we lived, breaking ice on the sidewalk and stuff like that. He had a career after that, as a worker, and then moved up through the ranks. But my parents, they didn't even finish high school. I was the first one in my family, not only to complete high school, but then go to college, to university.


CHAMEAU: For a number of reasons, related to my father's job in fact, because he was moving from one construction site to the other—it would be three months, six months—and it appeared when I was young I was fairly good in school, so my grandmother is in fact the person who raised me for quite a number of years. From age 5 to 13, I was living with my grandparents, in a small town. My grandmother had a large influence on me —I was raised more by my grandmother than by my parents, in a sense. Finally, I think it was around 1965/66, when my father's position became more stable in the west of France, next to the big harbor of Le Havre that I joined my parents on a full-time basis. During those years, I was a teen, I was raised in a small village of 300 people, among farmers, and going to high school in the town of Le Havre. I came from a family where, I can tell you, people didn't know about Stanford or Caltech or any of those things, when I was being raised. I was in a really relatively unsophisticated environment. My parents were not university professors or anything like that.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what was your family's experience during World War II?

CHAMEAU: Fairly bad. My grandfather, on my mother's side , was killed at the beginning of the war, and my grandmother that I mentioned remarried later on, so I had a step-grandfather. My grandmother, besides my mother, had three sons. Two of them joined De Gaulle in London, but one of them joined the military right away to avenge his father, and was killed a few weeks later. He must have been 17 or 18, so a fairly tough situation for my grandmother. Similar situation on my father's side. It was a typical family which suffered during those years, like anybody else. But people survived. My grandmother was a very strong person. She spent the major part of the war, four years, not knowing where two of her sons were, with her daughter, and having lost her husband and a son. When you go through things like that, you become a strong person.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, either with your grandmother or your parents, did you ever talk to them about politics? Did you know what their political views were?

CHAMEAU: Yes, my grandmother and parents were lovers of De Gaulle. When he came back in charge in France, in 1958, my family was a De Gaulle Republican type family, and very supportive of him. At the same time, in those days politics were different. Now, everything is so polarized. In those days, even the Gaullists talked to the Communist Party, and they talked to each other! There were a number of issues different parties were able to agree upon. As you know, nowadays, be it in France or in the US, it's impossible. You could have friends that had very different opinions and they still were friends. It seems to be harder today.

ZIERLER: The fact that your father was in construction, do you think that planted a seed in you in your interests in engineering?

CHAMEAU: When I say construction, I should rephrase it. It was construction in a sense of piping systems. If you had a large factory being built, he was more involved with everything having to do in the factory with pipes, all over the place, or for different purposes. I don't believe it influenced me very much in terms of my career, with the exception that, as he moved up through the company that he was working in, I got to know the person leading that mid-size company. He was an engineer. He was maybe the first "influential" person I met in terms of being a person highly educated. I guess I was impressed by him, and he was an engineer, so I guess that's what influenced me maybe more than my father. I could see what a person could accomplish with that kind of education in a leadership position.

ZIERLER: Geographically, the town you grew up in, where is that located in France?

CHAMEAU: I was born and raised initially about 150 kilometers north of Paris with my grandmother, in a small town. But after that, when I moved in with my parents, it was in Normandy, on the west coast, next to—there is the biggest harbor in France, called Le Havre. It is in the heart of Normandy, about 20 kilometers off the coast, in a small village. It's about, driving distance, a two-hour drive west of Paris.

ZIERLER: Did you have exposure to Paris as a child, did you know the big city?

CHAMEAU: Almost none. Very, very little. I got to know Paris when I went to college, but many years later. So, no, little exposure to Paris as a child or teenager.

ZIERLER: As a young boy, did you feel the Cold War, did you appreciate the tensions between East and West?

CHAMEAU: Yeah, I think everybody did in those days. It was not on the minds of people every day, but you knew, especially in Europe, there was always tension with East Germany and the USSR It was on the minds of people. Interestingly, I had the chance in 1969, so I was 16, to go to eastern Europe. One of my aunts, of Polish origin, after I think more than 25 or 30 years, she and my uncle went back for the first time to Poland, and I went with them. I was 16. We drove all the way there. In those days, very few people were doing that. We had to cross the border between West Germany and East Germany, Berlin. And then there was another border between East Germany and Poland. We lived for one month with her family in Poland, in two or three different towns. I experienced the eastern world, the eastern part of Europe, in 1969. It was the peak, if you want, in terms of the issues between the East and West. The government at the time in Poland was President Gomułka, and it was very hardcore!

I almost went to jail there! For a week we were in the north of the country, in the very big port of Gdansk, Danzig in German. In the harbor where we were walking around, I saw a few military Navy ships. I had my camera and I started taking pictures. It so happened that they were Russian Navy ships, and so a militia person came to arrest me, did arrest me. But my aunt, luckily, her family member, who we were staying with, was also a member of the militia. She called him right away, so it lasted only maybe one hour or two, but I almost went to jail in Poland!

ZIERLER: What kinds of schools did you go to growing up?

CHAMEAU: A public school. When I was in that small town with my grandmother, I was in the local public school. I'm really thankful to a teacher there, because, I was maybe 9, and one day he told my grandparents, "you have to push Jean-Lou, he's very good at learning and he should be able to go to," what's called in France "les grandes écoles." In the French system, there are universities, but there are also these fairly prestigious schools that are high-profile. When he said that to my grandparents, I was listening, but I didn't know what these grandes écoles were, but he placed something in the back of my mind that stayed there. And when I joined my parents in Le Havre, because I was quite good in school, I was able to enter the best public high school in the city, although we were not part of the district. It's like in the US now, you have to go close to where you live. But they made an exception for me, because my grades were, let's say, quite good.

But to tell you the way my life was at that time, when I was 14 to 18, I got up in the morning early, cleaned up, had a bit of breakfast, went on a bike for about three miles to a small train station, took a train for 25 minutes to enter the city of Le Havre, and then I had another 20 minute walk to the school. And the reverse in the evening. I was arriving back home at seven thirty or so in the evening, and leaving home before seven in the morning. As a young boy of 14, 15, it was demanding but I never felt bad about it. Most children nowadays may complain to their parents if they had to do that. In those days I didn't view it as being abnormal. I was in a good public high school and loved it.

ZIERLER: Your interests as a teenager, did they always veer towards science and engineering?

CHAMEAU: Yes, because I loved mathematics, I loved physics, all those things. But I was also learning Latin, I was learning philosophy. I liked a bit of everything. Mathematics I liked very much, but I couldn't say it was a passion. Some people tell you it was their passion really from the beginning. I would be lying if I said that. I had a strong interest in mathematics, in physics, but I also loved what I was doing in the other disciplines. So it was not really a passion.

ZIERLER: In the French system, when you enter university, do you have to declare a major or a focus right away like in Britain?

CHAMEAU: As I told you, in the French system, and still now—it has been changing the last few years, but it's still there—there are universities, and there are these very special schools. In these very special schools, les grandes écoles, you have to compete to enter them. After I finished high school, I went into another program that was given by the same high school, for people who are pre-selected, to learn more math, physics, and stuff, to prepare themselves to compete for these special schools. And I did compete after the end of that year, and I entered one of them, you can look at my resume, called Les Arts et Métiers. Which was, at the time, one of the best top 5 or10, schools of engineering in the country. By the way, it has declined a bit. Nowadays, it's still maybe top 20, 25, but it is not a top 5 anymore.!

Interestingly enough, I chose, in part, that school because of that person who was my father's boss, was from that school too. When he found out I had been admitted there—I was not sure I was going to join it—he told me I should do it. I did it, but it could have been something else. In those schools of engineering in France, you do not specialize, at least in those top 5 or 10 schools, you do not specialize that much. When I graduated four years later, I ended up going to Stanford in civil engineering, but I had a colleague who went in mechanical engineering, another one in electrical engineering. We were people who were fairly broad in terms of science and engineering. In fact, when I went to Stanford it was going to be in more mechanical than civil engineering, but by accident I became interested by earthquakes, seismology, and those programs tend to be more in civil engineering, than they are in mechanical or elsewhere.

ZIERLER: When you arrived in Paris, what was the political situation like? What were the relics of the student protests like at that point?

CHAMEAU: It was past that. This was in the 70s. By that time, the '68, '69 things were over. There were student strikes, demonstrations, as there still are nowadays. Not much more than the norm in universities, by that time! It was not a major driver at all when I was there. It so happened that after two years, I believe, I was elected as president of the student association of the school I was in. During that year, there was a big issue, and we decided to be on strike for a week or something, but the issue was likely not "so big" since I couldn't tell you what it was! It was so critical that we went on strike, but I have no recollection why. So it likely was not a major issue.

ZIERLER: Was the curriculum exclusively technical, or there was a humanities program as well?

CHAMEAU: It was a typical—even if you take a Caltech curriculum in engineering, half of it has nothing to do with engineering per se. So very similar. Strong humanities, social sciences, languages, and so on. But still hardcore engineering and science.

ZIERLER: Did you do internships or gain real world experience while you were there?

CHAMEAU: In those days, no. Those things happen now, but in those days it was less the case. On the other hand, I should tell you—I guess I like school— that, in parallel, I did a program in economy. If you look at my resume there is a degree there which is from La Sorbonne. In parallel, I took courses, in the evening during the week and also on Saturday. I took courses in this program at La Sorbonne. At the end in '76, when I finished, I had my French engineering degree, but I also had a degree in economy from the Sorbonne. Interestingly enough, you asked me already about passion and mathematics and science, I believe that if I had not been admitted at Stanford and left for the US, I would likely have gone on to do a PhD, not in science or engineering, but in economy!


CHAMEAU: In economics, at the Sorbonne. The professors there liked me , and likely it would have been the route I would have taken. You see, it could have been different. Maybe I would be a politician now!

ZIERLER: What were some of the professors or courses that compelled you to go on to graduate school in engineering?

CHAMEAU: This may show you I am a shallow person, who didn't always have big goals on his mind. But my going to the US, again, happened by accident. I think the story is going to interest you because there is a Caltech connection.


CHAMEAU: I was in that engineering school from '72 through '76, and honestly, I told you, at that time, I didn't know anything about graduate school. It was not, had never been, on my radar screen. It's not the thing that my parents would know about. I think it was 1974, or early '75 I guess, there is a person who comes to give a seminar, a big man, who had, I noticed on the announcement, a degree called a PhD. I didn't know what a PhD was. He gave a talk on computational fluid dynamics, which was an interesting talk, and I enjoyed it. But I also, when he was introduced, we were told he had received a PhD from a US university in California called the California Institute of Technology. He was a French person. He was doing a postdoc somewhere, and he was coming back to France at that stage.

That caught, for some reason, my attention more than the talk itself. At the end of the talk, the people were leaving, I went down in the auditorium to chat with him, and ask him what that PhD was and, at that time I didn't say Caltech, what the California Institute of Technology was. He didn't have much time for me, he was busy doing other things, and he told me, "you can find out about those things, there is an organization in Paris called L'Alliance Franco-Américaine," the Franco-American Alliance, "where they have information about graduate schools and universities in the US." That's all I heard. I am an entrepreneurial person, who likes to do new things, and I was really impressed by that guy who had spent time in the US, America, at that time, and coming back and giving a talk. Believe it or not, within 48 hours, I took a train, because that year the school was not in Paris, but [in the] north of France, with only the last year of school in Paris. So, I go to Paris, find that Alliance Franco-Américaine, and start reading about graduate schools. The only two names I knew were Stanford, because people were just starting to talk about Silicon Valley, the early days of Silicon Valley. And the other one Harvard, from the movie Love Story of the 70s!

I read the information on different campuses, got interested, and decided to apply. I did all this on my own, without any help or anything. I applied at a number of places, like Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Caltech (I believe, Caltech was on the list), MIT. Over the following six months or so, I started to be admitted in some of them and not in others. By the way, Caltech didn't admit me to graduate school. On the other hand, I was admitted by places like Princeton, MIT, Berkeley, if I remember well. In fact, I was tempted by Princeton, because not only did they admit me, but they also offered me a four-year fellowship to go on for a PhD. Initially, I applied for a Master's, you had to apply for a master's first. To show you how shallow I was, I had been accepted by Princeton already, and I was talking to them, but then I get a letter from Stanford: I looked on a map, it was next to San Francisco. I said, California, here I go! The decision was not made because it was Stanford, but because it was in California, next to San Francisco.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, how was your English at this point? Did you grow up learning English?

CHAMEAU: Yes, I will come to that, but coming back to the story here. It was because of a Caltech person that I ended up going to graduate school in the US. When I became President of Caltech, in one of the first talks I gave, maybe the first one, I mentioned the story. It was published in the Alumni Association magazine, and that person from France contacted the Alumni Association. This was 35 years later. He said, "I'm likely the person that Dr. Chameau is talking about."


CHAMEAU: We got in touch, and I met him a few months later in Paris. And also, what is very funny, I used very often a joke in my talks at Caltech, that alumni and students love. I would say that I'm a person who got into Caltech the easy way, by becoming the president. It was much easier than to get in as a student!

ZIERLER: That's great. So coming back to your English capabilities at this point.

CHAMEAU: English was not spoken at my home, obviously. I started to learn English in high school. I kept learning it, because there were always English courses when I was in the school of engineering. But my English was not very good. In fact, my German was better, and I preferred German at the time. To give you how close it was, in those days, and even now, you have to take the test of English as a foreign language, TOEFL to show your English proficiency. And I remember, in those days, the score to get was 550, and I got 552! Close, just above the bar.

ZIERLER: Was it specifically earthquakes that you were interested in for graduate school?

CHAMEAU: No, no. I went to Stanford because it was in California, next to San Francisco. Then, in my last year I was doing some work in a technology that is very well-known but was still being developed in those days. It is the finite element method to design structures. It had been developed for space exploration. So, I was doing work in that area, which is mechanical engineering, structural engineering. I applied to Stanford and it was in civil engineering because the structural engineering program was in that school, but I could have moved to mechanical. But when I arrived there, there was a big conference having to do with earthquakes, seismology. I had learned a little bit about California seismicity, and I was impressed by what I saw. And over the following six months, I decided that I would be looking at that. I went into that a little bit, again, by accident, My PhD turned out to be related to seismicity, to earthquake engineering. It happened, again, a little bit by accident, because of people I met, and a conference which was going on there when I arrived, that it became of interest to me.

ZIERLER: Did you have a sense, when you arrived at Stanford, that you felt at home in America, that you might make a life for yourself here?

CHAMEAU: No, you don't feel that the first day. But I enjoyed it from the beginning, and I was not—in these days even now, you have many students who when they arrive they stay among their little group. The Chinese stay on one side, and the few, there were very few of us, the few Europeans tend to remain in their corner. The people coming from South America have their own—and there is a tendency to stay within your culture. I didn't do that. I had roommates very quickly, and from different parts of the world. When there were working groups, I was always working with different people. So very quickly, I had friends from all over the world in a sense, including friends from America. I assimilated very well!

ZIERLER: Was it a professor, a course, what got you interested in earthquakes and seismology?

CHAMEAU: I wouldn't say a professor, per se. There were several of them. Including one, Dr. Wayne Clough, and you will see there is a story to that, who was a young professor at the time. He was doing work that interested me. There was also another one, Dr Haresh Shah. It was several people that were doing interesting work that I liked, and I decided to work with them.

ZIERLER: Tell me the story about Clough.

CHAMEAU: Wayne Clough is interesting. He was a professor at Stanford, a young professor who moved through the ranks. He became a very successful full professor, highly regarded at Stanford. When I finished my PhD in late 1980, I left Stanford to become an assistant professor at Purdue. In the mid 80s—I don't remember exactly the dates, b he left Stanford to become a dean, or a department chair initially, at Virginia Tech in Virginia. Wayne Clough, after that, becomes, in 1992, the Provost of the University of Washington in Seattle. He went from Virginia Tech, Dean of Engineering, to Provost at Seattle, and soon after that, in 1994, he becomes the President of Georgia Tech. Interesting story, I had joined Georgia Tech in 1991 as a chair of civil engineering. We knew each other very well, we were still doing work together from time to time and were good friends. But in 1994, he arrives on July 1st, 1994 on the Georgia Tech campus, and I leave on July 1st 1994, because I decided to leave the university. If you look at my resume, I became in charge of a large consulting firm. I left the academic world to run that firm.

I did that for a couple of years. But during those two years, Wayne Clough stayed in touch with me and, after two years, convinced me to come back to Georgia Tech. I became Dean of Engineering and then Provost at Georgia Tech, with Wayne as the university president. So it is quite an unusual situation. I had been his PhD student. He and I had not really worked closely after I left Stanford, but we remained obviously in touch, and we were interacting on a number of things. But we had a great time together for a number of years at Georgia Tech. In 2006, I left Georgia Tech to become President of Caltech. If you look at Dr. Wayne Clough, in 2008-9, he left Georgia Tech himself to become the Secretary of the Smithsonian. He's the first engineer to become Secretary of the Smithsonian. It is interesting that the search committee in Washington contacted me. I was a reference for him now, for him to become Secretary of the Smithsonian!

ZIERLER: Going back to Stanford, tell me about your graduate research. What did you work on for your doctorate?

CHAMEAU: It was a topic that is highly specialized. When you have major earthquakes, the seismic waves, under some conditions, can create in soils, which are typically sand- or silt-type soil, a condition where basically they become like a liquid, for a small amount of time. If you are along the beach, and you stand on the sand, you can see it's humid, but not full of water. If you hit your foot on the ground, slowly you see water accumulating. It's like quicksand. It is a very similar situation. The seismic wave creates a rise in the pressure in the water around the grains, and sometimes it's enough to make the grains become like a fluid. It doesn't last. It comes back to normal after the pressure goes down. But at the time it happens, suppose that you have a building on top of that, suddenly you have a building on liquid. Buildings don't like that. You have major failures in earthquakes, which was observed many, many times, even nowadays, when there is a major event. It is called liquefaction of soil. So, I worked on that topic. What I did is to develop a risk-based approach to liquefaction, using probabilities and statistical processes to try to help people assess the risk that they have in a given location with that phenomenon.

What was very interesting, for me at least, is that Dr. Clough and I applied my work in a couple of papers in 1981, '82, after I left Stanford. We used it to try to predict, or let's say, forecast, what could happen in San Francisco, in what's called the Marina District of San Francisco. You may remember, or you may not remember, because you are too young, but in 1989, there is the major Loma Prieta earthquake.

ZIERLER: Yeah, during the World Series.

CHAMEAU: During the World Series. People showed those pictures of liquefaction, of damage, in the Marina District, along the Bay. Within 24 hours, I got a go ahead from the National Science Foundation to go to San Francisco as soon as there are flights there, to start an investigation, because it seems that the model worked quite well in forecasting what will happen. I did that. I took the first flight from Chicago to California. We had, for several years, a major research project supported by NSF to do a post-mortem, in a sense, and to show that the models developed worked relatively well. Which means they can be used for future events.

ZIERLER: Was it at this point that you were comfortable, that you were specifically looking for opportunities in the United States?

CHAMEAU: In 1980, when I was finishing my PhD, again, things happened by accident. I was not sure I could stay in the US, because of visa issues and so on. I was looking at potential possibilities back in France. And again, I was contacted by two universities at that time. It was Cornell and Purdue. Both had open positions, as an assistant professor, in my field. I guess they must have read a paper or two I had published, and maybe Wayne Clough, also, had advertised my name. So they contacted me, they asked me to come for interviews. I had no idea—I went there feeling that there was no chance they would select a young guy, a guy like me coming from nowhere in France to be a professor in these prestigious universities. Seeing that I did well, because they offered me positions. I loved the Cornell campus, because it's beautiful, but I felt that the job that was best for me was at Purdue. I went to Purdue. Maybe it had to happen, since it is in the city of West Lafayette!

ZIERLER: Real America at that point. Jean-Lou, in graduate school what were your funding sources? Were there federal agencies that were supporting earthquake research at this point?

CHAMEAU: Yes, in fact, the funding we had came in part from the USGS, and then the National Science Foundation. But there is an interesting story there too. After my first year, when I finished my Master's, I went back to France for the summer. Wayne Clough and I—he wanted me to go on for a PhD with him at Stanford, and I was interested, but there was no money— We had written a proposal to the USGS, but were not sure it would be funded. By September I come back to Stanford, and there is no money yet. So Wayne contacts Professor Mike Duncan, extremely well-known at Berkeley. We were in discussions for me to join Berkeley, because Mike had some money! So maybe a few more weeks and I would have ended up going to Berkeley for a PhD, and not Stanford. But it happened that suddenly the grant came from the USGS, and Wayne told Mike, "sorry, he's staying with me at Stanford."

But the advantage of all this was, I learned very early the game. I mean game in a positive way. That you have to play the funding game and be very active in it, if you want to be successful as a researcher. At least in the science and engineering areas, where you need to get grants from different organizations to support students and run facilities. And during my career, when I was active in research, I received grants from the National Science Foundation, from the US Air Force, Federal Highway, like other people do.

ZIERLER: In engineering, was it unusual to go straight into a faculty position, not to do a postdoc first?

CHAMEAU: Yes, even nowadays, in engineering people do postdocs, but much less than in science. Typically, most people do it for one year, at most two. But typically one year, and then go into—and still, many people are hired out of the PhD, without a postdoc. Caltech does it. Caltech, in engineering, has hired people, during my time and before and I'm sure now, some with postdocs, but some without. It is not the same culture as in biology or chemistry, where they've gone to the other extreme, where people are in postdocs for five, six years. Which had become a bit too much, and this is being corrected somewhat in recent years.

ZIERLER: Coming to Purdue, what was your research agenda at that point? What did you want to work on?

CHAMEAU: Your research agenda, it is—what I love in the US environment, at the same time you can love and hate it, is that you define your research agenda. You define it, you have lots of flexibility, but it works only if you find ways to finance it. In those days, 1980, '81, the universities in those days, even Caltech, didn't offer you much to start. You had your salary, maybe they gave you a year of money for the summer, or something like that. In the last 20 years, we started to give new faculty three years of funding or more, money for two or three PhD students. In those days, at least at Purdue, you have to fight right away!

Anyway, I wanted to continue the research in my area of interest, which was earthquake engineering, liquefaction. But also, I'm a person who is interested by different things, and I still love mathematics. When I was at Stanford, I started to play around with what's called fuzzy sets, fuzzy set theory, and artificial intelligence. When I went to Purdue, I had an opportunity to explore that area, and I did some work that is not related to civil engineering or earthquakes. It was related to knowledge-based systems, and the use of fuzzy sets in artificial intelligence. By the way, stuff I did in the 1980s in that area, are more useful now than they were at the time. But I never became an AI expert, but I did some work in that area with applications in civil engineering. It may seem odd to you, but we developed a software that was used for 20 or 30 years by highway departments to evaluate the safety of pavements. It was using some artificial intelligence concepts, based on the work done at the time at Purdue. You see it a lot with Caltech faculty, your career tends to evolve. Driven in part by what you like to do, but also, to be pragmatic, driven in part by opportunities for grants. It is not a perfect world, and sometimes you do things in response to opportunities.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, at Purdue, how much fieldwork did you do? In other words, how much did you have to travel versus how much you could do from campus?

CHAMEAU: Quite a bit of fieldwork, because some of the research grants I got from the National Science Foundation in the earthquake engineering area included fieldwork that we wanted to do, and quite a bit of it was in California. In southern California, and also in northern California. It also happened that I had to use what are called, large shaking tables. The biggest one in the US at the time was at the University of Illinois, which is not very far from Purdue, in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. So I had students working there too. I forgot, we got a study also related to Greece. So for two or three summers, I had students in Greece. I started to do different things in different parts of the world.

ZIERLER: What did your laboratory environment look like at Purdue? Did you have a big research group?

CHAMEAU: Yes, I developed it over time. In engineering, I had a group at some stage, not the first two years, but in the late 80s, I had as many as 20, 25 people working with me. A few Master's students, PhDs, a postdoc or two. In engineering, it's a fairly good-sized group. It's a good-sized group in any discipline, but especially in engineering.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'm curious, at Purdue, your first exposure to administrative leadership, and when you had a sense that this was something you were good at?

CHAMEAU: OK, so you are going again to hear a story that is going to make you feel that this guy always does things by accident, and never plans anything. The school of Civil Engineering at Purdue is quite big. In those days, it must have been 75, 80 faculty. It's a huge program. Within that school, there was a program in geotechnical and earthquake engineering of, if I remember, eight professors. I was hired in that group. I was by far the youngest one. The other people were very senior people, and some of them extremely well-known people. A couple of members of the National Academy of Engineering. High-powered persons. All very accomplished. I worked well with them. It was known, I discovered it, but it was known in the school and around campus, that those great people—it was a very powerful group, it was one of the top five in the country in technical engineering—they were like cats and dogs. Brilliant people who always find ways not to get along!! Because of that, in a sense, as a group they were underperforming.

I realized it. It was amusing at times, not as amusing at other times. Some of those people, I liked them very much. Some I liked less, but still they were good and interesting. I started there in January 1981. Less than five years later, in 1985, mid '85, the head of the school of civil engineering, contacts me on a Friday, and I go and see him on Friday afternoon. I was wondering what he wanted. He explained to me, "I'm tired of your colleagues. They give me headaches. They're like cats and dogs. There are always problems." He said, "I know they are great, OK." He said, "there is only one thing they seem to agree upon, all of them seem to be able to work with you and they all like you and respect you." So he said, "on Monday, I want you to take charge of that group." Become, it was called, the area head, the group head. It may seem silly to you, but in those days I did not feel I could even discuss his decision—and I said, "yes, sir." Forty-eight hours later, the Monday morning, he comes to the group—he had requested a meeting with the group, and he tells them that as of now, I am the group head. I had been promoted fairly quickly to tenure. My work was doing well. I wasn't even a full professor; I was associate professor. And all of them were full professors. So I am the area head.

The following five years I realized—at that stage, it's not accident anymore, it's me realizing it, that I'm good at doing research, obviously I like my research, I like teaching. But I'm also good at, you can call it, leading and managing people, and I'm also good at helping people to gather around a vision, a direction, and get better things, bigger things done. The group started to function. There were still the tensions among the people, but I found ways to get them to work together, even on joint projects and everything. We gathered momentum that didn't exist before, and I realized that, first, I was good at it. And two, it rewarded me as much, in fact more, than my own work. I realized that seeing a group do better, be successful, seeing the accomplishments of people, was highly rewarding to me. Twenty years, thirty years later, I am always being asked to talk about leadership and things like that, or sometimes people ask me for advice. At Caltech people from time to time, when they had opportunities for being in leadership positions, asked me for advice, it was the same when I was at Georgia Tech, and I always tell people, do it if you feel that it's really rewarding you. If you do it only because it's a powerful position and you will be leading, even if you do well it will not work if you are not rewarded by it. If you can be rewarded at least as much by the successes of others as yours, and if possible more, you will be great at it. I have seen people realize that it is not for them because of that. They do it because they have to do it, not because it really feels good.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I wonder where in your personal history this character trait comes from?

CHAMEAU: Oh, I don't know. My grandmother influenced me a lot. I think there are some good values that she had. My parents, although, as I told you, they were not highly educated people, sophisticated, but they worked hard. my father, he died young, he could be a pain at time, but I always felt that people looked up to him. I saw him with the workers he was leading at times. There was respect, and people felt that they could trust him and so on. I still believe that you learn many things over time about the world and yourself, but a few things in life have to be a bit in you, innate in a sense. It's a long answer, but in 1985, I was thrust into that leaderships and management pond without thinking. Maybe I was too stupid or naïve to say no. However, over the following few years, I realized deeply it was exciting to me, and that I was good at it. There's no shame in saying it, I'm proud that I was good at it. Also, I felt good about it.

ZIERLER: Just the nomenclature question, what is the field geotechnical engineering, what does that cover?

CHAMEAU: It used to be called, going back decades ago, foundation engineering. It has to do with everything under the earth. It is geology applied to physical structures. It can be building the foundation of a large structure, of a bridge. I did quite a bit of work for many years on the seismic design of nuclear power plants. To design the foundation of very complex structures like that. Building dams. Tunnels, and bridges, everything which is below the surface has to do with geotechnical engineering. Obviously, the field has evolved a lot, and in fact, my career later on evolved; to become more and more environmental. Geotechnical engineers play a very large role in all the environmental issues.

ZIERLER: What were some of the key projects that the group was involved in, in the mid 1980s?

CHAMEAU: The group was very well-known—in those days, there were still many major earth dams being designed all over the world. Very well-known in that area. I was involved in earthquake engineering activities. Eight people in one of the largest groups in the US, with the one at Berkeley and the one at MIT, covering a wide-spectrum of activities.

ZIERLER: Did you do any consulting work for private business?

CHAMEAU: Yes, and it was helpful in my career too. It is a field, and civil engineering typically, where faculty very often get involved in consulting, and sometimes do bring those consulting jobs to develop new research activities, because you realize there are unknowns in some projects that you worked on, and it gives you an idea to start a research program. So I did some consulting. One or two of my colleagues, who were very well-known at the time, engaged me in some of their consulting activities. That led me to starting to have a network and interest in consulting, which led me later on to even run a consulting company. But also to have, very early, a connection to industry. Which, in academia, especially in science and engineering, has become over the last 20 years more and more important.

ZIERLER: At Purdue was that encouraged? In other words, I'm thinking the parallel story at Caltech was that at that point it was not so encouraged.

CHAMEAU: At Purdue it was not encouraged, nor discouraged. I think there was simply not a strategy at the time. For instance, Stanford, MIT, going back especially to the 70s, started to really make it a strategy. That was not the case at Caltech, I believe. I would say at Purdue it was not a university strategy, but my school head, chair, was very pleased to learn about those things. It was not encouraged, nor discouraged.

ZIERLER: In those early years, when you first became head of the group in academic administration, what did you learn about balancing administrative duties with your own research?

CHAMEAU: I don't know. I think you learn those things by trial and error. I always worked a lot in my life. I didn't know what the weekend was most of the time. With one caveat, and that's where I think it is hard for some people, if you take those positions, you have to remember that what has to do with the group has to come first. If there is a crisis one morning when you arrive at your office, even if you had planned the first two hours to be with your graduate students, if there is a crisis that has to do with the group, you have to handle that first.

But you learn how to prioritize your time, and the idea is to try to have a schedule where there are a number of set things that you do. You have time set aside for your meetings with your graduate students, or being in your lab, and all those things, but knowing that there will be times where your leadership position will lead you to tell your graduate students, no, you have to wait until tomorrow or something. And it's hard for many people who go into administration sometimes to feel that the priority has to be the group.

ZIERLER: Tell me about the opportunity at Georgia Tech in 1991. How did that come about?

CHAMEAU: OK, another accident. I was very happy at Purdue. By that time, I had been promoted full professor for several years. I was leading the group. I was also being asked very often by the dean of engineering to do things for the larger engineering program at Purdue. Things were going quite well, and I was not really looking for a new position. But it happened that people outside of Purdue must have known, realized, that there was a new guy called Jean-Lou Chameau that was really doing well in administration in that group. It's interesting, in early 1991, it was in January of that year, I got contacted I believe it was Georgia Tech, Penn State, and maybe Virginia Tech, and the University of Washington as well. [They] were looking for chair heads of civil engineering programs, civil environmental engineering, and they contacted me. I mean, really out of the blue.

Georgia Tech did that. I went to visit Georgia Tech, the first time I think it was in February of 1991, and one discussion led to another. I didn't know Georgia Tech very well, prior to that. Didn't know Atlanta. With the exception, it's funny; In September of 1990, Atlanta was selected to be the host country for the 1996 Olympics. I was watching TV, the news, of the announcement, and it was the person in charge of the Olympic Committee, Juan Samaranch, who said, as he was opening the envelope: "and the Olympic Games," with his Spanish accent, "will be held in the city of Atlanta." For some reason it stuck in my head. That's how I knew Atlanta!

Georgia Tech contacted me. I liked what I saw there. What I liked, interestingly, is that the civil engineering program had a good reputation as an undergraduate institution, but, let's say, fair at best at the graduate level. It had not performed for the previous ten years as it could have, and I realized that. Although it had some very, very good people. During the two or three visits I made there, I could really see they had some very, very smart people, but it was a little bit like my situation at Purdue a few years before. That group was not gelling, and there were some changes to be made, and so on. I liked that opportunity, that challenge, to try to change things. So I ended up going to Georgia Tech in the summer of 1991. If you look at the history, the civil engineering program was not ranked in the top 25 when I arrived there. Three and half, four years later, when I left to take the consulting job, several parts of it were already in the top 10. By 2000 or so, it was in the top 5, and is now typically ranked, in any discipline in that field, for the last 10, 15 years, around the top 4. What we started in those days clearly worked, and we set that school on the right path.

ZIERLER: Moving to Georgia Tech, how big was the promotion? What was the first job at Georgia Tech?

CHAMEAU: I became, it was called the head, the Chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a school of about 70, 75 professors.

ZIERLER: How many rungs up the ladder is that from the group you were heading at Purdue?

CHAMEAU: It is one above, because typically if you have a school with half a dozen groups, it is not unusual for one of the group heads to be promoted.

ZIERLER: In light of what the school went on to achieve, what were some of the key challenges? What was most important for you at the beginning?

CHAMEAU: I can tell you, it was the same at Purdue or Georgia Tech or when I went to Caltech. There are many things you do, but the most important one is simple, and simple is always hard It's people. It's to recruit the right people and support them, retain them. Then, the ones you have, those who are very good, is to find a way to support them even more and retain them. And those who can do better, is to find ways to keep improving. At Caltech I was asked very often, what is the most important thing to do. It's people. Ed Stolper will tell you the same thing, because it's simple it's very hard. Obviously, you have to do many other things than that. You have to provide the proper physical infrastructure. Technical administrative support. When I went there, it was not very efficient. All the management things, for those people to be successful. But the key is still to find and support and retain the best people. Try to develop—I don't like the term vision much, but you have to have goals that that's where we want to go. What you want to achieve from a programmatic standpoint, as well as from a reputational standpoint. A goal should not be, we want to be top 5 in the country. You may want to do that, but it will happen only if you achieve in the areas you are focusing on, to become the best at doing those things. Because if we do that, then it's recognized, and you appear in those rankings and benchmarks and whatever.

ZIERLER: If not a vision, then simply the goals. What was most important for you to accomplish from the beginning?

CHAMEAU: The most important thing to do is to set a few of those goals and to make sure we had the right people to achieve them. This was also a specific situation where clearly the school had been and was under-resourced, and had some issues with facilities, with management of different administrative units. To fix all that, and to find resources, to raise money. Raising money is always a major part of what you have to do, because to achieve your goals you need the resources. To improve your infrastructure, you need the resources. I started to do raising money—at Purdue, even as the chair of a small group, I was raising private money already at Purdue. I got into that game fairly early, and I continued that for the rest of my career.

ZIERLER: Was your skill at raising money the entrée for the consulting opportunity that you took?

CHAMEAU: No, the consulting had nothing to do with that. I had been interacting with a consulting company, called Golder Associates, on a fairly regular basis. I got to know the leadership of that company. I guess they liked me. It was a North American company, world company, but the largest two groups were in the US. The company was technically headquartered in Toronto, but one of the largest offices was in Atlanta. At the time, the CEO of the holding company was based in Atlanta, knew me. He had some relationship to Georgia Tech, and he was able to observe what I—he had observed me when I was at Purdue, was doing it at Georgia Tech. I was surprised. I was at a conference in India, in New Delhi. It was the world conference for geotechnical engineering. It's a place with thousands of academics and administrative people. The leaders of Older asked to have lunch with me. They said, "we have something we want you to consider." I never imagined it, but they went on and said, "we would like you to become president of the US company of Golder," which was the largest of the companies within the holding company. Over the next two months, we talked about it several times, and I felt it was an exciting thing to do. This is why I also—I was always very supportive of faculty who want to start a new company, or want to spend some time in industry, and most of them do come back. It happened to me. I left Georgia Tech, I became in charge of that company, but after two years, I realized that my heart was still more in academia than in the company. Georgia Tech recontacted me, and I moved back to the university.

ZIERLER: Was it a sabbatical, or did you formally leave?

CHAMEAU: No, I actually left. I left my tenure behind and everything.

ZIERLER: Was it a good experience in the private sector?

CHAMEAU: Fantastic. In fact, when I talk about my career, I tell that being in charge of the company, and knowing really what it takes every Friday evening or Saturday to have a report on how the business was during the week and the issues that you have and how we're doing financially and having to hire people, lay off people, do all those things that companies have to do, and managing the business side, was a great, great education for me. When I became, later on, the provost of the university, and the president of Caltech, I used that experience a lot. I can tell you, managing—Caltech, between the campus and JPL, when I was president it was already two plus billion operations, thousands of employees, those are businesses. If you want your faculty and your researchers to do well, you have to manage the business well, and that's what too many universities do not do well. I am advising one school in the US now, a very good school, but that is clearly underperforming, because it is not managing itself well. It has some very good faculty, some good programs, but it is not optimizing what it can do. I learned a lot in the business world, and it really made me a better university leader—I remember the Caltech trustees were always surprised as to how well I knew finances and accounting, and also got involved in the endowments, and stuff like that. It was a great, great experience.

ZIERLER: You emphasize the value of private sector work, bringing that back to higher education. What about your skillset going into consulting? What did you bring with you into this work?

CHAMEAU: I found that the consulting world is very much like academia. Almost half of the people at Older were PhDs, the other half were master's degrees. It's professional people, and it is not a top-down type management. It's like faculty. You have to create an environment where people feel they have their say and they agree with the goals and they support them. I found that the management skills I used within the school at Georgia Tech or before at Purdue, were in fact very, very similar to what I had to use on the business side. With the caveat that, in academia we have more time, we can spend more time than we can sometimes in the business world. There are times in the business world we have to say, OK, we have discussed this and I have listened to all the different possibilities, but we have to make a decision today. In academia we can often say, let's discuss this again next week, or create one more committee. The timelines have to be sometimes reduced in the business world, but the process is still very similar.

ZIERLER: Georgia Tech recruited you back? Were you looking for new opportunities in academia?

CHAMEAU: I was not, again, really looking. Except, I have to be fair, when Georgia Tech contacted me, I had at that time already in my heart the feeling that I will likely at some stage going back to academia. Georgia Tech contacted me, and it was the right contact, so I went back to the university.

ZIERLER: What position was this? You came back as dean?

CHAMEAU: No, not right away. When I came back, the president, Wayne Clough, had created a new position that didn't exist in the past at Georgia Tech, which was Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies. Georgia Tech has not only the university campus, it has also a research institute called the GTRI, Georgia Tech Research Institute. He had created a fairly powerful position looking at all the research at Georgia Tech, plus the graduate programs and so on. I knew the place. I knew what could be done. And on top of that, there was a very nicely endowed chair to let me develop some research activities as well. I took that job, which I loved, but within a year, the dean of engineering, Dr. John White, who was a good friend, left Georgia Tech to become the President of the University of Arkansas, where he was from, and the dean of engineering position becomes open. I did not really apply initially, but dean of engineering at a place like Georgia Tech, it is like at MIT. The dean of engineering is the "big" person in the Georgia Tech environment. Let's say, I guess I'm proud of it, my reputation at Georgia Tech at that time was strong. There was a push by a large number of faculty for me to—they were telling the president, don't waste your time, appoint him. So ultimately, I put my hat in the ring and I became dean of engineering a bit more than a year, after I had joined Georgia Tech.

ZIERLER: Again, the ladder metaphor. How many rungs up the ladder is this in academia, becoming dean?

CHAMEAU: You have deans, and then you have provosts, then president. If you look at university president, some come from being provost to president. Some come from being dean to president. You are there in the top academic circles. A few years later, I become provost, and then I became President of Caltech. During my time as dean of engineering I was offered a possibility of a presidency elsewhere that I didn't pursue. A very good friend of mine, Chuck Vest, who passed away a few years back, who was the president of MIT for many years, was dean at the University of Michigan before becoming the president of MIT.

ZIERLER: Your previous position, when you were director, that position would report to the dean at Georgia Tech?

CHAMEAU: As a dean, all of the school heads, directors, reported to me. Plus all the heads of the large research institutes.

ZIERLER: At this point in your career, are you able to conduct any research on your own at this point?

CHAMEAU: On my own, no. But I was still active with a faculty or two, that were colleagues of mine. I even taught, not full courses, because it was not fair to the students, but I taught regularly. And I was active in a couple of research programs, and with a few students. But it is another thing that I always tell people in these positions, it does reach a stage, that if you are serious about it, and you want to do the right thing for the institution, it really has to be your job, the priority. I can tell you, my good friend David Baltimore, who was a great President of Caltech. David, likely he is not the only one, had a tough time not to have enough time for his research, as he is one of the best in the world. You have to decide what your priority is. At some stage, running an organization of that size, plus having to do things like raising money and so on, is more than a full-time job. So if you do other things, they really have to be part-time, and just to get your mind away half a day on Saturday, or some other time. The leadership position has to be the priority if you want to truly serve the institution and its people.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, during your time as dean, were you already starting to see the fruits of your labor when you were director, that the rankings for Georgia Tech would keep going up and up?

CHAMEAU: Georgia Tech if you look, from early 1990s, 1990 to 2007, or the following 15 years or so, it's a dramatic rise. Georgia Tech is now one of the best in the country. We put a fantastic team together under the leadership of Clough. It was fun and exciting to be part of it. In addition to that, and I am sitting in a hotel in the middle of it right now in Atlanta, we changed dramatically what's called the midtown area of Atlanta. We created momentum there, 80,000 people have moved into that area, around the campus, over the past ten years, because there is so many startups, so many companies, so many apartment buildings that were built. Not only did we change the university, but we created a huge momentum around it.

ZIERLER: Then when did you become provost? How long were you dean before provost?

CHAMEAU: I was dean for four years, and again, the provost, Dr. Michael Thomas, I understand, felt it was time for him to step down. He had been provost for a number of years. Very similarly to the dean position, people felt I was maybe the right person, so I became Provost of Georgia Tech.

ZIERLER: What were the key issues facing Georgia Tech at that point, when you became provost?

CHAMEAU: The key, from a programmatic standpoint, engineering was outstanding already, and you have to keep going, but we felt that we wanted to be much stronger in several scientific disciplines, especially chemistry, biology, and others. And also, to do much more, like Caltech, in the social science and humanities program, with a technological and scientific bend, but to really reinforce those activities. As well as develop more—Georgia Tech has a business school, which is now doing very well—the business school was not doing as well as we would have liked at the time, so it was also to improve the business school.

And then, there was a major expansion in facilities, not only on the campus, but around the campus. I gave over the past 20 years a number of talks where I talk about destinations. Obviously, Stanford and MIT are the greatest examples in the world. People go there because of the university, because there are exciting things within and around the university. So try to push that agenda for Georgia Tech, and the community was also part of that, to make it a destination.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what interface did you have with federal funding agencies to support Georgia Tech?

CHAMEAU: A lot. I spent a large amount of my time in Washington, and when I was at Caltech even more, because you have to raise the flag, you have to make sure that agencies appreciate the institution and how it can help them—as well as try to influence them on overall strategy, not to influence them on any particular program, because you cannot do that. Most agencies, like the NSF and others, are trying to look at long term directions and goals, so you have to try to provide input to that. Then, sometimes, there are very large programs that need—the example for Caltech was the LIGO program, for the president to regularly interfaced with agencies, and sometimes members of Congress and others, to convey how important the program was doing. You have to be very involved in Washington, as well as being very involved raising private money.

By the way, that brings me to something. When you talk about industry, I said there are many similarities between academia and industry management. One difference is, is that managing a university, I found, is more difficult. In a sense, because you have more stakeholders, and sometimes they are not always totally aligned. In industry, or running a corporation, you have your employees, you have your shareholders, you have your customers, and all those, even if they disagree at times, even if employees sometimes can disagree with the management, they're still well-aligned, in the sense that if the company's not doing well, they all suffer. In academia, you have the students, you have the parents, you have the faculty, you have the staff, you have the alumni, you have the federal government, private industry, the state, all kinds of other agencies and so on, and they're not always aligned. What the students want may not be always what the faculty wants. There are more complexities than in industry. That's a difference I should have pointed out before.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, last question for today, and it will foreshadow to our next discussion. When you were provost, what did you learn about the division of labor between the provost and the president, at Georgia Tech?

CHAMEAU: I think it was that—and also it is because Wayne Clough and I knew each other so well—I was really focusing on running the university, and Wayne worried mostly about relationships with the State (Georgia Tech is a state university), alumni and the outside world. He was spending quite of bit of time in Washington. And also, in the case of Georgia Tech, quite a bit of time overseeing the sports programs! But, as at Caltech, we interacted daily on all matters. It has to be a team.


CHAMEAU: He was looking at those things more than I was. My job was to run the institution. Caltech is very much the same. I was involved in key decisions, but Ed Stolper, day to day, was running the institution. I was focusing more—it's not that I didn't do the day to day too—but you focus more on strategy, on vision, on relationships with the external world, on raising money, and all those things. At the same time, and we have to talk more about these leadership things, one other thing that is very clear, details do matter; you need to have a great vision, great strategy, the right people, but details matter. And day after day, you have to make sure that things work well. I can tell you, I was always a hands-on person. If something is not working well, you don't let it fester, you fix it. That is not as sexy as the big picture, a big initiative, but if you don't do that, you cannot succeed. OK, I think it's been enough for today.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Thursday, March 10th, 2022. I'm delighted to be back once again with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it's great to be with you again. Thank you for joining me.

CHAMEAU: Thanks.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, today I'd like to go back to your time at Georgia Tech. I'm curious, was there any particular significance to being dual-hatted, as Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs?

CHAMEAU: The two titles always go together. It is the same at Caltech. The provost is in charge of all the academic affairs. Typically, it is also the chief budget officer, like it is at Caltech. Those two titles are the same at most top universities.

ZIERLER: We talked before about how with some pride you saw Georgia Tech really rise in the rankings. What specifically were you able to do that allowed for that growth in excellence at Georgia Tech?

CHAMEAU: I think we already discussed that in some ways. It's people. It is to have a strategy to keep looking for very good, outstanding people. Then to mentor them, to support them, and make sure that they succeed, and to invest enough in them. To try, especially when you want to improve an organization, to try to have some focus. We tried to decide what were the areas where we felt we could make significant improvement, and also to go into areas where we were not initially, but felt there was a good chance we could achieve something. We tried to focus. But Caltech, again, is a good example of that, because it is one of the few universities that historically has always tried, not to do everything, but whatever it does it aims to do it extremely well.

ZIERLER: At Georgia Tech, was Caltech a model for you? Were you looking at things that were happening at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: Not really, because they are quite different universities. Georgia Tech is much bigger. It is also a state university as opposed to a private university. It has a larger number of students and faculty. A bit broader in scope too than Caltech. This being said, there was some connection between the two; the science and engineering programs at Caltech epitomize excellence, and Georgia Tech had been moving up in quality and performance, we always looked at the quality of the programs at Caltech. For instance, in chemistry and chemical engineering, which I felt were the kinds of programs we wanted to emulate at Georgia Tech. In other areas, we were looking at MIT. You look at different institutions and you try to see what they do well and what you can learn from them. Caltech was obviously one of them. But Caltech is always a different animal, because of the size, and when I talk about focus, the intense focus that Caltech have, compared to most universities.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, if you can go back and think about your ambitions when you were provost, were you thinking about next steps, was becoming a university president something that you had aspired to?

CHAMEAU: I think, again, we covered those kinds of issues before. It is not my style, nor my education. I told you, most things—

ZIERLER: Accident.

CHAMEAU: —I may be too facetious, but I feel it's a little bit accident. People —it works for some of them, who always look at the next job sometimes spend too much time thinking about that, and not about doing what they're doing right now well. It's another obvious advice I always give to people; in a leadership position, worry about you are doing now, not what you may do somewhere else or in a different position. This being said, as I alluded to before, I had been offered a possibility to go to another university before Caltech, and I decided not to do it. Even for Caltech, it may surprise you, I loved Georgia Tech so much and I was so proud of what we were accomplishing, that I was not 100% sold on Caltech. When I realized that Caltech was very serious about me joining, it was a harder decision than what you may believe. It was clearly Carol, my wife, who said, "OK, stop thinking too much, you cannot say no to Caltech. Nobody would say no to Caltech." We were flying back from our last interview meeting in Pasadena. We were on the flight from LA to Atlanta, a night flight, and she said, "OK, remember that dinner tonight, the people that you met, the quality of the people, how much you enjoyed interacting with them, so stop thinking. When you go back to Atlanta, you say yes, and we move on."

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, so is that to say, being focused on your current job, when David Baltimore announced that he would be stepping down, did that register for you? Did you take note of that?

CHAMEAU: Absolutely no. I didn't even know that he had stepped down. I may have read it obviously, because I read The Chronicle of Higher Education and things like that. I may have read it, but it didn't make a big impact on me—and, I'm not sure I told you that before, but when I was contacted by, I think it was Dr. Bob Grubbs at the time, and he said that there was a group of his colleagues from Caltech that wanted to talk to me about anthem ongoing search for the presidency of Caltech. When he said, "we would like to talk to you,"—honestly I had in mind that they were going to talk to me to ask me for advice. Are there people that I had been impressed with? Because those kinds of questions come up from time to time, and I had been asked for advice on other searches in the past. I really had no expectation that Caltech would consider me. I had not paid attention to the search or to the fact that David had stepped down, or was stepping down.

ZIERLER: So the original point of contact from Caltech was Bob Grubbs asking you for advice?

CHAMEAU: Yeah, he called me and he said he wanted to chat with me about the presidency, the search. It was a brief discussion on the phone. He said, "would it be OK if I came to visit with you?" I had in mind it would be on the phone. He said, "no, I would like to visit with you in Atlanta." He said, "I may bring a couple of my colleagues with me." So I said yes. I told him given how busy all of us are, could we meet on a Saturday? He said yes, and that came maybe the following week to meet in my office at Georgia Tech.

ZIERLER: Do you remember who was there besides Bob?

CHAMEAU: No really, a bit blurry. There were many meetings with different faculty after that and right now the list of those on the first meeting doesn't come to my mind. We may have started around nine, nine-thirty, in my office, and it was after at least a good one hour or more, that I said OK, they're interested in more than my advice. We had a discussion the whole morning, and then we went to a restaurant nearby to have lunch together. Then they left and it went from there.

ZIERLER: Now when you say you weren't initially sold, that's more about Georgia Tech than about any misgivings at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: There were no misgivings. It was the idea—I liked what I was doing and I felt there was still a lot to be done. No misgivings about Caltech, no, no, on the contrary!

ZIERLER: What were the subsequent conversations after that dinner, what happened next?

CHAMEAU: There was a process. I guess I must have done well enough in those discussions, because they contacted me two or three weeks later. There was an interview organized in Pasadena sometime in March of that winter. To tell you how I was not too worried about it or stressed about the entire process, it was organized again for a Sunday, a Sunday in Pasadena, with meetings with the search committee and a few members of the board. That particular week I had some business for Georgia Tech in Europe. The College of Architecture had a major activity in Italy, and I had to be there. So I flew, I remember I left Bologna, I believe it was, on a Saturday morning, went from Bologna to somewhere and somewhere to Los Angeles. I arrived at ten or eleven o'clock in LA on Saturday night. I was picked up by a driver, and at eight in the morning the next day I was interviewing for the Caltech position. After that day of discussion, there was another iteration where the Caltech search committee invited both Carol and me to go back to Pasadena. That may have been two or three weeks later. After that, it became clear that I was high on the list, and I got an offer from the chair of the board, and from Gordon Moore a bit later, to join Caltech.

ZIERLER: Just at a general level, in those discussions between members of the board and faculty members who were on the search committee, what was emphasized as some of the most important issues facing Caltech at that point?

CHAMEAU: Obviously, Caltech is and was an excellent place, outstanding people. I expected that and there was no surprise there. However, what surprised me is that at the time Caltech was experiencing some serious difficulties financially. The university, and you may have heard this, was in financial difficulty. What was positive was that it was not known too much in the outside world. Another issue, at the time, was that there was some stress in the relationship between JPL and NASA. I felt that the relationship between JPL and the campus required a president to take strong interest in it and try to leverage it. So, there were some tough issues that I didn't expect before I started the interviews. But at the same time, it was interesting, because I felt—because of maybe if you listen to what I have said before—that I was really the kind of person who could help with the issues that were being faced by Caltech at the time.

Then besides those issues, from a programmatic standpoint, no university, even Caltech, is perfect. To give you an example that I tried to leverage very quickly, Caltech had some outstanding, in fact remarkable people doing work in areas related to energy, to the environment. In the environment, it had been the key player in air quality issues 30 years before. But for some reason Caltech, if you go back to the early 2000s, was not viewed as a driver in the energy and environment areas that were emerging. That's something, from a programmatic standpoint, I felt we had to do improve. It was more a matter of pulling the talent together and giving it more resources and maybe even marketing it, rather than anything else. There was talent, outstanding people. In fact, they're still there, most of them, in the energy area especially. It was just to show them support and interest and maybe find some resources for them so that you could really push their research and agenda more. As you go through the process, you realize where there could be some improvements or initiatives, even on the programmatic side. But the big issues were related around the finances, management, the morale, obviously related to money! There was clearly a need to reenergize the fundraising activities and the development program of Caltech.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I wonder if you can explain, it's very surprising to hear about the financial problems given the fact that Gordon Moore had given his historically significant gift relatively recently?

CHAMEAU: A gift didn't solve the problem. In fact, it was lucky that Gordon Moore and a few others had been helpful at different times, but it was not sufficient. A budget is every year. You need to have income every year to cover your expenses, and Caltech, even with the support of Gordon Moore and many others, didn't have enough income to support its expenses. And although it was very successful in research, it was not sufficient to support the institution. The trustees had been very concerned, because it was a systemic deficit, and you cannot do that for too many years. You also have to appreciate that in a university, especially a private one, you receive major gifts. Let's say for an endowment, it's great, and it will generate income. But it is not, even if you receive millions of endowment, it is not funds that you can spend today to solve your problems. You can spend the income in the years to come. So there were some significant issues. But I felt that none of them were a deal-killer. In fact, over a few years, Caltech got back on its feet, and I assume it's still doing very, very well now.

ZIERLER: When you made the decision to accept the offer, what aspects of your work at Georgia Tech were complete, that you felt they were done, and what was remaining for your successor to do?

CHAMEAU: Quite a number of initiatives we had taken had moved ahead quite well. There was a major complex in nanotechnology, biomedical area that we had developed. Another major complex related more to telecommunications and also business entrepreneurship. We had done some major initiatives. All the programs at Georgia Tech had risen, they appeared in top 10, top 5, everywhere, like the ones at Caltech. By 2005, it was the case. It had been done. One thing that I was extremely proud about, we had created a new biomedical engineering school out of nowhere initially, and it was already ranked in the top, I forget, 5 or 6 at the time. It's number 1 in the US now, I believe. Many things were accomplished—but there is always more. That's why universities are great.

For instance, when I left, I knew that we had done some major improvements to the business school, but more had to be done. There are always things that have to be improved. Something also that I was very proud of at Georgia Tech is that we had, by the time I left, 50% of the students were doing work overseas as part of their education, including the engineers. And then, more than 50% were doing also research or working for corporations during their studies. Those numbers have kept increasing since I left. This was something that we had pushed, and it kept moving on.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, when you arrived at Caltech, coming back to the morale issue as it relates to finances, that's such a difficult thing to wrap your hands around. How did you address it? What did you want to do?

CHAMEAU: First, it is the tone, I guess, the tone from the top. I tried to show it every time. Especially the first few weeks, first few months, I made remarks to the community and many, many groups. I was very transparent about the issues, including the tough issues of money and budget and so on. So openness as to what were the issues, and giving clearly and repeating what we could do about it over the short-term and in the next three or four years. To try to really be sure that you've understood what the situation is, that there are some solutions, something to work on as a group, as a community. Be very open, transparent about it, and communicating it.

I might add something that, yes, you may have heard from others. I believe you don't do it only by giving speeches and talking to people, you act. Every day there are some actions you take that are small steps in the direction that you are promoting. Also, you engage with people. You may have heard that during my first three months, I met with every faculty member, one on one. And not in my office, I went to their offices, to their laboratories. I tried to meet—I could not meet with all the staff people, but I met with a large number of staff people. Something which I did all of my life, so I was not doing it because I wanted to show it's important, no. When I go somewhere and I take an elevator, I talk to people in the elevator, or if I see somebody while walking on campus—very often in the morning when I was walking from the house to the office. There was a lady I remember, usually doing gardening and stuff like that, or I see a person who was outside the cafeteria; you chat with people, you talk to them.

I'll give you an example. I remember it was my first day in the office, and for a while Carol and I, we were in a house on Arden Street, not very far, because they were doing some work on the president's house. It was a very short walk. I walked there and to cross the street there was a light and there was a lady next to me. It was in the evening, maybe six or six-thirty. She turns to me, as I said hello to her. She said, "oh, you are Dr. Chameau the new president." I said, "yes, and who are you?" She introduced herself, and we chatted there. The lights went from red to green and back several times. I asked her what she was doing, where she was working. She was working next door in the aerospace building. She said, "Dr. Chameau, if I may, staff members very often we don't feel connected. We know that those great people are doing amazing science and make discoveries and we hear of them in the news and so on, but we don't really know what they are doing. They don't talk to us enough." I said that I appreciated her input, I understood what she meant, because I felt that it was the same sometimes at Georgia Tech as well. I made a point to repeat that story many times when I was with faculty or when I was in different meetings, to give the feeling to people that Caltech is a community that wants to be engaged—People want to be part of what Caltech is; it is more than a job—

ZIERLER: Connected.

CHAMEAU: —they want to feel part of what's going on. If you do that in good times, everything is great, everybody is happy. But in bad times, if people have really felt that they are part of the story, they will help you, and sometimes they will accept maybe some pain, some difficulties, because they feel a part, that it is more than a job, in a sense. So, I feel it is my style of leadership to engage with people, one on one, as much as you can. And you learn a lot, you learn a lot from doing that.

ZIERLER: In your discussions with faculty, when you visited them in their offices and labs, what were some of the recurring themes you were hearing over and over again?

CHAMEAU: At the time, especially for those first few weeks and few months, faculty were not concerned too much about their work, because they were good at what they did, but they were concerned about the financial situation, resources, and they were also concerned that the student body had been a bit unhappy. By the way, this feeling of unhappiness disappeared quickly. The students only wanted to be heard. They wanted to feel that people cared about them. For some reason they had felt that—the previous administration cared about students, there is no doubt in my mind, but at some point, I don't know how it happened, there was a disconnection. Having lunch or dinner with students from time to time, engaging them, made a big difference very quickly. The Caltech students are great to work with and talk to, but they're so focused on their work too. They just want to feel that they are appreciated and, again, that we care about them.

ZIERLER: As you became more involved in understanding the budgetary challenges, the financial situation at Caltech, what were you learning was the source of the problem and what was the plan to fix it?

CHAMEAU: The source of the problem was that there were not enough resources coming in. There were areas where we could do much better in terms of the way we were organized and managed, and we worked on that right with the management team. To fix it, you also had to try to raise more money, which we did over time. It doesn't happen overnight. But what was very good at Caltech, some alumni and also some other non-alumni and private donors, when they felt that things were moving in the right direction, they really came to help and were very supportive. So, to improve the resources. Also, the trustees of Caltech were very good. There was a group of trustees that felt that the endowment had to be managed a bit better than it had been for a while. It was them, the committee, who really worked very, very hard and started to show improvement in the management of the endowment. Then also, we tried to work hard at positioning Caltech—and that would be the faculty and, I think, the provost and the division chairs and so on doing as much if not more heavy lifting more than me, to try to position the school to go after some major programs with significant resources. I mentioned energy, and over a few years we really got some major federal grants and corporate grants from corporations to support that program. One area I mentioned that I felt very quickly at Caltech could do better too, was its connection to industry. We really worked on that and I think we showed progress, and I'm sure it has continued.

It is also sometimes good to be lucky too—Caltech had really before I arrived, for a few years, been going into supporting entrepreneurship and supporting the creation of startups and trying to translate its IP into commercial activities. Caltech had been slow at doing it. In the 70s, 80s, it was not part of the culture of Caltech. But starting in the 1990s, when David Baltimore was president, and then in 2000 and more, it was starting to be fairly active. We had in place a very good team. Some of the key people are still there today, and they are outstanding. And then, it's a bit of luck, because we had a few hits—several of the companies that there was investment in did fairly well. That kind of income to a university can vary a lot, and you don't want to rely on it too long. It's best to view it as icing on the cake, from time to time. But it turns out that our luck was good. We had some very good years, starting in 2007-8, that really helped, in fact. In the back of my head, I never viewed it as being something that you could assume would always be sustained. There will always be ups and downs. But the fact that you had a few up years was luck I was willing to accept.! I give lots of credit to people like Fred Farina and his team, and a few faculty members who were very engaged.

ZIERLER: In the way that Caltech organizes itself uniquely, even idiosyncratically, were there aren't departments, there are divisions, and division chairs yield quite a bit of power, what opportunities or challenges did you see as president in this system?

CHAMEAU: I think it's part of the Caltech image, but we make a bit too much of it really. The chairs of those divisions are very similar in their jobs and what they do, very similar to a dean of a college or a school, at other places. If you take some of those divisions—and there are a few exceptions—yes, there are no official departments, but they exist. Even take the simple one of chemistry and chemical engineering, it's one division, but within that there are two big units. Look at what's under PMA. It is different, but not totally—it's not too different compared to many places, with the caveat that the structure works very well, leading to a more interdisciplinary environment than at other institutions; there is quite a bit of interaction between different groups, which is a plus.

I didn't view that organization or the roles of the chairs to be a challenge. In fact, to my surprise, it worked exactly as when I was at Georgia Tech. There was a group meeting, I think it was once every two weeks or once a month maybe,, of the six division chairs, the provost, and the president. I remember we met for half a day or a day. It is the group called, if I remember the label, the IACC. It was the same at Georgia Tech. I had the deans, the provost, and the president meeting regularly like that. Some people were in place, I appointed some, and it was a very good group. What you have to do in a university is to create a core team. The advantage of Caltech is that the core team can be relatively small. Those six chairs, the provost, the vice-president in charge of JPL, plus the president, you have the drivers of the education and research enterprise. The other functions, vice-provost for research and those things, are very important, and the CFO, the legal, and a number of other important positions, but in terms of the core academic and research group, it's a small group. We got together regularly. We agreed on what we wanted to do, and we did it. That was a very similar experience to the one at Georgia Tech.

ZIERLER: In our previous discussion, I asked how you understood the division of labor at Georgia Tech between the provost and the president. I'll flip that question around at Caltech. What did you see that division between president and provost here?

CHAMEAU: Slight difference, in the sense that, and it reflects the size, the president is a bit more involved in the inside of Caltech than the president of Georgia Tech is in the inside. This is why the president and the provost at Caltech really need to work hand in hand. The provost, rightly so, interacts every day with the division chairs, but the president does too. So you want to make sure you don't have any conflicting signals between the two, and that worked very well. I was lucky when I arrived, there was Dr. Paul Jennings as the provost, and it happened that Paul is a person I had known for many, many years, because we are in the same discipline. So I knew him. He was a giant in my field when I was a graduate student. He was, and he is still, such a gentleman. He was the provost when I arrived and he told me he would not stay more than a year, and I had to appoint a new provost. I appointed Ed, and Ed and I, although we're very different people, worked really hand in hand. We were a team. There was never any significant difference between us—people knew that we spoke the same language, not French, but the same language.

At the same time, I was spending an enormous amount of my time trying to work on the outside with the trustees, the donors, the big stakeholders, foundations, Washington, and also with NASA, JPL, and so on. The job is still mostly trying to work with all those stakeholders to help bring support and resources to Caltech. At the same time, as the President of Caltech, because of the size, you tend to be more involved in the nuts and bolts every day than you would be maybe at an institution like Berkeley or Stanford.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I wonder if you can talk about meeting Charles Elachi for the first time, and the tour he gave you of JPL?

CHAMEAU: Obviously I knew of JPL, very much. And I felt, when I was considering taking the position, that Caltech and JPL are one, JPL is part of Caltech. I had heard already that there had been some tensions between Caltech and NASA regarding JPL. So when I came for the second interview, I'm the one who said to Bob Grubbs and the trustees that one of the meetings I wanted to have, and I said it has to be more than a meeting, was with Dr. Charles Elachi, at the time the Vice-President and Director of JPL.

We went to JPL, I forget, maybe it was a Saturday morning or Sunday morning. And for half a day, Charles gave us a tour of JPL. We talked a lot about the situation and the challenges that JPL was facing at the time. It happened that he and I became very good friends. We are still friends now. From a background standpoint, he speaks French and he had studied in France, and culturally we were in sync. I was sure, and I had told the trustees, and I even told the chair of the board, I said, "I will not take this job if I feel that the Director of JPL and I cannot work together." When I left that meeting with Charles, I was sure that I could work with him very well. It turned out that that story became known after I joined Caltech, and I think it was appreciated by the JPL people, who sometimes wonder how much the campus loves them, and I'm sure this still happens there from time to time. I think they felt very good that the new president had insisted on spending half a day with the Director of JPL before he would even consider the position.

ZIERLER: To clarify, the challenges facing JPL were with NASA, not with campus?

CHAMEAU: The relationship with the campus could have been better. There were also some tensions there, but there is no reason to go into that very much. NASA is a big organization, JPL is a big part of it, and there had been some projects where there were some issues between the two. But it was nothing that couldn't be fixed. In fact, Charles is the one who—he had been appointed maybe two years before I came— handled things and they were on the mend already. What I had to do was to spend some time with him at NASA in Washington to show that Caltech, the President of Caltech, really viewed JPL as an important part of the organization, and were going to do, and did, everything it could to make JPL a success., especially since we had several big missions in the making. There are always major missions, but there were missions to Mars in progress, and those were big projects.

ZIERLER: The challenges with NASA headquarters, what exactly was the issue?

CHAMEAU: NASA is a bit of a political organization, and sometimes maybe they had the feeling that JPL was going its own way. There are members of Congress also who like JPL, and sometimes too much, and maybe NASA felt that we had too much access to the leadership in the country. Also, issues always come up during the life of a project, and those are sometimes technical issues have to solve. Simply, the relationship between the two organizations had had some static electricity there for a while. There's no reason to go into it as it got resolved well and rapidly.

ZIERLER: We'll talk about your focus on sustainability at Caltech, but with regard to JPL, were you involved at all in the Earth Sciences Directorate, in the way that JPL itself became more involved in sustainability issues?

CHAMEAU: Not directly, technically, myself, but supporting it. And in fact, when we had discussions with NASA, making sure we felt that JPL was already playing a role and was interested in playing a bigger role. When you are at the level of Charles Elachi as the director and I, it is not our technical contribution, it's more to convey the right message and to show through action that we support it when there is a need of resources or whatever, hiring people and so on.

ZIERLER: When it came to the decision time to appoint a new provost, how does the selection process work? Did Ed Stolper express interest in the position?

CHAMEAU: I had a committee to advise me at Caltech. There were two or three people I felt would be really good provosts, and also, I wanted somebody who was different than me. Somebody who was more on the science side, as I was more of an engineer. Also, different than me as a person in the way of looking at things. I quickly realized that Ed was that kind of person. He's a great person, and likely the best decision I made at Caltech, especially an early one, was to appoint Ed Stolper as provost. Although some people were not happy, because he is a very demanding person. Had a reputation of being a tough guy, but he is a thoughtful tough guy, and I was sure he was the person I wanted to work with me.

ZIERLER: You mentioned it briefly, but if we could talk a little more, but what was your sense of the culture of entrepreneurship at Caltech at the time you joined?

CHAMEAU: It was in place, it was getting there. The younger faculty, the newer generation, the people who had been hired over the previous five to ten years, it doesn't matter if you came out of Stanford or MIT or Georgia Tech, those things were starting to be part of the culture. Among the more senior faculty, there were some who were still of the view, which is not a bad view, that we only do science and that's all we are supposed to do as a university. But it was a small number, in fact, and they were not—I think they had been vocal maybe a bit before, but after I arrived, they said "OK, the decision is made, we are moving in that direction. It is not my cup of tea, it is not what I will do, but I'm not going to do anything to oppose it."

Then you had people like Bob Grubbs who received a Nobel Prize winner and at the same time he was working with technology transfer and doctors to create new businesses. He was among others, like More Gharib and Frances Arnold, a great example—it is a continuum from science to doing something commercial, to impact society positively. It was not really a fight to be had, or anything. The culture was on the move and it kept moving.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, one of the legacies of your presidency that's so much appreciated, is your emphasis on sustainability. I wonder, where did that come from, what was important to you personally and what was going on globally, that you saw opportunity for Caltech?

CHAMEAU: To me, personally, it came over time—it relates, in fact, to the work I was doing much earlier. I told you I was a geotechnical engineer, dealing with soil mechanics and geology and I realized in the late 80s, more and more, that environmental issues in that area were becoming critical. I paid attention to it and I decided to engage Georgia Tech in that area early. In 1991, '92, I helped with the creation of, and it may have been the first or the second one in the US, a center for sustainable technology. Georgia Tech got involved in the Rio summit of 1992. And the company, you know that I spent some time running a company, was an environmental firm. I really felt it was an important issue and I can tell you I smile now when everybody talks about sustainability. The center we created was in 1992 and, by the way, it's still a very active one in Atlanta. In Atlanta there are corporations like Coca-Cola which initially were lukewarm about those ideas in 1992, but they have become over a number of years our greatest supporters. We were a bit early in that game and it was a major initiative at Georgia Tech, and it helped, in fact, the reputation of the school in the late 90s.

When I came to Caltech, I felt it was—and I was not the only one, there were many people at Caltech who already felt that Caltech had to be engaged more in that area. And again, there was an amazing amount of work being done by Caltech scientists in the field. It just had to be packaged a little bit, and also to apply it to the university practices. Applying it to the university also pleased people, because we showed, and I give lots of credit to Dean Currie, the chief financial officer and his team, because we showed that the investment we made in energy savings, including for instance, building some energy efficient facilities, renovating some, installing fuel cells on campus and solar roofs had major positive impact. We showed a return to the university. I can tell you, and it may still be the case, we organized with the division that any financial savings would be split equally between the division and the central administration. Not only to be involved in that field as scientists, researchers and educators, but also to do it as a university, I think made a difference.

And again, in that area I give lots of credit to my wife, because that was her career for most of her life. She played a very important role at Georgia Tech. By the way. it is because of that interest that she and I met. Then at Caltech, she worked with faculty and Dean Currie in the business office to help make all those things happen. It was the right time too. Again, it's like entrepreneurship, innovation, even if there were some skeptical people, people felt it was time—the GPS division, they jumped into that because they were more of the environment-type people. But also, if they could see a way to get tens of thousands of dollars in savings a year for their school, yes they like it even more. They can use that to support more students and do things. By the way, it suddenly comes to mind, we tried to, because a university is also part of a city, Pasadena in this case, was be a model and an asset for Pasadena. Again, Carol and Dean Currie engaged a lot with the city of Pasadena to also move the city in that direction.

ZIERLER: I'm curious of the timing. In 2006, this is really a watershed moment of concern in the United States over climate change, Hurricane Katrina, the release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Did you see opportunity at Caltech specifically to focus on global warming?

CHAMEAU: Yes, because of the research that was going on. You had quite a number of faculty, and many of them are still there, who were really at the leading edge in a number of areas, so there was no doubt. They were spread around different units, different divisions. I didn't have to push it. The energy faculty, I remember they asked to meet with me because—after I was announced as president, it took maybe three months, maybe four, I think I arrived in mid-August, and the announcement was in June. I took a few trips to Caltech during that transition period, and the energy group was the one that asked to meet with me, well, the first one I believe, before I was on campus. In fact, most of their ideas became part of my remarks when I started to talk about what Caltech could do in those areas. The ideas came out of the faculty, which is what you want to see.

ZIERLER: To clarify, the energy group, the overriding concern here was developing alternatives to fossil fuels?

CHAMEAU: It was really photosynthesis and things like that. There was really a strong focus at Caltech, in that group at least.

ZIERLER: What have been some of the legacy achievements of the energy group, what do we see as a result?

CHAMEAU: Go and talk to the people at the Resnick Institute. This is where the action is, and you have great people there. Go and talk to them, you will see that it is one of the major players in the field. That's where you should get information.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, last question for today, we'll end on a fun one. It's something I noticed when I got to campus, a natural resource, all of the olives on the campus.


ZIERLER: When did you get inspired to think that something could be done with it?

CHAMEAU: This relates back to the beginning of our discussion. Again, it's a matter of luck and, I guess, still having the right touch and making the right decisions. I told you, there was a low morale on campus, and I really tried to talk to people and get some excitement going and show that I cared. We had been at Caltech for maybe six or seven weeks. I think it was on a Saturday, or maybe some evening, as Carol and I were walking back toward the Athenaeum, we noticed a bunch of students, who were shaking a tree trying to get some olives. They explained to us that they were going to try to make olive oil. I said right away, "if you make olive oil, you will bring your oil and I will cook for you." As typical Caltech students, they took action right away and, within a few days, they came to see me with a small bottle of olive oil, and they explained the way they had done it. I said, "OK, I'm going to make dinner." Six of them came on a Saturday evening the following week, and I actually cooked dinner for them. In fact, I remember I cooked rabbit for them: something very French! We had dinner and we used the olive oil and we tasted it and so on.

Then the story took on a life of its own. Somebody talked to somebody who talked to somebody. The press heard about it, a newspaper article appeared in the local Pasadena and Los Angeles papers. Then I got the idea to have a harvest of the olives, and let's try to make Caltech olive oil. Wee found the olive oil company which was willing to help and give some advice. That group of students built their own press, and on a weekend we had hundreds of people, students, also faculty, staff people, who came to the campus to go up ladders, and I was one of them, to pick all the olives. They were pressed starting the same day and the following day. Tom Mannion, I think he's still at Caltech, organized an outdoor dinner. All the way to the Athenaeum, hundreds of tables were lined up. I forget, maybe 1,000 people had dinner there at the end of the day. Again, we had amazing press coverage. The rocket scientists who are making olive oil! It went nationwide, and in fact outside the US, —it may be sad to say, but there was more coverage of that olive oil story than there had been the year before when Bob Grubbs won the Nobel Prize of Chemistry!

Obviously, the event helped changed a bit the atmosphere. It was something fun. Everybody was involved. People loved it, and the trustees loved the idea. Mrs. Gordon Moore wanted to have olive oil taken to her, and I promised she would have a bottle at least once a year. I will tell you a story, I will not give you the name, but there is one person I went to, a great supporter of Caltech who has passed away since then, and I said, "I'll give you a bottle of olive oil, but please you have to make a donation." It was five million dollars to Caltech for that bottle, and he made a five-year commitment. It's always a matter of a bit of luck. Carol happened to walk on campus at the right time when students were shaking a tree. But then, also, I believe in terms of leadership, is to find when you can nudge luck in the right direction.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, on that note, we'll pick up next time, additional discussion of your time at Caltech.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Friday, March 25th, 2022. I am delighted to be back with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it's wonderful to be with you again. Thank you so much.

CHAMEAU: Good morning.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I want to start back in 2007 with an administrative question. When you arrived at Caltech, how did you go about determining who the provost would be?

CHAMEAU: First, when I arrived at Caltech, I spent the time to have one on one meeting with every professor, every faculty, at Caltech. The 300 professors. Also, quite a number of meetings with different groups, including a large number of meetings with staff and technical people, students, you name it. In addition to doing my work as president, I was allocating time, the first six months, to do all those things. I really got a good picture of the different people, what was going on, and also, how different people were being viewed. How the senior and junior faculty, for instance, felt about different colleagues and so on. So I had a good idea of a small group of people who clearly could be outstanding provosts. I appointed a small committee, I wouldn't say it was a search committee, because we decided to look for inside candidates, so it was more of an ad-hoc committee advising me. They recommended two or three names to me. Not surprising, they were very similar to the names I had in mind. I talked to a couple of these people, and Ed Stolper to me was perfect.

Not only because of his quality as a scientist, as a leader—he had led a division and he had a long history with large programs. He also had a good knowledge of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Highly respected. But he was a good match, because I could see that he was—I am more a technology person, more of an engineering person, and he was more of a science and big science person. I tend to be a person who likes to move quickly, and tends to have out of the box ideas. Ed is a guy who applies a lot of method, makes sure that things will work before he acts—so it was a very good match between the two. Even on a personal basis—Ed loves people, he has a big heart, but he's not very warm and fuzzy, and I tend to be more on that side. So I thought it was a perfect match! I asked him if he could be provost, and he agreed. It was likely the best decision I made at Caltech. A relatively easy choice and easy process. It does not mean that there were not other great people. In fact, the current provost, David Tirrell, would have been a great provost already when I was there. There were other very good people, but Ed felt right at the time.

ZIERLER: What were some aspects going back to Georgia Institute of Technology, where you can translate the provost and presidential relationship from there to Caltech?

CHAMEAU: We already talked about that, I believe. The provost is the chief academic officer. He has the main oversight and leadership of academic and research programs. He's also, typically, the, I like to call it, the chief budget officer. There is a vice-president for finance, who manages the finances of the university. But setting up the key boundary conditions, outlining what are the key needs every year from a budgetary standpoint, typically comes out of the provost's office. Final decision, obviously, is for the president, but that dual role of chief academic officer, chief budget officer, was very similar to what I had experienced at Georgia Tech.

ZIERLER: As the President of Caltech, as the outward face of Caltech, where was it most important for you to be visible beyond campus?

CHAMEAU: Many places and people…First, you have to be seen and be present on campus. You have a large number of stakeholders on the campus. The staff, the students, the faculty, and all kinds of visitors. But then, in terms of the outside, you name it. The trustees are critical stakeholders you have to interact with regularly. There is, obviously, an important connection in Washington, especially the federal agencies. We could include some members of Congress. Especially NSF, NASA, NIH, Department of Defense, are the large agencies. You have to be well-connected to a number of large foundations that have influence in the university world. You have to be connected to a large number of alumni, obviously. A large number of corporations. In the case of Caltech, Caltech had many friends, many people interested in the school who were not alumni, including on its board, and you have to be in touch with those people. Then you have to be connected to the more local community, the Pasadena community, the Los Angeles community—although Caltech is in Pasadena, many of our key stakeholders are more in the LA area. Connection to industry, corporations, the investment world, lots of connections with the people in Silicon Valley. Some connection to the State of California. We had a person who was keeping in touch with the state. I had interactions with some state officials, but it was not really critical for Caltech. It's a long list of stakeholders that university presidents have. I should say, even international partners. Caltech has activities in different parts of the world, so you have that too. It's a long list.

ZIERLER: To go back to what you were telling me about the conversation, the very honest conversation, with the board, about some of the financial troubles that Caltech was experiencing at that point, what was the plan in terms of establishing the right blend of increased philanthropic and federal support to alleviate those challenges?

CHAMEAU: I think there was no difficulty with the trustees, because they had identified the issues over a number of years. So there was no tension. On the contrary, it was a very supportive group who wanted to see some change. There was a clear need and consensus to raise fundraising for the university in a number of different areas. And Caltech was already one of the most active universities in research, so it was only to try to keep it performing and even improve performance whenever possible, especially for more federal support. We tried to push harder trying to go after some larger programs, although Caltech had done that already very well, as well as increasing the connections to industry. It was clearly a place where, if you compare it at the time to Stanford, to MIT, even Georgia Tech, the connection from the university to industry and corporate sponsors was not at the level of its peers, so that was something we promoted. There was already some very strong activities that had taken place in terms of creation of new companies or startups, so we just kept promoting these activities. There was some very good people there, there was no need for different people, on the contrary. Just to give it even more energy. With regard to investment, and this was more of a board activity, changes were made through the investment committee, in the way the endowment was invested. We also initiated a change of leadership.

Then there was also the day-to-day of managing the institution well. There were some areas, here and there, where savings could be made, where you could do things better. Over time, we did that. It was never done by drastic action. It was identifying where it could be done better and over time make the changes required. There was no rocket science in any of this, it just had to be done and to be given a priority. It was interesting that some donors are more inclined to give you money, including foundations, when they see that you are well-managed and that you are going to use their money well. There was a benefit there that I could see developing over time that was very, very good.

As I told you in another session, we were also active at evaluating the IP portfolio of Caltech and this led to significant increases in income over a number of years.

ZIERLER: I'm curious, when you talk about developing relations with industry, what was happening specifically in biotechnology, where there was opportunity for Caltech institutionally?

CHAMEAU: Oh, I don't remember all the details. Caltech has had some involvement with biotech companies already. I think it's quite good now. I don't remember exactly all the companies that we worked with, but there was a strong group of faculty, as you know, in biology, biomedical area, biochemistry. Clearly they and Caltech had some very good contacts and expended them. Then you had people like Frances Arnold and others who takes things into their own hand and do it well. Sometimes, it's just talking about it, encouraging people to do it, and making it a priority, that help make things happen.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, in the way that you were able to talk to every faculty member individually, obviously you couldn't do that with students, not all of them at least. What were some of the themes that you were hearing, to the extent that you were able to interact with as many as possible?

CHAMEAU: I talked to dozens of groups as well as individual students, sometimes late in the day and on weekends. Visiting in their houses on weekends. So I talked to many students. At the time, when I arrived on the campus in 2006, there was absolutely nothing broken with the students. It was a perception. For diverse reasons, they had felt that maybe the administration didn't care about them as much as it should, and since they had heard there were some tensions among the faculty, administration, maybe they developed their own views of the problem. I think students really wanted to be listened to and felt that they were, and they are, very important. They wanted to be engaged. There were some diverse committees that I used to get input from the students Got the student leaders to come to the president's house from time to time to discuss things. It is a group that wants to be heard and they want to participate in the activities of the university. And they want to be informed too. They had heard, without seeing it, of the financial problems. I think they didn't understand, they didn't know what it meant. They're adults, they're young adults, so I didn't hesitate to—I didn't give them all the dirty details, but didn't hesitate to tell them that we had been struggling for a few years and there were some changes to be made.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, there were so many exciting things happening at JPL when you became president, what was your working relationship like with Charles Elachi? Would you meet weekly, as needed, how did that work?

CHAMEAU: The answer is yes and yes. We had regular meetings, typically once a week, but many other meetings took place as needed. Charles and I, not only we worked well together, but we became friends, and we were talking on the phone or seeing each other all the time. It was a very close relationship. It was one of the things, also, that just required a bit of mending. There had been, maybe, less interaction between the president's office and JPL, and that had led to some, I don't know, sourness on the side of NASA. It was just to be involved and visit people, discuss what their needs were, listen to them, and help as needed. Charles and I, we went to visit the leadership of NASA together very quickly. We discussed what they felt needed improvement in their view, and what we could offer, and we worked on those things. It was not a difficult process. It just had to be done, and done in a transparent and honest way. NASA had concerns about a number of issues, and it was fair for them to be heard. To hear them and say, OK, I have heard you and this is what I can do and what I cannot do.

ZIERLER: Was the faster, better, cheaper ethos from NASA, was that still part of the relationship with JPL when you were president?

CHAMEAU: I don't like those one-liners. NASA never pushed a place like JPL to cut corners. There is an implication when such words are used that we are being pushed into things we shouldn't do. No. They wanted to have very efficient missions, as the same time they had to pay attention to their budget and schedule. . In any business, if there is no pressure nothing happens. If there is too much pressure it may not happen in the right way. You have to find the right balance. I never felt that NASA was pushing harder than they should. It was our job to convey what can be done and what is more difficult to do and what could be risky. I always found the NASA officials to be very responsive, smart people. Those one-liners tend to come up because, one day there is something that you disagree about, people are unhappy, and some tend to make it the end of the world, implying that NASA is pushing us in the direction we should not pursue. It was never like that, at least not from my standpoint.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'm curious what you thought about the unique place of HSS within Caltech that goes all the way back to the beginning, where people like Millikan and Hale wanted Caltech to have a humanities component to it?

CHAMEAU: That did not surprise me, and it was totally expected, because it is the same as in places like Georgia Tech or MIT. When you look at the curriculum of an engineer for a bachelor's degree, the curriculum of an engineer at most has maybe 50% of what you would call engineering and science. The rest of it, is something else, and a big part of something else, is HSS. It happened that my wife wrote a paper many years ago on this topic. She looked—the paper was a bit of facetious, at the idea of being "well-rounded." She took different graduates from the same university, and looked at what the course work of a graduate with a degree in history was for instance, and one in mechanical engineering, and maybe one in physics, and you find out that the graduates, and I'm using those as examples, in history, although sometimes people believe that historians are well-rounded, besides history and relative disciplines around it, had no knowledge of technology, and hardly any knowledge of science. As opposed to the engineer, who had been forced in a curriculum to do all those things. The HSS aspects of Caltech to me were very similar in concept to the ones you see at MIT and Georgia Tech. They were, to me, very important. It was not surprising that the founders of Caltech did that. It has been a great success at Caltech because, not only are those faculty outstanding educators and they contribute a lot to the education of the undergraduate students of Caltech, but also they have developed outstanding programs. You have economists at Caltech, you have philosophers of science, historians of science and technology, who are truly outstanding and among the best in the world. I think it has been a good story for many years.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what opportunities did you see in terms of creating big initiatives when you got to Caltech, big programs, building campaigns, things of that nature?

CHAMEAU: First, there were already some huge, giant initiatives—one of the largest programs in the history of the National Science Foundation is the LIGO project. It had already been going on for 15 years when I arrived, and there were some tough times in terms of funding in the late 2000s. NSF was starting to wonder how long it would take. So there was a need, first, to nurture existing big initiatives. There was also one that had been just simmering. The famous TMT, the Thirty Meter Telescope. That required quite a bit of work. But then, we felt that it was time to maybe look at developing some larger-scale activities in areas like energy, the environment. For instance, the nanotechnology and nanoscience area which initially came out of Dr. Feynman's talk in 1959. There were some very, very good people at Caltech, in that discipline, but it had not gelled into a major initiative. Obviously, the ones that maybe received the most funding at that time were those in energy and environment, the Resnick Sustainability Institute. It was one area that we really pushed very hard. There were some other initiatives. I don't know where it stands now, but the neuro-economics program, was also an interesting initiative. It wasn't going to be gigantic, but it was the kind of stuff that was exciting for a place like Caltech.

ZIERLER: After the Moore gift, from Gordon Moore, was there follow-on opportunity for similar large gifts that you saw, that were created as a result?

CHAMEAU: I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

ZIERLER: As a result of Gordon Moore giving this historic gift to Caltech, did other people step forward, were other people inspired to give in larger way than they might otherwise?

CHAMEAU: It is very hard to say. There have been quite a number of larger gifts after that. Obviously, Gordon has always been a model. There is a long list of people who have given 50 million or 100 million or more, including recently Stewart and Lynda Resnick. But, to tell you that there were directly related to Gordon—I don't know but I doubt it On the other hand, in one of the gifts from Gordon, we created a matching program, and that was extremely good. I forget how much he gave that time. It was around 2009. It may have been another 100 million or more, and it was a matching grant. That really was a good enticement for people. Gordon, he and his wife are exceptional, and have always been an example for Caltech, and even for the nation, in terms of giving. His gift may not be the largest ever anymore, but it is one of the largest in the history of philanthropy.

ZIERLER: What conversations were there around diversity and inclusivity during your time as president?

CHAMEAU: As much as, I believe, in other universities. Especially, coming from Georgia Tech, which is known to be a place which has done extremely well historically in terms of diversity, and where I had played a role. I found Caltech to be a place where it was a strong focus as well. The focus also reflected the local demographics. We felt that we should try to do more for people of Hispanic origin, being in Los Angeles, and the California area. Students from Caltech come from all the countries in the world, but still, having locally a strong Hispanic community, we felt it was a strong focus to have.

Also, and the numbers speak for themselves, I felt that given the reputation of Caltech, Caltech should have more women than it had. Especially at the undergraduate level. When I left the presidency, I think we had reached 47%, or something like that, which was almost 20 points more than ten years before. It was an important focus at the time. And to me it was done in the Caltech —people like Ed Stolper and I were not the type of people going to conferences and making profound statements on topics like that. We acted, telling people it had to be done, and you are going to win one person at a time, so every day you look for outstanding women and minorities. You try to identify them. You recruit them. When they're on board, you make sure you mentor them, you give them opportunities. You win one person at a time. Too many people talk about those issues without acting daily. It is the hard work daily that gets you where you want to be.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, did you ever pursue conversations or ideas about making Caltech bigger? For example, making a business school or a hospital.

CHAMEAU: Yes and no. Yes in the sense, you always look for opportunities. We did raise a little bit the undergraduate student body, because it had declined for a few years and there was no reason for it. I think we brought it back to around 1,000. It was down to 800 something. But in terms of the student body, there was not a dramatic—during my time, no major move in any way to raise the size, because we felt, and it seems still to make sense. What is great in the US is the diversity of universities. You cannot have 50 Caltechs, but having one I think is important.

Now, in terms of programs, that can always evolve. You mentioned business school. Well, there was an interesting opportunity that came our way, which I discussed only with the top leadership, because it was very early at the time. I talked to a few trustees. It happens to be a French business school, one if the best in the world, INSEAD. They already had programs, they Paris, China and Singapore, and they showed interest in a US location with LA was on their list. We had some very preliminary discussions, where we would have had a small joint business school, at Caltech or close to Caltech. But the 2008 crisis took place and any idea involving those kinds of resources went away. Medical school, no. Again, we had several discussions as to what to do, but we decided it was best for Caltech, and I don't know if it's still the case, to establish some very strong relationships, not only with local places like UCLA and USC, but also with others—we established, for instance, a partnership with UCSF, It was better for Caltech to play a role in partnering with others. In parallel, we still created a medical engineering program within Caltech because a group of faculty had the talent and ideas to create a small but vey innovative program.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, when the financial crisis hit in 2008, what was felt immediately on campus?

CHAMEAU: That's an interesting story. I think it is likely the best part of my presidency at Caltech. In fact, that crisis, which I would have preferred not to have happened, but it happened, and it turned out to be very good for Caltech. I had been at Caltech for about two years. We had made progress in dealing with the financial situation, to maybe better manage and to be on top of things. Some credibility had been established. The trustees were very supportive. We had a retreat every year in early September or late August of the key leaders, the six division chairs, the provost, the vice-president for business, Charles Elachi, and a few others. The previous few weeks, which would have been summer 2008, there had been some serious signs that there were issues with the economy.

During that meeting, I told the group —we have an agenda and will take care of the agenda, but "most of the meeting, , one afternoon and one morning, let's go through a brainstorming exercise: .let's assume that there is a major recession in the US economy and the world. For instance let's say that the Dow Jones, even if it is not a good index for the economy, will drop rapidly from close to 11000 at the time to to 6,000."

If you remember well, by February 2009, the Dow went down in fact 6,300 or 6,500. So in September I asked the very good people around the table to think about the implications of such a crisis for Caltech. Dean Currie, in charge of business, tried to give an idea of what could happen to our resources, and I said, "how would we handle it?"

The first reaction was not great…, OK, it's one of those typical strategy type of business exercises. "We're going to waste a day." But the group went for it anyway and played the game. We said, OK, if we have to make such significant changes, these are the things that we could do. From easy to do, to those which would create some pain, and that would be really painful, and then too painful. We tried to outline a number of possibilities. Obviously, in October, a few weeks later, things started to go downhill, and they kept going downhill until February of 2009, and then we started to see an improvement. This exercise conducted in early September 2008 helped us a lot as the crisis evolved.

During that time, mid-November to December to early January, I met with the team, and we had basically—we took the September out, and we said, OK, we are going to do X, Y, Z. These are the things we believe we can do and are going to keep us afloat. One thing that I had placed in that plan was that we would not stop hiring. Maybe in some areas we will make more cuts than people will like, but we are going to retain some resources to keep doing some hiring. If you look at the history, I believe in the spring, summer of 2009, Caltech was the only place that kept hiring a few faculty. We hired about 40% of a typical year, but we kept hiring people. We also had some changes that we were planning to make, and when you have a crisis, you can make them. I'll give a simple example. Caltech was really doing very poorly at managing all of its food services. We were losing money left and right. I said, it's time to consider outside providers. We had to lay off some people, but most of them were rehired by professional people. Then, also, we even helped one member to create a small catering business on the side, and he has done very well since then. We paid attention to the people that we had to—there is always some hurt in situations like that. We were so well-prepared that I was able, in the first two weeks of January, to visit each unit and each division, each staff unit all over the campus, and to tell people what we were going to do, and exactly why. It was a very transparent approach. I believe it made sense, and I'm lucky, it turned out that it worked.

Caltech survived extremely well from that recession. In fact, came out in perfect shape. In life you remember a few things—as part of that process, it was likely the third week of January, after all those meetings with small groups and divisions, there was a major town hall meeting, in the Beckman Auditorium. I think it was full, and full means 1,100 people. It was staff and faculty. I spent 30 to 40 minutes to go over what we had to do, and outlined yclearly all the actions—we had to lay off a few people and how and why. All the things that were going to be done. Very open, everything was on the table. When I finished, I said, "are there any questions?" One person raised a hand and asked a question that I answered. Then suddenly, and you could check with people who were there, suddenly people started to stand, one by one, and I had a standing ovation. Dean Currie, who was the chief financial officer, said to me "it's the first time I know and hear of a CEO who tells people that we're in hard times, we have to reduce our resources and even lay off a few people, and gets a standing ovation."

It was a time really when the community got together and felt that everybody was in it together. People accepted things like no salary raises and all the pain that came with it. It turned out that a year later, Caltech came out of it very well. On top of that, the morale was very good, because we felt that we had solved the issue together. In all this, there is a little bit of luck, but at the same time, a little bit of helping luck. I had felt strongly, six months earlier, that we had to be prepared if a crisis occurred, and that question I raised in September 2008 with the leadership team, turned out to be a good question. We were very well-prepared. I'm very proud of that time at Caltech, and I think Ed Stolper also, at the time, was amazed at how we handled it. So that's a very good story, I think.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I wonder if you can explain. It's such an opportunity to understand more how academic budgets and finances work. So when the financial crisis hits, the stock market crashes, home prices crash, what does that mean specifically for the operating budget at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: It means a number of things are going to happen. Your endowment goes down drastically, so the income you can get from that goes down drastically. When you plan, you know that family, students, are going to have problems. They will need more financial aid. That's a cost to you. We expected the resource situation to be very tight, and it tightened very quickly. Corporations stopped funding activities. Even some foundations stopped some funding. Federal government became very tight very quickly. Within six months it took off again, but—you have a number of places where you can see that you are going to be hit, during the current year, and especially during your next fiscal year, and you have to find a backup position. Especially as I told you, at the time Caltech was doing better, but we were still not a flush organization when the situation took place.

ZIERLER: Is there such a thing as a rainy-day fund or an emergency reserve to mitigate these kinds of problems?

CHAMEAU: That was one of the problems of Caltech for many, many years. There was no rainy-day fund. In fact, since I told you that Caltech was losing money every year, it was the reverse. Caltech had been accumulating debts. During my presidency, I was able to push things in the opposite direction and create a budgeting process where, when I left, we had accumulated a rainy day fund.. I don't know where it stands now. This is always the decision of the president and trustees on how they want to handle these things. I forget, it may have been 100 million, which given the size of Caltech is not insignificant, when I left. That's what you have to do in a university. You don't call it rainy day, but you have to have a wedge that can be used in case of emergency, and sometimes in case of opportunities, as long as you keep replenishing it. It is hard to do in the university world—there are always opportunities and here is often a tendency to take advantage of every opportunity and then to forget where the money is coming from. That's something that I had done at Georgia Tech, and then at Caltech, is to make sure that you have some discipline in these matters— when the recession hit in 2008, there was not a rainy-day fund yet, as we were still trying to solve the prior negative rainy days!

ZIERLER: You mentioned, of course, the challenges relating to tuition and families' ability to pay and the hit to the endowment. What about the hit to philanthropy, were donors or potential benefactors less likely to support?

CHAMEAU: The Caltech supporters are all very good, and some kept providing resources, but some decided to postpone. You see a drop very quickly, especially in the yearly funding you saw a drop. However, some donors and foundations surprised us by providing more funding! I will not mention names, but there were people and organizations, including members of the board, who said, OK, I'm going to give you money now because you need it more than ever. There is one foundation I can name, because it became public, the Fairchild Foundation. The Fairchild Foundation felt it was in fact when times are tough that they should help universities the most. And although their endowment was going down obviously, they supported us, there were five schools they gave a special allocation to, I think it was five million. I had a good discussion with them in February 2009, and got nice support and encouragement from the Fairchild Foundation. So you have a few who feel, hmm, it is, in fact, the right time for me to help. But for the majority of people, they have to deal with their finances too and if they cannot, they cannot.

ZIERLER: The idea of finding opportunity in a crisis. When you were looking at places to trim the budget, were there were opportunities to trim the fat, so to speak, where there were unnecessary programs at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: The answer is yes, and that's what the September exercise had been when I said we were ready. We also knew where we could make some reductions without affecting the performance of the organization, and maybe in some cases on the contrary. I could not cite to you a major situation. It was here and there. Sometimes it's minor, but a few percent here and there can add up, so that's what we did. There were some areas which could be improved, and when you're in a crisis you have a bit more of a lever to do it, maybe more rapidly than what we had anticipated.

ZIERLER: Whether you want to cite specific people or speak in generalities, in what way did the board serve as a partner in helping you navigate this crisis?

CHAMEAU: The board was superb. It was a great group of business people who understand these things. The board, the chair, everybody. We discussed all these things. I presented everything we were going to do , and they provided some input and some ideas, but it was really a very, very supportive board. The entire community, I told you, was supportive. I mentioned that standing ovation not because my ego was boosted, although my ego was boosted, but you could not imagine, for instance, when I was working late in my home in the evening or sometimes early morning, from time to time during those days, during those months, people stopping me and saying, "how are you doing, Dr. Chameau? Things must be very hard for you right now." The community got into it and they had to deal with their own problems too. They had their own families and so on, but they really felt that Caltech was doing well as a community.

ZIERLER: You mentioned when things started to get better in early 2009, what were you looking for? How were you gauging that at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: You're going a bit fast. It was by summer of 2009, when people started to feel that things are moving in the reverse direction.

ZIERLER: What are you looking at, what are the numbers telling you where you see that things are starting to get better?

CHAMEAU: I'm not an economist, but the numbers in the economy were starting to move in the positive direction. People were buying a bit more. The stock market started to do a bit better. We saw that the endowment of Caltech had bottomed and was starting to be rebuilt. Then we had these alumni, these trustees, who were involved in businesses, running investment funds, and so on, they tell you that they're feeling that there are more pluses to come than minuses. But it was the same as in every other organization in the country at the time. You get positive signs, but you never know, it could have gone back. Look, we see it currently. Two months ago, I think there were quite a number of—all signs seemed to be positive, maybe worldwide, including COVID and so on, and suddenly you have the Ukraine situation and things fall apart again. You have to do with signs and you have to believe they're meaningful and at the same time always remain cautious, on both the positive and negative sides.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, maybe it's a difficult question to answer, but in navigating through this crisis, was there any science or engineering that was lost at Caltech as a result?

CHAMEAU: Not at all. In fact, the main idea of everything we did, was to assure it was not the case—I told you, we kept hiring people, which by definition meant you were not going to shrink the academic or research enterprise. The idea was not only to protect, but to even come out better than others. So no, there was no dramatic change in the academic and research programs, on the contrary. It's interesting, typically, when Caltech is hiring, a big part of the hiring takes place in the winter and spring. I don't know what the percentages are now, but typically we would get maybe 50 to 65% of positive answers to our offers. You send three offers and in a good year you get two out of three, and sometimes it's only half-half. In the Spring of 2009, I forget the exact number of offers we made, but we got 100% acceptance! Everybody that we tried to recruit came to Caltech. When you become the only game in town, it helps! I'm being a bit facetious, but they were really outstanding people, and if we had more money, we would have tried to recruit more. But the ones we offered to were the best ones. If it had been the year before, maybe we would have had half of them coming, and that year all of them came. We came out in a very positive way, and also even nationwide, among the AAU universities, it became known that Caltech was still hiring. Faculty at many places noticed that, their presidents as well, and it was a good thing for Caltech, because Caltech got a bit of the aura, "not only are those guys good in science, but there is a recession and they came out of a recession better than others. They are good at business and managing too." We got lots of good feedback and good PR out of that.

ZIERLER: Is the idea that when you are hiring and expanding in a time of economic retraction, that there's such a thing as deficit spending, in an academic institution?

CHAMEAU: I just explained to you that we did all that within a reduced budget. I told you we made reductions, but even with those reductions, we kept a wedge that could allow for some hiring. Which means, you can say that we cut some fat in some areas to keep some meat available for hiring.

ZIERLER: To be clear, you didn't spend money that you didn't have?

CHAMEAU: Exactly. I've been telling you that it's exactly the reverse. We had a plan and for the previous two years we were slowly putting Caltech back on track on being a place that is, at least, breaking even, and over time can create a rainy-day fund. And suddenly, we had a crisis. If we had made the decision to keep spending and create a deficit, we would had lost credibility. We had to keep showing discipline. So we tried to remain on track with our plan, but we had to reduce the budget, and there is some stuff which is painless, like reducing travel, you can do and some actions that are harder because it does lead to the laying off of people and abandoning some activities, but not activities within academia and research.

ZIERLER: As we talked last time, the amazing social benefits that were conferred as a result of the olive harvest. I wonder, in coming through this crisis, what might have been some of the benefits of the community coming better to support itself?

CHAMEAU: Obviously, I was pleased and proud by the way Caltech came out of that as an institution, in terms of its finances, in terms of its reputation, and so on. But to me, the biggest impact was to create, at the time, a very strong bonded community. People who work at Caltech, at large, are very proud of the institution, and they feel part of it. But I think it rose to a point where it was really exciting for people to be part of the institution. I think it was a very good thing for Caltech. Those experiences carry on for a number of years. Luckily, there was not another crisis, two or three or four years later, but if there had been one we would have been ready for it—when COVID hit, I was following from a distance, I assume that the community at Caltech must have reacted relatively well as a community, to go through it. That crisis, that famous recession, turned out to be painful but still positive for the institution.

ZIERLER: Coming into 2010, in the way that you were able to keep the ship steady, what opportunities were there as a result of having come through the crisis?

CHAMEAU: It just was good that we came out on strong financial footing. We had strong faculty. We had kept hiring. It was just, let's keep going. This is also the time, I believe, when Caltech received that big Department of Energy grant that really placed us on the map as having a major energy center in partnership with Stanford and a few others. There were a number of major gifts. I remember Stewart and Lynda Resnick making their first big contribution. In addition, if my recollection is correct, that, for the first time, Caltech was ranked number one by the Times Higher Education. A number of those things happened. Some of it was luck, again, but Caltech kept going very strongly after that. It was by 2010, we are two years from the launching of the Mars Rover, and it was starting to be something very well-known, obviously, on campus, and JPL. There were lots of activities and momentum centered around that as well. Obviously, the momentum increased dramatically in the spring of 2012 and the summer. But there were lots of good things happening during the process leading to it.

ZIERLER: You mentioned the gift from the Resnicks, the first part. What was the original source of the Resnicks' connection to Caltech?

CHAMEAU: The Resnicks had no connection to Caltech until we invited Stewart Resnick to become a member of the board of trustees. It was a couple of trustees from Los Angeles who established the connection—they knew him , and I got to know him and I met with him. We felt clearly he was an interesting person and he and his wife, and obviously, were very successful people. We invited Stewart to become a member of the board of Caltech, but there had been no prior connection between him and Caltech, at least to my knowledge.

ZIERLER: Were the Resnicks already interested in sustainability issues, was that an intellectual connection from the beginning?

CHAMEAU: They had an interest in the environment because of their business, their farming business. Steward and I met many times to discuss what was interesting to him and Lynda, what was Caltech about. He was very interested. He came to the lectures we had from time to time. The seminars for the trustees, he was always very attentive. They invited Carol and me a couple of times to spend some time in Aspen for the Ideas Festival. Typically, we spent three or four days with them, talking about all kinds of things. Over time, it was clear that the environment, sustainability, was something that was the highest on their list, but it evolved over time. A major gift happens rarely overnight. There has to be trust developed between the institution and the donor, and between the people at the institution and the donor, and that takes some time.

ZIERLER: So long before the Resnick Sustainability Institute, of course, what was happening in terms of sustainability at Caltech that convinced the Resnicks that this was the place to establish that trust?

CHAMEAU: What was happening, two major things. One, the most important one likely from their standpoint, is that we had some outstanding faculty, who were doing work in that area. Energy, environment… many of them are still at Caltech, and others have joined. The Resnicks were very impressed. Often, as I told you, we invited them to meet with the faculty to listen to what they were doing, they were extremely impressed with what they saw. The ongoing accomplishments and contributions, scientific contributions, of the Caltech faculty to that domain were impressive. And also, they liked how pragmatic those faculty were in terms of environmental issues. The faculty connection and talent was, to me, the most important thing. My role was to assure that connection took place.

The other one, which was not to be neglected, is that, for Caltech as a campus, we had made the commitment, and I believe it's still the case, to become an example, and one of the only ones—there are many other campuses in the US who have now done it, at the time it was not as many—to really become a place where we would be energy efficient. We would do our best to limit our contributions to the environmental load. You may have heard that during that time, we installed a significant number of solar photovoltaic arrays in different parts of campus. We installed fuel cells in different parts of campus. We created a program to refurbish some buildings and in the way we put money in, it was like an investment. We helped a unit to be more effective from an energy standpoint. In laboratories, energy can be very expensive. We created programs to improve, for example, energy efficiency facilities, and it was done in a way that, we loaned the money, and then the money was being repaid over time. It was a payback mechanism with part of the savings going the unit. Hence, there was also a benefit to the unit. The first one to do that was the GPS unit. They refurbished part of their building. It went very well. Stewart Resnick liked that we were applying what we preached.

Any new facility at Caltech that was built at the time had to be platinum LEED certified. We also worked with the city of Pasadena on a number of programs along those lines. As already discussed during another session, Dean Currie, the vice-president for administration and finance, and his team, including Jim Cowell, really led those efforts. There was also the idea that we, as a fairly important organization in the city, we were going to be an example in that area, and it worked very well. That was also impressive to the Resnicks and others.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, in the way that President Obama emphasized the importance of science in his administration, did that filter down where you could detect those changes where it mattered who was in the White House?

CHAMEAU: I will give you an answer that may surprise you. President Obama was very supportive of science, there is no doubt, and his administration was. It was good for Caltech and other universities and research organizations. But, at any given time, and I look at the history of the past 40 years, there are always years where, as a function of the budgeting process, federal agencies get more or less. Every time, people panic. But over time, the US, to me, and I'm proud of it as an American, always keeps finding ways to sustain research funding at a very significant level compared to many countries. Not the highest, there are countries like South Korea and Israel above us, but still, for a large country, a very high and sustained level. What has been very impressive and good, if you look at the Congress, it is one of the few, very, very few areas, where there is still bipartisan support. When I was in Washington, or when the President of MIT or Stanford are in Washington, to deal with members—I remember I met, and I'm sure it's the same now, people from the left or the right, Democrat, Republican, and typically you find people less supportive and others very supportive of research on both sides. Sometimes for different reasons, but it is one of the few topics where both sides get together—so I was never worried about the situation for research, irrespective of the president. Yes, as a function of the focus of the administration, some areas will get more, some will get a bit less, but it always starts from a very healthy base. Those who get more for a few years, OK. Those who get a bit less for a few years will not die.

When President Trump was elected in 2016, I was interviewed at the time by the Times Higher Education. They wrote an article about those issues. They were convinced, and they had talked to quite a number of professors in the US who were very worried that the Trump administration was going to kill research. In my interview, I told the Times Higher Education "you will see, research will do very well, because the president has things that he wants to do that require a very healthy economy. It requires having innovation. Research will do very ok, don't panic." I told them that people are worrying without good reason. The four years of President Trump would not dramatically change the game, There was no crisis in terms of the research funding, on the contrary, during those years. The climate could change in Washington, but the last 40 years and more, administrations always have their priorities, there are some ups and downs, but it is always fairly positive over the long run.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, if I understand my trend lines correctly, during your time as president of Caltech, undergraduates increasingly started to major in computer science. This had been a trend for a while. At a small school like Caltech, how do you make sure that the curriculum is balanced, when so many students are focusing their interests in one particular department or area?

CHAMEAU: The fact that there were more of them in computer science, the curriculum didn't change because of that. It's almost like any business, you have to deal with some growth in some areas that takes place, to handle it. What you have to do is, and I've seen it several times during my career at Caltech and elsewhere—you tend not to overreact. Things change over time. I'll give you an example. For a while, many Caltech graduates were going to the investment world. There was an article, one day somebody was very aggressive and said, "why are we sponsoring Caltech and now the graduate engineers are going to work for Deutsche Bank and so on?" First, the statistics didn't show that—I had some data that it was not that different compared to 20 years before., and then it changed quickly over a few years. Computer science is the same. There will be ups, there have been downs already. Also, in a place like Caltech the advantage is that computer science filters everywhere. The people who go and work in startups in IT, many of them don't have their degree in CS. They may have their degree in mechanical engineering, in physics or biology. The beauty of a Caltech degree is that it opens all the doors for you. It was not, for me, in terms of the education, a crisis mode to have more graduates with computer science interest rather than physics or engineering or others, because the curricula are very close.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, as you well know, right now there's so much excitement about quantum computing, and so much of that work has its origins in Caltech. I wonder what your involvement was first with the Moores and then with the IQIM as an NSF center?

CHAMEAU: The quantum physics, the quantum computing area, is an interesting one, because it is now a place where there is lots of money, and programs are doing very well across the world. But if you look back 20 years ago or more, there were not too many programs which kept healthy quantum physics, quantum computing, activities. Caltech did. Another example in the similar area is in math, string theory. String theory is also back nowadays in the forefront. For a number of years there were only a few people here and there that were surviving, and one or two were at Caltech again. I think we should be proud of at Caltech to keep disciplines like that supported when there is not a huge amount of outside research funding available. The mathematicians and physicists in such areas were receiving quite a bit of internal support from Caltech. When they came up with the idea of that institute for quantum research, we felt it was a great idea and we said, OK, let's find some private resources to get it started, and let's try to put things in play, hire people, maybe some marketing around, to seek other resources. I find that the administration and the leadership has to help leverage those ideas that come from the faculty. The faculty come up with those things, and you try to increase the momentum. That's what our role was, and it has been a great success.

ZIERLER: Without a hospital at Caltech, in what ways were you were able to support researchers' interest in biology and other fields, in translational or clinical breakthroughs in medical science?

CHAMEAU: Again, I think it came naturally. We had quite a number of the faculty in biology, in chemistry and engineering who had some interest and some of them were already quite involved in translating their ideas. There was nothing special I had to do, except to keep encouraging it. Making it something positive and that was highly regarded, but you had a large number of faculty who were already connected to medical schools or connected to, even, biotech companies, to the investment world - take a person like Frances Arnold, she was connected to Silicon Valley. When I arrived at Caltech, I didn't have to hold them by the hand to go and find investors. Dr. Grubbs came to see me one day and said, "I would like to spend some time with doctors and surgeons at UCSF, I have met a few very smart people, and they have lots of things I believe they could do better." I said, "what do you need?" It was a few thousand dollars, or maybe a few tens, to organize a few workshops. So, I found some funding to get him started in that direction. It took off. The following year I didn't have to give him any money. They had already written grants. You have to help prime the pump in some cases, and most of the time it's adding oil to fire.

ZIERLER: More broadly, beyond the individual level, the bookends might be in the 1980s and 90s, there was very little startup culture, or a culture of entrepreneurialism, and of course that's very different today. Where do you see your own tenure as Caltech president along that process?

CHAMEAU: First, you are correct. Historically, until about early 1990s, in the 60s, 70s, 80s, when you had places in California like Stanford especially, and MIT, and a few others, trying to really move into that direction, Caltech had been relatively low-key. When I say low-key, keep in mind that Gordon Moore created Intel with lots of people from Caltech, lots of connections to Caltech, professors from Caltech consulting for Intel, and it is not the only corporation of that type. You take a famous Caltech person, Dr. Carver Mead, computer scientist who had with all kinds of corporations. He, I believe, and his students have created a total of 100 companies over 30 years. He and others at Caltech were involved in translation of research and entrepreneurship.

But then, in the 1990s, and I think it may have to do with a number of things—it's when at Caltech and other universities, a new generation of faculty, younger faculty starting to be more inclined, maybe because of he Silicon Valley successes, to do more work with commercializing ideas. You have a new generation of young and mid-career faculty. Then, the Presidents of Caltech at that time, Tom Everhart and David Baltimore started to encourage these activities. There was a small technology transfer office at Caltech already—but they hired a person who came from MIT. That person brought a different flavor, smart, aggressive approach. Later on he hired Fred Farina, who's still there, and Fred has become a giant in the field. So it was a mix of things. In the 1990s, things started to flare up. Then when I came —I'm not the one who brought the idea to Caltech, but U tried to keep increasing ther momentum. At the time, many trustees wanted Caltech to play a strong role.

And again, a little bit of luck. The little bit of luck was that, there were a few patents that we discovered—Fred Farina came to me with that, could be leveraged better. There were a number of corporations that were, we felt, infringing on those patents. Many of them related to chips for the camera in your phone. If you talk to Fred, he's going to give you all the details you want. We decided, and I talked to the trustees about it, not to go to court right away, but to inform those corporations, and they were big ones, that there was, we believed, an infringement, and that we wanted to find a way to have fair agreement with them. And it worked. There were seven or eight, maybe more now, settlements that took place. We only went to court with one corporation. Again, Fred could give you all the details. For a few years we had two or three significant influxes of funds from IP rights, by doing that. That struck the mind of people: commercialization can also do some good for Caltech. Obviously, it did some good for the people, the faculty, who had been the original inventors and so on.

Don't forget, in terms of that kind of impact, the DNA sequencer, the original one by Lee Hood, was from Caltech. Until 2005, I believe, the only large IP income to Caltech was from the original DNA sequencer. As I said earlier, Caltech had been in that entrepreneurial mode already, the DNA sequencer is another good example, and during my time the momentum kept building up. Also, one reason I was able to push it a bit faster, we appointed two great vice-provosts for research. One was Mory Gharib and the other one was Steve Mayo. Take the case of Mory Gharib. He is a great researcher, outstanding inventor, he has done great science, but he has also created companies. Both of them were highly respected as researchers by their colleagues, pushing research, but both of them also pushed the technology translation. My biggest influence was, likely, to appoint those two people and to give as much freedom as I could to Fred Farina and his team. You could see my years as being the years of maturity, Caltech comes to its maturity in the entrepreneurial area. The credit goes to the people who clearly started to put a few things together before and during my tenure.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what programs were you able to put in place that made it possible for students who were qualified to come to Caltech, but might not have had the financial ability to do so?

CHAMEAU: Caltech has always done that. Caltech is one of the few universities that has a blind application process from the financial standpoint.

ZIERLER: So that was always true, before your tenure?

CHAMEAU: It was always true. I don't know if it was true from day one, but my guess is that it has been true for the last several decades. We don't look at the finances of people during the evaluation, then when the applicants have been accepted, you look at what has to be done to help them financially. You look at Caltech, you have some young women and men who absolutely pay nothing, basically. On the other hand, you have some, as the people in that field say, who paying "full freight. "And there is a variation in between. This explains why Caltech, in part, always had relatively low income from tuition. If you look at the annual budget of Caltech, I don't know what it is today, but in my time tuition income was only around 6% of the budget. So tuition was never the place where you would get much of your resources. Every little bit helps, but—Caltech has always, I think, been very good for that. But the requirement to provide that kind of financial support to students is that— and one of the focuses we had when I was president, you have to raise money for scholarships.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, with the rise of the internet there's been talk over the past few decades about the need for Caltech to have a library. Were you involved in any of those discussions?

CHAMEAU: Yes. Most libraries nowadays have become meeting places where people get together to work together and connect. A major part of the library work, to provide information, is done online in some way. However, the librarians are as important as before because they are there to advise the students on how to get the information, and more importantly to how to evaluate and use it. So the role has changed. Likely you have less stacks with books, except for rare books and special books, but you have more space dedicated to group activities or meetings. Also, you have a highly qualified staff that is required to help. I always felt that libraries will keep evolving obviously, but they still play a critical role.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, maybe it's a silly question, but beyond Caltech, are there peers that you talk to, peer-presidents, places like Stanford or MIT, that you're in touch with?

CHAMEAU: Oh, yes. When I was president, it's all the time. Because of the Caltech connections and joint programs, there are schools like MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and others, that you interact with regularly. Then, Caltech is in California, so there are lots of interactions with the president and Chancellors of of the UC system, especially the Chancellor of UCLA, Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, etc.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, last question for today. The Curiosity lander in 2012. What was the buildup to that moment and what was the landing day like for you?

CHAMEAU: It takes more time—we only have two minutes left. Let's keep that question for another meeting—it was obviously an exciting day, with the caveat that people like Charles Elachi and I, we were excited obviously, but at the same time we knew that if we had a bad day, a bad day means the landing doesn't work well…, he and I would have to be in Washington the following week to explain why it did not work well. When you have a billion and a half disappearing somewhere, we have to be there to answer questions. It was an exciting day, but I think we could spend more time on that, because there is quite a bit to say.

ZIERLER: We'll pick up on that next time then.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Friday, April 15th, 2022. I am delighted to be back once again with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it's great to be with you again. Thank you for joining me.

CHAMEAU: Very good.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, today we're going to have a more in-depth discussion about Mars Curiosity 2012. I'm curious for you, as Caltech President, if this was such a high-profile mission, that you might have been more involved and aware of what was going on relative to other missions at JPL during your tenure as president?

CHAMEAU: The answer is yes, I was likely more involved the previous few years than in other missions, because of the importance and cost of that mission. There had been issues—the mission was a bit delayed for good reasons. Every mission at JPL I took some interest in, and it was my job to take interest in them, but this one, especially because it was high-profile, and its cost and its complexity, yes, I was at a number of key meetings, more than for other missions.

ZIERLER: We were talking last time about the excitement leading up to the launch, what was that like for you? How often were you at JPL, and how intensive did it get up until the launch point?

CHAMEAU: I was at JPL, I was there regularly, every year, and all year long, participating in different meetings, discussions. Also, Charles Elachi and I had to be in Washington, especially visiting NASA and members of Congress, when there were important decisions to make for some missions. In terms of the Mars Rover, at some stage we had to inform Congress that the mission would be delayed by a year and a half or two years. The delay reflected technical issues that Charles and his team felt had to be addressed. Also, the landing period on Mars is limited—you don't go there anytime you want, so it reflected nature. So there were some issues during the process that we had to address with NASA at the highest level. I was quite a bit involved with Charles in those things. Charles and the JPL team were outstanding at explaining all the concerns that they had and what they were doing about them. Those things are very complex, you can never be 100% sure it will work, but you try to make sure that you have done your best to a very high-level of detail. There was excitement, but you reach a stage, especially when you are at the level that Elachi and I were that, when you are convinced that the people were doing the right thing, you have to trust them and let them do it, and not get too caught up in the excitement. Be pragmatic, trust your team, and let it happen.

ZIERLER: Where were you on the day of the landing on Mars?

CHAMEAU: The day before and on the day, there were lots of activities at Caltech, on the campus, and also at JPL. This was a big Caltech event but clearly a national, even world, event, so we had many guests and I remember that the morning of the landing there was a breakfast at the president's house, with a large number of invitees from NASA, from Washington, and also many people that Caltech counted as friends or wanted to be friends. There were all kinds of activities the day before, the night before, and the day of the event. But then, at some stage, Elachi and I were in the control room, and we spent the last few hours in the control room. There were several rooms that had been installed within the JPL campus to provide space for all those guests. Charles and I, we went from one to the other, talking to people and making them feel part of the event, of the excitement. Finally, the last one hour, everybody was waiting inside the control room and listening to people, and we joined to the great excitement after the landing took place. After that, waiting for the first images to come out.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what were the emotions like for you? Were you nervous at all?

CHAMEAU: Well, you're always nervous in such a situation—you feel that nervousness especially all the people, all the technical people who were there in the room and they were all in front of their screens and they have a job to do. You felt the intensity and you felt that if, the expression they use at JPL, if we had a bad day. it would be not good for JPL and Caltech, but it would be extremely bad for those people, who had worked for several years on solving, amazing issues that had to be perfectly ironed out. You feel that it would be such a, let-down is not the right word, almost an existential crisis for those people who were there. But however, I never felt, honestly, too worried. I was absolutely confident. I had participated in many meetings, discussions, all the testing which had been done. I had really extreme confidence that for some reason it would work. I was 100% convinced it would be a success, which it was!

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, as an engineer, I wonder if you had special appreciation just for how daring and innovative Curiosity was?

CHAMEAU: The answer is yes. People like Elachi and I, obviously we were at the management level, but we understand many of the key challenges—I don't say that we understood all of the engineering, but you understand the key aspects of it, and some of it relatively well. It was special to be an engineer, because it is a science mission, but all the hard work was done by engineers, at least during that phase!


CHAMEAU: After the Rover is in place and starts to make measurements, it is the scientists who analyze them, but it is a science mission that would not exist without the technology, without the engineers.

ZIERLER: From the moment of the launch to the moment of the landing, what are the most dramatic moments?

CHAMEAU: The launch is always, as you know, it's a critical point. During the process, a number of things have to happen. It's never standard in space, but I think those have been successful many times. And obviously the last few minutes before the landing, the parachutes open. What is interesting also, you are in a room there, and there is a person announcing, "we are at such elevation, the parachute has opened," we do this, we do that, we do this, we do that. You know it has already happened, because the information takes about 40 or 50 minutes to come from Mars. It is an interesting feeling, that you hear a voice telling you what took place and all that a particular phase worked, well but you already know that it happened before. That's an unusual feeling. You feel that you're getting old news, in a sense, although it is in real time there.

ZIERLER: What was the celebration like, after the moment of relief?

CHAMEAU: People jump in the air, high-fives, and this and that, everywhere at JPL and on campus. Obviously, it was crazy in the control room. I still have a picture of Charles and myself in the back of the room. But also you could see on the screen, in maybe the half a dozen rooms we had, people at JPL that everybody was very excited.

ZIERLER: What were the follow-on interactions like with NASA after the success?

CHAMEAU: Obviously, everybody was very happy. JPL already had a reputation of being very successful, and I think it really added, again, to the credibility and fame of the organization. That it can deliver almost anything. Obviously, the following year—there was the decision made very rapidly that there would be another Rover of the same size, which has been launched now a year and half ago. It had some very good implications for JPL. There were several missions that were awarded during the following couple of years. It could only be good, it was such a great success. At the same, NASA is a very professional organization. They don't give you work to do if you don't deserve it, so it didn't mean that Caltech and JPL were going to get a blank check. But it really boosted again that credibility that the institution has with NASA and the country.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, we talked in our last discussion about the impact of the financial crisis on Caltech's campus, what was the impact on the budget for JPL in 2008 and 2009?

CHAMEAU: 2008 and '09 were some interesting times in terms of the federal research budget, including NASA, because they were not too many cuts. There were some reductions that were announced early, but rapidly the government decided that in a recession you want to keep investing in research. So it was not dramatic. Universities, although they had to make some significant budget reductions, recovered fairly quickly the following year. There was a feeling of crisis for a few months, but it didn't long. For JPL, we had to handle a few issues obviously, but we never felt that there was a risk that was really out of scale compared to what we could accept.

ZIERLER: When the stock market and the economy began to rebound, how well positioned was Caltech to reap the benefits?

CHAMEAU: As I told you last time, what we had done was to keep hiring. We also had taken the opportunity to improve the infrastructure, the management, of the university, and JPL. So as soon as things restarted, we were ready—it is almost like in business, you read sometimes that in crisis they make changes that are useful for the long term. So we were extremely well-positioned, and as you know, the following few years went very well. I know that some of the changes that we made, we would have made anyways, but they would have been made over three or four years likely, when the crisis forced us or gave us the opportunity to do it a bit more quickly.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'm curious generally what your feelings are about academic rankings? US News & World Report and Times Higher Education. Before we get to where Caltech was ranked, how do you feel generally about the system of academic rankings in these lists?

CHAMEAU: Rankings relate to evaluating in some way the performance of organizations, in this case universities. So from a conceptual standpoint, I think it is good that there are bodies that take it upon themselves to evaluate the performance of universities. Now, it is done by, sometimes, accreditation agencies, that do it very officially. It is done by the institutions themselves. A place like Caltech has its own internal evaluation group, and most universities nowadays do. And, obviously, there are media organizations and others that do rankings, evaluations, for different purposes. The concept, to me, of evaluating your performance and benchmarking, comparing to others, is very good. As you know, Caltech is part of the American Association of Universities, the AAU, and within the AAU, every year there is benchmarking done, where people compare, for instance, the amount of research that they conduct. They compare the amount of research per faculty, citations, patents, quality of students, endowments, you name it, awards of faculty. Doing benchmarking and comparing yourself to others is very important, because it tells you that if you find that you don't compare well in some areas, you may have to look into it. If you look very good, it is also important to try to find out why you do so well in some areas, seeing if there is something to learn.

In terms of the rankings themselves, you have to be careful not to make them drive you. Each university has its own mission, its own vision and goals, and you don't want to do things just because you want to improve in a given ranking. Also, you have to pay attention to the fact that some rankings are more relevant to you than others. You take the example of Caltech, rankings that look mostly at volume, they are not that important for Caltech. Even the Shanghai rankings, for instance. Yes, Caltech does OK, but it is not as critical as, for instance the Times Higher Education. Because they normalize things, how do you do on a per capita basis. You have to pay attention to what is relevant to you; if there is one ranking that you would like to be better in, you can try to figure out what you are willing to do to be better, but not change things in your education just because you want to look better in those rankings. Do what you feel is important to the education or what you want to accomplish in research. On the other hand, there may be parameters that they look at, that you say, yes, it is important to me and we're not doing as well as others. So why? What do we have to do to improve?

ZIERLER: The very idea that Caltech would be ranked in a similar list as Harvard. Harvard is so much bigger, it does so many other things. What's meaningful and what's not meaningful in those comparative rankings?

CHAMEAU: Harvard is bigger, but it is not gigantic. What is important there is to look at the performance of your organization in comparison to its size, and it's done very often per faculty and things like that. So you look at the performance of—if you are interested by Harvard, performance of Harvard, performance of their faculty as compared to your own faculty. Caltech does very well I believe. You try to compare yourself to institutions that have programs competing with yours, even if they have a bigger size than you have. There are areas that Harvard is in that Caltech is not in. But you try to find institutions with programs that are alike to yours. That's the best way to benchmark. But you should not be ashamed to do things that they do not do and vice versa.

When I was president, Caltech became ranked number one by the Times Higher Education, and we remained in that position, it is not the case anymore, for a few years. In the previous two years I believe Caltech had risen to number two in the ranking, The day of the # 1 announcement, I remember being asked by the media right away, "what have you done different this year to be able to suddenly become number one?" I said we have done nothing different, we kept doing what we were doing, it just happened that our faculty must have been even a bit more successful than the previous years, and now they are slightly ahead of Harvard or Oxford in that particular ranking. In the press sometimes they would like to feel that you have changed the world, suddenly Caltech moved that way, when the rest went that way. No, typically it's people who you keep doing what they do well, maybe made improvements here and there. You keep doing the hard work that you do every year.

ZIERLER: Absent those significant changes, does that suggest a certain subjectivity to the rankings year over year?

CHAMEAU: If you look at the parameters they use, especially in the media-, newspaper-, driven rankings, the parameters, some of them, are relatively objective and typically they have numbers looking at research activities and stuff like that. But some are more subjective, like when you survey people and you ask them, "what are the top five programs or ten programs?" That's subjective and there can be a delay in the perception of people vs reality. Let's say you're a department chair somewhere or a dean, and you don't pay attention every year to the changes taking place at other institutions, your perceptions are often based on when you were very active in research yourself. You remember the big players at the time, so there is always a time delay. If a place is improving it takes, likely, a few years for many people to realize it.

ZIERLER: Absent those external rankings, for you, as leader of Caltech, what are the metrics that are most important to you, objectively? What are the data that you're looking for to make sure that Caltech is doing the best it can do?

CHAMEAU: I don't know if it's still like that—at Caltech we were looking at activities related to research, to transfer of technology; look at the research grants, the research contracts, the publications, the citations, the research center activities. All kinds of parameters where you have some measures of activity, and also you look at the performance of your faculty and students, in getting awards for instance. There is data available which shows where your students go, their professional achievements, how much money they make five years after graduation, twenty years. There are all kinds of surveys. You try to get different pieces of information to give you a sense of how your institution is doing and to look at trends, to see if there is an area where we seem to have declined, for instance. That can happen, or the reverse, and why. So there is a large number of parameters. I always try to focus on those which are the most objective ones, but as well as subjective, for both education and research. Also, you do your own evaluation within the institution. The number of HR and student surveys that are done on a regular basis, to try to get the pulse of the institution. Ultimately, for me, the most important index of success is best described by the accomplishments of your graduates.

ZIERLER: There are the hard numbers of course, but then there's also the intangibles. What are some of the intangible ways that you can assess if Caltech is on the right track? Esprit de corps, general satisfaction around campus, what were you paying attention to in that regard?

CHAMEAU: The advantage of Caltech is that, this idea of esprit de corps, the feeling of people on campus of being at a special place., If the president and the leadership pay attention, walk around the campus enough, talk to people relatively randomly, and so on, you can get yourself a feel as to how things are going. It is much easier to do at Caltech than in most institutions, simply because of size. At Caltech we did, I think it was every two years or three years—they were very well-established techniques to survey the people, to survey the employees, to know how they feel about their job, about the institution, and I was pleased during those years of the feedback we received, at large. There was always room for improvement, and we tried to that, but at large, the feedback was positive. The size of Caltech helps. I remember getting the pulse of people. There are many events on campus where students, faculty, staff participate, and if you go to an event with 50 or 300 people, over a few hours, you walk around, you talk to people, and I can tell you, people who have feedback, good or bad, don't hesitate to give it to you. In addition to doing what I call the classical management things that you do through your HR and academic offices, I think Caltech is a large family, but still a family-size that you can get a feel for through direct personal interactions.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what opportunities did you pursue to engage with the alumni community of Caltech?

CHAMEAU: Like any other president, there are gazillions of them. Alumni are on campus for many different reasons. There are a number of events during the year, you participate in those. There is an alumni association that has activities. I couldn't go to all of their activities, but I was active as much as I could be. Then, because Caltech is always, it's called advancement, raising money, you spend quite a bit of time visiting with alumni within the Los Angeles area where there are many, southern California, but also all over the country and the world. I went, every year, to dozens of events and meetings around the country, especially in the areas where Caltech is very present, like the New York area, Silicon Valley, southern California, Denver, Texas. Then, even overseas. Caltech, at the time, had quite a number of, a strong group of alumni in the Hong Kong area, that we went to visit a couple of times. Singapore, etc. There are all kinds of activities with alumni, from the one-on-one breakfast in the morning at the Athenaeum to the event once a year with a few thousand people on campus.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what about the Caltech Associates, where amazingly something like 80% of them don't have a formal connection to Caltech? What opportunities did you have to engage with them?

CHAMEAU: Those, it's almost daily, weekly, because the large majority of the Associates, not all of them, but a significant percentage, are local, within the larger LA area. Many of them are active on campus. They come to lectures, they come to seminars, events. It's a group that I was very active with. Also, I went to a number of their meetings outside the LA area. It's also an interesting group because it's a mix. There are a few alumni and a large number of non-alumni, and it is an interesting feature of Caltech. As you know, Caltech is raising typically as much money from non-alumni as from alumni. Which is critical to Caltech, because given the size, it could not rely only on alumni only. A good example, the most recent mega-gift from Stewart and Lynda Resnick, they are not alumni of Caltech. Gordon Moore was an alumnus of Caltech, but Stewart and Lynda are not. Caltech has a history and need to work with non-alumni, and the Associates are a very good group for that. It has also a long history related to the early days of Caltech, so it is nice to participate in their activities.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, you said previously that you were very surprised, you thought that you and your wife would retire in Pasadena. Tell me about that initial phone call, regarding the opportunity at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology?

CHAMEAU: We felt that at some stage we would retire from Caltech and likely, initially, be in the Pasadena area. But I'm not sure we would have stayed there long-term, because we were not—and nothing wrong with the presidents who stay around, but this idea of ending your life in a place where you have worked as the leader was not necessarily for us. I didn't see myself going to have lunch at the Athenaeum for the rest of my life… We were not sure. We had in mind that I would step down from being the president at some stage, and obviously for a while we would be likely remain in Pasadena, at Caltech, but it was not necessarily forever.

But coming back to your question, the first phone call came from the former president of MIT, Chuck Vest, who knew me very well. I had known him for almost 25 years or more. Chuck, he had stepped down from MIT, he was at the US National Academy of Engineering at that time, but he was also an advisor to the King Abdullah University that was being created. There was an advisory board, which became the board of trustees. He was one of their advisors, and he knew that they were going to start looking for presidents, and he felt that maybe I was a person who could do it and maybe was crazy enough to be willing to do it (his words!). That's the first phone call, Chuck contacted me. Dr. Vest passed away a few years back, and I had such high respect for him that I listened, and that was the beginning of the story.

ZIERLER: But to clarify, you were very comfortable at Caltech, you had planned to stay for longer than that period of time?

CHAMEAU: My contract had been renewed two or three years before. There was no crisis—all the big issues I had to deal with were behind us, and it was going extremely well. Coming back to the rankings, we were ranked number one and everything was good. Funding was good, raising money was going well. We were having discussions with the trustees, "OK, what's next? Should we try to do something next?" No, there was absolutely never any—and it is hard to leave Caltech, Caltech is a special place hard feeling or desire to leave. By the way, I will not give you names, but I was approached during that same period by two other universities in the US. One extremely prestigious, in terms of the kind of institution. They were looking for presidents, and in both cases I declined to consider it, because I had no—you mentioned Harvard, it wasn't Harvard, but if you go from Caltech to become the president at Harvard or a similar place, it wasn't of interest to me. You do it once, there is no reason to do it twice, I believe. So I declined to be considered for a couple of positions. There was no interest in leaving Caltech. It just happened that that opportunity was different, and different enough to say, yeah, it could be exciting to do. Furthermore, I also feel that you should not be in the same leadership position for too long; after a while you may run of the excitement and energy needed and get stuck in your ideas and ways of doing things.

ZIERLER: From that initial call, did you appreciate that you were being considered for this, or that would take additional communication?

CHAMEAU: Yes, when you get that kind of a call—

ZIERLER: You know what's going on.

CHAMEAU: Also you know at some stage what you are in life, and I know that I had a good reputation, that if they wanted me to visit that place and Chuck was the one that suggested it, it was likely to talk to me seriously.

ZIERLER: The fact that Caltech at that point was in such a strong position, did that make the decision for you easier?

CHAMEAU: On the contrary, if I had felt that I had not accomplished what I had been asked to accomplish, no, I wouldn't have left. The fact of things being in good shape doesn't change anything. I think it is to decide what you want to do with your life.

ZIERLER: What had you known about King Abdullah University, were you aware of it?

CHAMEAU: Yes, I was, but not much. I know that in 2009 there were people who were involved in the planning of King Abdullah University who came to visit Caltech. They went to a number of institutions. And they didn't meet with me, the person they met with the most was Dr. Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Prize in Chemistry of Egyptian origin and a rock star in the Middle East. They spent quite a bit of time asking for advice on what makes Caltech different. But I never met with them myself. There was a research project at Caltech that KAUST gave to the faculty in chemistry that I was aware of too, at the time. When the campus of KAUST was first launched, I was invited, like most university presidents, but I didn't go. Caltech was represented by Dr. Paul Jennings, who was a former provost of Caltech. I knew of it, but I had not been close to it at all. Except that when I went to visit there, and started to talk to people, I realized that Caltech was, in fact, their main inspiration—KAUST is a mix of Caltech and MIT, but more Caltech than MIT. The model, the size and everything, was really Caltech.

ZIERLER: So that must have been particularly intriguing to you, that in fact it was modelled after Caltech.

CHAMEAU: Yes, that's why it made it interesting. The excitement of KAUST, having the opportunity to create a new university, based on a very successful model, and to say, you're the president of the existing one, and you can create one, and maybe 50 years, 100 years from now, people will feel, you hope will feel the same about it that they feel now about the original model. People who look at Caltech as we know it often say, wow, "look at what those guys have done over the past 80 years." So having the chance to start a new one, and maybe 80 years from now people will say, wow, look at what KAUST has done. So it was exciting to be asked to do that, obviously it was exciting to me. And to do it in a part of the world where I think it was important to help create that kind of institution.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, what did you understand as the national aspirations of Saudi Arabia, behind the motivation to create KAUST?

CHAMEAU: It was clear at the time the King was pushing some changes in the country and society. It was King Abdullah. KAUST was one of the wedges, one of the levers. It was the first time in the country that men and women would be mixed together in an academic institution. Professors, staff, and students. That had never happened before. It was something totally new in that country. If you think about it, it seems so obvious in the western world, but it was a new thing and a dramatic one in that conservative Muslim country. It was part of changes that the King was trying to start to bring to his country, and clearly changes which now, the last few years, have been accelerated dramatically with the new King. It was part of a trend that took 15 years, and it's starting to really pay off.

ZIERLER: Did you have an opportunity to meet King Abdullah on that first visit?

CHAMEAU: Not the first visit. He was aging and a bit ill at the time, but he was a remarkable man. He believed in the vision of that university. He always viewed it as his main legacy to the Kingdom.

ZIERLER: What was it like to meet him and what were some of the protocols?

CHAMEAU: The protocols in the Kingdom were similar to what you go through to meetings at the White House. It's like any formal leader of a country, or minister, where there is always security concerns. Obviously, the court is in a special compound, so you go through several layers of security. The environment, the buildings, are different, but it is not that different compared to the kind of security you find elsewhere.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I've heard now from professors, students, trustees, how difficult it was to hear the news that you would be leaving Caltech. I'm curious, what your feeling was once you started to consider this opportunity seriously, if you wanted to keep it secret or if you were open about the consideration at Caltech?

CHAMEAU: No, in any situation like this, you keep it in confidence until you have made up your mind, because you don't want to be disruptive. You think about it, and if you decide not to do it, you don't say anything, and if you decide to do it, then at that stage you have to be transparent quickly and inform people. Because rumors can circulate quickly. I know that some people do that, that they like to spread rumors that they may leave, but it is not my style. I think you keep those things to yourself until you have made up your mind.

ZIERLER: When did you actually make the decision?

CHAMEAU: I think it was late in January, 2013, or something like that, and we announced it within a few days after that.

ZIERLER: How did you decide to make the announcement, was it public to everybody, did you do it privately in bits and pieces?

CHAMEAU: Again, you have to show transparency. I went to talk to the chair of the board of trustees of Caltech and informed him, and also, I'm not the kind of person who—as I said, some people do that and they go trying to negotiate a better deal for themselves, and maybe I could have done that, but it's not my style. So I told David, David Lee. I explained to him why I was going to take that position and he and I, right way, over the next 24 hours, we worked with the communications tea. I also informed privately a number of trustees, the provost, and other key people, during the next 24 hours. We worked with the communications people to have a press release and information sent to the alumni and other groups. Just before it the information was release, I had a meeting with the entire leadership to inform them myself. All this was done over a short period of time to avoid rumors that don't need to be.

ZIERLER: What did you want to convey in your farewell speech or in your last communications with people on campus?

CHAMEAU: Read them, they must be somewhere at Caltech. I tried to convey my thanks to people for years of great excitement at Caltech and great successes and that whatever we did was a team effort. You convey your appreciation for what has been done and how good you feel about your experience at the institution, and then you try to convey briefly why that new thing that you are going to go into, is exciting. That's what I tried to do. It was very brief. It's not the kind of thing that you spend two hours talking about.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, of course the work never ends, but was there any unfinished business at Caltech that you regretted to some extent that you were not going to be there to see through?

CHAMEAU: No, there is always work to be done; if I had stayed at Caltech I wouldn't have been relaxing or anything. But I knew that Caltech, like other great institutions, does not depend on its president for success; a new person would come and success, new ideas would continue.

ZIERLER: In terms of goals, like whatever you were thinking about accomplishing before you got this call?

CHAMEAU: One of the important goals at the time was to expand and develop even more the sustainability, energy type programs at Caltech. I knew that we had to keep pushing that, keep raising money for it. Caltech also was engaging even more in the biology health sciences area. There were a number of ongoing, large initiatives that I would have kept working on and so on. There is always new infrastructure that you need, so there were all kinds of—there were several projects, including one big project I started. It was the housing project, that became the Bechtel housing. We had raised the money from the Bechtel Foundation. Iit could have been fun to be there until the end, because it was clearly something very important to the students and to Caltech. On the other hand, I could say, it was started, most of the funding was in place, so it was going to happen anyways. The heavy lifting was done.

ZIERLER: Of all of your accomplishments, would you say steering Caltech through the financial crisis was the most significant?

CHAMEAU: I would put it this way, to place Caltech on a very strong, healthy financial and administrative footing, that's one element. The second one was really to push Caltech agenda a bit more in som areas, like energy, biological related domains; new facilities, enhanced fund raising, entrepreneurship, etc. The third one was what we did in terms of the connection between Caltech and JPL. I think it was a much stronger tie between the campus and JPL than when I started. And also, compared to the goals, to bring back—I told you at the beginning, there were all kinds of real or perceived unhappiness among the Caltech community, and to really transform that into a very positive environment. I was also very pleased with the students. I think with the students there was lots of positive evolution in the way the student houses were being run and everything during my time. There are lots of things like that that you say, oh yes, that feels good.

ZIERLER: Of course, as president you have to love and support all of the research on campus, was there any personally for you that you were particularly excited about, that you were always interested in learning and getting status updates on?

CHAMEAU: There is something special at Caltech, which has to do with space. Astronomy, astrophysics, and JPL. Because Caltech is one of the few places in the world, which has very large facilities, including JPL like a number of telescopes and facilities that are dedicated to astronomy and space exploration. That was an area that was intellectually new for me. The universities I was at before, there were people doing that kind of work, but not at the level of Caltech. Every time you talk about the Big Bang or how everything began, and you send a Rover to Mars, those are very exciting things. It's an area where I learned a lot, including though discussion with Kip Thorne and other amazing faculty, and it was always enjoyable to be briefed or participate in lectures. It doesn't mean the other ones were not interesting, but space, astronomy, astrophysics at Caltech was clearly quite new to me. I was part of it, and that was exciting.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, when you became President of KAUST, what was the arrangement, how much time would you plan to spend in Saudi Arabia?

CHAMEAU: We moved there. Carol and I moved there, and we had a home where we lived. Obviously, it was, like when I was at Caltech, a major part of my time was spent traveling for recruiting people and attending many events. At Caltech, as president, I was away almost every week somewhere. Sometimes for one day, sometimes for more. When I became President of KAUST, the same happened, like most university presidents. But on the other hand, we had a home, we moved to KAUST.

ZIERLER: The lingua franca of KAUST is English, I assume?

CHAMEAU: Yes, English is the language.

ZIERLER: Was there any expectation to learn some Arabic, or that you would be conducting any work in Arabic?

CHAMEAU: No, because it's not a language you learn overnight. English is the language of the university. When I went to KAUST, there were about 90 different nationalities on the staff, the faculty, the students. It's a global environment.

ZIERLER: Now, being built only in 2009, how much building were you planning on doing? How much was already created by the time you became president?

CHAMEAU: A major part of the campus was already completed. It is a small town. It is a campus university town, schools, hospital, fire station, restaurants, hotels, yacht club, golf courses, you name it When I became President of KAUST, I realized right away that I was also the mayor of a small town! Even when I left, there was still some construction going on, finishing different buildings, building new ones. To give you an idea, I don't think the number of construction workers on the campus, they never went below 5,000 for four years. Before that there had been as many as 50,000 people when the main campus was being built. We spent, I'm sure, during my time there, one or two billion in construction.

ZIERLER: I assume fundraising was not part of your responsibilities, that was one area that was already taken care of for you?

CHAMEAU: Yes, the King provided an endowment for the university.

ZIERLER: In terms of building, how much time did you spend recruiting professors?

CHAMEAU: A large, significant—I was not the only one doing it, but a significant amount of my time was spent recruiting leadership and professors, especially high-level professors.

ZIERLER: What were the major fields of study that KAUST was looking to build up?

CHAMEAU: KAUST is a graduate program, with an organizational structure similar ro Caltech, in fact the units of KAUST are called divisions! If you remove astronomy, astrophysics, it's a little bit of a mirror image of Caltech at the graduate level. Very similar disciplines in terms of recruitment, with a strong focus on computer science, IT, which is required everywhere and all disciplines related to materials sciences, energy, environment.

ZIERLER: So much so that there were division chairs, a provost, a board of trustees, just like Caltech?

CHAMEAU: Yes, like any private university in the US. We had a board of trustees like the board of trustees of Caltech.

ZIERLER: The board of trustees, were they government officials or were they private benefactors?

CHAMEAU: At the time there were two ministers. There was the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Health. The rest of them were—several very high-level CEOs of Saudi corporations, including the CEO of Aramco, and a number of university presidents and business people from the US, UK and ASIA. There were more people from outside Saudi than inside. The board included people like Shirley Tilghman, the President of Princeton, Alice Gast, President of Imperial College, was on the board.

ZIERLER: What were some of the differences in terms of dealing with the government in Saudi Arabia?

CHAMEAU: Very little dealing with the government. KAUST is entirely private, and it was established as such. We hired a group of people based in Arlington to form the KAUST Investment Management Company, which is investing the endowment. The relationship with the government was mostly having to do with, in the US it would be the equivalent of the Secretary of State, for visas for people and other immigration needs. And over time, the relationship developed with ministries, because of research activities, like with the Ministry of the Environment. There is also an NSF-type equivalent in Saudi Arabia, and we started to do research with that organization. We had regular interaction on issues of common interest with the Ministry of Education, but there was no reporting relationship as KAUST is entirely private.

ZIERLER: So therefore, you had full academic freedom to do what you thought was most important?

CHAMEAU: Yes. The Charter and By-laws of the institution assured that.

ZIERLER: To what extent was KAUST responsive to Saudi Arabia's desire to pursue renewable energy resources?

CHAMEAU: It's one of the major initiatives of KAUST. Two divisions have a major part of their focus on that. For instance, KAUST created one of the largest photovoltaic centers in the world.

ZIERLER: Were there opportunities for partnership with the Saudi military?

CHAMEAU: I don't think we did any work with the Saudi military. I don't think they had any major research activities, to my knowledge. I couldn't tell you. The Saudi military does lots of work with the US military, but we didn't have any connection at the time.

ZIERLER: Was KAUST recruiting students worldwide, was that important to have a real strong international base?

CHAMEAU: That's what one of the reasons for its creation! There is one desire the King expressed was that he wanted to make sure that the number of Saudi students would never exceed 50%. It seems strange for a country that puts its money into the university, typically it would be like a state university, you want people from your state. But in this case, the idea was to mix Saudi and non-Saudi. When I was there it was about 40 to 45% Saudis, and the rest from all over the world.

ZIERLER: Why would it be in Saudi Arabia's interest to recruit students beyond the country?

CHAMEAU: You are in the US? Are the students of Caltech only from California?

ZIERLER: Certainly not.

CHAMEAU: Well, you know the answer. It is the same.

ZIERLER: Was the goal to retain those students in Saudi Arabia?

CHAMEAU: The answer is yes and no. Interestingly enough, again I don't have recent data, but when I left about more than half of the graduates, if not more, stayed in Saudi Arabia, while the others went back to their countries or other places. The idea there is very similar to international students anywhere, is to attract talent, and at the same time, if the talent goes elsewhere, they become your ambassadors. The connection remains. All the Caltech students of 30, 40 years ago, that went back to Singapore, to China, many of them end up doing in their career work with US corporations. You establish a network, and that's part of having international students. I know of students of KAUST who are now in the UK, that are doing business a lot with Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. It's the same idea everywhere. Countries are competing for top international students, and Saudi Arabia wanted to do the same. In addition, at KAUST, there was a strong purpose to enable interaction between young Saudis and young people from all over the world.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, in the way that, when you became President of Caltech, you had a longer view of the four years when you were at KAUST, did you intend only to stay at KAUST for four years? Was that a contract or a term?

CHAMEAU: You are asking questions you shouldn't be asking, but yes I had a longer contract. I also told them what my plans were, given my age, and things that I wanted to do, and the goals that we had. The four+ years, and that's related a bit, I had some health issues that I had to deal with, and without those, it likely would have been six or seven years. But for reasons of energy, I felt that at some stage it was better to stop.

ZIERLER: Looking back, what had you accomplished in those four years, what was built up as a result?

CHAMEAU: I don't know where you are going here, because you are moving away from Caltech. It is not part of the history of Caltech.

ZIERLER: I just wanted to bring the story up to the present.

CHAMEAU: As we speak today, I've been in the US for two months now, talking to a number of university presidents, and people have been amazed at how suddenly KAUST emerged. If you look at things like citations per faculty, the number of professors who are in the top 1% of the most highly cited professors. KAUST is there in the top ten. Clearly, the main accomplishment during my work there is to have assembled a really a super group of people. Outstanding people, those who are going to continue building the place. And to have helped develop a culture of excellence, from an academic standpoint, that is like at Caltech. Finally, and that's different from Caltech, is also to have helped but a town community. During my time there, maybe the best times I had were not with the university, but with the schools. The schools for children and teenagers and what was being accomplished there. The schools all the way from early childhood to high school, have really fantastic programs and young kids from all over the world. That was new for me and very exciting.

ZIERLER: Not only new for you, but have other schools adopted a similar model? Do we see elsewhere in the world that there are schools like KAUST?

CHAMEAU: The model has been in the world for decades. It is the international baccalaureate program, it is an IB program for all grades. It is an IB program but reflecting that you take advantage of where you are to make young kids know the whole culture. There are many high schools and private high schools in California that have similar programs. That's what KAUST has done and done extremely well. It also made me discover that world. Teachers would go to different schools in the world, try to stay in every place from one to two or three years, and then go to different parts of the world.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, to bring our conversation up to the present, what are some of things that you're doing now in an advisory role in higher education?

CHAMEAU: Basically, opportunities come because people feel that I can help them with either improving what they have or when they want to create something new. I don't want to go into the details of those projects. But there is one I find interesting in India right now, in Mumbai. There is a new university being created. It's going to be officially launched in July, called the Jio Institute. It happens that a Caltech person is going to become the provost there. You may have seen the announcement?

ZIERLER: Ravi [Guruswami Ravichandran], yes.

CHAMEAU: I have been advising the Jio Institute for a couple of years. I'm advising them on how to start, create, a new university, which they want to be a US-like, Stanford-like university in this case. In another situation, two other people who have been presidents of major universities in the US and I are helping a new university president, who needs some advice on how to boost a bit the level of the institution. It's a university where the level of activity and maybe the performance has declined over a number of years, and he wants to give it a boost. So we're trying to advise him on what are the kind of initiatives he could take. So, I gave you an example of my current work, which is to create something new, and another one example which is to try to help an existing institution in the US improve.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, because you're advising on a global scale, to what extent are cultural considerations relevant? Or are the things that you're doing really universal, they can be applied anywhere?

CHAMEAU: The answer to your question is yes and yes. There are things that apply everywhere. If you are in Mumbai and you want to create an institution that aspires to be among the best, one thing that you have focus on is excellence. Whatever you do, whatever discipline you go into, the people you recruit, excellence has to be a priority. Obviously, you are not going to do things in Mumbai the same way you would do it in Boston or in Paris or London. You have to pay attention to the environment you are in, the local culture. So there's always a mix, a mix of the two, that you have to pay attention to. It is why you also need, since you mentioned Ravi, to bring leaders who, obviously, are excellent at what they do, and in addition to that, it's obvious in this case, can understand the local culture, more than a person like me. When I'm giving advice on things, very often I say, OK, this is the way I view it, however I encourage you to look at it from that a different, local angle , because there is maybe, for instance an Indian way of doing things, that should be brought in. There are things that, to me, are the same almost anywhere you are. Others, obviously, that have to reflect the local culture, people, and constraints. In any country, any state, you have some constraints that could be regulations or others, legal, that you have to pay attention to.

ZIERLER: Advising at such a high-level, do you have an opportunity to get a sense of what's most important to students at these institutions?

CHAMEAU: It's part of it. When you create a new place, you have to get information about what the needs really are. And when you advise an existing place, you find ways to get input from the students or prospective students, in different ways. Obviously, it's part of the equation.

ZIERLER: The world is very dangerous right now. Is your sense that students are generally optimistic, or what are some of the concerns you're hearing?

CHAMEAU: Young people that I have met recently, I think they are aware clearly of the issues that we are facing. I think more of them are concerned about long-term issues, like climate, than they are short-term issues, be it the war in Afghanistan or the one in the Ukraine now. At the same time, I don't always buy the media which tends to represent the new generation as being traumatized. I think, at least the ones I know or meet, are people that are smart, they want to do good things, they want to learn. I remain optimistic about the young people, at least those I meet.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, for the last part of our interview, I'd like to ask a few broadly retrospective questions about the entirety of your career. So to emphasize the question of commonality, all of the institutions that you've been a part at, what have you found to have been some universal recipes for success in administration? No matter where you are, no matter what the time is.

CHAMEAU: If you don't mind, that question, I'd like to think a bit more about it, because it's an interesting one. I think we should have more time, maybe one more meeting.

ZIERLER: Perfect. It's a plan, Jean-Lou. Thank you so much.

[End of Recording]

ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Thursday, May 5th, 2022. I am delighted to be back once again with Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau. Jean-Lou, it's great to be with you again, thank you for joining me.


ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, today what I'd like to do is wrap up our wonderful series of interview sessions together. In light of all of your achievements, all of your connections that you've developed in the world of higher education and administration, I'd like to ask a few questions that would ask you to reflect on what might be considered some universal truths, or what you've learned over the course of your career. We'll divide this discussion into three basic areas, faculty, students, and then benefactors and trustees, and then we'll look to the future. Jean-Lou, we'll start with first faculty. What is the most successful way to recruit and retain the best researchers? What have you learned in that regard?

CHAMEAU: I'm going to answer your question by, basically, a quote. It is from a good friend and great colleague who unfortunately passed away a few years ago, a very well-known Caltech professor, Dr. Ahmed Zewail. Many years ago, he and I were interviewed together by a reporter. The two of us were on a stage and we were interviewed on different topics. At some stage in that event, Ahmed said that he loved Caltech because Caltech was a place where he was able to dream with focus and freedom. I have used that remark from him many times in talks and speeches I have given, because to me it best answers your question. When you're trying to recruit people, you have to show them that the university, Caltech in this case, is a place where they will be able to pursue their aspirations. Very good people, great researchers, have high aspirations. They have dreams that they want to achieve, and you have to try to show them that the institution will help and support them in achieving those dreams. This idea of dreaming with focus and freedom. The two terms are very important. Freedom, obviously you want to give them the flexibility and the freedom they need, but also you expect them to be highly focused on what they want to achieve. Obviously, there are always some specifics, what they need, the laboratories, the resources, the environment. But to show that you are that kind of a place to me is very important, for junior as well as for senior faculty.

It is even more critical for junior faculty, because you really have to make sure in the early years that they have appropriate support, that you are—when I say you, it is a generic you, it is not only the president, it is the colleagues, the administrative leadership, deans, and so on—you have to show that you are there to help them when there is a need for help. You have to make sure they have access to resources. Help them get resources. There is no science behind all this. It's trying to really work with people, showing them that the institution is good for them and vice versa.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, you touched specifically on the question of how best to support junior faculty. I wonder if you could reflect a little on some of the different models in hiring junior faculty, where at some institutions there's the presumption that you will not get tenure, and at others, there is.

CHAMEAU: I think the only "model" is the one where you hire people with the goal and commitment for them to achieve tenure. It is the only one that makes sense. When you hire a person, that person invests in you, but you invest in that person. When a person doesn't get promoted or doesn't get tenure, to me it's a failure on both sides. The person may have failed in the sense of not meeting the expectations, but you have failed too. At the best institutions, you try to hire people because you feel that they will succeed, and you do everything you can to make them succeed. It is never 100%, we know that. But it can be a fairly high percentage of success. I don't know what the numbers are at Caltech currently, but Caltech has a reputation to try to hire the right people and to make sure that they succeed.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, at any career level, as president, as provost, as representing the institution, when faculty succeed, when they achieve great success, what is the best way for the university to recognize that success?

CHAMEAU: You buy them a glass of wine at the Athenaeum in the evening! People who are successful are going to be recognized by their peers. The recognition comes from their colleagues on campus. Outside of the campus, they get invited to give lectures, their work is cited, they're asked to serve on committees. It builds up. The recognition is coming from an entire community within and especially outside of the university. In addition to that, I think there are things that, like Caltech does very well, to have prizes, celebrations. Caltech, at least in my days, loved to have parties and dinners! When you have colleagues that do well, you try to celebrate it. Those things are sometimes more important than the awards and all those things, because they show some heart. So when I said to have a glass of wine at the Athenaeum, the answer is still part of that. Besides all the awards and all those things you can do, you have to show that you care about that success.

In addition, even in academia we often want to say that money doesn't matter, I can tell you that 40 years of experience have showed me that money does matter. Some people don't like to hear that, but every time a faculty member was considering leaving, it doesn't matter if it was Georgia Tech or Caltech, and came to talk to me about considering going somewhere, at some stage during the discussion they raised compensation, they raised financial commitment. You have to recognize the value and performance of people. If they do well, they have to be recognized in terms of their compensation, their financial rewards. You have to be pragmatic about that.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, you know as well as anybody else that the time pressures on faculty can be extraordinary when you look at their responsibilities in teaching, in research, and in service. Administratively, from the institutional level, how can you encourage faculty to balance best all of those responsibilities?

CHAMEAU: Again, I may surprise you, I think we make a bit too much of all this. People who go into academia know those things. They know what the expectations are at a place like Caltech, to be an outstanding scholar, but being a scholar means to be both a teacher and a researcher, and also that you help your community. You have to help your program, your community. So expectations are there. They should be clearly stated, what we want to see of faculty, faculty doing. To encourage the balance and provide advice, you have to conduct performance evaluations, but to me it is more mentoring than evaluation When I was a dean or a chair, I was meeting regularly with faculty to discuss what they were doing. From time to time, if you feel that they maybe stressing something too much and forgetting about other things, you try to nudge them in the right direction. There are rules and expectations. There are performance expectations, and at the same time there has to be regular coaching when you feel that it is needed.

Coming back to your question about recognition, you have to make sure that all successes are being recognized. If you have a professor who gets a major award, typically it is a research award, and you celebrate that. But you also have faculty who get recognition for being outstanding teachers and mentors. When it happens, you have to recognize that as well. Sometimes faculty are asked to serve on prestigious committees in Washington or some important organization, it is also good to recognize those things. You have to make sure that it is not only recognizing one element. It is to recognize the entire career and impact of a person.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, as your answer indicated, there seems to be nothing new about all of the time pressures on faculty. Is this to say that faculty nowadays are not necessarily busier than they might have been 30 or 40 years ago?

CHAMEAU: I think young faculty are as busy as I was as a young faculty 40 years ago. So I don't think things have changed dramatically. There may be a bit more rules and regulations imposed, especially on the research environment, maybe heavier than they were 40 years ago. I think that's always what people complain about. On the other hand, technology has made things more efficient in many ways. I can tell you that to produce a proposal in 1980, when word processors were just emerging, it took much more time than it does now. There has been some positive changes too, so I don't think it is that much harder now. And really what is different now, especially for a young faculty—and when I say now, the past 20 years or so—universities have placed much more attention on helping young faculty get started. Going back to my days 40 years ago, when you arrived as a young faculty, there was very limited support. Maybe people would give you a salary for one summer or two, and then they would say, "OK, if you want to support graduate students, you have to find money." Nowadays, we provide support to young faculty in the first two, three years, and that's a very positive trend. It is the right thing to do.

ZIERLER: To go back to those three areas of responsibility that I mentioned before, teaching, research, and service, obviously it's going to matter at an individual level, but have you found some golden ratio of percentage of time spent in each of these areas as a formula of success?

CHAMEAU: No, and I never tried to do that. The way I look at people, I look at their impact, at the overall impact; the way they allocate their time should not be prescribed. Obviously, if you look at the time spent by a faculty during the week, they spend more time on research than they spend on service, typically. But is it the same amount on research and teaching? Those things are very difficult to appreciate. For many people, their research is teaching, and their teaching is research. When I was heavily involved in teaching, I was teaching about stuff I was researching at the same time. Especially institutions which are research-driven, like Caltech. You want to be at the leading edge, so it is not one versus the other.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, finally as regards to faculty, at the end of one's career, of course Europe and the United States have some very different ideas about retirement and about compulsory retirement. What are some of the benefits and challenges in each system that you've found?

CHAMEAU: In the US environment, it is possible for faculty to stay. For some of them they stay a long time. You find people who are in their 80s and are still faculty. Some on a part-time basis. It is easier to do in the US but it does exist in Europe too. Believe me, the retirement age technically exists in most European countries, but for universities—I work in France currently with people who are still active, and are in their 70s or even 80s. So there is flexibility there too. I haven't found the US system to be a major problem, as long as there is enough governance and rules and regulations, to assure that people who stay active, are actually active. I don't want to go into the details, but Caltech had such a program, I think it still exists, that was wasqu ite good at large. You could always find an exception or two, but I have found, in general, that people who want to remain active, are very productive. I think it's a good system. At the same time, I feel that at some stage, everybody has to recognize that it's the time for younger people to take over. Even if you're still doing well, you don't want to become a bit of a burden to the entire organization. But I didn't find it to be a major issue, especially at Caltech.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, moving now to students, over the course of your career, in what ways have the motivations and interests of students changed. In other words, are students more or less concerned, or about the same amount of concern, with their job prospects, from when you began in higher education and administration to now?

CHAMEAU: Again, there are people who believe that things have changed a lot, I think. But I don't believe it has changed that dramatically. Young people, at least the majority of those I interact with from time to time, that I was interacting with at Caltech, and even more recently here in France or in Saudi Arabia, they go to a university because they're excited, they want to learn, and at the same time, they hope that they will get opportunities and a great job at the end. Especially when they go to places like Caltech or MIT. In fact, they go to places like that and they know they will get a good job. We don't educate people to retire upon graduation, we want them to enter the active life and contribute. I think the desire to get a job is still there, but more importantly, to me what has not changed much is, at least in the majority of the young people I talk to, they're eager to learn. They want to do new things.

What may have changed are their expectations of lifestyle. If I look at the kind of housing a student was expecting 40 years ago, or 45 years ago when I was a student, compared to what they expect now, it's different. When I look at the expectations they have of sports facilities, of entertainment, of food. I can tell you the cafeteria where I used to eat when I was a student was not of the caliber of the one at Caltech nowadays. Lives have changed, countries have become more affluent, and when they are young, they already have very high expectations. Some expectations of lifestyle have changed. Interests, over time. Young people who come are interested not only by the discipline they will learn, but they have interests like, currently, in the environment, climate. So over all, interests have evolved too, and they will continue to evolve. They will be different 20 years from now and 50 years from now. But the desire to learn, the interest in discovering life on your own, I think is still the vibrant part of what the university years are.

ZIERLER: What areas of research have you found are most important to go to graduate school, and in what cases might you give the advice, go into the job market first, see what you like to do, and then go back to graduate school?

CHAMEAU: I don't have an answer for you there; it is different for every person. it doesn't matter the discipline. I think it is more the person who matters. There may some domains like business, that it may be better to get a degree in maybe engineering and go work for a few years and then get an MBA. There may be a few situations of that type, but to me, it's highly a function of the person, of how you feel after you finish your undergraduate education. It is the great advantage of the US system. If you go to work when you finish your bachelor's degree, and you want to come back three or five years later to get a master's or a PhD, I think there is no negative as opposed to going on right away. I don't find there is a specific rule for one discipline from the other. As I said, there may be may some like management, business, where it is more the case. But, at large, I think it is—I always encourage people to do what feels right for them at the time. It's more of a personal thing.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, some questions as they relate to the cost of higher education. We always see news stories about higher education and tuition outpacing inflation. It seems to get more and more expensive. I wonder if you think that that's actually the case, and if so, why it is?

CHAMEAU: There was a recent article which showed that in 2021-2022, for the first time, the inflation of higher education will be less than the regular inflation. It is the case that historically, at least over the last 30 years, there has been a slightly higher increase in higher education costs compared to the average rises in other domains. This is a complex issue that you cannot answer in a few seconds, but to me one of the key points is that it is more and more important that universities take the Caltech model. The Caltech model has been like in place for a long time, and many other universities, all of the Ivy schools now are doing similar things, have become "need-blind." You evaluate candidates, you admit them, and after they are admitted, you look at what you have to do to help them financially or not. I think that when you do that, you reach a situation which can be sustained. Again, I do not know currently the average debt of a Caltech graduate, but I know it is still quite reasonable. Most of them get jobs where they can repay that debt if any, sometimes just on finding the job or relatively quickly. I think that's what the model should be, is to have a system where you're need-blind and limit the overall cost to the student to a reasonable amount. You provide a level of assistance that can help individuals. And some of them don't get help. Some of them get their tuition and room and aboard entirely paid. You have to do that, and at the same time, to pay attention to where students go after graduation Because I think in many universities, quite a number of young people get degrees in domains where the likelihood of a job may exist, but even if it exists, the kind of income they will get may be limited compared to the level of debt they accumulate. In some universities, there may be a lack a lack of information in terms of the match between the education you get and what you can do with it. That creates some of the most difficult problems.

ZIERLER: One of the true benefits of a need-blind admissions policy is that it opens so many opportunities for first generation students. I wonder if that's what you see is the primary motivation in making college more affordable?

CHAMEAU: To me, it applies to all students—you have first-generation students who obviously tend to come very often from humble families. I was one of them. My parents never went to college. So in terms of need-blind education, it helps a lot. But also it does help if you are a middle-income family and your daughter or son is admitted by Caltech or Harvard, most middle-income families cannot pay the Harvard or Caltech tuition. By the way, I have the MIT number in my head because of a recent visit, and I think that if a family makes less than 90K a year or something like that, they get full support. The need-blind approach has also been connected with scholarship, with support, to help not only what you call first-generation students, but also people coming from relatively humble backgrounds. Obviously, the two have to be linked.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, this is a question that's ripped right from the headlines. You might have seen that the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in the United States seems to be a done deal, with it the protection of abortion rights at the Constitutional level. There is already commentary that this line of legal rationale might get its way to the elimination of affirmative action. I wonder if you've considered that possibility, if you think it's realistic, and what the impact might be of that?

CHAMEAU: Your question is a bit broad, I think. Clearly, first, I still hope that what we hear now may not happen. We'll see what the Supreme Court is going to do. Will it open potential changes elsewhere? Again, I hope it is not the case and that there will be over time enough reason in the country not to do that, and in enough states to resist those things. But the only thing I can tell you is that we are in a world where more and more—the western world especially, to be divided in two blocs. I see it in France as well as in the US And the two blocs are finding less and less common ground. So that's the situation we are in, and the fight that you are discussing, may go into other areas, but I cannot tell you what will happen or not. In any way, I think what universities will have to do if it went that way, is to remain strong. Places like Caltech especially. You have to be true to your purpose and your values. And Caltech, we were discussing need-blind, which is one of the values, but also at Caltech there is one is excellence. You recruit excellent people, irrespective of where they're coming from, race, gender, anything. As long as you remain true to your values, I think you stand on solid ground. Sometimes, some people will be very harsh and won't like what you do, but you have to still continue doing it.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, are you confident that all of the emphasis nowadays around diversity and inclusivity is here to stay, or is it possible that this is a political fad that will fade at some point?

CHAMEAU: What I don't understand is when you say, here to stay. To me, it has always existed. I remember my first few years when I was a department chair 30 years ago, recruiting people of diverse backgrounds was already part of what we did. It is not new. I can tell you, recently I was helping a young person—he's not that young, but younger than I am—who was named the president of a major US university and he's African American. He's one of my protégées. I was involved in his hiring and development 25 years ago. We didn't hire him at the time because he was African American. He was a great person, but also it happened that he brought diversity to us at the time, and those things have to continue.

By the way, in some disciplines, for instance I think it is in law schools where now people may feel there is a reverse situation, because you have a large majority of women students and not enough men students. That will likely evolve. At some stage, men will realize there are opportunities there. I think it will continue to evolve, but it is not new, and that's something that I find right now we may be—when I say we, there seems to be a desire among some circles that are fairly activist to imply that nothing has been done before. I can tell you, all those great women scientists you have at Caltech now, they were hired a number of years back, and it was right. And every year there are others joining, and there will be more to be hired in the future. So to me, it has always been a priority and it has to remain a priority in the future.

Recently, it is politically correct to make this a big buzz or fad, as you said, but it has been in effect for years and will continue evolving over time. In my career, I was not a person to talk too much about these issues; I preferred to act; you win one person at a time; do it and keep doing it. Many of the talkers in the media don't act, they talk and criticize. That's easy but not effective.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'd like to now turn to benefactors and trustees. You've had such success in gaging and cultivating benefactors to support higher education. What have you found to be the most effective way to engage them and to encourage their support for research?

CHAMEAU: The term engaging is really the right term. The best way is to get those potential benefactors to get to know the university and to get to know the people at the university, and the people at the university are the faculty and the students. All of the major gifts I have been involved in and at different places, it took time to nurture the relationship with the benefactor, with the donor. There are few exceptions, but most of them came because over time they realized that, "hmm, the work that is being done by that professor or that group of professors is really exciting and really could change the world." Or they meet students, and they say, "wow, it's the best dinner I had, having discussions with those young people, and they're so excited in what they want to do, what they want to accomplish." The only asset of a university are its people. What I found to be the best is to engage the potential donors very actively. I engage them myself, I try to convey what the university is good in, our purpose, our values, our goals. But at the same time, it is to engage them with faculty and students. Take the major Resnick commitment two or three years ago, Stewart and Lynda, every time they had a chance to be at Caltech and participate in some activity or listen to talks or meet with people, they left the place beaming. It is, to me, the asset you have, it is the people that you have. The president plays a role in instilling confidence and facilitating the engagement, but it is not the key role!

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, because you've been involved in significant gifts, what have you learned to be the most effective way of structuring the giving? Lump sum versus payments over time, what's better?

CHAMEAU: That becomes more of a tactical, logistical detail, and you have to work with the donor to make sure what is best for them while being effective for the institution. It is not only the payments over time, but also the type of gift. Should it be, in a sense, money to spend or is it for an endowment? The structure, again, is a function of what people feel and obviously the needs. You have to find a way to identify from the donor what really makes them most comfortable. Some donors really want to have impact quickly, so in this case you try to push them maybe toward having the money used relatively rapidly. Or for some, they want to leave a legacy, they want to have an impact over the long term. Some may want to support young people, you try to push them toward an endowment, because it will last forever. I view that part as trying to figure out what the donor feels good about, what makes sense to them. What makes sense to them in terms of principle, but also in terms of their financial situation. Can they make the gift now or over the next ten years? Those are details that you have to work out. But it has to be where you leave them more in the driver's seat than you being in the driver's seat. Except that I'm a strong believer in endowment and the force of the endowment, and I always try to nudge it more into that area than the other one, but that's a matter of choice.

ZIERLER: What have you found to be the right mix when benefactors have ideas, even specific ideas about how their money should be deployed, but where, of course, they're not an expert in the research that they're going to be supporting?

CHAMEAU: You rarely find donors who want to specify the work being done. They have a general interest and within that I cannot find too many circumstances where there would be a desire to say, "you do only this." That's not the case. There is one case that the provost and I had to deal with, where Caltech could have received a major gift, and I'm talking major, major gift, and we decided to say no, because the person wanted, we believed, to specify too much how the money should be used. We felt it was not something appropriate. It was not part of our values. By the way, that person made a big gift to another university that took the deal. I mention it to you, because it may be the only instance where I found a person to be pushing too hard, at least for Caltech.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, it's well appreciated what an excellent and mutually productive relationship you had as Caltech president with the board of trustees. What have you learned to be the best way that the board of trustees helps you do your job, and in what ways have you found that you can help the board of trustees do their job?

CHAMEAU: The relationship to me, and it was a very good relationship, was simply based on transparency and integrity. The trustees knew what was going on campus, within Caltech. Not every detail of what was going on, but any major initiative or any difficult issue, area, that they should be aware of, they were aware of. What we were dealing with and what we had to do, good and bad. Most of the time good, sometimes difficult situations. So transparency and integrity. And the same, the trustees and the chair of the trustees, were very open with me when they felt that things were going well, and at the same time when they felt that something, in their view, could be looked at more and discussed. It is the same situation I have found with other boards. Transparency, integrity, honesty, if you have that, things work very well. And, obviously, the implication that you have to take the time to be transparent. You have to have regular interactions with your trustees, because transparency happens if you actually make people aware of what's happening. So it takes time. It takes commitment, to have regular interactions, some formal, some less formal, with your trustees. Not only when there are board meetings, which are formal interactions, but in-between board meetings. There has to be free-flowing communication.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, I'm curious, because benefactors and trustees, most of whom have achieved great success in private industry, in dispensing advice either to you or generally in higher education, what areas of experience from the private sector are most relevant and transferable in a university environment?

CHAMEAU: I feel that I learned from trustees and people in the private sector as much as I learned from people in universities or in academia. Most of what you do in a business environment can be translated. The leadership skills, the management issues, the financial issues, are important in universities. The mentoring of people, the recruitment of people, I think all those things are important on both sides. What I have always found to be very useful is that people among the trustees, quite a number of them, are very pragmatic. Especially when you're facing tough decisions, people who say, "OK, we can do this, this, or that, and the implication of this or that." People who can analyze things in a very pragmatic way, I think is always very useful. But in general, most of the advice and discussions I had with trustees and members of the corporate world were not too different in principle from others I had with university leaders and so on.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, in all of your consulting, all of the advice that you give in higher education right now, of course so much of it is at the strategic, at the institutional level. When you have opportunity to deal one to one, particularly with younger scholars who are interested in moving into academic administration, what are the kinds of questions that you get and what are the kinds of pieces of advice that you give?

CHAMEAU: The questions are not that important. The key question is for them to decide if they should they do it or not. My main advice is something I think we have discussed earlier, it is to always tell people to move in that direction if they really feel good about it. By this I mean, if they are willing to serve and be rewarded themselves by the serving as much as by what they would do in a different situation. When you are a scholar, when you are the person who is teaching and doing research, it is a highly rewarding job. Because you are educating young people, you do exciting research, you're recognized for it. So you feel rewarded by all this, coming back to your question earlier about rewards. When you are going to try to move into more of a leadership position, you will do much less of the things that provide you with direct rewards, so you have to be able to be rewarded intellectually by seeing the success and the improvement of the organization and the people within the organization. I always tell them, serving should excite you, seeing the improvement of a division at Caltech, or of a lab, or of the university, should excite you and make you feel good without being yourself, basically, rewarded for what you have done. Because I can tell you, as an administrator, nobody says the success has been due to the dean or the chair. No, the success comes from the faculty and the students. This idea of serving, to me, is an important one. It has to be part of your intellect, part of what you like, part of your deeper purpose as a person.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, are there benchmarks of research success that you want to see achieved before scholars go into administration, which might pull them, prevent opportunity to achieve that success otherwise?

CHAMEAU: In a university environment, especially research universities, research-driven universities, you have to be credible as a scholar. It does not mean you have to be the best researcher in the world but you need to have a record and deeply understand what is expected of a research university—There are a number of presidents who are Noble Prize winners, but they are only a few! Your current president is a highly credible person. It doesn't mean that on a day-to-day basis he has to be the best teacher, the best scholar, no. But he has to be credible so when he talks about education, about research, people know, "yes, he knows what he's talking about." If you're in industry, when you move up through the ranks, you have to be credible if you're going to asked to run, let's say, a holding company with several businesses, people like to say, "oh look, he did well running that one particular business." Being credible is important. I have seen some people who maybe look for opportunities, or sometimes accept opportunities, a bit too early. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not. So being credible is important, and that's always something that I try to tell people to pay attention to. And also, having made a mistake or two before you take a position like that, is a good idea too! Doesn't mean you have to encourage people to make mistakes, but having had some tough times I think is a good experience.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, for the last part of our talk I'd like to look to the future. This is something that we touched on our very first talk, but it would be great to circle back to it here. How can institutions of higher education best position themselves to be responsive to today's most pressing problems? How do you set up an institution strategically to be responsive to these things?

CHAMEAU: I think it comes back to the beginning of our discussion about people and faculty. An institution has a mission and a purpose. Caltech has a mission to be a research-driven institution which provides a very high, intense, high level of education of a scientific, technological nature. As long as Caltech is true to its mission and as long as Caltech keeps hiring people who are outstanding and are really trying to push the envelope in the disciplines that Caltech is playing in and wants to play in, I think Caltech will continue to be successful, and also continue to address the problems of the world. Those problems evolve and if you look at it over time, Caltech research has evolved. If you have people who are at the leading edge, they will see the evolution of the problems and will start to address them. Focusing on outstanding people within your domains, I think remains the best approach to be responsive to the changes in the world and the world situation. Look at what Caltech has done over time to get much more involved in energy, environment, for instance, in recent years. And also, the evolution of Caltech over time to become a superb player in the bio area, biomedical area. So if you have the right people, and the right people means people who are at the leading edge of their disciplines, I think you will continue to help society and the world.

At the same time, you need to pay attention to changes. There are areas that suddenly start to develop, and you have to look into it. You need to have your antennae out, and again, it's smart people that tend to be the ones who also have their antennae out. There is something interesting that Ed Stolper always mentioned about Caltech, Caltech is one of the few institutions where from time to time we drop a domain and do less of it. An example I can give you, because it is one I know well, Caltech was much more involved in civil engineering 30 or 40 years ago than it is now. It doesn't mean it is not an important topic, but it was felt that, in terms of Caltech, it was better to move into other areas. To answer your question, part of the answer is also being able to maybe do less of something and more of other things, if they become more important or if you feel that you want to play a bigger role in addressing them.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, if I may reframe the question, if we look specifically at solving problems, that might push higher education to do research that's specifically application-driven. You mention the mission of Caltech, where do you see the right balance between pursuing basic science in and of itself and then seeing where that basic science may lead?

CHAMEAU: I have spoken many times about that. In a university, in a research-driven university, and I'm talking about the best institutions in the world, the Caltechs, the MITs, the Harvards, the Stanfords, if you look at what they do, they encourage people to be curious. They do what I call curiosity-driven research that overt time leads to more mission goal-oriented research. The idea of basic vs. applied, I think, it's a little bit in the past. It's fuzzier. You have at Caltech many research activities that are curiosity-driven, and very often they lead to applications. They lead also to more large mission goal-oriented activities.

When I was at Caltech there was a young faculty member who has now left, he's now a professor at Stanford, Dr. John Dabiri. [Ed Note: Dabiri returned to Caltech in 2019.] John, when he came to Caltech, was interested in how jellyfish moved and behaved, all the way from the mechanics to the molecular level. It was curiosity. Caltech helped him doing that. At the same time, over a number of years, he got involved in what I would call more goal-oriented research. I think it was with the US Navy, for some propulsion of submarines, as well as with a number of medical doctors for some heart-valve work, where some of his curiosity-driven discoveries led to something else. You have many examples. Take Dr. Frances Arnold, the recent Nobel Prize winner. If you look at her work, she spans the entire spectrum. In her career, she has done stuff because she was just interested and curious about something, all the way to developing some quite applied activities, that even resulted in some commercial applications. One of your greatest examples currently is still Dr. Mory Gharib —so this idea of having the right balance between curiosity-driven and goal mission-driven to me is what is important.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, so many universities seem every year to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Caltech historically has almost tenaciously decided to remain basically at the same size. Do you think that's the right approach going into the future or should Caltech inevitably get larger as well?

CHAMEAU: I don't know the answer. It's really a function of what you need to be successful. So far Caltech has been very successful. It has a model that works well at the scale it has. You should always pay attention that Caltech, although we say it's small, yes, it's small in terms of numbers of undergraduate students, but the number of graduate students for the size of the faculty is on a per capita basis on one of the largest ones in the country. And the number of postdocs per capita is the largest one in the country. Then, on top of that, Caltech gets involved in big projects, like in space research. it has a national center associated with it. So Caltech is small and big. There are domains where Caltech is quite big. To me, the size has to fit your aspirations and what you need to have to be successful. I think the Caltech model has continued to work well. During my time as president, I thought about it, but I didn't see honestly a need to increase dramatically during that time. It may change. But you would have to define what bigger is, because Caltech could become bigger simply by increasing even more its graduate programs, or doing something else.

Again, there is something there that also relates to diversity. The greatness of the US system is that it has diverse institutions. You can have a tiny Caltech, and at the same time you can have huge Ohio State, Michigan type universities, or Arizona State now with a hundred thousand students. They're all very good and impressive institutions, doing different things. To me, the scale, the size, is a function of what Caltech will want to continue to be very good at, and if it can continue to be very good in those disciplines at the scale it has, it will continue. If not, it will adjust. But growing for the sake of growing is a bad idea. There have been examples in the country where simply growing because you want to be bigger, or you expect to make more money—which is typically not the case, the cost of education is high and usually, since you tend to lose money on each customer, increasing the number of customers doesn't tend to increase the profits!!

ZIERLER: The idea of growing for the sake of growing. Past discussions about Caltech taking on a business school or even a hospital, I wonder if you would characterize those initiatives in that way, growing for the sake of growing?

CHAMEAU: No, not at all. In both cases, at the time, there were possibilities that could have been of interest. I think Dr. Baltimore was looking at a medical initiative. There could have been a possibility locally to do something of significance in the medical area, and Caltech is involved in the medical discipline a lot, through its biology, chemical, and engineering programs. But not with a medical school. It could have made sense, at some stage, and could make sense in the future. In the same way, a business school connected to Caltech could also make sense.. This is not growing for the sake of growing. It would be growing because you feel that you can have more impact associated with a medical program or a business school.

I will give you an example, not Caltech related. When I was the Dean of Engineering and Provost at Georgia Tech, we felt that Georgia Tech had to be more involved in the health area. We did that without developing our own medical school, but we went to Emery University next door, and we created a joint department of biomedical engineering. This was created more than 20 years ago, around 1999. You look at the rankings of biomedical engineering in the US today, the Georgia Tech programs is, I believe, the number one in the US or at least in the top three. It was done as a strategic initiative to expand the scope of activities of Georgia Tech, and in the case of Emory, they connected with engineering. I was done with a purpose. It was not growing for the sake of growing, because there was a strategy there. What I was telling you is that the size of Caltech has to be a function of what it wants to continue doing, and if going into a new discipline is what it needs to do, I think it will do it.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, as an institution focused on science and engineering, historically Caltech has been somewhat aloof from political debates, certainly more so than places like Harvard or Berkeley. Nowadays with all of the modern, social, and political problems, as they relate to scientific issues, climate change denial, vaccine skepticism, disinformation on the internet, do you think places like Caltech could and should become more integrated into the political debate?

CHAMEAU: I think your view of Caltech is not quite correct. Caltech has been historically one of the most involved schools in the political debate, especially in Washington. That is something that I felt was interesting for me, because when I became President of Caltech I realized that there are few university presidents, from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and a few others, and Caltech is one of them, who are always being asked to be involved in commissions and activities and being asked to meet with members of Congress or other influential people and groups. Caltech, because of the importance of science and research to the US economy, has always been part of the debate. There is an organization in Washington, fairly well-known, the Council on Competitiveness, which is based in Washington. It's a council which is made up of major US corporations and a number of universities. Caltech was a founding member, and this was founded in the late 80's]. At the time it was felt that when Japan was taking over the world and there were a few US corporations who wanted to do something about it. They created the Council on Competitiveness and Caltech was a founding member. Look also at the importance of Caltech's voice, especially in the 50s, during the McCarthy era, and also later on during the Cold War. Caltech was always quite a bit involved.

Scientific organizations like MIT and Caltech tend to be asked, because it is one area where the different political sides are at least are willing to talk, are trying often to find some commonality. The topics that you mentioned are likely going to get places like Caltech even more involved.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, finally, a few questions to ask you to reflect on your own legacy and achievements. At the personal level, either as a composite sketch or individuals that jump to your memories, where do you have the most pride and satisfaction that you have created opportunities for students and professors?

CHAMEAU: I mentioned to you earlier that if you want to serve, if you want to become a university leader or president, you have to be rewarded by the success of the institution and of others., When I look back , I feel I have served well, because I know many people that have done very well, continue to do well, and furthermore, I have also seen those people educate others and mentor others well. I was recently at a meeting in Atlanta where I was discussing with one of my former PhD students, who is now close to retirement, because he was only two or three years younger than me when he was my PhD student. He was telling me about my grandchildren and grand-grandchildren through him, and by this he meant students that he has educated. So when you look at that kind of impact, you feel very good. That, to me, is the most important thing in terms of the legacy.

Another example, a few days ago, I received an invitation to a wedding this coming August not far from Caltech, from a Caltech graduate of 2009, who is currently leading a very successful new startup that is developing an airplane with an electrically powered engine, an electrical airplane, which is a big area of research now. He has a very successful startup, and I have been in touch with him on a regular basis. He's going to get married, but at the same time, when he sent me that invitation, I think about him and I see his accomplishments already after 10 years, and he may be a key leader in changing an industry. You look at that and that makes you feel good about what you have accomplished.

I was recently in Atlanta, and I went to walk on the Georgia Tech campus. I looked at all those facilities that I helped develop at the time and where now all kinds of great things are being done. I also think about the time spent at Caltech, where I've done a few good things. There are many aspects that make you feel that you have done a few good things. But the most important one is to think of all those people that you have helped. They deserve all the credit, everything you feel you have accomplished, they are the ones who have done it, but you have helped them a little bit, and that feels good. I guess my purpose in life was to serve and I feel I have done it relatively well.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, we mentioned some of the most pressing problems in the world today. If we can flip that question around, it's so obvious so much of what you've been able to achieve comes from a basis of optimism in the future. For young people today, looking at a career in higher education, what are you most optimistic about at a broad level?

CHAMEAU: The more problems there are, the more opportunities there are.

ZIERLER: Very good!

CHAMEAU: It is true. Take the US, and you look at the diversity of universities that do different things, are focusing on different things, and if you're a young person, almost anything you want to pursue exists somewhere and usually under a form that will make sense for you. If it makes sense for you to do it at a Caltech, you can do it at a Caltech. If it makes sense for you to do it at Arizona State, you can do it there. So there are as many, if not more, opportunities nowadays than there were 50 years ago or 20 years ago. And it will be the case 30 years from now. The world continues to change, and it will continue to change, and over time there may be things that you know better, and there may be less opportunities there, but as you know things better you discover you don't know many of them well, and there are more opportunities being created. Currently, there are problems that we worry about, and I think problems require good people to think hard about them, and to dream about them and to try to solve them, as I say, with focus and freedom.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, finally, last question, for all that you've achieved, all that you're doing now, looking to the future, what's next for you? What do you want to do that you haven't done yet?

CHAMEAU: That I don't know. That's something I'm too optimistic to think about. I am writing a number of things now, I am excited by a number of projects I'm working on, but it is strange, life can always surprise you. So there may be something totally different I do next year, I don't know. In our discussion I told you, I was never a person who tried to plan too much. Do what you feel is good at the time, do it if you feel that you're contributing and do it well. So I'm doing things now that are exciting enough to me, and I feel that I'm contributing, and we'll see what happens next.

ZIERLER: Jean-Lou, it's been a great honor and a privilege to be able to spend all of this time with you and to capture your history and your recollections. You are missed at Caltech, and this is a small way of keeping you connected, so I'd like to thank you so much for doing this.