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UC President visits the system’s ‘mother lode’
A busy couple of days for Robert Dynes on his swing through Berkeley

| 10 March 2004

 



As UC President Robert Dynes rose to address an alumni reception at International House during his whirlwind Berkeley visit, his faux pas was painfully evident: a red tie at a Cal function. But the man was on campus to learn, and he’s obviously a quick study — as he took the podium he ceremoniously whipped off the offending cravat and produced more suitable attire.The crowd hailed the new chief.
Peg Skorpinski photo

“This is like a vacation,” UC President Robert Dynes told a labful of Berkeley scientists and engineers after they’d made presentations to him based on the university’s top research efforts. “You have no idea how fun this is for me.” His energy seemed genuine, remarkable in light of the fact that he was only two-thirds of the way through a grueling two-day immersion in all things Berkeley.

In lieu of a formal inaugural ceremony, Dynes, who assumed office in October 2003, is meeting with students, faculty, and staff at the 10 UC campuses in a series of visits. His Berkeley visit began Thursday, March 4, with a meeting of Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl’s cabinet. Dynes told the group, which includes the campus’s vice chancellors and vice provosts, that his UC tour has opened his eyes to the individuality of each campus and to the impact the UC system has on the daily lives of Californians. Berkeley, he said, is the “mother lode” in contributing to that impact on the state.

Cabinet members brought up some of their immediate challenges, including how to retain faculty in an arid budget climate, with salaries becoming less competitive; the effect of the Bay Area’s high cost of construction on the looming docket of retrofits and modernization efforts needed to upgrade Berkeley’s aging campus; and how to foster a better public understanding of the UC admission process.

Dynes then met with student leaders from the ASUC, the Rally Committee, Boalt Hall School of Law, and Cal Corps. The students stressed to him the importance of saving the UC system’s K-12 outreach programs from the budget axe and voiced their concerns about the steep increase in tuition for students, particularly those at professional schools such as Boalt.

“He’s a really good communicator,” said ASUC President Kris Cuaresma-Primm after the meeting. “He makes people feel comfortable talking to him. Also, he’s not afraid to say when he doesn’t know something — and he promises to find out the answer.”

Next up for Dynes was a reception with Cal alumni at International House, where he discussed the state budget cuts and the impact they could have on the public university system. He said he is trying to gain greater flexibility in determining how budget cuts are distributed, which would allow him to scale back some of the fee hikes for graduate students that have been proposed in the 2004-05 UC budget. He added that he felt “encouraged” by his meetings with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Dynes rose early Friday morning, despite a late dinner the previous night with Berdahl, Academic Senate Chair Ron Gronsky, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, several regents, and other campus and UC luminaries. At 7 a.m. he jogged with members of the Berkeley women’s cross-country team and the men’s track team, as well as School of Public Health Dean Steve Shortell, ASUC’s Cuaresma-Primm, and a few other early-bird student leaders.

“That time is usually too early for anything, but this was fun,” said Student Regent Matt Murray. “No serious issues — we just talked about running, the UC president’s house in Kensington, and Canada.” Dynes hails originally from Ontario.

After breakfast with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray and the deans of Berkeley’s schools and colleges, Dynes settled in for an afternoon of presentations about the cutting-edge research being conducted on campus. A scientist by training — he joined UC San Diego as a physicist after 22 years at AT&T Bell Laboratories — Dynes paid close attention to the presentations by staff from the Berkeley Health Sciences Initiative, the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (known as QB3), and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). He asked the representatives of these multimillion-dollar, interdisciplinary centers detailed questions about how they plan to allocate space to faculty, deal with intellectual-property issues, and set aside money for administration.

After lunch, Dynes was summoned to a laboratory by a fully suited firefighter, who was unmasked as mechanical engineering professor and CITRIS researcher Paul Wright. Wright demonstrated the “heads-up” displays that he and his team of CITRIS researchers have developed to allow firefighters to know not only where they are in a burning building, but the positions of the rest of their crew, using digital building plans and networks of sensors.

Dynes watched demonstrations of another ad-hoc network of sensors — one that monitors aspects of the environment in which coast redwoods live (by computer science professor David Culler); of Chiclet-size syringes that could deliver vaccines cheaply to Third World countries (by Dorian Liepmann, associate professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering); and of a way to transplant yeast and plant genes into E. coli so that the bacteria produce malaria drugs (by chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling).

“We used to read science fiction like this,” marveled Dynes. “It looks like you all have your work cut out for you, both in the lab and in navigating the ethical issues here.”

Dynes rounded out his two-day visit with several hours of meetings with staff (represented by members of the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Committee) and faculty (members of the Academic Senate), followed by a closing meeting with Chancellor Berdahl.

Dynes discusses his campus visits and other recent topics in a video message to the university community viewable at ">http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/video/dynesletter0304.rm.