Tien sweeps into the room on a wave of kinetic energy. He has just come from an interview with one of the candidates for Cal basketball coach and has Kansas State coach Tom Asbury and Cal athletic director John Kasser in tow. They arrive in a swirl of greetings, introductions and pleasantries as if the lord of the manor has returned from the hunt to the quiet of his drawing room.
Moving to a corner conference room, Tien and his students go over a schedule for the international conference of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Atlanta. It is the big event of the year, and Tien has circled several presentations they might be interested in. After disposing of some housekeeping items, Tien asks Jennifer Lukes how her classes are going.
"I'm enjoying them so far," she says.
"Push yourself a little," replies Tien. "Always ask yourself is there anything new here? Are there unsolved questions? Is there an article here?"
Somehow, his students marvel, Tien always finds time in his 18-hour days to look at their work. "He's an amazing person," says Lukes. "He comes around often, sometimes twice a week."
Tien monitors their work closely and reminds his students to stay focused on their larger objectives; he encourages them to explore new approaches and maintain a balance between theoretical and experimental work; he asks pointed, probing questions to stimulate their thinking and invites them to disagree with him; and he constantly presses them gently to do more. And after each presentation by one of his students, Tien takes them to LaVal's for beer and pizza.
His approach to teaching is quintessential Tien and mirrors his attitude toward his other work - whether it is conducted in the serene silence of his lab or amid the tumult that constantly intrudes on his corner office in California Hall. "He thinks about things other people aren't thinking about, " says Assistant Chancellor John Cummins, Tien's chief of staff. "He thinks on the cutting edge. That's how he stayed at the forefront of his research, and he brought that approach with him to the chancellor's office."
He also brought a voracious appetite for work. He often sleeps just four hours a night, though he prefers five. On one recent day, he rose at 6:30 a.m. in Chicago to attend an American Association of Universities' executive committee meeting at 7:30 a.m. He ducked out just before noon, missing lunch to catch a one o'clock flight home. He landed at 3:30 p.m., was in his office by 4 p.m., and worked for 45 minutes before going home to University House to change clothes for a reception from 5-6:30 p.m. Then it was on to San Francisco for a reception and dinner for the Asia Foundation. After a final stop at the office to clear his desk, he got home just after midnight. Di-Hwa and he read until 2 a.m. before drifting off to sleep. Tien had been up for 21 and a half hours and would rise at 6:30 a.m. to start all over.
His ebullient nature and sheer physical presence on campus are legendary. At Cal sporting events, he is as ubiquitous as mascot Oski, pacing the sidelines at every football game, and never passing up a men's or women's basketball game. There are tales of him walking the campus and picking up trash, visiting Moffitt Library at 3 a.m. during finals week, teaching a freshman seminar, shaking thousands of hands at the annual reception for incoming freshmen, chatting with students in the dorms, encouraging them to relax and get enough sleep, and, encountering one student munching a candy bar, reminding them to eat a healthy diet.
His early days as chancellor were beset by a series of disasters of biblical proportion. A deadly fire roared through a fraternity house, a crazed gunman seized a group of student hostages in a popular local pub, a massive blaze raged through the Oakland-Berkeley Hills, and a street person tried to assassinate Tien and his wife in University House. Tien was always on the scene, personally providing aid and comfort to the victims and their loved ones, rallying them to rebuild their lives and their homes.
When a recession battered California, the state took a chain saw to the university budget, student fees more than doubled, and 453 senior faculty took early retirement. Tien fought hard to hold onto Berkeley's world class faculty, staving off a third wave of early retirements by threatening to quit himself.
Then, just when it seemed Tien had things back on an even keel, the Regents voted to ban the use of race, ethnicity or gender in university admissions and hiring, undercutting Tien on an issue that had become one of the signatures of his administration. Through it all, Tien not only has persevered, he has triumphed.
Consistency has been Tien's lodestar. "On Feb. 5, 1990, when I was appointed chancellor," he says, "I set four goals. Those goals have not changed."
His insatiable appetite for detail never clutters his view of the big picture. "I spend time every day thinking about what I want to accomplish," says Tien. "It may be only a few minutes on an airplane, but I try to bring everything back to my four objectives."
Maintaining the excellence of Berkeley's faculty and its academic programs is at the top of his list. Despite deep funding cuts, Tien has vigorously fought off raids on Berkeley's faculty and battled to attract bright young academics.
Tien's second major concern has been to ensure that Berkeley's reputation as a world-class research university is not maintained at the expense of undergraduate education. He has added lower division seminars and expanded research opportunities for undergraduates, increased computer labs, and upgraded information technology and multimedia capability.
While Tien's academic triumphs are widely recognized by his peers, the public is more aware of his efforts as a prodigious fund-raiser and a champion of diversity. Under his leadership, Cal has raised private support to record levels and recently launched a $1.1 billion fund-raising campaign, the most ambitious ever undertaken by a public university. While capitalizing on a high public profile to generate financial support, Tien has quietly defused town and gown conflict. Realizing a third goal, few chancellors have been as popular as Tien with students and the local community.
A nationally recognized advocate of equal opportunity, Tien has worked like a draft horse to increase diversity. As a result of his own immigrant experience, it is perhaps the most personally felt of his four goals.
Coming to America in 1956 as a poor, struggling graduate student and experiencing the pain of racism first hand, Tien is a firm believer in the American dream and its corollary, the California possibility. As Joan Didion, '56, expressed it some years ago, "Berkeley - the University - seems to me more and more to be California's highest, most articulate idea of itself, the most coherent - perhaps the only coherent - expression of the California possibility."
Tien was born with a sense of that possibility in his bones. He believes in it implicitly and has a remarkable ability to inspire others to believe as well.
Sitting in his office in California Hall, he recently took a few moments to reflect on his chancellorship. "In this job," he says, "you have to serve so many constituencies, and any one of them can upset your plans. I feel a lot of satisfaction for having built up good relations among all these constituencies."
Asked if he has any advice for his successor, Tien replies, "Whoever takes this job must be willing to take risks. They mustn't feel they have to do whatever they can to hold onto the job. ...It's more important to hold onto your principles."
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