Early Tuesday, July 9, in a surprise announcement first to staff and faculty in California Hall and then before a jammed press conference at Alumni House with his wife, Di-Hwa, at his side, Chancellor Tien announced that he will step down as chancellor no later than June 30, 1997.
Energetically and forcefully, Tien quickly attempted to dispel press speculation that he was either unhappy with the UC Board of Regents or had his eye on a new post outside the university.
Rather, he said, he made the decision to step down to spend more time with his family, including his two grandchildren, and to have time to teach and work on his research. Tien, who holds the A. Martin Berlin Chair in Mechanical Engineering, noted that just the night before, he had been in his lab until midnight finishing a research paper.
"I have chosen to leave next year because the campus is at a high point in its history," Tien said in his announcement. "There is no better time than now for me to pass the baton."
Still, he said, the decision was not an easy one. When he was named chancellor in July 1990, he became Berkeley's seventh chancellor and the first Asian-American to head a major American research university. He also noted that his entire professional career, except for two years as executive vice chancellor at UC Irvine, have been at Berkeley.
"Cal is so much a part of me, my wife, Di-Hwa, and our three children, who have grown up here at Berkeley. I know we will always be a part of Cal," he said.
"My concern now is to ensure that the university has strong leadership to carry it into the new millennium," said Tien. "The capital campaign and other initiatives which we have begun will require another long-term commitment."
Reaction to the chancellor's announcement varied, with some in the campus community more surprised than others, but almost everyone expressing a note of sadness.
UC President Richard C. Atkinson praised Tien as "one of the great leaders in the history of the university and the Berkeley campus" and said his departure as chancellor will be a loss to the UC system.
"Chancellor Tien, a gifted scholar of international renown, is admired and respected throughout this country and abroad for his contributions to higher education," said Atkinson.
On campus, a reporter asking a student what he thought of the chancellor, got this answer: "I'm the only one of my friends who even knows what the chancellor of his university looks like. You see him walking around campus and you know it's the chancellor."
Boalt Hall Dean Herma Hill Kay, who was at the morning announcement, said of Tien: "His intellect, leadership, devotion and creativity have steered the Berkeley campus through one of the most challenging periods in its history and his legacy...will endure well into the next century and beyond."
Oliver Williamson, outgoing president of the Academic Senate, was also present for the announcement. "I'm sad myself to learn about this. It will be a hard act to follow. He brings so much energy, so much goodwill. The chancellor enjoys a lot of support from the faculty and he has given a lot of support to the faculty," said Williamson.
Later in the press conference, Tien was asked to name the one accomplishment he was most proud of. "There are so many. The most important fight was with these fantastic budget cuts. We have maintained the excellence of this university. That's probably the most important single thing," he said.
He cited the report last year by the National Research Council that ranked the campus one of the top universities in the country, with the largest number and the highest percentage of top-ranked doctoral programs in the nation.
He also noted that during his six years, the campus has continued to attract the most talented and diverse student body, has had excellent success in recruiting top faculty, has seen record private giving and has completed the most aggressive and far-reaching campus construction program in half a century.
"Today, Berkeley is riding a rising tide. I want to help plot a course that will let the next chancellor come in with favorable winds," said Tien.
Tien indicated he would devote his seventh year as chancellor to the goals he enunciated in his inaugural message: assuring the excellence of faculty and academic programs, creating a supportive campus atmosphere, fostering diversity, strengthening undergraduate education and cultivating productive relationships with the campus's neighbors, alumni and friends around the world.
In addition, Tien will continue to press his efforts to enhance academic excellence through faculty initiatives and increased private fund raising, build stronger Pacific Rim ties and create educational projects such as the Berkeley Pledge.