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Yuan T. Lee Receives Clark Kerr Award

By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Posted March 3, 1999

Photo: Yuan T. Lee

Professor emeritus and chemistry Nobelist Yuan T. Lee, center, was awarded the Academic Senate's Clark Kerr Award for Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education Feb. 22. Presenting the award are Clark Kerr, left, and Harry Scheiber, professor of law and chair of the Senate's Committee on Faculty Awards. Peg Skorpinski photo.

The Academic Senate bestowed its highest honor Feb. 22 on Yuan T. Lee, whose many previous awards include the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

A UC university professor emeritus, professor emeritus of chemistry and principal investigator at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Lee is currently president of Academia Sinica, Taiwan's leading academic and research institution.

Lee received the 1998 Clark Kerr Award for Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education at a dinner hosted by the Academic Senate and the College of Chemistry. The dinner followed a Shorenstein seminar, "Homecoming: A Conversation with Y.T. Lee," hosted by the Institute of East Asian Studies at Alumni House.

There he was introduced as "the most popular man in Taiwan and the most respected and widely recognized intellectual there." Lee demurred, saying he thought Michael Jordan was the most popular man in Taiwan.

Lee confessed that after winning the Nobel Prize, his already busy life "became impossible." Deciding to consolidate his efforts, he returned to his homeland, he said, "to take a leadership role in the transformation of Taiwanese society, to upgrade Academia Sinica and to show that good science can be done in a developing country."

Lee reports directly to the president of Taiwan and serves as science adviser to the premier.

"It's very satisfying to promote science and education and see good results," Lee said. "Setting a good example for young people, being a role model, is very important for me."

In response to questions from the audience, Lee said universities "should worry less about economic competitiveness and more about the future of mankind." Berkeley should take the lead, he said, and address such issues as global warming, ending war and making the world more livable.

"We need to become good citizens in the global village, instead of competing," he said. Citing the drive by developing countries to emulate the U.S., Lee asked, "what are we competing for -- to drive more cars, eat more steaks? That will destroy the world."

Lee expressed concerns about the privatization of public universities like Berkeley, noting that it tends to exclude pure research in favor of applied research. "The integrity of the university should be protected while collaborating with the private sector," he advised.

As president of Academia Sinica, Lee plays a leading role in shaping educational and science policy in Taiwan. He also chairs Taiwan's Council of Educational Reform, advocating democratization, professionalization and university autonomy.

Past recipients of the Clark Kerr Award include former chancellor and UC president Clark Kerr, who presented the award to Lee, Earl Warren, Joel Hildebrand, Edmund G. Brown Sr., Derek Bok and Chang-Lin Tien.

Lee's award citation reads, in part: "During his very distinguished service as a faculty member ... from 1974 to 1994, Prof. Lee demonstrated an extraordinary devotion to the causes of opening up educational opportunities to all, and especially to addressing the crucial issues associated with the pursuit of diversity at Berkeley while maintaining an uncompromised excellence in teaching and research.

"He promoted important cultural and scientific exchange between the United States and nations throughout Asia... Here in California he demonstrated ... an unlimited enthusiasm and absolute unselfishness in serving the community."

Lee has long served as president of the Tan Kah Kee International Society, based in Singapore, a major foundation dedicated to promotion of education as a means of advancing democracy and development.

He has also urged governments to shift the focus of their scientific and technical work from military to civilian applications.

Lee's many honors include the National Medal of Science, the Ernest O. Lawrence Award and the Farraday Medal.

He received his PhD from Berkeley in 1965. After six years at the University of Chicago he returned to join Berkeley's chemistry faculty. In 1988 he was named Cal Alumnus of the Year.

When he took early retirement in 1994, Lee decided to devote himself to educational and scientific development in Taiwan "as a matter of principle." Asian scholars, he said, can make a real difference by returning to their native countries and helping them develop.

Lee notes that the vitality of shared governance at Berkeley is a model for all universities in democratic societies.


March 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 25)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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