Chang-Lin Tien: Berkeley mourns and reflects
The late chancellor’s contributions to diversity, community, and academic excellence will be long remembered



Howard Ford photo

06 November 2002 | Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of UC Berkeley between 1990 and 1997, died on Oct. 29. He had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in September 2000 while being treated for a brain tumor.

In the days since Tien’s death, as testimonials and remembrances have poured into the Berkeleyan office, we’ve been struck by how precise are the images of him that people hold. To be sure, some have contributed the paeans to his character and accomplishments that are customary when an important person dies. Much has been made of his integrity, sincerity, devotion to excellence, and adherence to principle, evoking a singular portrait of Berkeley’s seventh chancellor.

But most who have called or written provided sharply limned memories of the man himself, infused with the energy and near-constant action that were Tien’s defining traits. Our coverage this week shares some of these recollections, and may bring to mind some of your own.

In one salient memory, former Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ recalled a day early in Tien’s chancellorship, shortly after a tragic fraternity fire in which several students died. At a memorial service on Faculty Glade, Christ says, Tien “spoke of a belief in Chinese culture according to which the image of a person that we take in with our eyes becomes embedded in our heart, so that we carry a part of the person we have seen and known forever with us.”

This belief is borne out in the recollections people have shared with the Berkeleyan. In that spirit, we offer the following tribute to Chang-Lin Tien, a composite image assembled freely from the flow of words that students, colleagues, and friends continue to send us. Quite deliberately, we do not here attribute these sentiments to their authors. The result, we believe, is — like Tien himself — a whole far greater than the sum of its parts:

“He helped people feel good about Berkeley. • No one had any questions about what he stood for. • He fought for the students. • He saw the local, the national, and the international context of the university, and acted in accordance with that — and that’s very hard to do. • He was such a ball of energy. • Nothing seemed to faze him. • Wherever he went, there always seemed to be some commotion. • I hope I can accomplish a fraction of what he has done. • He couldn’t wait to dash home for lunch when his new granddaughter was visiting, and he would return full of smiles. • He didn’t really know who I was, but always said hi if he saw me, and shook my hand. • He had an eye for what faculty needed and what it would take to keep them here. • The irony is that those opposed to Tien’s efforts failed to see the character in his leadership. • He instinctively understood that hope for the future comes with courage, knowledge, and concern. • There was an aura about him. • I had never seen a chancellor on the football field before! • He was a consummate fundraiser. • Though he traveled the world over, he loved best to be back in Berkeley — at home, in his office, or with his students. • He was committed to excellence and diversity and the fervent belief that they are inexorably linked. • He inspired people to try harder to make Berkeley succeed. • He was trusted by everyone.”

Is there more to say about a person capable of commanding such emotional respect from a Regent , a tennis coach, a student, and a university president, among so many others? Of course there is, and this issue features testimonials, images, and an illustrated timeline tracing his professional life, virtually all of which was spent at Berkeley as a professor, department chair, and ultimately chancellor.

We also focus on Tien’s contributions in two areas to which he devoted so much energy and commitment during his life: mechanical engineering and social and cultural diversity. That two such unrelated themes could be addressed with such consistent focus by one person, who wove them seamlessly into a life in which still other priorities commanded his considerable energies, is itself a testimonial — no better than any other, but, exactly like the others, real and heartfelt, and part of an image “embedded in our heart.”

— The Editors


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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