UC Berkeley administrators and professors welcomed the selection of UC San Diego Chancellor Robert Dynes Wednesday as the 18th president of the University of California. But some students, on the left and right of the political spectrum, raised concerns about Dynes’ position on UC Regent Ward Connerly’s controversial Racial Privacy Initiative.
The initiative, which will go before California voters in March 2004, would prevent state and local government from collecting data on race. Supporters say the ballot measure marks a step toward a color-blind society, but opponents say it would block vital research and erase any evidence of racial discrimination in public health, housing and education.
A small group of UC Berkeley students at the Dynes press conference Wednesday criticized the new president for delaying his own objection to the Racial Privacy Initiative until the UC Board of Regents opposed the initiative last month.
Cintya Molina, external vice president for the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, said Dynes should have followed UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl’s lead and voiced his opposition earlier. The delay, she argued, represented a lack of leadership on “social justice” issues.
“He waited a long time,” Molina said.
Dynes said he did not want to take a public position on the Racial Privacy Initiative until the board, the university’s governing body, signaled its opposition.
“Of course I did not take a position until the university took a position because I felt that it was appropriate for the university to stand together,” Dynes said. “Now that the university has taken a position, I am unequivocally supportive of the university’s decision.”
Dynes’ opposition to the initiative did not sit well with conservative students.
“Affirmative action is illegal in this state, and in my eyes anyone who opposes the Racial Privacy Initiative wants to see affirmative action reinstated,” said Ben Barron of UC Berkeley’s College Republicans.
University officials suggested Wednesday that other UC chancellors were among the 300-plus candidates vying to replace retiring UC President Richard Atkinson. UCLA’s Albert Carnesale, UC Santa Cruz’s M.R.C. Greenwood and UC Santa Barbara’s Henry Yang were among those rumored to be in the running. But UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl did not compete for the job, according to UC Berkeley spokesman Marie Felde.
“Chancellor Berdahl took himself out of the running from the beginning,” she said. “He was not interested.”
Berdahl, in a statement, had hardy praise for Dynes. “This is a great appointment,” he said. “I’ve worked with him, I know him well, and I respect him enormously.”
The UC Berkeley chancellor expressed confidence that Dynes would not overstep his bounds as system-wide president. “He has been a chancellor within the system who knows and respects the importance of allowing campuses a high degree of autonomy,” Berdahl said.
UC Berkeley geophysicist Raymond Jeanloz called Dynes, a physicist with expertise in semiconductors and superconductors, an “inspiration.” He said Dynes’ decision to continue work as a scientist, even after accepting the job as UC San Diego chancellor in 1996, was “remarkable” and would garner the respect of faculty.
“As someone in the trenches, I can only deeply appreciate someone who is still in touch with the trenches,” Jeanloz said.
Jeanloz, who served with Dynes on a number of panels overseeing three UC-managed national laboratories, including the Los Alamos weapons lab, said the new president has the right temperament for the job.
“He’s blunt, hard-driving, very energetic and has a whimsical side to him,” Jeanloz said. “He can be quite humorous.”
Dynes, raised in the Canadian city of London, Ontario, spent 22 years as a physicist at AT&T Bell Laboratories before taking a job as a physics professor at UC San Diego in 1991.
He inherits one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, and will have a bully pulpit on national education issues. Atkinson, his predecessor, used his position to push for changes in the SAT test.
Dynes, who is married to UC San Diego physics professor Frances Dynes Hellman, will take the helm in the midst of a statewide budget crisis which threatens to chop $300 million from the university’s $13 billion budget.
The new president will also decide if UC should bid for a contract to manage Los Alamos, which it has operated since World War II. A series of accounting scandals at the lab in recent months prompted the federal government to call for competitive bids to run the lab.