Dynes brings leadership

    At the end of the month, UCSD will bestow upon the University of California at large a gift: its leader.

    Robert C. Dynes, UCSD chancellor since 1995, was named in June the next UC president. He packs his bags and leaves our sunny campus on Oct. 1, and while the departure is disappointing in that it deprives the UCSD community of a magnetic and sometimes inspiring chief, it is a far, far better thing he does now than he has ever done before. Dynes is uniquely suited to the role of UC president, for reasons personal and professional.

    It would be condescending to call one of Dynesí many qualities ìthe common touch,î but it is true that his background and attitude are more hockey rink than ivory tower. Dynesí humble beginnings ó his mother was a nursery school teacher and his father a shoe salesman, and he was the first in his family to attend college ó have given him humility and perspective.

    Dynes has said, “”I am a first-generation college graduate whose life was transformed by education opportunity,î and the personal nature of his commitment to education, and his affection for and comfort with students, has been clear. As his star rose in the UCSD physics department, he still regularly taught lower-division courses; when he became chancellor, he maintained a lab on campus and worked closely with undergraduate and graduate students, asking everyone to call him ìBob.î Dynes has always been approachable to students, whether scheduling chats in his office or looking up for a moment from the coffee he regularly enjoys near Mandeville.

    While he has been criticized for an unsophisticated speaking style (some have urged him to take speech classes), his straight talk is endearing ó and deceptive. It reveals his passion, but belies his shrewdness. He is accessible and genial, but behind the jokes and occasional stumblings, he is always in control of the discussion or interview.

    This sharpness has been one of the contributing factors to his success, as has his ability to move in many circles. It would be easy to cast Dynes as the aw-shucks lower-middle-class professor-turned-accidental-administrator, but this would be to deny one of his greatest talents: schmoozing.

    When asked what the chancellor does, Dynes would sometimes smile and say he wasnít really sure, but it boiled down to meetings, meetings, and more meetings. UCSD is a major force in San Diego, and so itís natural that its chancellor should be a prominent figure in the county. Dynes interacts easily with educators, business people, and politicians. He has established many ties between UCSD and the surrounding community ó especially the business community ó and his success in forging bonds with big names is due in no small part to his personal charisma and energy level.

    Often with big names comes big money, and this is another one of Dynes’ strengths. Fundraising has been a major issue at UCSD during his tenure as chancellor; he established the goal of raising $1 billion for the campus by 2007 ó and then promptly reached the halfway mark on his own. Collecting cash for the universityís ever-shrinking budget will be crucial to ensuring continued academic excellence, and Dynes has shown a knack for raking it in.

    Another of Dynes’ many qualifications for the presidency and something that was cited by the Regents as a reason for his selection, is his familiarity with the troubled Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. The two labs, which are at the forefront of weapons research in the United States, have lately been beset by security, financial, and management crises. Dynes has advised and overseen the labs for years, and will not need to play catch-up with respect to charting the future of the laboratoriesí involvement with the university.

    Dynes has not escaped controversy as UCSD chancellor. Conservatives decry his seeming continued allegiance to affirmative action, some on the left charge that he has too closely wedded tech sector interests with the future of the university, and he has gone toe-to-toe with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education over speech issues on campus. These are weighty concerns that will give pause to many as he takes charge of the most prestigious public university in the world.

    But what may be Dynes’ greatest strength is that he is open to criticism. He is genuinely interested in establishing a dialogue with those with whom he disagrees, and will concede a point when it is elsewhere won. The 2002-03 Academic Senate Chair Joel Dimsdale said of him, ìHe’s the sort of chancellor who believes that God gave us two ears and one mouth and he remembers that. He listens very well.î Listening to outside input and then taking a decisive stance is something Dynes has always done, and itís something he will need to do as UC president.

    Ultimately, Dynes’ career as UC president is wide open. He will be faced with many serious challenges and controversies, and it is yet unclear, of course, what his term will bring. Outgoing UC President Richard Atkinson will undoubtedly be remembered for his aggressive pursuit of alternatives to affirmative action and his success in pushing for changes to the SAT I. While Dynes may not emerge as Atkinson did, in the national spotlight as a standard-bearer and lightning rod, he will be as uncompromising in pursuing his goals for the university.

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