Editorial: A Full-Time Campus Needs a Full-Time Chancellor

With the haggis undergoing its first incision, and the bagpipes blasting, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox snuck out through the back door. Fox was at the John Muir College honor society induction late last week, where she gave a speech about excellence and quality — big on rhetoric, small on specifics — before absconding.

Chances are Fox did not leave to attend a meeting of one the many corporate and nonprofit boards on which she sits. But the same can’t be said of more than 180 other hours over the past year that she spent attending to business — but not the university’s business.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week, Fox spent her first year at UCSD serving as a director of 10 corporations and nonprofits, more than all other UC chancellors and most university heads. During the same time, she received compensation from these groups rivaling her UCSD salary of $359,000, raising serious questions about Fox’s fiduciary commitment to the university and the potential for conflicts of interest.

“Employee members of the university community are expected to devote primary professional allegiance to the university and to the mission of teaching, research and public service,” the UC Board of Regents announced in a new “statement on ethical values” last month, a statement Fox herself sent to the rest of campus’ employees.

Quite presciently, the statement concluded: “Outside professional activities, personal financial interests or acceptance of benefits from third parties can create actual or perceived conflicts between the university’s mission and an individual’s private interests.”

There is no doubt that Fox’s moonlighting creates just such a perception. As part of her compensation, Fox has accumulated more than $1 million in stocks, including stock in companies that may compete with the university for grants or bid to license faculty inventions.

For example, Fox is a director of both a medical device developer and a clinical research company; at the same time, she is privy to UCSD research in the same fields through a variety of institutional review boards that must approve faculty projects and have access to proprietary information about them. Her dual roles represent the very appearance of a conflict of interest the new university policy aims to avoid.

So far, the explanation offered has been woefully inadequate. Through her work, administrators have argued, Fox has helped the university increase collaboration with the corporate world.

However, UCSD’s success in commercializing new inventions long predates Fox’s arrival; in any case establishing public-private partnerships is the job of the university’s technology transfer office, not the chancellor. Nor is it likely that Fox receives much real-world insight by listening in on a couple of hours of teleconferences each month, which is largely the extent of the responsibility of a corporate director.

The fact is if the university was truly interested in bringing a corporate culture to campus, it could have picked a new chancellor who actually worked in the private sector, like UC President Robert C. Dynes, who spent many years as a renowned physicist at Bell Labs. Fox, by contrast, is a life-long academic.

Sadly, the university’s tight-lipped handling of the current controversy isn’t surprising. Since her arrival last year, Fox has been plagued by a series of scandals, from unreported compensation to controversy surrounding University House, the mansion she was supposed to live in. In all instances, the university has responded with righteous indignation, suggesting that UCSD is lucky to have Fox, at any cost. Too little has been done to provoke an honest and thoughtful debate about the chancellor’s role, and her responsibilities.

This culture of entitlement must come to an end. Fox competed against other qualified candidates, many of whom could likely do as fine a job without insisting on having 10 others. It’s time for our chancellor to decide if she is ready to provide UCSD with the full-time leader it deserves.