Campus Profs Chosen for Obama Transition Team

    Two UCSD faculty members have been named co-leaders of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, which will help form early policy and provide support and direction for the formation of January’s new administration.

    Peter Cowhey, dean of the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, was tapped to co-lead the transition team working on trade policy, while UCSD chemistry and biochemistry professor Mario Molina was slated to co-lead the transition team charged with developing the new administration’s policy related to science and technology.

    In addition to forming policy, Cowhey’s team evaluates positions for U.S. Representative Transition, a Cabinet-level agency.

    For the length of his transition-team membership, Cowhey will commute between Washington and San Diego in order to continue his duties as dean, UCSD spokeman Barry Jagoda said.

    “This assignment will have no impact on Dean Cowhey’s role at [International Relations and Pacific Studies] as dean and as associate vice chancellor for international affairs at UCSD, except to highlight the high quality of leadership at UC San Diego,” Jagoda said.

    Cowhey’s book, to be published next year, focuses on international trade and the use of technology to create trade opportunities. He declined to comment, under instruction from the transition team.

    Molina is a Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work in the identification of chlorofluorocarbon-gas impact in the atmosphere.

    Molina said his role on the team will be to interview applicants for positions in the new administration and suggest scientific policy for the upcoming term.

    “We’re preparing to set the stage so that the new administration takes office on Jan. 20 with very important changes,” Molina said, highlighting the roles of science and technology.

    Molina said that the new science adviser he will help select will occupy a near Cabinet-level post set to begin work within the first days of the new administration.

    “I remember with the Bush administration it was a half a year, almost a year before a science adviser was chosen and it wasn’t a very important position, so that’s why we want to change that,” Molina said. “It was downgraded and reduced in size so we want to prepare things so this is restored.”

    Molina said Obama’s administration will seek to create a nonpartisan atmosphere in which scientists can conduct research free of political influence.

    “Some of Obama’s goals are connected with the integrity of science — that the scientific community should be able to express their opinion even through reports within the government without being sanctioned or modified just for political ideology,” he said.

    Molina said he expects the Obama administration to devote more time and resources to a number of science- and technology-related issues given low priority during the last two terms, including the concern of climate change.

    “Early on with the Bush administration, the problem itself wasn’t even recognized so that was just speculation,” Molina said. “The evidence became very clear, so the Bush administration accepted the problem but took very small steps. We expect to be able to set the stage to prepare things so there is a consensus within the academic world, so the new administration can be more proactive and participate in measures within the United States.”

    Molina also mentioned possible shifts in policy regarding stem-cell research and efforts to help draw a greater influx of science-oriented students to the United States than observed during the Bush administration.
    Molina emphasized that his work for the transition team is voluntary and should not influence his duties at UCSD, and that his purely advisory position will not involve the finalization of policy.

    Chancellor Marye Anne Fox praised the two faculty members for their contribution to the country.

    “These two multifaceted scholars represent the exceptional and deep reservoir of talent among our ranks at UC San Diego,” Fox said in a statement. “This is a good sign from the new administration to be reaching beyond the Washington infrastructure to call upon the experience, talent and wisdom of Peter Cowhey and Mario Molina.”

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