University of California President to Retire After Eight Years
The University of California is looking for a new leader following the resignation of Dr. Richard C. Atkinson.
Atkinson, 73, announced last month he will be retiring next October after serving for eight years, three years longer than he initially planned and longer than all but four of UC’s 17 presidents. “I think I am due,” says Atkinson, who says he wants his grandchildren to “see more of their grandfather.”
Atkinson received a standing ovation from UC’s governing board of regents after his announcement.
“Dick has done a magnificent job for this university,” says regents chairman John J. Moores.
Atkinson noted he was leaving at a time of budgetary uncertainty, but said he was “confident in the university’s continued vitality.”
The outlook is bleak with the state suffering the same economic downturn as the rest of the country and the board will be looking at a number of possible cuts, including raising student fees by 6.5 percent, about $225. Fees are now about $4,000 a year. UC fees jumped sharply during the economic depression of the early 1990s, but have not gone up for eight years under an agreement UC officials have worked out with two state governors.
Atkinson was named president in August 1995, a month after UC regents voted to stop considering race or gender in admissions, a decision that drew fierce opposition from civil rights leaders and students. Like the eight other chancellors serving in 1995, Atkinson had opposed dropping affirmative action.
He lobbied for a number of changes to maintain diversity in admissions, including the “comprehensive review” system that looks at students’ socio-economic backgrounds as well as their academic performance.
Atkinson also has handled a number of crises during his tenure, including a failed hospital merger with Stanford University and some high-profile troubles at the nuclear weapons labs UC manages for the U.S. Department of Energy.
In February 2001, Atkinson took on the SAT, asking faculty to look into dropping it, saying it was taking up too much of students’ time and money and noted that it had been criticized as unfair to minorities (see Black Issues, March 15, 2001).
Atkinson’s unflappable, consensus-building approach has drawn praise from fans and critics alike.
“The president and I have disagreed on any number of issues, but as a man I have profound respect for him,” says Regent Ward Connerly, who led the move to stop considering race in admissions. “I think that he has steered the university through some very difficult times.”
“I thank Dr. Atkinson for a lifetime of remarkable success and considerable service to the students of California,” says Gov. Gray Davis. “His leadership will be sorely missed.”
Before taking over as UC president, Atkinson had been chancellor of UC-San Diego for 15 years, shepherding the campus through a period of substantial change. Before that, he directed the National Science Foundation.
The job of UC president now pays $361,000 a year to oversee a $17 billion enterprise that includes nine campuses — a 10th is planned — five medical schools, three law schools and three national laboratories.
Moores said he would appoint a search committee soon to start looking for candidates.
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