20 Years at the Helm : UCLA Chancellor Young: At the Top of His Class

Times Education Writer

At the first graduation ceremony during his term as chancellor of UCLA, Charles E. Young told the audience: "Like many of you, I do not know how many more commencements I will be involved in. The future of the university president or chancellor these days is at least as uncertain as that of the graduate."

That was in 1969.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Young is still at the helm of the Westwood campus and is widely credited with helping lift it to the top rung of major research universities in the nation. UCLA, once known mostly for its championship sports teams, is now mentioned along with Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Yale and the University of Chicago for its distinguished faculty.

Nearly as remarkable as that change is Young's survival through the turbulence of campus radicalism, state politics, budget hassles and personal problems. Even his critics concede that Young has lived down skepticism that he was too young, too much the hand-picked successor of Dr. Franklin D. Murphy and not enough of a scholar to last long amid the vicious intellectual battles and turf wars that often rage beneath the polite veneer in academia.

"He got through it and did the job he was meant to do--leading UCLA to greater prominence and respect," said an official at rival UC Berkeley, who acknowledged not being an admirer of what he called Young's "swagger" and blunt style. "Now people are looking at him and saying 'Hey, how did he do that?' "

William Gerberding, president of the University of Washington and a former UCLA executive vice chancellor, has a friendlier view of the man universally known as "Chuck Young."

"It's sort of as if Chuck was born to be chancellor of UCLA. It's in his blood," Gerberding said. "He was perfectly suited to the period of growth and development UCLA was going through."

Young's term of service ranks second among chief executives of the 58 major universities that belong to the Assn. of American Universities, topped only by Wesley Posvar, president of the University of Pittsburgh since 1967. And Young, who at 36 was the youngest person ever to head a UC campus, now has held his office for the third-longest period of any chancellor or president in the UC system's 121-year history.

Before the 1960s, it was not extraordinary for a university chancellor to hold the job for 20 years, but now the average term is less than seven years. Richard Ingram, executive vice president of the Assn. of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, attributes the change to the increased pressures of the job and says a term such as Young's is now "very rare indeed."

Job Still Unfinished

An acquaintance recently asked Young what he would do if he weren't chancellor. "I said 'I'd cry,' " Young, 57, recalled in an interview at his UCLA office. "And as a matter of fact, I think that's true. Then I'd decide what else I should do and go and do it."

Young expects to remain chancellor for at least three more years, but less than the 10 remaining before retirement would be mandatory. There are, he said, still things he wants to do. "I think we are very close to arriving at a new level in terms of both the real and perceived quality of this institution and I'd like to see us get to that level."

Among the projects, he said, are continued improvement of the faculty at the College of Letters and Science, an attempt to make freshman and sophomore studies less impersonal, reorganization of arts departments, recruitment of more minority faculty members and construction of new dormitories, a new graduate school of management and additional medical school facilities.

He will be helped by UCLA's recent completion of a $355-million private fund drive--one of the largest by a state university in the country.

In Young's opinion, Stanford is the greatest American university, but "is not as far ahead as it was three years ago." Contending for the No. 2 spot, he claimed, are Harvard, UC Berkeley and UCLA.

High in Rankings

Such rankings are hotly debated and impossible to prove. A 1982 study by four scholarly organizations evaluated graduate departments nationally; when the rankings for the various disciplines were totaled, UCLA tied with Princeton for fifth place, after UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and Yale. But this year's rating of big schools by U.S News & World Report, which stresses undergraduate education, placed UCLA 21st, with Yale on top, followed by Princeton, Caltech and Harvard. UC Berkeley was 24th.

"UCLA no longer says, 'Gosh, we'd like to be Berkeley, we want to be as good as Berkeley.' I believe there is more looking at UCLA from Berkeley today than looking from UCLA to Berkeley," Young said.

Young is not the belovedly eccentric college president of movies and fiction, and he has not used his office as a pulpit on matters of morality and the mind as other college presidents have. If Young is recognized as a national authority on anything, it would be the intricacies of intercollegiate sports. It is a subject he has had to deal with first hand--by weathering several recruiting scandals at UCLA.

His fans say that his jock image clouds more important accomplishments. They describe him as a savvy, confident and tough-minded leader who surrounds himself with strong subordinates and is totally devoted to the betterment of UCLA.

No Mr. Chips

"He is not in the image of Mr. Chips," said Murphy, Young's predecessor and mentor, contrasting Young with the fictional, soft-hearted schoolmaster.

"He is in the image of a modern executive. And believe me, Mr. Chips would be destroyed overnight by the pressures. . . . On the other hand, Chuck understands the need for Mr. Chips on the faculty," said Murphy, who is director emeritus of the Times Mirror Co., which publishes The Times. UCLA is "regarded by many as perhaps the best-run campus in the system," according to Richard Gable, the UC Davis professor who is chairman of the system's faculty Senate. One measure of this, Gable said, is a generally high level of satisfaction among UCLA faculty members. "At some other campuses," he said, "the faculty have occasionally begun raising questions of leadership."

A state education official agreed with that assessment and also praised UCLA's handling of politicians. "It is irritating that they are as good as they are. What makes Young good, that sense of power, also makes him stifling," said the official, who professed a dislike of UCLA's "boosterism" and who, like several other sources, requested anonymity.

Young's air of authority is helped by his impressive physical appearance: 6-feet, 3-inches tall, just over 200 pounds, square shouldered, thick gray hair and eyebrows, a handsomely craggy face, sharp blue eyes and a toothy smile.

'True Appreciation'

At first, his looks worked against him in the eyes of some academics who thought of him as a "hail fellow well met," recalled Neil Smelser, a Berkeley professor who used to head the faculty Senate. "I found some of those qualities were not entirely absent, but I found he turned out to be a person of extraordinary intelligence with true appreciation of the academic values a university should represent," Smelser said.

For Young, surviving for more than two decades has meant surviving several controversies.

The first was his conflict with UC regents during his first year over his support for the right of radical Angela Davis to teach philosophy at UCLA. That became moot when Davis was accused of involvement in a shoot-out at the Marin County Courthouse that left a judge and three convicts dead. She went underground and was eventually acquitted.

Another was Young's embarrassing arrest for drunk driving after a car wreck near the campus in 1975 during a period of personal problems. In retrospect, he calls that a "near-crisis situation."

Touched by Scandal

Ten years ago, Young was criticized over UCLA's private fund raising. An associate had pleaded no contest to grand theft involving $100,000 in donations. Investigations cleared Young of any involvement and found nothing wrong with alumni paying for rental of a summer beach house for him, membership in a yacht club and a vacation trip to Tahiti--although the publicity was hardly welcome.

But even economist Stanley Sheinbaum, a UC regent since 1977 and a past critic of some fund-raising practices, said: "I've never heard a murmur that would even come close to approaching a desire that he shouldn't stay. He's too good for that."

A higher education expert in state government said Young's fund raising, with the help of his staff and his wife, Sue, has been a key to the chancellor's survival. "Young has used things as diverse as football and medical research to build a really remarkable alumni base," the official said. "He has built that base and it is understood to make him more secure and more independent than any other chancellor" in the UC system.

Students and teachers tell stories about Young's eye for detail. His morning jogs around campus produce phone calls and memos about broken bicycle racks and trees that need pruning.

Surprise Call

Ben Van de Bunt, a Los Angeles attorney who was UCLA's undergraduate student body president five years ago, recalled getting a 7 a.m. call from Young. The night before, Van de Bunt had appeared on a television talk show and criticized the university's use of animals in medical research. "He called to tell me my position wasn't well-founded. I didn't think he cared what I thought," Van de Bunt continued. "It was remarkable that he had his fingers on so many buttons."

The Young administration is "a benevolent dictatorship, with the emphasis on the benevolent," Van de Bunt said, adding that Young "is extremely intelligent and extremely intimidating and it's a great combination. . . . He could probably convince you that two plus two is five."

Unlike many college presidents who jump from school to school, Young is the consummate UC insider. Born and raised in San Bernardino, he earned his bachelor's degree at UC Riverside and was the first student body president at what was then a new campus. His master's and Ph.D. in political science are from UCLA. After a Congressional Fellowship in Washington, he joined the staff of then-UC President Clark Kerr in 1959.

Moved Up Quickly

A year later, Young became an aide to Murphy at UCLA and quickly moved up the ladder, eventually becoming vice chancellor. Young and others credit Murphy with successfully fighting to end the financial and political dominance of UC Berkeley within the UC system and laying the foundation for UCLA's climb in reputation. Young built on that, using his intimate knowledge of the UC bureaucracy.

"I've often joked over the past 20 years that UCLA is a mom and pop operation and Chuck is mom and Chuck is pop," said William D. Schaefer, a UCLA English professor and former executive vice chancellor.

That, of course, is a friendly exaggeration. UCLA is an enormous enterprise. Its 35,500 students and 26,000 teachers and staff make use of nearly 160 buildings on 411 acres. The annual budget is $1.6 billion, with 42% of that from the state and student fees, 11% from the federal government, 7% from private gifts and the rest from such activities as the hospital and the gigantic non-credit extension school.

Decision-making is complex. The governor and Legislature control the state purse strings, although general policies for all nine UC campuses are set by the Board of Regents and by the president of the system, now David P. Gardner. The faculty has a lot of say on academic matters. Yet the chancellor, who is paid $134,900 a year, still has plenty of power.

Hectic Schedule

For example, during a recent two-day period that Young described as having an average to light workload, he moved from meeting to meeting, phone call to phone call. Those dealt with a wide range of items, including lobbying in Washington, Rose Bowl seating, foreign dental students, staggered work hours, faculty housing, the overworked hospital emergency room, the governor's budget, concerns of black students, more space for film classes, a tenure dispute with a professor and policies of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Young appeared familiar with all.

The chancellor estimated that 60% of his time is spent on academics, budgets and personnel matters, 25% on fund raising (up from 5% in 1969), and the rest is divided among student affairs, athletics and other things. On average, he and his wife, who have two grown children and five grandchildren, spend three nights a week entertaining at the chancellor's residence on campus or attending civic or social functions around the city.

Young said he knows that some people may not believe the small amount of time spent on sports--given his devoted attendance at games. "I'm not a sports nut by any means, but I am a UCLA nut," he insisted.

In the last 20 years, UCLA has won 39 men's and seven women's NCAA championships in various sports. Young's supporters say he wants to be remembered for other statistics, such the doubling of the number of library books to 5.8 million and the rise in the number of endowed professorships from one to 76.

Days of Unrest

They also say that the early part of Young's term should be remembered for sympathetic handling of student unrest. Young's relative youth helped him relate well with students.

A few months after Young became chancellor, two student members of the Black Panthers were murdered on campus in an alleged dispute over the leadership of the Black Studies Center. Young helped calm the jittery school. Later, during Vietnam War protests, he refused to allow police to clear out students who occupied administration offices and he spoke out against the use of National Guard troops at UC Berkeley.

Now, Young conceded, he has less patience. "I certainly am not as open to those kinds of issues today as I was then," he said. "Then I could go through eight, 10, 12 hours of a sit-in and roll along. Now I think, 'This is the 37th time and you people don't understand the issues nearly as well as some of your predecessors.' So (I have) a tendency to be a little less open, a little less flexible."

That was shown two years ago after Dean Florez, then undergraduate student body president, accused UCLA's provost of misusing research funds. In an interview with the campus newspaper, Young called Florez "a jerk." That hurt Young's relationship with some students, and it may still haunt him because Florez is now an aide on the state Senate's special committee on UC admissions.

Looking BAck

Last year, a disputed election for student president was disrupted by a racial brawl after the first winner, a Latino, was disqualified because of his academic record. Young did not hesitate to provide bodyguards for student leaders who felt threatened and he hired private security guards to keep order during the rescheduled ballot.

On the whole, however, the era of the youth revolt is over. And 20 years later, Young said he realizes how strange it might seem today for someone 36 years old to become chancellor of UCLA.

"I thought I had all the experience I needed and was perfectly prepared to take on the job. I had all the self-confidence in the world," he said. "Looking back, some of that self-confidence was misplaced. I've learned a lot in the last 20 years. I was ready to take it on--but I would be a little more humble knowing what I know now."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
50°