There was an air of somberness on the UC Berkeley campus after Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien announced his resignation last week at a news conference in the Cal Alumni House. I, like many students, staff and faculty, was shocked and saddened that our fellow crusader to increase racial diversity on the Berkeley campus would be stepping down next year.
For six years, Tien has been a highly visible advocate for student interests and a wildly successful fund-raiser at a time when the UC budget was fair game in Sacramento. Yet, his impact on students has been greatest in his fight to save affirmative action.
When the Board of Regents voted to eliminate affirmative action in admissions and hiring, over the pleas of Tien and other UC chancellors, there was an uproar on the Berkeley campus. A few months later, I participated in a campuswide walkout to protest the decision. No longer were students, staff and faculty going to sit back and allow our university to be run by administrators who sit in an office all day and do not recognize the importance to education of a diverse student population.
Still, we knew that our protests, though well-publicized, would never be as effective as a chancellor arguing the case for affirmative action. Clearly, more protests cannot fill the vacuum Tien's departure will create.
To promote racial diversity, Tien created the Berkeley Pledge, a $1-million UC Berkeley outreach program to California's K-12 students. The program aims to prepare minority high-school students to meet UC admissions criteria. Initial funding for the project came out of Tien's own salary, which underlined his commitment to racial diversity on campus.
With Tien scheduled to leave next year, the focus has turned to who may replace him. Since his successor must be approved by the Board of Regents, students worry the board will choose a "team player" to run the university. By starting the Berkeley Pledge and raising money to soften budget cuts, Tien demonstrated his commitment to students. Students fear the new chancellor will not carry on these activities.
As a benefactor of affirmative action, I'm lucky to have applied to UC at a time when such programs were officially sanctioned. While walking around campus, I sometimes cannot help but notice the absence of other brown faces (only 12% of the student body is Latino) who deserve to be here as well. I am not embarrassed by the fact that I probably would not be a Berkeley student if it wasn't for affirmative action. I remember some of my classmates snickering when they learned that I would be attending one of the finest institutions in the nation, even though my test scores were lower than theirs. They didn't realize that, as a member of a minority, you sometimes rule out career or education options simply because you have never seen a Latino chief executive officer or a Latino professor. Yet, because of affirmative action, I will be graduating from UC Berkeley next month.
Tien has been chancellor for as long as I have been at Cal. That has meant a great deal to me, because he has been so encouraging and positive toward minority students. Future students like myself will probably not have it so good.*