Chang-Lin Tien, UC Berkeley Chancellor and Scientist Dies
By Sam Chu Lin
Special to AsianWeek
Professor Chang-Lin Tien, former Chancellor of UC Berkeley, died on Tuesday, Oct. 29. He was 67.
The death of the renowned educator, administrator, scientist and unofficial diplomat has sent shock waves around the world.
“We have really lost a big star in the Asian Pacific American community,” said Los Angeles attorney Angela Oh. “He was so young, and he had so much more to offer. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
On Labor Day weekend in 2000, Tien was diagnosed with a brain tumor and suffered a debilitating stroke during a medical procedure. He never recovered and officially retired on June 30, 2001. Recently Tien contracted pneumonia. He was hospitalized at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Redwood City and passed away there.
Tien, a mechanical engineer and an expert in heat transfer, was UC Berkeley’s seventh chancellor, serving from 1990 to 1997. He made history by becoming the first APA to ever head a major U.S. research university.
During his tenure at Berkeley, Tien was instrumental in launching many successful fund-raising campaigns to help to generate badly needed funds for the university when the school faced financial problems and budget cuts from the state. The campus raised more than $1 billion under his leadership.
“Chang-Lin was an exceptional leader during one of UC Berkeley’s most challenging periods, a time of severe budget cuts and political changes,” said current UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. “His energy and optimism, his willingness to fight for the principles he cherished, and his loyalty and love for this campus made it stronger and better.”
David Lee, a UC Regent and a Silicon Valley computer manufacturer, was a long-time friend.
“Chancellor Tien had so much energy,” Lee said. “He helped everyone and restored the spirit at Berkeley. He made a lot of changes to help minority students. Many times I sat in meetings with him. He fought for the students. He did an outstanding job and will be greatly missed.”
In 1993, Tien vowed to not allow the university’s quality and credibility to diminish, despite an 18 percent drop in its operating budget and 27 percent loss in its active faculty.
“It’s not a matter of whether we can survive,” he said. He asked the public to lobby their legislators to stop the dismantling of the campus and added, “It’s a matter of being excellent or mediocre!”
Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who recently performed at the campus in a fund-raiser to name the school’s East Asian center after the chancellor, recalled Tien’s tenacity.
“I once saw his daily schedule,” Ma said. “Every half hour. He had an appointment for the next 12 to15 hours. I just saw this and said, ‘Okay, thank you for fitting me in your busy schedule.’ He made you feel very, very important. Chancellor Tien has been such a great cheerleader for so many people. I would like to thank the chancellor and Mrs. Tien for all that they have done for all of us.”
The former chancellor and his wife, Di-Hwa, often attended football games and other school events, with Tien running out onto the football field with the players and walking the sidelines as a vocal cheerleader. Tien greeted students at Sather Gate and Sproul Plaza, and could always be seen talking and walking with students on campus. He’d often visit students who were studying at campus libraries and labs late at night.
Former Cal students said Tien went out of his way to make the campus more accessible to minorities. Others praised him for his accessibility, adding, “He often came around and said, ‘Hi!’”
Born in Wuhan province, China, on July 24, 1935, Tien emigrated from Taiwan to the United States. He earned his first master’s degree at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and a second master’s and a doctorate at Princeton. Tien first joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1959 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. In 1988, he was appointed as UC Irvine’s chancellor, but returned to Berkeley in 1990.
Tien’s support for affirmative action stemmed from his own experiences. While attending school in the South, he was so angered that blacks were forced to sit in the back of city buses that he walked to school for a year. He also stopped a professor in Louisville from addressing him only as a “Chinaman.”
He believed students should be on “a level playing field” when it came to educational opportunities. When the UC Regents banned affirmative action, Tien launched the Berkeley Pledge, a partnership between UC Berkeley and California’s K-12 schools. Now called Schools/University Partnerships, the program works to improve the academic performances of students before they apply for college. It has become a national model found in almost every state.
There was also a humorous side to the professor. He often bragged that he had earned both his second master’s degree and a doctorate at Princeton University in record time because he was trying to win the heart of one girl.
“I was told if you want to marry Di-Hwa, you first have to get a Ph.D.,” Tien said in a speech before the Committee of 100 in Santa Clara, Calif. “I worked like mad to get that degree!”
Among his many scientific accomplishments, Tien helped to solve the heat shield problems on board a space shuttle and contributed to the design of the Saturn booster rocket. He was a consultant at a the nuclear power plant disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The Japanese used Tien’s formulas for super insulation to design their fast-moving levitation trains.
He wrote more than 300 research journal and monograph articles, 16 edited volumes and one book. He received many prestigious honors, including the Max Jakob Memorial Award, the highest international award in heat transfer. Tien was the first recipient of the UC Presidential Medal.
The Chinese named a newly discovered asteroid after him, and Chevron christened one of the world’s largest oil tankers The Chang-Lin Tien.
Because he was so highly respected as an educator, administrator and scientist, Tien also served as an unofficial diplomat, communicating directly with President Clinton and Chinese leaders in Beijing and Taipei. He was also one of the early members of the Committee of 100, a group of prominent Chinese Americans, who worked to improve dialogue between all parties concerned.
Tien is survived by his wife, Di-Hwa, of Berkeley; a son, Norman, who is on the engineering faculty at UC Davis; and daughters Phyllis, a physician at the UC San Francisco; and Christine, the deputy city manager of Stockton. Tien was a proud grandfather of four.
The university has planned a memorial service for Tien on the UC Berkeley campus on Nov. 13.