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A Busy First Day for UCI's Chancellor

Education: Known for openness and decisiveness, Ralph Cicerone rolls up his sleeves to tackle campus problems.

July 02, 1998|TINA NGUYEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His first day on the job, UC Irvine's new chancellor tried to figure out how to hire 50 new professors, discussed plans to meet with business leaders and, oh, yes, stopped down at the lab to work on his research into a gas emitted from rice paddies.

"It's not bad to be compulsive," Ralph Cicerone quipped.

Known as a top professor and researcher, as well as a warm and open man, Cicerone's elevation was hailed by faculty.

"People were hoping for change," Associate Executive Vice Chancellor William Parker said. "When [Laurel] Wilkening stepped down, people were optimistic that this was an opportunity for a new approach."

The campus has been thirsting for that warmth since his predecessor Wilkening announced her resignation in September, campus officials and students said Wednesday.

In contrast to Wilkening, Cicerone is a UCI insider. Wilkening left the University of Washington to take the helm at UCI. But Cicerone moved up the ranks over the past decade.

He came to UCI in 1989 as a top-notch researcher internationally celebrated for his work in global warming and depletion of the Earth's ozone layer. In 1994, he became the dean of physical sciences.

Wilkening was often criticized for an aloof and stiff persona, making it hard for students and faculty to relate to her or grasp a campus mission.

Cicerone, however, is heralded for his openness, decisiveness and ability to find solutions in times of conflict.

"We now have a first-class chancellor," said Social Science Dean William Schonfeld. "That first-class quality is captured by his character, integrity and very high academic standards. He's a true scholar."

An attentive listener, Cicerone is known for and mindful in his decision-making, colleagues described him.

"He isn't precipitous in his decisions," said Dean of Humanities Karen Lawrence. "He seems to be thoughtful and can move quickly. He represents excellence."

Modest, yet direct, Cicerone said in an interview Wednesday that such qualities are fundamental in any leader.

"It's common sense," said Cicerone, a soft-spoken yet self-assured man. "And I have a lot to learn at this point."

Last month, before becoming chancellor, he met with student leaders to hear their concerns on teaching quality, student fees and financial aid. He spent much of his first day charting plans on how to hire roughly 50 professors to keep pace with the surge in student enrollment. He plans eventually to meet with Orange County businesses to curry support for the university.

All the while, Cicerone is continuing his research with two graduate students on a natural and harmless gas, emitted from rice paddies, that affects the chemistry in the atmosphere. On Wednesday, he stopped down at the laboratory to check with the graduate students on how the research was going.

"I enjoy the chase," Cicerone said, referring to the pressures of his new job. "The chase is part of making UCI a stronger campus, one of the flagship campuses of the UC system."

In addition to his beloved research, much work lies ahead for Cicerone. Campus facilities are overburdened. The need for more chemistry labs, a better library for the humanities and additional science buildings is urgent. The College of Medicine will undergo expansion. And the university is still recovering from the fertility scandal in which patients' eggs were allegedly stolen.

But campus officials said Cicerone is up to the challenge.

"The faculty has great confidence in his leadership," administrator Parker said Wednesday. "This is New Year's Day, for us. Today is a new fiscal year, the dawning of a new era at UCI. The first day of the future is today."

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