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At UC San Diego, Chancellor Rose Swiftly Through Ranks

June 12, 2003|Stuart Silverstein and Beth Silver | Special to The Times

As chancellor at UC San Diego, physicist Robert C. Dynes laid down a challenge to students each year.

He invited them to a 5K race on campus and pledged to donate $25 to an undergraduate scholarship fund for each student who beat him.

Despite being an accomplished runner at age 60, Dynes has had to pay out some significant sums. But there aren't many who could rival the pace of his career in the UC system.

Dynes joined UC San Diego as a physics professor in 1991. He took over as chancellor five years later. And on Wednesday, he was named the 18th president of the University of California.

At UC San Diego, many faculty members see Dynes as approachable and as deft in advancing his career and the university.

"He's like a duck in the water," said Joel Dimsdale, a psychiatrist at UC San Diego and head of the campus' academic senate. "He looks calm and unruffled on the surface, but he's pedaling very fast underneath."

UC Berkeley physicist Marvin L. Cohen said Dynes, a friend he has known for more than 20 years, has an exceptionally fast and well-tuned mind.

"He just gets right to the core of things quickly," said Cohen, who, like Dynes, is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

"I've rarely seen him confused or sidetracked by a bunch of details. He's someone who cuts through that, both when he's doing research and in administration."

When Cohen recruits physicists to UC Berkeley, he enjoys comparing notes on the candidates with Dynes. "He'll give me the straight scoop," Cohen said.

"He'll say, 'This guy, or this woman, is first-rate.' Or, 'They're OK, but sometimes they can't see the forest for the trees.' He's very good at picking up things about people."

A native of London, Ontario, and the first in his family to graduate from college, Dynes was educated in Canada and later became a U.S. citizen. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Western Ontario and later his master's degree and PhD in physics from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He has described himself as a "lower middle-class kid who almost chose an ice hockey career over college."

After earning his doctorate, however, Dynes went into private industry, starting at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1968 in New Jersey as a postdoctoral fellow. He rose to become director of chemical physics research in 1983, a post he held until joining the faculty at UC San Diego in 1991 as a physics professor.

In his career as an experimental physicist, Dynes has worked on semiconductor research and made his major contributions in the area of superconductivity, which has applications in everything from ultra-high-speed computer chips to high-speed trains.

By 1994, Dynes was the physics department's chairman. After just a year in that post, he was elevated to senior vice chancellor of academic affairs and, after a single year in that job, he was named chancellor.

On campus, those who know him say he makes an effort to keep in touch with students and faculty. He teaches a physics lab. He regularly dines at the Green Faculty Club. Just this week, he lunched there with a group of a half-dozen professors to talk about their careers.

"He's an extremely human person who enjoys interacting, not only with faculty but with students," said John Marino, a history professor who was among those at the table. "He has a real human voice. He sounds like himself. He doesn't sound like someone's written a speech for him."

Marino said Dynes made a practice of taking his students out to lunch at least once a week, as well. "I don't think I've ever seen any other chancellor do that," Marino said. "I think he genuinely is popular because he's engaged."

Dimsdale, the head of UC San Diego's academic senate, gave Dynes high marks as chancellor and said he could recall no major controversy or failure in his administration of the university.

But Jorge Mariscal, director of the campus' Chicano Studies Program, faulted Dynes for making only symbolic efforts to achieve diversity. He credited Dynes for listening to advocates of underrepresented minorities, but added, "There are lots of gestures and committees set up to deal with the issue of diversity, but no real structural change gets made."

A faculty union leader said Dynes was " missing in action" in addressing union concerns.

"He certainly would not meet with any of the unions in their struggles, ever. His labor relations manager was always between him and us," said Fred Lonidier, a professor of visual arts and president of the campus local of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers.

Some UCSD students, who are in finals this week, said he was not a well-known presence on campus. "I wouldn't know him if I did see him," said Lily Berniker, a senior majoring in biology. "I really don't know anything about what he's done or what his views are."

The campus, which has more than 23,000 students, grew by 25% during his tenure.

Over that period, the university also opened 19 academic centers, including ones for AIDS research and cancer and comparative immigration studies.

Last year, a faculty member, Sydney Brenner, won a Nobel Prize in medicine, the sixth Nobel for a UCSD professor.

The university opened a 30-acre Science Research Park this month, and Dynes launched a public capital campaign that already has raised $500 million.

Dynes, who enjoys scuba diving as well as running, is married to UC San Diego physicist Frances Dynes Hellman, his second wife. He has a grown daughter from his first marriage.


Silverstein reported from Los Angeles and Silver reported from San Diego. Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson in Oakland contributed to this report.

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