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New Leader of UC System Is Upbeat About Challenges

Robert Dynes will take over at a time of booming enrollment, extraordinary budget pressure.

June 23, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Bob Dynes, intent on his BlackBerry, squeezed into his airplane seat and raced to catch up on e-mail before his Friday night flight to San Diego took off. He brushed aside a flight attendant's warning to switch the device off -- "Oh, right, OK" -- then resumed his furious tapping as she disappeared down the aisle.

But she sneaked back up on the man just named to head the nation's most prestigious public university system and caught him, hunched over, doing the "BlackBerry prayer," as he puts it. She sternly ordered Dynes to surrender the device. He did so, red-faced.

"Here I'd just been appointed the president of the University of California. I'm 60 years old and I felt like a third-grade kid and the teacher had caught me with a note," Dynes said last week, laughing.

A focused, disciplined man with a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor, Robert C. Dynes, chancellor of UC San Diego, is certain to need all those qualities as he takes the helm of UC's 10-campus system this fall.

With 190,000 students, UC is facing an enrollment boom at the same time it confronts deep budget cuts stemming from the state's $38-billion budget shortfall. It is struggling to maintain racial and ethnic diversity on its campuses under restrictions imposed by the state's ban on affirmative action. And, within months, it must decide whether to compete for the right to continue running Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons design lab it has managed for 60 years.

Reflecting on his new role last week, however, Dynes, an experimental physicist who entered academia from industry little more than a decade ago, sounded undaunted, even upbeat.

"OK, I don't want to sound like a Pollyanna here, but there have always been problems," he said in an interview in his UC San Diego office. "The University of California has faced different challenges at different times, and it has always come through strong. The fiscal issues worry you, and they should, but they're not unique. And you come through them just fine if you keep your head screwed on right."

Appointed June 11 by the university's Board of Regents, Dynes said his own head has been "buzzing" with thoughts of the new job, even as he continues to carry out other duties, from shaking thousands of hands at UC San Diego's seven commencement ceremonies to presiding over campus budget discussions.

A week ago Sunday, with his hand still numb from congratulating graduates, he carried a glass of wine out into his yard and weeded his vegetable garden, a restorative activity that friends say is typical of a man who strives for balance -- and contrasts -- in an often hectic life.

"He's a quantitative scientist who loves live theater, and has this fascination with the imagination and something as random as art," said Vice Chancellor James Langley. "Bob has brainpower, creativity and just incredible stability."

Efficient, Disciplined

He also is efficient and exceptionally disciplined, his colleagues said, finding time to teach physics classes and conduct his own research while serving as chancellor.

A committed runner, Dynes was once asked to describe his proudest accomplishment: "He said that he'd run at least 30 miles a week for the last 30 years," Langley said.

Dynes said he expects to spend the next several months defining his priorities, but will start by consulting each of the 26 UC regents. Some he knows well; others not well enough. "It's important to me to engage them, one on one," he said. "You can't leave regents behind on these issues, or you can't get anything done."

The most pressing issue he faces is budget cuts. The university is expected to raise student fees next month by about 25% and is considering reductions in student programs and services, even layoffs. Simultaneously, it must contend with a surge in demand as the children of baby boomers reach college age.

Dynes said he would consider capping enrollment, if necessary.

"If we reach the point where the growth begins to erode the university's quality, my inclination would be to just slow or stop the growth until that changes," he said. "We cannot sacrifice that quality."

Some legislators have said that, given the state's budget crisis, construction should be stopped on the system's 10th campus near Merced in the Central Valley.

Dynes said he wants to look at the university's growth projections before taking a position on that. In the long term, Dynes said, "I believe UC Merced is the right thing to be doing ... but the strategy right now is something we have to look at."

The new UC leader also said it would be premature for him to weigh in on whether the university should compete for the contract to run Los Alamos. He wants to know first what the terms of the deal with the federal government would be.

Los Alamos Bid

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