Former UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young, who headed the Westwood campus for nearly 30 years, joked in an e-mail this week to family and friends that retirement seems an activity at which he is destined to fail.
After UCLA, Young served as president of the University of Florida for more than four years. Now, at 72, he is launching yet another career in academia: as president of an ambitious educational and scientific foundation in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.
"I guess I can't stay retired," Young said in a telephone interview from Doha, the Qatari capital. He began work last week as president of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a job he expects to fill for two to three years, he said.
The outspoken, charismatic Young helped transform UCLA into one of the world's leading public research universities. At his departure in 1997, he was the longest-serving college leader in American higher education.
Young is likely to use those skills and experience in many aspects of his new position as head of the foundation created in 1995 by Qatar's leader, Sheik Hamad ibn Khalifa al Thani, to improve education in the country. The foundation's board is led by the emir's wife, Sheika Mozah Nasser Misnad.
Part of its effort has been to entice American higher education institutions to set up satellite campuses in the tiny, oil-rich emirate. So far, four universities -- Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth -- have opened campuses in Qatar, part of a 2,400-acre "education city" being built in the capital. Several hundred students are enrolled, with several thousand expected when the project is completed within a few years.
"It is a very large, very serious effort, very grand in scope," said Jim McNail, an American consultant to the foundation who helped recruit Young. "It provides an excellent opportunity for Dr. Young's experiences to be fully utilized."
Young's stature in American higher education also is likely to prove useful as the foundation tries to attract other institutions to set up shop in Qatar. Several more American universities and one European one are now in discussions to create programs there, McNail said.
The former chancellor will coordinate the foundation's relationships with the universities and with Rand Corp., which opened a public policy institute in Qatar last year. Since 2001, the Santa Monica-based think tank also has been working with educators in Qatar to reform that nation's public K-12 educational system, a Rand spokesman said.
As president of the foundation, Young also will oversee other centers run directly by it, including an academy for students ages 3 to 18, an economic development center and a stable for Arabian horses, he said.
Young said he was approached about the position last fall, shortly before his retirement from the University of Florida. He made an exploratory trip in February, then another this month, when he decided to accept the job.
"What they're doing here is remarkable and sustainable, and it seemed to be something that also required some leadership," he said. "I became convinced that I was the right person, with the experience and a record of being able to work with people."
Young declined to disclose his salary, other than to say that it was "appropriate," given the job's many responsibilities.
He spoke by telephone from his hotel, while his wife, Judy, who was house-hunting in Doha, checked in with him from time to time by cellphone.
Young's first wife, Sue, died in 2001 after a long struggle with cancer. He married Judy Cornell, a longtime family friend, the following year.
Both are looking forward to living in Qatar, he said. And despite the concerns of some friends and family, they are unfazed by the war in nearby Iraq and other tensions in the region.
"Some friends said, 'Gosh, that sounds interesting.' Others said, 'Don't do that; you're putting yourself in harm's way,' " Young said. "But I wouldn't be doing it if I felt that. I don't believe the potential harm here is really greater than anywhere else."
Young will be honored at a UCLA reception May 20, when he will be presented with a transcript of a three-volume oral history he gave about his career and the university.
His friend and former UCLA colleague Alan Charles said Young was "indefatigable. They couldn't have picked a better guy to take on such a large, complex and kind of amorphous assignment. He's the perfect choice."
John Sandbrook, Young's assistant at UCLA for nearly two decades, said his former boss "was never going to stay retired. He's always doing something new, moving ahead."