YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Field for UCLA Chief Is Down to One

UC officials reportedly are in final negotiations with Syracuse Provost Deborah A. Freund to replace Albert Carnesale as chancellor.

April 28, 2006|Rebecca Trounson and Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writers

The provost of Syracuse University in New York has emerged as the sole remaining candidate to replace Albert Carnesale when he steps down as UCLA chancellor in June, according to sources close to the search.

Deborah A. Freund, 53, a respected health economist who has held the No. 2 post at Syracuse since 1999, is in final negotiations with University of California leaders about the UCLA job, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Freund and UC President Robert C. Dynes, who is expected to make a final recommendation to UC's Board of Regents within days, are said to be discussing a proposed salary and benefits package for her, as well as a possible job at UCLA for her husband, Thomas J. Kniesner. He is chairman of the economics department at Syracuse, a private research university in upstate New York.

If she is approved by the regents, Freund would become the first woman to head the Westwood campus and the ninth leader in its 87-year history.

Reached at her office Thursday, Freund declined to comment or even to say if she would be interested in the UCLA job. "It would be premature for me to talk about any professional change in my life," she said.

UC spokesman Michael Reese also declined to discuss the UCLA search, except to say that the chancellorship had yet to be offered.

Sources at UCLA, meanwhile, said that Freund, who has also been an administrator and faculty member at Indiana University in Bloomington and at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is expected to visit UCLA next week.

If she is offered and accepts the job, Freund would move up in the academic world. In the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, UCLA tied with the University of Michigan for 25th among top "national universities" in the U.S., while Syracuse ranked 50th.

Freund this year was named publicly as a finalist for the presidency of the University of Arizona but was passed over.

At UCLA, she would arrive at a university that, unlike Syracuse, has a medical school and is now building a huge new hospital. Several of those interviewed Thursday noted that Freund's background, which includes a master's of public health degree in medical care administration and expertise in Medicaid, could prove fortuitous. Freund also has a master's degree in applied economics and a doctorate in economics, all from the University of Michigan. Her bachelor's degree, in classics, is from Washington University in St. Louis.

But the search for a leader for UCLA, which has a student population of nearly 38,000, comes at an awkward moment for the public university system and for Dynes, who has led UC since 2003.

Since November, the UC chief has been embroiled in a statewide controversy over executive pay and perks, after media reports that the university spent millions on undisclosed or questionable compensation. An independent audit released Monday, found that UC officials in the last decade did not disclose or seek required approvals for pay packages granted to many senior administrators, including several of its newer chancellors.

More revelations and criticism are likely soon, with another investigative report, this one by the state auditor's office, scheduled to be released Tuesday.

But given the timing, Freund or any other new chancellor for UCLA will probably face intense, even uncomfortable scrutiny of the hiring agreement. Several sources close to the search said those are certain to be disclosed from the outset, unlike those of other UC campus leaders. That new openness may complicate negotiations, they said.

Syracuse faculty members and students interviewed said Freund is known for a down-to-earth personal style and high energy level.

If she comes to UCLA as chancellor, "she'd have an open style that students would find very accessible and engaging," said Edward A. Bogucz, executive director of the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.

Wayne Horton, president of Syracuse's undergraduate student government, said Freund is a highly visible presence on campus, regularly taking a front-row seat at basketball games. "She really is a person who concerns herself with student issues and puts herself in a position to help students," Horton said.

One of the few complaints raised about her performance was that she may have undercut her own influence by taking on too many campus projects.

"If she came in as a change agent, I'm not sure she succeeded," said Joel Kaplan, an associate dean at Syracuse's well-regarded S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

At the same time, Kaplan said, she played a stronger role than her predecessors in such areas as deciding which professors should be granted tenure.

"She made it very clear that she was going to read every tenure file, that she was going to look at every one individually, and that it was not just a rubber-stamp process," Kaplan said.

Los Angeles Times Articles