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conversation

The view from Murphy HallA CONVERSATION WITH CHANCELLOR CARNESALE   At the hectic start of a new aca-demic year, Chancellor Albert Carnesale was a tireless man on the run, meeting with student journalists, union  representatives, faculty leaders, foreign dignitaries and a steady stream of visitors. On a recent afternoon, he took time out for a conversation with UCLA Today Editor Cynthia Lee and Editorial Director David Greenwald on a range of topics.

    In an office filled with UCLA mementos, there was a new centerpiece that had him beaming proudly: a large, laminated acrylic sphere by internationally  known sculptor and UCLA Professor of Design Mihich Vasa. After three years at UCLA's helm, Chancellor Carnesale is very much at home in Murphy Hall.

    Q: You arrived at UCLA from Harvard three years ago. In that time, you've set high goals and standards for faculty and staff, as well as for students. What are you proudest of having accomplished here?

    A: Well, I joke often about taking credit for everything that goes well because, Lord knows, I get blamed for everything that goes wrong. For example, UCLA faculty have won two Nobel Prizes on my watch — but  obviously it's not because I arrived at UCLA that we won them. The pride I feel is not for what I have personally achieved. We should all take great pride in the recognition earned by Paul Boyer (Chemistry, 1997) and Louis Ignarro  (Physiology and Medicine, 1998). In fact, we can all be proud of the outstanding people at UCLA. The academic credentials of the students keep getting better every year. The  number of faculty who've been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences keeps rising.

    Superb administrative appointments have been made while I've been here. Anyone who's had contact with the executive vice chancellor feels that Rory Hume is doing an outstanding job. I do deserve credit for having  figured that he would do so before others did! We've also appointed some excellent new deans. So when you ask what I am most proud of at the administrative level, it's the people.

   Secondly, I am very proud of this campus; its combination of beauty  and functionality is unmatched. Look at Royce Hall in all its glory. And Powell Library. Look at the soccer field with its wide-open spaces while belowground hundreds of parking spaces have been built. At our  southern gateway, on the south campus, you see a hole in the ground that will eventually be the site of a hospital designed by I.M. Pei. At our northern gateway, an arts complex designed by Richard Meier will be  built. All of us can take pride in this place and its people.

   Q: With all the beauty of this campus, what is your favorite spot?

    A: I enjoy the Inverted Fountain; that combination of seeing the water flowing over the rocks and listening to what sounds like a babbling brook makes it a wonderful place. The fountain, Royce Hall and the top of Janss  Steps with the view across the athletic fields to the residence halls — those are the places I like to take visitors to.

   Q: You talked about what you are proudest of. On the flip side, what has  been your greatest disappointment?

   A: Although the numbers have been getting a little better each year, my biggest disappointment came with the  initial impact of Proposition 209 and the drop in admissions of underrepresented students. I really believe that students get a better education in a diverse environment, and that not having as diverse a student body  adversely affects the quality of education. And I believe it's important for us to be educating people from all segments of our society. If we want to prepare leaders for all segments of our society, we need students from all  segments of our society.

   Q: With all the complexities of the world today, what should be the role of an institution like UCLA?

   A: Many students are understandably interested in vocational training and preparation for that first job. But research universities like UCLA are not  educating your average or below-average student; we are educating the next generation of leaders. These students need a broader experience than simply being trained for a first job. The most important thing we can pass on to  students is the capacity "to learn how to learn" because that's what they'll be doing for the rest of their lives.

   One of UCLA's great advantages is the breadth of backgrounds,  perspectives, disciplines and professions that are represented here. Students learn not only from the faculty, but from each other as well. If, for example,  your roommate is an artist and you're a mechanical engineer, you'll come out of this university with a much better appreciation for art simply because you've been exposed to friends who are artists.

    Q: A key initiative of yours is to strengthen UCLA's long-standing ties with the community. What new relationships need to be created?

    A: UCLA is in a unique position of being an excellent public university located in a global city. That presents  opportunities for both the city and the university, and I want to make sure we take full advantage of them. There's already a great deal of interaction between Los Angeles and UCLA, so the first step is to develop an  inventory of these activities. Once they are identified, we then can decide how to become even more productive. What new synergies can we create? How should our outreach efforts be coordinated? What are the gaps? We  will do better simply by coordinating our efforts. Clearly, we need to have a greater presence in the region, and we're doing that, starting this year with five community education resource centers located throughout Los  Angeles. From these centers, we will provide wide-ranging support — educational, social, health-related — to children and families right in the communities where they live and go to school.

    Q: On the brink of the 21st century, universities are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of change and the knowledge revolution. How should universities, UCLA in particular, meet this challenge?

    A: We are in an era when students must continue learning long after they leave the university because knowledge is expanding at such a rapid rate. People are also changing careers several times in their lifetime, so  we have to prepare students for lifelong learning. Knowing factual information is not as important in the long run. But knowing how to learn the facts as well as how to weigh, measure and test them has become increasingly important.

   This knowledge revolution also means that faculty have to spend more time than before on research, and the  research enterprise has become more expensive. Also, research is now more global, so faculty need to stay in touch with colleagues around the world.

    Q: You are an avid reader with a broad range of interests. What's been on your nightstand recently?

    A: I recently read "California: The Great Exception" by Carey McWilliams. It's a terrific book, written about 50 years ago on the 100th anniversary of California's statehood. It covers everything from demographics and  disputes over water rights to projections about the future. Instead of a backward outpost, California is portrayed as a state that was very much ahead of its time and the rest of the West. So going back 50 years helps you gain  some perspectives on California's social movements as well as its problems.

   Even more recently I read "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene. It's a best-selling book about string theory.  Like Stephen Hawking, Greene writes beautifully about science. The next book on my list to read is "Angela's Ashes." The author, Frank McCourt, gave a wonderful speech as one of our commencement speakers, so I'm  glad I can finally get to it.

   Q: We're now two years away from the end of Campaign UCLA. To what do you attribute its phenomenal success so far?

    A: I think the most important factor is the uniqueness of UCLA. There is no other public university of the quality of UCLA that draws support from such a major metropolitan area. The people of Los Angeles and  Southern California, whether they are alumni or not, feel a connection to this university and want it to be excellent. They also want this university to be more involved in their communities.

    There have been wonderful gifts, both large and small, and each makes a significant contribution. But let's, just  for example, take two gifts from the university's extended family — from donors who were not alumni of the university. One was from Lew and Edie Wasserman; they made a $10-million gift for undergraduate scholarships.  People like the Wassermans realize it's important for this university to be excellent and to educate students without the means to come here on their own.

    And there was the extraordinarily generous gift of $20 million from Eli and Edythe Broad for the arts. Again, not  alumni of UCLA, but people who care deeply about the arts in the Los Angeles area and deeply about education. This appreciation by non-alumni of UCLA as the public university in their neighborhood is something we underestimated.

   Alumni have also been wonderfully generous. Henry Samueli, who earned his degrees at UCLA, joined with his wife, Susan, to give $30 million to support our engineering school. UCLA is  fortunate to have such a caring extended family.Copyright 2000 UC Regents
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