Charles E. “Chuck” Young, who was chancellor of UCLA for a record 29 years and whose legacy is still deeply felt across the Westwood campus, died of natural causes on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at his home in Sonoma, California. He was 91.
Named chancellor in 1968 at age 36, he remains the youngest chancellor ever appointed in the University of California system and the only UCLA alumnus to hold the campus’s top position.
The seventh of UCLA’s nine chief executives, Young presided over UCLA in the turbulent 1970s and the belt-tightening 1990s, yet he managed to leave the campus far stronger and more prestigious than ever, overseeing its transition from a regional institution to a world-class research university. In tribute to him, UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library bears his name, as do the campus’s main internal roadway and the Grand Salon in Kerckhoff Hall.
“During his long tenure, Chuck Young guided UCLA toward what it is today: one of the nation’s most comprehensive and respected research universities and one that is profoundly dedicated to inclusiveness and diversity,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “He faced head-on the many challenges of his time, and his principled leadership positioned UCLA to meet the many challenges of the future.”
Young began his administrative trajectory at UCLA in 1960, when Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy hired him as his assistant. After eight years, following stints as assistant chancellor and vice chancellor for administration, Young succeeded Murphy, on Sept. 1, 1968. As chancellor, he guided UCLA through dramatic advances — in academic standing, campus construction, arts and athletic programs, the medical enterprise, library holdings and the hiring of top-level faculty. He is credited with greatly expanding the UCLA Foundation and other campus fundraising efforts.
Young also worked to make the campus an integral part of and partner with Los Angeles — today UCLA is the fourth-largest employer in the county — and placed greater emphasis on public service. In 1986, UCLA established the Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award to recognize and encourage students who are committed to public service.
Among his other wide-ranging achievements were his championing K–12 educational reform in Los Angeles; serving on the NCAA Presidents Commission, where he led efforts to reform intercollegiate athletics; and ardently supporting international studies at UCLA and other universities.
A dedication to diversity
From the beginning, Young’s administration was marked by his deep commitment to diversify the campus community. By 1991, those efforts had helped make UCLA’s undergraduate student body the most ethnically diverse of any major research university in the nation. And he was instrumental in creating what is today known as the Academic Advancement Program, the nation’s largest university-based student diversity program, which reaches out to high school and community college students to help them prepare for college and works to ensure the academic success and graduation of UCLA students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education.
Young also oversaw the birth of four major ethnic studies centers at UCLA: the Afro-American Studies Center (now the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies), the Chicano Studies Research Center, the American Indian Studies Center and the Asian American Studies Center.
“I made a particular case for diversity and education because universities are the gateway to the world,” Young told the American Association of University Professors in 1996. “Society is better off when historically excluded groups can attend our institution.”
When Young assumed the job of chancellor, the campus had 19,000 undergraduates, one endowed faculty chair and an annual operating budget of about $170 million; by the end of his tenure, the undergraduate student body had grown by 5,000, there were 120 endowed chairs and the budget had risen to almost $2 billion. The growth Young set in motion has continued to this day: UCLA has 32,000 undergraduates and roughly 600 endowed chairs, with a budget approaching $11 billion.
Forging a close connection with students and faculty
Young was formally inaugurated some nine months after assuming office, on May 23, 1969. It was barely a week after violence had erupted at UC Berkeley when Gov. Ronald Reagan ordered police to occupy People’s Park, a UC-owned plot near campus that students had designated as a free-speech area. The events there ignited protests on other campuses, including UCLA, where a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents was taking place.
The inauguration had been scheduled to include a 50th anniversary celebration of UCLA, the dedication of Ralph Bunche Hall, a series of lectures and a dinner gala. But responding to student unrest, Young greatly scaled down the festivities to make his inauguration “an act of solemn dedication to the deep issues which confront us.” His actions during the crisis not only calmed the protests but were a mark of his deftness in the face of complicated and difficult circumstances, both on campus and off.
One of the most memorable of these issues was a crisis over academic freedom. In 1969, UCLA’s philosophy department hired Angela Davis, a young Black scholar, as an acting assistant professor; it was later discovered that she was a member of the Communist Party. During the yearlong saga over Davis, Young confronted Gov. Reagan and the UC Board of Regents over their efforts to fire her. Young, backed by UCLA’s Academic Senate but still at risk of losing his job, asserted that the board’s actions infringed on academic freedom and free access to ideas.
Eventually, the regents fired Davis, though she later taught feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz for many years. Young’s strong defense of academic freedom endeared him to the faculty.
At the time, Young told the Los Angeles Times: “The place where you find out where your system works is in the tough cases, not the easy ones everyone agrees with.” Years later, in the 2011 book “UCLA: The First Century,” Young still described the Davis episode as a “seminal moment” that defined his administration by allowing him to stake out his position on academic freedom and free speech. “It led to very strong, thoughtful interaction between the faculty at UCLA and me, which laid the groundwork for the next 28 years.”
In the 1990s, Young faced yet another crisis, this one centering on UCLA’s Chicana/Chicano studies program, which had suffered enrollment difficulties and, in the face of serious budget cutbacks on campus, was under threat. The ensuing protests culminated in a 14-day hunger strike in 1993 and the creation of a tent city outside Murphy Hall, where Young had his office. Lengthy negotiations during this time ultimately resulted in the creation of what would become the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies.
During his tenure, Young would continue to take strong, principled positions, “and he supported the rest of us who did the same thing,” Elwin Svenson, who was vice chancellor of institutional relations at UCLA during Young’s chancellorship, said during a 2012 interview. This provided what Svenson, who died in 2017, called the “institutional entrepreneurship” that nourished not only UCLA’s ethnic studies centers but the UCLA Foundation, the medical enterprise, UCLA athletics and many other programs across campus.
Late in his administration, Young also took a firm stance against the UC Board of Regents’ plan to eliminate affirmative action in systemwide admissions and hiring. While the regents ultimately enacted the ban in 1995, a year before the passage of Proposition 209 heralded the end of affirmative action throughout the state, Young’s outspoken opposition drove home his theme that greater diversity and inclusiveness benefited every student, faculty member and staffer at the university.
“Of all the things Chancellor Young has done, his interest in seeing the university mirror the community in its diversity is what pleases me the most,” Rafer Johnson, the UCLA alumnus and Olympic medalist, said upon Young’s retirement. “I appreciate the job he’s done and the stand he has taken. He made it clear that students of color who traditionally may have been cut out of the system were not going to be cut out of UCLA.”
Young and intercollegiate sports: A fan and reformer
With athletics, Young was at the forefront of several important initiatives, including UCLA’s push to relocate its football program’s home field from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. And on behalf of the then–Pac-8 Conference and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, he led the negotiating committee for the television rights to the annual Rose Bowl football game. During his tenure, UCLA was also among the first to establish a campus department of women’s intercollegiate sports, in 1974. Caspar Weinberger, who at that time headed the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare — the agency then responsible for Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in university athletics — later cited UCLA’s efforts as a model for the country.
“Young was a believer in intercollegiate athletics as one of the windows that people could view the university through,” Pete Dalis, UCLA’s athletic director from 1983 to 2002, said in a 2012 interview. Dalis died in 2014.
Young was a frequent and visible presence at UCLA athletic events and took pride in the fact that, during his tenure, UCLA teams won 61 NCAA women’s and men’s championships in 14 different sports, along with four Rose Bowls and nine Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women titles. In 1997, he was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.
Young also was a member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, for which UCLA provided training facilities, competition venues, housing, and medical and drug-testing services.
Supporting the university, supporting the community
In numerous other ways, Young was fully engaged in the Los Angeles region. He was aware of the powerful intellectual and economic impact the campus provided, and he encouraged students, faculty and staff to participate widely in the community.
“He believed in getting people off the campus and out of the classroom and into the real world,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Yaroslavsky, who first met Young while an undergraduate at UCLA in the late 1960s, would go on to serve as a Los Angeles City Council member (1975–94) and a Los Angeles County supervisor (1994–2014), representing districts that included UCLA and Westwood.
Yaroslavsky noted that Young also had the foresight to see that in order for UCLA to be a truly outstanding research university at a time when state support for higher education was dwindling, it needed to tap private resources.
“Chuck saw what was coming,” Yaroslavsky said. “And if UCLA was going to compete with the private universities and maintain its standard as the public university that it was, it wasn’t going to be able to rely on state coffers for much longer.”
As a result, during Young’s administration and in the ensuing years, UCLA raised billions of dollars privately by engaging alumni and donors who were stakeholders in Los Angeles and the state. Much of Young’s success in this regard — including the two capital campaigns he launched, in the 1980s and 1990s — was down to his forthright and charismatic style, Yaroslavsky said.
“Wherever Chuck went, there was a tornado,” he said. “He was an action-oriented guy. He demanded results and he demanded excellence in the results, and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Well known for his decisiveness, Young believed that he needed to resolve matters quickly so that problems didn’t linger and he could move on to the next issue.
At the same time, his style on campus was open. “I’m on a first-name basis with large numbers of students and faculty, and I have informal, shirt-sleeve relationships with lots of people,” Young told the Los Angeles Times in 1973. He would frequently lunch at the UCLA Faculty Club, where faculty and staff would approach him to discuss issues or simply extend their greetings.
‘I wanted to do something with my life’
Charles Edward Young was born Dec. 30, 1931, in San Bernardino, California. At 16, he joined the Air National Guard, having lied about his age, and several years later, while a student at San Bernardino Valley College, he was called to active duty when the Korean War broke out. Young served in Japan as a crew member on a transport aircraft and then as a non-commissioned officer in charge of personnel services.
“I came home then convinced that I wanted to go back to school, that I wanted a degree and that I wanted to do something with my life,” Young said in a 1984 interview with UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research.
After completing his studies at San Bernardino Valley College, he enrolled at newly opened UC Riverside, becoming that campus’s first student body president and receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1955. He went on to earn a master’s in 1957 and a doctorate in 1960, both in political science at UCLA. Between those degrees, he served as a Congressional Fellow in Washington, D.C., and worked on UC President Clark Kerr’s staff, helping with the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. When he joined the UCLA administration, he was also appointed a professor of political science, a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
Young held national leadership roles with a number of organizations, among them the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education and the National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges. In 1998, he was given the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, which he had established in 1979.
Two years after retiring as UCLA chancellor, Young joined the University of Florida, serving as president from 1999 to 2003. From 2004 to 2006, he was president of the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit based in the Persian Gulf nation that focused on education, science and community development. And he was the CEO of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art from 2008 to 2010. After moving to Sonoma in 2012, he served as superintendent of the Sonoma Valley School District during the 2016–17 school year.
Over the years, Young still made annual visits from Sonoma to UCLA. In December 2021, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, he spoke to UCLA Newsroom about his chancellorship and offered advice for new students: “Work hard. Get involved in as many things as you can do successfully without diverting yourself from your major goal. And have fun.”
Young’s wife of 51 years, Sue K. Young, died of cancer in 2001. The rose garden at the southeast corner of UCLA’s Haines Hall bears her name in recognition of her 29 years as the campus’s first lady. His daughter Elizabeth died in 2006.
Young is survived by his second wife, Judy (whom he married in 2002), his son Charles Young Jr., his stepdaughter Lisa Rendic, his stepson Christopher Hillman, seven grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
At the request of the family, gifts in Young’s memory should be made to the Charles E. Young Research Library, c/o the UCLA Foundation.
Funeral services will be held by the family. In the coming months, UCLA will be organizing an event to celebrate Young’s life and legacy.
Many years after he moved on from UCLA’s top spot, Young said that being chancellor had presented many challenges and that he had no regrets. “People who haven’t done it don’t understand it,” he told UCLA Magazine. “But there is no more important work in the world.”