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A conversation with UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles profiling prominent La Jollans discussing who and what they are, how they got there, and how they impact the rest of us.

Marye Anne Fox, a world-renowned chemist, is approaching her third anniversary as the seventh chancellor of UCSD in La Jolla, one of 10 campuses in the University of California system.

Fox never imagined she would be where she is today. “I was going to be a high school teacher,” she said, “and my husband was taking residence at a university in a rather rural area. There were no jobs, because so many wives of faculty were in teaching jobs. I fell in love with research. I was a faculty member for over 20 years. I loved that.”

Dr. Fox is one of the nation’s most creative physical organic chemists, having published over 350 refereed papers, six books and nearly 30 book chapters, mostly in organic photochemistry and electrochemistry. Her work has clear application in materials science, solar energy conversion and environmental chemistry.

Coming of age during the time of Sputnik, Fox noted the space race not only accelerated technology, but people’s thinking about gender roles, opening the door for women and minorities to seek careers in science. “My mother, a career educator, encouraged me to follow my career dreams,” she said.

Born in Canton, Ohio in 1947, Fox received her B.S. from Notre Dame College and her Ph.D. from Dartmouth College, both in chemistry. After a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Maryland, she joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin in 1976. She has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association of Advancement of Science.

Chancelor Fox is married to James Whitsell, UCSD professor of chemistry, and has three sons and two stepsons. Her hobbies include golf, swimming, reading and film.

La Jolla Light

: Reflecting back on your term as chancellor thus far, what do you feel have been the university’s greatest accomplishments? Its greatest challenges?

UCSD Chancelor Marye Anne Fox

: We have major goals: to be innovative, increasingly international and interdisciplinarian, finding solutions to problems irrespective of one’s discipline. It’s a completely different way of doing research, bringing the private sector together with the public. Internationally, we’re sending students abroad for a full year to experience new ways of interacting, developing new collaborations for our students to find new ways of doing research. With our stem cell consortium, we’re partnering with an Australian university doing conferencing about cutting-edge technologies.

The most challenging thing has been developing new leadership. UCSD is at a stage in its life where the founders are retiring, and we need to find ways for succession to take place. Our student body is changing. We’re going to grow to about 30,000 students in 2010. We need to provide support for those students, extend service hours, staffing, longer library and food service hours, etc.

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Light

: What is the status of the university’s long-term master plan?

Fox

: The long-term master plan is continuing with our enrollment projections. At the same time, we’re also developing facilities that match expectations for growth. We have major projects under construction, the Rady School of Management, the Price Center for our students. We’ve broken ground on a music building and grad housing on campus. We have a parking structure under construction. The Supercomputer Center is expanding.

Light

: How will the university’s expansion plans effect the surrounding residential community of La Jolla?

Fox

: As UCSD grows, there are many things we can do so the potential impacts are positive. We’ve been working with alternative transportation programs that reduce the number of cars on the street. With more housing on campus, there will be less need for transportation on- and off-campus. We have a city shuttle bus service that goes to the north city area, as well as car pools and van pools and public transportation. We’re trying to work cooperatively with our neighbors, do what we can to address off-campus parking issues. On-campus housing is going forward. We’ll have 800 beds of grad student housing coming in the next few months. In fall 2009, we’ll have more than 1,000 beds added to North Campus for transfer students. When that’s finished we’ll have 37 percent of our students housed on campus. Our goal is to house 50 percent.
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Light

: What challenges confront the university during the next couple of years?

Fox

: One of the major ones is retaining top-notch faculty. It’s very challenging to recruit new faculty. There’s such a high demand all over the country. We’re competing with private institutions with salary structures far different than our own, as well as public institutions in the country. We’ve been ranking in the top 10 nationwide for engineering and computer science. We want to attract the best students to work with the best faculty. There are challenges with (student) diversity, to improve their experience and create opportunities for cultural enrichment, as well as intercollegiate athletics. We’re working hard on creating sustainable, environmental stewardship. Scripps Institution of Oceanography was the first to warn about global warming.

Light

: How is the collaboration on stem cell research going between UCSD, Salk Institute, Burnham and the other players going?

Fox

: It’s going really well. We’re meeting regularly with Salk and Burnham and the others. We’re starting to be free from restrictions imposed by lawsuits, which bodes well for grants, developing new collaborations. In the first round, the allocation for our four institutions was 30 percent of the total grant award. It’s very exciting, the potential that stem cell research offers. That really is the model, cooperation, for many other institutions to follow.

Light

: How do you see the role of the UCSD chancellorship evolving over time?

Fox

: The academic leadership, chancellor or president, has been evolving over the last 20 years. More and more it’s involved working with the private sector. That means interacting with the community and business organizations. We expect to see new partnerships. We need support from the private sector.

Light

: You’re a scientist, a chemist. Ever miss the lab work and the day-to-day stuff you used to do?

Fox

: I miss the lab every day. I miss not having to interact with students. I do have an hour once a month where I have students into my office and I talk with them. My job as chancellor is an honor and a privilege. I’m delighted to be able to balance the three worlds of teaching, research and service, though it’s almost an impossible balance. I work many more hours than 40, or twice 40, per week.
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: What contact do you have with Robert Dynes, former UCSD chancellor who now heads the UC system?

Fox

: Bob is my boss. I see him frequently. He’s a trusted friend and an honored, wise adviser. All of the chancellors in the UC system get together once a month for an all-day meeting.

Light

: Are the demographics/needs of the UCSD student population changing? What impact is that having on the university?

Fox

: Thirty-nine percent of our undergraduate enrollment for fall 2006 was Asian, 31 percent were caucasian, 9 percent were Latino/Latina, 5 percent were Filipino and about 1 percent were African-American. We also want to get the very best students from our underrepresented groups among our student body. We have a record number of students and had a record number of applications. More than 45,000 students applied for 4,000 seats last year.

Light

: We hear a lot about Town vs. Gown, can the two co-exist peacefully?

Fox

: We’ve worked very hard to achieve that coexistence. Our campus wants to be good neighbors with the community. We have a 50-year history of cooperative planning. I make it a high priority of my administration, that the staff will work effectively with local government, including groups in La Jolla as well as San Diego. Only 12 percent of our money comes from the state budget. The remainder comes from fees, from revenues or from federal grants. If it were not for the contributions from the private sector, the university would not be anywhere near as highly ranked as it is.

Light

: Is UCSD moving toward offering scholarships to student athletes?

Fox

: Yes. Students actually voted a couple weeks ago to increase their fees by about $250 a year to support intercollegiate athletics, offering student athletes a $500 scholarship.
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: Does dealing with UC’s Regents effect you at all in the day-to-day performance of your duties?

Fox

: Of course. The Regents are the caretakers for the university, setting policy and providing guidance. It’s a daily activity for us to interact with Regents. Our local Regents, John Moores, Peter Preuss and Steve Shriner, who represents the Alumni Association, they’ve been a tremendous asset.

Light

: Do you see yourself as a role model to other women interested in pursuing careers in science or academia?

Fox

: Certainly, being a chancellor of a major university makes me quite visible. It’s very important to show models for success for young girls. We surely do need to have strong representation among scientists and engineers. We have Sally Ride, the first female astronaut, conduct camps that really turn these girls on to the possibility of doing things that are non-traditional.