Chancellor Denton was a tireless champion of diversity and excellence

Throughout her brief tenure as chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, Denice D. Denton was a tireless champion of diversity and excellence, proud to be part of the University of California and eager to help it become an even stronger institution by reaching out to women and minorities.

"The University of California leads the United States and the world in public higher education," Denton told the UCSC audience that greeted her in December 2004, the day after her appointment as chancellor was announced.

Denton, 46, died yesterday in San Francisco; authorities have ruled her death an apparent suicide. In a message to the campus community, Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger hailed Denton as a highly accomplished person "who dedicated her life and career to opening doors for countless young people, particularly for women and minorities who wanted to pursue careers in engineering and science."

"She led this campus with clear statements of the importance of education in transforming lives and in creating opportunities for all," said Kliger. "She, herself, had lived that experience, rising from modest means to achieve with distinction at every stage in her life."

Denton was a vocal advocate of inclusion who hoped to make the university more representative of its multicultural home state.

A champion of "excellence through diversity," she believed the best possible results are achieved by engaging the talents of diverse groups of people. She forsook the trappings of a formal inauguration for a two-day symposium that focused on diversity and excellence. "UC Santa Cruz does things differently but for a purpose," she said at the time, referring to the young campus's reputation for innovation.

Last month, Denton won the 2006 Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award in recognition of her work advancing opportunities in science for women and girls, and in 2004, she was among nine scholars honored by the White House with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

In receiving the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award, Denton was singled out by one juror for using "the power of her leadership position to raise the visibility of issues related to supporting and advancing women and girls in science-related careers both on and off the campus." Another juror cited Denton's creative strategies to build mentoring networks. "Where they are few in number on a campus, women scientists have followed Denton's cues to find and support each other," she said.

Denton's willingness to speak out for causes she believed in was evident when she publicly refuted remarks about innate differences between women and men made by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers during an academic conference Denton attended. Calling the ensuing uproar a "teachable moment," Denton spoke of the necessity to "speak truth to power."

Denton's commitment to increasing the presence of women and minorities in science and engineering was unparalleled. She often described her own experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field to underscore the need for greater outreach. She was an inspiration to many women in academia, from undergraduates to professors, who recognized her accounts of isolation and occasional hostility.

As news of Denton's death spread, colleagues expressed sympathy and admiration. UC President Robert Dynes, who called Denton "a trailblazer in pursuit of equity and multiculturalism" during her investiture ceremony, recalled her as "an accomplished and passionate scholar whose life and work demonstrated a deep commitment to public service and to improving opportunity for the disadvantaged and underrepresented." During her short tenure at UCSC, Denton "emerged as an important voice in national higher education issues," he said.

Denton was "deeply committed to higher education and absolutely passionate about the importance of having an inclusive university community," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. "I was always particularly impressed by her commitment to excellence and by how creative she was in her ideas on how to educate well."