Blumenthal lauded for 'visionary leadership,' deep knowledge of campus at inaugural ceremony

Chancellor Blumenthal takes the podium at Friday's inauguration while Richard Blum, chair of the University of California Board of Regents, left, and UC President Robert Dynes look on.
Attendees in regalia enjoy the proceedings.
Mexican folk music artists Mariachi de Eleazar Cortes led the way out of the pavilion after the ceremony.
Chancellor Blumenthal with Dynes. (Photos by Terry Way)

A heady feeling of optimism seemed to run as high as the ceiling of the enormous pavilion erected on UCSC's East Field for the inauguration Friday of George Blumenthal as UCSC's 10th chancellor.

Blumenthal's formal installment as chancellor should have happened two years ago, quipped UC President Robert Dynes, who performed the official investiture near the close of the ceremony. Blumenthal served as acting chancellor for 14 months prior to his permanent appointment by UC Regents last fall.

"From his first hour as a campus temp, George showed visionary leadership," Dynes said.

The ceremony, which drew a crowd of 1,000, was presided over by Richard C. Blum, chair of the University of California Board of Regents, and featured a traditional academic procession, Chancellor Blumenthal's inaugural address, and musical performances.

There were also remarks by UCSC alumni:

  • Kent Nagano, music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Bavarian State Opera;

  • Reyna Grande, author of Across a Hundred Mountains and the 2007 American Book Award winner;

  • and Gary Novack, founder of the consulting company Pharmalogic Development.

Each described how their UCSC education placed them on paths to make important contributions to society.

Guests arrived via special event buses and walked across the green field to the large white pavilion, which gleamed under blue skies and warm sunshine.

"Whenever we have a new chancellor for the university, it's a major event," said attendee and Shakespeare Santa Cruz board member Darrell Darling of Santa Cruz while walking in with wife Karen. "We're especially enthused about George Blumenthal because he's local, he's a terrific people person, and he has academic excellence."

Blumenthal, a distinguished professor of astronomy and astrophysics, came to UCSC as a faculty member in 1972. A former chair of the UC systemwide and UCSC Academic Senate, he was appointed chancellor after a five-month, nationwide search that attracted more than 550 candidates.

Speaker after speaker at Friday's event detailed Blumenthal's dedication to UCSC, remarking on his deep knowledge of campus values, his commitment to diversity, his personal accessibility, and his devotion to soothing town-gown strains.

"Everyone likes to work with George, even the Santa Cruz City Council," joked Blum.

In fact, the City Council liked Blumenthal so much, it wanted to publicly express its support for him, said Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, who is also a UCSC lecturer in legal studies. But considering a history of friction on certain issues between the city and the campus, the council thought perhaps its backing could hurt Blumenthal's prospects, Coonerty said. It decided to take a strategic, quiet role in advocating for Blumenthal's permanent appointment as chancellor.

"This was no small task, as the Santa Cruz City Council has never been strategic nor quiet," he said to audience laughter.

Coonerty then proclaimed June 6, 2008, as "George Blumenthal Day" in the City of Santa Cruz.

Blumenthal's history and involvement on campus are what make the community enthusiastic about his taking the reins, said Assemblyman and UCSC alum John Laird.

"That is what is exciting," said Laird. "That it is George, someone who's been a neighbor and a scholar and a teacher."

Blumenthal is "as far from an administrative hired gun as one can get," added Quentin Williams, chair of the UCSC Academic Senate. "He knows us because he is us."

Blumenthal is the first UCSC chancellor to rise up through the faculty ranks, noted Blum.

Speakers detailed examples of how the chancellor listened to them when they came to talk to him, even if he wasn't well versed on the topic.

A loud protest held by a few hundred members of public employee and health care workers union AFSCME, which has been negotiating with UC officials for better contracts for 20,000 systemwide workers, briefly passed by the inaugural ceremony but did not interrupt the proceedings. Protestors also chanted and toted signs for a short time outside rope lines at the outdoor reception following the inauguration.

Blumenthal's inaugural address highlighted UCSC's distinctiveness as a major teaching and research university and outlined his vision for the campus.

"We developed a restless need to anticipate and innovate . We created new academic formulas. We pioneered interdisciplinary studies, long before it became a catchword. We embraced rigorous independent study, student-designed course work and majors. We personalized education with narrative evaluations," Blumenthal said. "We attracted a student body that grew to include young men and women ever more diverse ethnically, economically, and culturally."

Among his goals:

  • To be a top-ranked research university, and the best public university for the quality of the education it provides students.

  • To give UCSC undergraduates the knowledge and intellectual tools to prepare them for the world they will live and work in.

  • To re-assert the prominence of the colleges in the campus's academic life.

  • To give more undergraduates the opportunity to be actively involved in research and advanced critical study.

  • To grow UCSC's graduate student population, which is already happening. New graduate enrollments this fall will be up 17 percent.

  • To expand professional schools.

"And there may be others. There may be opportunities we can't yet see over that horizon," Blumenthal said. "So we will continue looking, as our mandate asks."

The inauguration was scheduled for June 6 to complement and call attention to the University's annual Student Achievement Awards, which took place later that day in the same venue. Several commencements the following weekend will also take place there.

Missed the inaugural ceremony? View the webcast.

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