Microbiologist and UCSC administrator Eugene Cota-Robles dies at age 86

Cota-Robles served as academic vice chancellor and director of affirmative action at UCSC and as special assistant for academic affairs at the UC Office of the President

Eugene Cota-Robles
Eugene Cota-Robles

Eugene Cota-Robles, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who served in top administrative posts for UC and UCSC, died September 12 in Naperville, Illinois. He was 86.

Cota-Robles was nationally prominent as a microbiologist, as a leader in higher education, and for his efforts on behalf of minority students and faculty. He came to UC Santa Cruz in 1973 as vice chancellor of academic administration, director of affirmative action, and professor of biology. He had been chair of the Department of Microbiology at Pennsylvania State University, and had previously taught at UC Riverside and served in its administration.

As academic vice chancellor at UCSC from 1973 to 1979, Cota-Robles served under four chancellors. During his administrative tenure, high priority was given to implementation of affirmative action at UCSC, especially in academic areas, and the campus actively fostered programs for ethnic studies and for junior faculty development. Cota-Robles was also instrumental in merging academic planning with program budgeting and directed the completion of UCSC's 1977-78 Academic Plan. In 1982, he became provost of Crown College, and he served as chair of the campus's Council of Provosts.

"Gene's legacy in affirmative action at UCSC is legendary," said UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal. "He wanted to create opportunities and open doors for students and faculty, and he had enormous influence here, throughout the UC system, and nationally."

In 1986, Cota-Robles was appointed special assistant for academic affairs at the UC Office of the President. He oversaw and coordinated UC's affirmative action policies and programs for faculty development and for graduate and professional students. He also coordinated the university's faculty-based efforts to improve K-12 education, particularly in matters of teacher education. In recognition of his contributions toward advancing minority achievement at the University of California, the UC Regents named the Eugene H. Cota-Robles Fellowships for graduate students in his honor.

Cota-Robles served as a member of the National Science Board (appointed by President Carter for the 1978-84 term) and on the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He was active in a wide range of programs to improve educational opportunities for minorities and underserved populations. He was a founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and its second president; founding member and past president of the National Chicano Council on Higher Education; and a board member of the California Achievement Council and of MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), a UC program aimed at encouraging minority students to pursue careers in science and engineering. After his retirement from UCSC, he served as a special assistant to the director of the National Science Foundation.

Born in Nogales, Arizona, in 1926, Cota-Robles spent his childhood in Tucson. His parents had been elementary school teachers in Pueblo Nuevo, Sonora, before leaving Mexico for Arizona. Cota-Robles earned a B.S. in bacteriology from the University of Arizona and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in microbiology from UC Davis. His research in microbiology focused mostly on nitrogen-fixing bacteria, microbial cell structure, and the replication of viruses within bacterial cells.

Cota-Robles is survived by his wife of 55 years, Gun Cota-Robles of Naperville, Ill.; daughter Feliciana Farran of Naperville; son Erik Cota-Robles of Mountain View, Calif.; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Peter Cota-Robles and all 10 of his siblings. Plans for a memorial service are pending.