Dr. Tien’s Passing Gathers Us Together
On October 31st, I, like many of you, woke up to read the very sad news of Chang-Lin Tien’s passing (July 24, 1935–October 29, 2002). I was in my kitchen with my husband when we read the article in the LA Times about the truly amazing Dr. Tien… the man who achieved splendid things for UC Berkeley as its chancellor for seven years, but also a man who I am extremely proud to have known as UCI’s Executive Vice Chancellor from 1988 to 1990. During those short years, Chang-Lin Tien illuminated his unique leadership style for the UCI community so brightly and so effectively that we gather today to be near that light once again, through respectful remembrance and honoring that Dr. Tien and his family so deserve.
Lesson #1: Respect
I was an undergraduate student when Dr. Tien was named our new Executive Vice Chancellor. And as Jack Peltason will most likely attest, I was one of several students on campus who made it our business to regularly put administrators on the hot seat by protesting, fasting, signature collecting and whatever else it took to make our perspectives heard. What I remember about Chang-Lin Tien is that no matter how hot the seat got, or how argumentative we students were, he listened to us. He empathized with us. And even when opinions stood at the farthest ends of the margin, he taught me that having opinions heard and empathized with, was an integral part of the process to resolutions. In short, the first great lesson I learned from Dr. Tien was the complex art of respecting differences.
Support and Encouragement
In 1990, I had the honor of being selected as the first UCI student to serve as the UC Student Regent. Prior to my applying for the position, I remember speaking with Dr. Tien who was so kind and supportive in encouraging me… a student who had so frequently put him in the hot seat but nevertheless telling me that he believed in me and that I should “go for it.”
First Asian American Chancellor
Coincidentally, during the meeting when I was introduced to the UC Board as the newly selected student regent, Dr. Tien was introduced as the newly selected chancellor for UC Berkeley, the first Asian American to head a major research university in the United States. I will never forget that day… and I will never forget the feeling of immense pride that I am certain all Asian Americans felt through Dr. Tien’s historical appointment.
Meaning and Relevance
During my year and a half tenure on the UC board, Dr. Tien went out of his way to help me, an awkward student in a sea of regents and chancellors to make me feel that what I had to say from a student’s perspective had meaning, and that my vote on matters was extremely relevant to the process.
BUT THAT HE DID… Lesson #2: Courage
As I read the story of Dr. Tien’s passing, I found myself hoping that he knew how much I admired him. I do think that I expressed myself to him during his time at UCI and also our time together during regents’ meetings. I do regret, however, that I never directly conveyed to him my admiration for his continued championing of campus diversity efforts, long after my tenure on the board. Dr. Tien was a man who was instrumental in bringing in almost a billion private dollars to UC Berkeley. He was an internationally recognized expert in the thermal sciences. And believe it or not, he was an extremely talented basketball player. A man who was this capable in so many areas really didn’t have to champion outreach efforts to underrepresented minority students … BUT THAT HE DID, even when it was becoming extremely unpopular to do so … reveals what was contained in his heart … an authentic ability to empathize with the disadvantaged, and an unusual courage to stand up for his principles. And that is the second great lesson that I learned from Dr. Tien … the importance of courageously standing up for one’s values.
I hope Mrs. Tien, and Norman, and the rest of the Tien family, that as you grieve your loss, you will find some comfort in the fact that Dr. Tien’s life of immense talent, courage, and style affected our UCI community deeply, and I will consider Chang-Lin Tien to have been one of our true American heroes … because I now can see the ingredients that make up a hero. Ingredient number one is the ability to respect differences, and ingredient number two is the courage to stand up for one’s values.
How blessed we all are to be able to carry the bright illumination of Chang-Lin Tien forever in our memories … a man who stood only 5’6” tall, but whose heroic integrity towers over us to remind and inspire us to live with respect for differences and with courage for our principles, no matter how hot the seat gets.
I’d like to say a final thank you to Anna Gonzalez, Sally Peterson, Randy Lewis, Chancellor Cicerone, President Peltason, and Vice Chancellor Gomez for so generously coordinating this event and giving all of us this special opportunity to gather in remembrance of Chang-Lin Tien. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
[On November 18, 2002, UC Irvine held a memorial service for the late Chang-Lin Tien — UCI's former Executive Vice Chancellor who moved on to becoming UC Berkeley's Chancellor. It was my pleasure to deliver this speech at the service.]