CHANG-LIN TIEN looks north from his seventh-floor office at
University Hall here: "When I first came to Berkeley in 1959, I
couldn't rent an apartment anywhere because no one allowed
Orientals," he says.
Today, on the oak-paneled wall hangs a plaque from the California
State Assembly: "Congratulations! First Asian-Pacific American
Chancellor of UC Berkeley." Indeed, in a story that hit the front
pages of newspapers across Asia in July, the Chinese-born mechanical
engineer became the first Asian-American to head a major research
university in the United States.
The saga of the three-decade journey that got him here is that of
a near-destitute refugee rising above discrimination in an alien
land - from the pre-civil rights South to northern California's
counter culture. After a long, prize-winning teaching and research
career, Mr. Tien now heads an institution of world prominence that
will need to draw heavily on his bumpy but triumphant sojourn.
"I got off the bus in Louisville in 1956 and everything from
lunch counters to washrooms were for either blacks or whites only,"
he recalls. "I was so uncomfortable because I was neither. I was
yellow." One professor called him alternately "Ching," "Chang,"
"Chong," and "Chinaman" to belittle him.
"The feeling has never left me; it is such a wrong that any human
being should be so humiliated," he says.
"The ethnic and racial diversification of faculty and students is
the most consequential challenge (Tien) will face over the next 10
years," says David P. Gardner, president of the nine-campus
University of California system. "His dramatic success despite a
minority background makes him uniquely qualified. But it will be
Dramatic demographic changes, recent outbreaks of racial tension
nationwide, and increasing cultural diversity in curriculum are top
challenges for Berkeley, as well as other American campuses. Such a
backdrop underlines Tien as a valuable case study.
"I am for excellence through diversity," he says, sitting in an
overstuffed easy chair. This theme will dominate an hour's
discussion on how to attract an ethnic balance of top students and
faculty that reflects the state population - a state in which whites
will be a minority by the year 2000. More than an issue of
affirmative action or equal rights, a multicultural campus is vital
for students to understand the dynamics of a global community, he
When he came to Berkeley 30 years ago, minorities represented a
mere 10 percent of the campus population. "I always tell people I am
first (the) Chancellor for everyone ... and I just happen to be
"It is of course great for the Asian-American community to have
one of their kind recognized at such a high level," says Daphne
Kwok, executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a
national advocacy group. "But by virtue of his long association with
other minorities he is well situated to reach out to their
constituencies as well."
Though affirmative action policies contributed to the drop in
white, undergraduate enrollment from 67 percent in 1983 to 45
percent here last year, the graduate school is 73 percent white and
the faculty is 89 percent white. Nearly half the faculty are
expected to retire in the next decade.
"How (Tien) maintains the Berkeley standard while balancing the
picture in gender, ethnicity, and race makes him a national figure
that others will watch," adds Mr. Gardner.
Tien earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering
from National Taiwan University, and a master's from the University
of Louisville. At Princeton, he earned a second master's and PhD by
age 24. Two years later he became - and remains - the youngest
teacher in Berkeley history to receive a distinguished teacher
award, the first of several.
In the 1980s, Tien also served as Berkeley's Vice
Chancellor-Research and Executive Vice Chancellor at UC Irvine. …