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VANDERHOEF TO STEP DOWN: To serve as chancellor until June 2009, nationwide search to find replacement

By Clifton B. Parker on June 6, 2008 in University News

UC Davis Celebrates Start of Music Recital Hall

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, who led UC Davis' climb up the ranks of the nation's finest universities while he helped open the campus's doors to the disadvantaged and advocated academic diplomacy to help resolve global conflict, announced Monday that he will step down in June 2009, at the end of the campus's centennial year.

Vanderhoef, appointed in 1994 as UC Davis' fifth chancellor, is one of the nation's longest-serving university leaders and is widely credited for nurturing future university presidents and provosts. He came to the campus in 1984, first serving as executive vice chancellor and then provost/executive vice chancellor. After what will be a full quarter century of service to UC Davis, he will take a yearlong sabbatical, and then return to the faculty as a professor of plant biology. He will also continue to support the campus as chancellor emeritus.

"I can't imagine greater good fortune than to have spent the past 24 years at UC Davis," Vanderhoef wrote in a June 2 letter to the campus community. "Along the way, there have been challenges to be sure, but together we have helped this remarkable university to reach higher, to be bolder and to achieve great distinction. For those years and those opportunities, I will always be grateful." (For the full text of the letter, go to

A nationwide search for a new Davis chancellor will be initiated, and a committee with regent, faculty, staff, student, alumni and foundation board representatives will be named to advise Mark Yudof, the incoming UC president, in the selection of Vanderhoef's successor.

'Wisdom, experience'

The University of California system's top leaders — UC's current president, Robert Dynes, and Yudof — led the chorus of many who praised Vanderhoef for his distinguished tenure.

Dynes pointed out that Vanderhoef "has been the senior chancellor of the UC system for several years, and all the other chancellors and I look to him for wisdom and experience." Yudof, outgoing president of the University of Texas, said that, from afar, he has "watched the campus go from relative obscurity to the front ranks among the nation's research universities."

Expanded access and opportunity

The first in his family to complete high school, and one of the very few in his Wisconsin foundry town to find his way to college, Vanderhoef has dedicated his time as chancellor to removing barriers to higher education. He elevated the campus's Division of Education to a new School of Education when other universities were downsizing theirs, expanded partnerships with community colleges, encouraged disadvantaged elementary school students to stay on track through the innovative "Reservation for College" program, and partnered with leaders of regional communities of color to raise awareness of UC Davis.

On his watch, UC Davis has grown and prospered. The campus was invited in 1996 to join the prestigious Association of American Universities, representing the top 62 research universities in North America. Research funds, won competitively by UC Davis' faculty, increased from $169 million to more than $500 million annually.

The campus has risen in national rankings, too. UC Davis is now ranked 8th among all U.S. universities in contributions to society (Washington Monthly) and 11th among U.S. public universities (U.S. News & World Report). Private gifts have jumped from $40 million to nearly $200 million a year, with more than $1 billion cumulatively raised in support of programs — including $100 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to launch a new school of nursing, $35 million from Robert and Margrit Mondavi to name the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, and a $10 million gift from alumnus Maurice Gallagher to help fund a new building — Maurice J. Gallagher Jr. Hall — and endowment for the Graduate School of Management.

Under Vanderhoef's leadership and direction, UC Davis has also made great strides in recruiting a diverse and accomplished faculty and student body. Student enrollment has grown from 22,000 to 30,000, and the faculty has increased by 44 percent. More than 4 million square feet of classroom, lab, clinical, performance and office space have been added. And an ailing county hospital in Sacramento has been transformed into an academically distinguished and financially sound regional medical center.

Among Vanderhoef's most ambitious undertakings is a new south entry to the campus, anchored by the state-of-the-art Mondavi Center, the soon-to-open Robert Mondavi Institute and the under-construction Graduate School of Management, conference center and hotel buildings.

On another campus flank will soon rise West Village, an innovative and environmentally sensitive neighborhood that will provide affordable housing for students, faculty and staff, as well as a village square and community college center — a first within UC.

International academic diplomacy

But Vanderhoef's interests and influence have stretched far beyond northern California. In 2004, for example, in the face of considerable concern and disapproval, the chancellor led what he was told was the first high-level university delegation to visit Iran since that country's 1979 revolution. Vanderhoef wrote in a journal at the time, "We're not going to Iran to make a political statement, nor are we seeking publicity. We're simply one university wanting to talk to another university about ways in which we can work together. And, perhaps in the process, one small step can be taken toward a return to normalcy in the Middle East."

Vanderhoef has been asked to return to Iran this November, this time as a member of a small delegation of university presidents sponsored by the Association of American Universities.

Principled decisions in the face of criticism

Certainly, Vanderhoef's 2004 trip to Iran was not the first of the tough decisions he has made as a UC Davis leader. Indeed, it was a fiscal crisis in the early 1990s, when Vanderhoef was then provost and executive vice chancellor, that proved his mettle and ultimately positioned him to be chancellor. He oversaw painfully deep cuts and staff layoffs, yet in a collaborative way that restored a sense of stability and fairness to a campus in tumult. It was then that he initiated his series of brownbag chats that continue today, offering faculty, staff and students a regular opportunity to meet and talk with him.

When the UC regents in 1995 ended the use of race, ethnicity and gender in admissions, Vanderhoef vocally opposed the action, believing that without an immediate alternative to provide access for the disadvantaged a generation of students would be lost. Soon after, when it was UC Davis' turn to be featured at a regents meeting, he brought the diverse Gospel Choir to perform, and brought the regents to their feet.

In 2003, Vanderhoef made another controversial decision — announcing that UC Davis would move from Division II to Division I athletics, knowing that the faculty as a whole would not be supportive. The chancellor said then that the campus really had no alternative. "We are seeking, in an evolving landscape, firm ground upon which to continue and to enhance a program that is centered around the student-athlete and the teacher-coach," he said at the time. The Big West Conference would offer Davis a better academic, philosophical and competitive "fit," he said, and align it with sister campuses UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara. In this, the first official Division I season at UC Davis, the Aggies sent 11 teams to NCAA postseason play.

In 1993, Vanderhoef disappointed students at the School of Law with his decision that broadcast media could not be barred from covering the commencement speech of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, a condition of the justice's speaking. Blackmun withdrew, and the unhappy graduates signaled their discontent by passing around a jar of sourballs at commencement. New York's Newsday, however, wrote that "Maybe [Vanderhoef] is the one who ought to be on the Supreme Court."

Nurturing university leaders

To be sure, Vanderhoef has never been one to seek out controversy to raise his own profile. On the contrary, this unassuming and down-to-earth Midwesterner has always been more interested in bringing recognition to UC Davis than to himself, and in growing new academic leaders along the way.

In the past 15 years, more than a dozen UC Davis administrators have gone on to president and provost positions at major universities around the country. They say Vanderhoef's collegial and collaborative approach to problem solving, along with his belief in delegating both authority and responsibility, provide junior administrators the experience to move on and up.

"That type of experience, particularly with an excellent, diverse team, provides strong leadership development," said Virginia Hinshaw, former UC Davis provost and executive vice chancellor and current president of the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

"Larry Vanderhoef sets a positive tone at the top for good behavior among administrators, and I believe this brings out the best in people," said Mark McNamee, former dean of biological sciences at UC Davis and now provost of Virginia Tech.

Still, Vanderhoef has garnered many personal accolades. Recognized for his "passion to make things happen," he was honored by the Sacramento Business Journal as one of the 20 people who have contributed most substantially to California's capital region over the past 20 years.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce named him Sacramentan of the Year in 2004, and the Arts and Business Council of Sacramento presented him with its Prelude to the Season Outstanding Contribution Award in 2003. And in 2006, the Northern California World Trade Center and the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency presented him with the International Leadership Award, in recognition of his efforts to increase the campus's international engagement.

Early in his career, he was named an Eisenhower Fellow, a recognition given to emerging leaders from around the world to promote positive relationships and interactions between countries. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Purdue University and Inje University in Korea, and an honorary professorship by China Agricultural University. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from Purdue University.

Centennial focus

In his June 2 letter, Vanderhoef explained some of the timing that went into his decision: "To make our centennial year my last has been my plan for some time now — a decision made finally realizing that there'd never be a stopping point if I waited for every initiative to be completed."

He added, "Our 100th birthday seemed to me a particularly fitting time for a transition in leadership as we look back with pride at our first century, and as we look forward to a second century that's sure to be as transformational as our first ... I approach this coming year as I did my first — inspired by the opportunity, and keen to turn plans into action."

What others are saying

UC President Robert Dynes: "I heartily congratulate Larry for all he has accomplished. Larry has been the senior chancellor of the UC system for several years, and all the other chancellors and I look to him for wisdom and experience. During his tenure as chancellor, UC Davis has grown in size, stature and excellence, and everyone within UC is proud of it. Congratulations to a friend for a stellar accomplishment."

UC President-designate Mark Yudof: "Larry has done a remarkable job during his tenure at UC Davis. I have, from afar, watched the campus go from relative obscurity to the front ranks among the nation's research universities. I offer him my heartiest congratulations, and I am looking forward to working with him during his final year."

UC Provost Rory Hume: "Chancellor Vanderhoef has served both UC Davis and the UC system as a whole with great distinction. During his long period of leadership Davis has grown enormously in academic distinction, and in size. It has substantially broadened the scope of its academic programs, while retaining its highly valuable, distinctive nature. Much credit for those advances rests directly with Larry Vanderhoef.

Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities and former UC Berkeley chancellor: "His voice and judgment are widely respected by the other UC chancellors, and he has been an effective leader on the national stage as well. His leadership has always been marked by intelligence, thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit."

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Patricia Turner: "It has been my privilege to serve on Larry Vanderhoef's leadership team. When he appointed me to my first senior position, I was relatively untested. He recognized managerial and leadership abilities I did not even see in myself. I believe his ability to identify and support strong leaders stands as one of his most significant gifts to the campus."

Robert and Margrit Mondavi, in nominating Chancellor Vanderhoef for a 2006 CEO Leadership Award: "We share with Larry Vanderhoef a commitment to innovation and excellence, and to the risk-taking that's inevitably required to be successful."

Maril Revette Stratton is associate chancellor.

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,