Saturday, February 25, 2006 | After only 18 months or so on the job as Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, Marye Anne Fox has certainly become a household name. She feels that may be the case for the wrong reasons, and cites recent attacks by a local newspaper as unfounded and ill-researched.

Fox said she takes all of her responsibilities as chancellor of one of the world’s top research universities very seriously, whether they be touting the schools prowess in certain fields or working with the private sector to learn more about the business world. A scientist by training, she was one of the voices behind President Bush’s recent call for more science and mathematics training in American universities, and she’s fiercely proud of UCSD’s accomplishments and vision for the future.

We sat down with Fox and asked her about her first year and a half in office, her embittered relationship with the local press, and UCSD’s seemingly never-ending plans for expansion.

UCSD plans on growing exponentially in the next few years. How does the school plan to expand, how will you ensure that San Diego’s infrastructure will not be adversely impacted, and where do you expect to house all those new students?

We have a goal of 30,000 students by 2010. We’re at 25, now, so that’s a 20 percent expansion in five years. There are several ways you can do that. You can build facilities to accommodate the students, or you can rely on neighboring communities to provide some of these facilities. We have a major investment in graduate-student housing going on on campus. That construction is taking place as we speak, and at the last regents meeting, we got the ok for a major project for transfer students, that is undergraduates. That will allow us to grow into the 30s – 30 percent of students on campus, depending how fast we grow our student body, with the goal of having 50 percent of our students housed on campus.

Will that be affordable housing? Dorms?

Yes, it will be units that have privacy; there will be a bedroom that can be closed on a model on which there is a shared apartment and cooking area – what has become the standard of dorms. It’s not the dorm I went to, where we had two or three women in one room, with one window and showers down the hall somewhere.

UCSD has instigated plans to expand into Mexico. Any updates on how that expansion is going?

They have hired the staff person that will be living in Mexico City and developing potential overlaps. In early March we have a meeting in Mexico City and we’ll see how some of these issues have evolved.

We really do believe that globalization is going to be a really important part of students’ education going forward, and we have a unique opportunity to take advantage of a country within driving distance, so that our students can have a bi-cultural experience as part of their education at UCSD.

What is the latest news on the Chancellor’s House [In summer 2004, the $12 million official residence for the chancellor, located in the prestigious La Jolla Farms neighborhood, was closed because of numerous structural problems. UCSD had planned on selling the property, but back-tracked late last year,]

(University of California) President Dynes asked us what could be done in terms of selling the property. In the process of the appropriate valuations and so-forth, we’ve now been able to raise almost enough money to re-do the property, and we’re in the stage of working with an architect to get plans which would allow us to use the land most effectively.

Are you hoping to move in any time soon?

Well, any time soon with all the permits we need probably means a couple of years. I take it on as a responsibility for my successor.

Is that a scoop? Does that mean you’re only going to be around for the next couple of years?

Well, three, five, seven, nine years – I’ll be here for one of those periods.

How do you respond to some of the allegations that have been made about you, specifically, allegations made in the Union-Tribune that you have spent an excessive amount of time in your roles as a director on a number of boards around the country?

In (UC Regents Chairman) Gerry Parsky’s testimony in the legislative hearings, he said that one of the major criterions for this university is to have a sense for business.

I can tell you that when you’re inducted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, they don’t take you off to the side and tell you about accounting rules, about what is a material weakness, what is a significant deficiency. They don’t tell you what Sarbaines-Oxley requires or doesn’t. They don’t tell you about strategic planning.

So, one of the ways that academics can really get their best foot forward in understanding business is to be involved in boards that duplicate some of the directions of a particular institution.

I serve on four corporate boards, and the Union-Tribune insists on coming up with the number 10. We don’t know where that came from. There are four corporate boards, and those are compensated, and they’re compensated well. … The compensation is not the driving force; the driving force is being able to interact with people in such a way that you can think about ways to develop a company, while being an independent person. The independence of being a director is very important.

Can you give me an example where one of your directorial roles has led to a relationship like that – not just at UCSD but at other schools where you have served?

Well, the purpose is not to form a relationship between UCSD and one of these companies. It’s the need to learn more about the general business of this company; whether they are a software company, a medical device company, a clinical research company.

These are techniques that are very important for me to understand. … I think it’s imperative for a chancellor at UCSD to understand the process by which decisions are made concerning clinical trials and so-forth: How to work a bottom line, what it means in terms of personnel.

It’s not that I bring those things to the university, but I bring a basic appreciation of how those things work.

These are increasingly important parts of running a university. They’re not the key mission of the university – that’s conducted by the faculty, and its education of students, its creating new knowledge through research. But the commercialization of that knowledge, and the importance of interacting with the private sector, is what’s emphasized in board service.

I think the Union-Tribune assumed that all boards are the same. … When the article was written, there was no distinction made at all between compensated and uncompensated boards. I’m on lots of uncompensated boards, some of which are advisory to me. For example, the Board of Overseers, of which I’m an ex-officio member, advises me, I don’t advise them. Spending time on that board is a key part of the university mission.

Only four of those boards are for-profit corporations, with substantial compensation. The other boards, which are foundation boards, only have nominal compensation, they’re more an honoraria than a fee. So, the number is four, not ten.

Lastly, you’ve been in office for a year and a half. How are you enjoying UCSD, and how do you like San Diego?

How can you not love San Diego? UCSD is one of the best institutions in the world. We have fabulous faculty, they’re creative, inventive, wonderful people. The students are beyond belief, they are incredibly talented, they’re dedicated, they work hard. We have an administrative structure that understands that the administration exists to support the faculty and the students, and we’re coming together as a team.

– Interview by WILL CARLESS

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.