In a Twitter thread sharing memories of Chang-Lin Tien, Berkeley’s chancellor from 1990-97, one person recalled him passing out cookies in the library and exhorting, “Study hard! Go, Bears!” Another remembers students mobbing him as he walked across campus — “like something out of A Hard Day’s Night” — and Tien always made time to shake hands or give hugs. A third posted a photo of him wearing a ridiculously large cowboy hat the Cal Band’s trombonists had given him at the 1993 Alamo Bowl. As diehard Cal fans go, Tien was all in. Read and share more memories of Tien on Twitter.
Tien was the first Asian American to head a major research university in the United States. In the early 1990s, state funding to the university dropped 18 percent and nearly 30 percent of faculty took advantage of incentives to retire. Vowing to maintain Berkeley’s excellence, Tien was personally involved in recruiting and retaining top faculty. He also led what was then the largest fundraising campaign for a public university.
Tien was a talented, favored teacher and an internationally renowned scholar and changemaker in thermal sciences. Often called upon for technical advice, he helped solve problems with the Space Shuttle’s insulating tiles and with the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in the late 1970s. He also helped found a nonpartisan group dedicated to improving relations between the United States and China.
Shaped by his experiences as an immigrant, Tien fought tirelessly for justice and equal opportunity. In a 1996 New York Times essay defending the use of affirmative action in university admissions, he wrote, “It would be a tragedy if our nation’s colleges and universities slipped backward now, denying access to talented but disadvantaged youth and eroding the diversity that helps to prepare leaders.”