UC Berkeley’s beloved former chancellor died last week in a northern California hospital.
Chang-Lin Tien, the Berkeley chancellor from 1990-1997 and an outspoken supporter of affirmative action, died Oct. 29 at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Redwood City at the age of 67.
A campus memorial service is scheduled for later this week.
“Chang-Lin was an exceptional leader during one of UC Berkeley’s most challenging periods, a time of severe budget cuts and political changes,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said in a UC Office of the President press release. “His energy and optimism, his willingness to fight for the principles he cherished, and his loyalty and love for this campus made it stronger and better.”
Tien was diagnosed with a brain tumor and suffered a debilitating stroke during a diagnostic test in September 2000. He retired from his duties on June 30, 2001.
Tien was born July 24, 1935 in Wuhan, China, and was educated in Shanghai and Taiwan. After completing his undergraduate education at National Taiwan University, Tien arrived in the United States in 1956 to study mechanical engineering at the University of Louisville. He earned his master’s degree there in 1957 and then a second master’s degree and his Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1959.
He joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1959 and served as chair of the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering for seven years. He then served as UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research for two years between 1983 and 1985, and left UC Berkeley for a position as executive vice chancellor at UC Irvine in 1988. He returned to UC Berkeley as chancellor in 1990.
Tien’s contributions in the field of thermal sciences range from thermal radiation and insulation to microscale thermal phenomena. He also made important contributions to fluid flow, phase-change energy transfer, heat pipes, reactor safety, cryogenics and fire phenomena.
“[Tien] was a visionary,” Richard Buckius, a former student of Tien’s, stated in a press release. Buckius is now professor and head of the Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“He marked out new high-impact areas, he did seminal work in those areas and then he led everybody to the next area,” he said.
In the late 1970s Tien helped solve problems with NASA’s space shuttle insulating tiles and with Hong Kong’s nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island. In Japan, his basic formulas for “superinsulation” are used in the design of magnetic levitation trains.
While chancellor, Tien also served as an unofficial diplomat in Asia, meeting with heads of state including Chinese President Jian Zemin and Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.
Tien was cited as saying that his struggle to keep the university on top in light of devastating budget crunches in the early 1990s was his most important challenge as chancellor.
State funding to the campus dropped $70 million, or 18 percent, within four years and 27 percent of active faculty members took advantage of incentives to retire early and departed.
“It’s not a matter of whether we can survive,” he said in 1993. “It’s a matter of being excellent or mediocre.”
Tien was also an active supporter of affirmative action. He developed ways to counter the impact of the UC Regents’ ban on affirmative action by launching programs designed to improve the academic performance of students in various Bay area communities.
Tien is survived by his wife and three children, as well as four grandchildren.