Listening in on Susan Bryant and Manuel Gomez
Two vice chancellors with deep roots at UCI reflect on their careers, forecast their futures.
Two UC Irvine leaders with almost 80 years of experience between them have announced that they’ll retire at the end of this academic year. Susan V. Bryant, vice chancellor for research and professor of developmental & cell biology, and Manuel N. Gomez, vice chancellor for student affairs, took time out recently to discuss with each other their experiences at UCI and hopes for its future, as well as their own.
Most meaningful accomplishments
Gomez: The year I was appointed vice chancellor, 1995, was extraordinarily difficult because affirmative action was starting to be dismantled. There were many protests and much anxiety, anger and frustration among students. Those of us who understood the systemic inequities realized that we would have to find different strategies to ensure equal access for a broader diversity of talented students. So amid all the madness of SP-1 and Propositions 187 and 209, we decided to establish something called the Center for Educational Partnerships. It was a way of institutionalizing, with new language, our capacity to serve schools and community colleges in underrepresented, low-income communities. It brought educational collaboration closer to the academic core of the campus and helped to coordinate numerous outreach efforts being carried out in different departments. Over the next few years, the center became a model in the University of California system and has, to date, generated $51 million in extramural resources. It has created greater opportunity and more equity in a complex, diverse society, and I am really proud of it.
Bryant: I was involved in something similar when I first became dean of biological sciences. I looked at the faculty hires in the departments over the past six or seven years, and they’d hired 17 men and one woman. At that time, there was an opportunity to apply for an ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation, an institutional transformation grant designed to foster recruitment and promotion of women in science. So we got one. And I feel pretty good about that because you can do a lot of things in administration, but most of them don’t stick. There are things you do that you think are important, but if they don’t become part of the policy structure, they fade. But because the instructions for the ADVANCE grant were to make institutional change, we found ways to add to the policies and procedures for hiring that effected change in the area of gender equity and that are still part of the fabric.
Gomez: I think that’s really important – the whole idea of long-lasting, systemic change that goes beyond an idea champion or individual leading it. In fact, I know your work in ADVANCE has made a tremendous internal cultural change and has manifested itself in the work of many deans and faculty members.
Bryant: Everybody was ready for it. I also feel very happy that I was involved in getting UCI’s stem cell program going. My research is in regenerative medicine, so in 2003 or early 2004, I called an all-hands meeting for anybody interested in stem cells. And 90 people showed up. The energy that this group brings to the campus is even more obvious now, with the recent opening of a new research facility for stem cell biology, Sue and Bill Gross Hall.
Gomez: My engagement with free-speech issues on campus evolved in a similar fashion. Winning support from the Ford Foundation for our national Difficult Dialogues project has been instrumental in bringing together numerous individuals with strong differences of opinion but who can demonstrate respect for each other’s particular perspectives. The program has engendered more enthusiasm and catalyzed more engagement than I ever anticipated.
Most striking changes at UCI
Gomez: When I look back, I see the extraordinary physical transformation of the campus (remember “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”?), but more exciting to me is the change in student life. The Student Center has become a nexus of student interaction and discussion, and student housing has exploded. UCI used to be known as a commuter campus, and now almost 50 percent of our students reside on campus or across the street. Walking across Aldrich Park, I hear a euphony of different languages. Students clearly feel comfortable here and have made it their home away from home. The campus is a small city, with diversity among students, faculty and staff and a variety of activities and events every day.
Bryant: It wasn’t that way originally. I came to UCI with Howard Schneiderman, who brought a whole lab full of people. And we ended up on the North Campus because, with only a single biology building, Steinhaus Hall, there wasn’t any space here. I had an office on the main campus, but my lab was at the Faculty Research Facility for 20 years, until McGaugh Hall opened in the early ’90s. Now, of course, we have several additional buildings that life scientists occupy, including Natural Sciences I and II and the newest one, BioSci III. Howard was an amazing person. He really got biology moving, and we were sad he wasn’t able to see it blossom.
Gomez: I really want to rest for a while, honestly, perhaps reflect and travel. But my aspiration is to get back to writing. I’d like to write some poetry. And I have an idea for a course on manifesting an authentic self. It could be a course for, say, teachers in the Department of Education. I’m convinced that we’re communicating on many different levels – some that we’re completely unaware of – when we’re in the classroom. I believe that the more integrated a person is – the more centered, aware and authentic – the more effective he or she can be in mentoring or teaching, because teaching is as much about setting an example as building knowledge. I think that we’re all so busy, so distracted by the details of our lives and overwhelmed with responsibility that we shut down on some level and disconnect from ourselves and each other.
Bryant: I’m actually coming back part time as a professor in my school. I have some unfinished business in science that I want to complete, especially some writing. My competing loves as a teenager were art and biology. I’ve occasionally dabbled in art over the years and then gone back to science again, so I’m hoping I’ll be inspired to continue my art career in retirement.
Parting words of wisdom
Bryant: I would encourage more faculty members to take time to do some service. To be good at research, you have to settle on what you want to do and figure out how to do it; it’s very individual and internal. Obviously, you talk about your ideas to people, but really you’re on your own. When you’re an administrator, you have to make things work for others. And that concept of service is something I’ve enjoyed immensely; otherwise I wouldn’t have done it for 10 years. There’s a satisfaction to be gained from doing something that changes your environment for the better.
Gomez: I’ve been toying with a question – ideally a project idea: Is wisdom a legitimate goal for a student affairs division?
Gomez: Most of my colleagues laugh at me. You just did! I think wisdom has something to do with experience rather than the idea of knowledge, but I don’t believe it comes exclusively with age. The more clearly students know why they’re here or why they’ve chosen a particular field of study, the more integrated they are and the wiser they’re going to be in their daily lives. And since we’re helping prepare the next generation of leaders – of citizen scholars – the more opportunities we can offer them now to be thoughtfully and compassionately engaged in their studies and the world, the more strength we lend to society as a whole, including our own university.