Thursday, December 5

Interim Dean Vijay Dhir may engineer success for UCLA school


UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied
Science hasn’t had a permanent dean since June 30, 2001
““ and it shows in the School’s national rankings.

The search is still on for a permanent dean, but in the
meantime, the school’s overall ranking has fallen from 20th
to 22nd among engineering schools as ranked by U.S. News &
World Report.

It wasn’t long ago when UCLA’s engineering school
was considered to be in the top tier, but now schools like Purdue
University and the University of California at San Diego have crept
past UCLA in national engineering rankings.

How could a prestigious university like UCLA’s engineering
school suddenly find itself looking up at other schools not named
Berkeley, Stanford, and Cal Tech? More importantly, who can step in
as dean and apply the brakes to this skid?

Enter Interim Dean Vijay K. Dhir.

“My key goal is to improve the ranking (of the School of
Engineering),” stated a determined Dhir when he first stepped
into the job late last February. “I want to improve it
several notches."

Dhir is no stranger to UCLA. He joined the faculty in 1974 as a
professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. From 1994 to
2000, he was chair of the UCLA Department of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering.

Dhir came in with clearly defined goals: improve the
school’s national ranking, recruit more faculty, strengthen
alumni connections, and publicize research projects. Granted, these
are all common goals shared by many in the school, but from the
beginning, Dhir showed that he is a man of action.

Early on, one of his main priorities was to ensure that the
Executive Board of the Academic Senate would recommend to the
Chancellor the formation of a new Bioengineering Department within
the School ““ which they did, unanimously, on June 27.

It passed with little fanfare outside of the School, but the
importance of this new department is plainly evident.

UCSD was the first UC to create a department of bioengineering
in 1994. The university recognized early on the rapidly developing
interdisciplinary field of biology and engineering.

Today, UCSD boasts a top five nationally ranked bioengineering
program, along with an ascending national ranking for its
engineering school overall.

If they wanted to remain competitive with other schools, UCLA
had to get in on the cutting edge research.

But staying competitive requires spending money to attract and
hire new faculty ““ money that Dhir knew may not be there as a
result of a possible cut in university funding from the state
budget.

Any dean worth his or her weight must be an effective fundraiser
““ just look at former dean Frank Wazzan, who landed a $30
million donation from Henry Samueli in 1999.

In the last six months, Dhir has been working to rebuild
connections to UCLA alumni, in the hopes of attracting more
interest and private donations.

He began writing in a monthly newsletter to alumni, informing
and updating UCLA graduates about the engineering school, and how
they could stay involved.

In one letter, Dhir went so far as to ask for alumni for their
support. He wrote: “UCLA receives only 22 percent of its
operating budget from the state of California, and eight percent
from tuition and fees. Support from alumni allows the School to
offer scholarships and fellowships to outstanding students, attract
and retain faculty”¦”

Only time will tell if Dhir can land big-time donations. He will
need to attract as many alumni donors as possible, because the
School has plans to hire nearly 40 new faculty within the next few
years to keep up with increasing enrollment.

From 1998-99 to 2000-01, the number of students in the School of
Engineering rose from 3,095 to 3,668 students. In 2002, that number
has jumped to 4025. The addition of a new bioengineering department
only places more stress in attracting new faculty ““ and more
research dollars for each new faculty member.

This will be Dhir’s biggest challenge yet, but thus far,
he has proven he is capable of delivering on his word.

Some may still lament that the School hasn’t had a
permanent dean since June 30, 2001. In fact, a search committee
submitted recommendations to the Chancellor’s office for a
permanent dean earlier this month. But the Chancellor need only to
look inside the office of 7400 Boelter Hall to know that the right
man is already on the job.

All Dhir has done in his nine months is seal the approval for a
new Department of Bioengineering, begin overseeing the hiring of
several new faculty members, and reestablished connections to UCLA
alumni.

Not bad for an Interim Dean.

The “South Campus” column will publish on odd weeks
during winter quarter.

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