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[Online Exclusive]: Out of the office, back to class

By Charles Proctor and Melinda Dudley

Sept. 7, 2005 9:00 p.m.

The day after announcing he would step down as chancellor this
coming June, Albert Carnesale sat down with The Bruin to share his
plans for the future and reflect on his time at UCLA.

Carnesale, 69, plans to eventually return to UCLA as a
professor, but intends to take a one-year sabbatical after he steps
down on June 30, mostly to give some breathing room to whomever
takes his place as chancellor.

“I’d be off the campus for at least a semester I
think, which is generally a good idea,” he said as he rested
in one of the comfortable chairs in his office.
“There’s only one chancellor at a time.”

Carnesale said he might spend time at another university ““
he said perhaps Harvard, where he used to teach ““ while he
catches up on his studies.

In other words, after eight years of leading one of the most
prestigious public institutions in the world, Carnesale is going to
spend some time doing homework.

He said he wants to focus on teaching and policymaking ““
two aspects of his life he said he has missed during his time as
the top administrator at UCLA.

“Having a bunch of young, bright, interested people with
new ideas who are there because they’re interested in the
subject is great fun,” Carnesale said.

“You know, this is one of the things that is not uncommon
in universities, but is uncommon in the rest of the world. If
you’re the president of General Motors, you don’t
decide one day: “˜You know what I really like? Designing cars.
I’m going to go back to designing cars.’

“Because the hierarchy is so clear, and it’s sort of
everybody’s ambition in the private sector to become
president of the company. It is not every professor’s
ambition to become a dean or a chancellor.”

Since he took the chancellor post in 1997, Carnesale has taught
Fiat Lux seminars, which he pioneered four years ago after the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and has been a frequent
guest lecturer.

But he has spent far more time out of the classroom during that
time. Before he became chancellor, he served as provost and dean of
the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

But even then, he admits, “I missed doing the things I was
able to do more of as a professor, and tried to cling to them, even
when I was dean.”

His specialty is foreign policy and arms control. He holds
degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering, has represented the
United States in high-level security talks with the former Soviet
Union and advised four presidential administrations.

And it is partly due to current events that Carnesale decided
now would be a good time to return to his old field.

“There are relatively few who have a Ph.D. in fields like
nuclear engineering,” he said. “And if you’re
worried about nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction
and terrorism and the like, and can bring that technical background
as well as the policy background in international affairs and

“So it’s a comparative advantage that I have in an
area that’s terribly important to the country right

But other factors have led to his decision to retire this
academic year. He points to the scheduled conclusion of Campaign
UCLA ““ a $3 billion fundraising initiative he launched in
1997 ““ this year, and a more optimistic forecast for state
funding as reasons why he feels he can pass the torch now.

Besides, he said, he planned to only be chancellor for 10 years
anyway. “I initially thought in terms of 10 years, mostly
because I have 10 fingers,” he said with a chuckle.
“You know, it’s a round number, it’s kind of a
logical time.”

While Carnesale admits to missing teaching and policymaking, he
also said the types of things that he did in the upper echelons of
college administrations have been rewarding in different ways.

He refuses to take sole credit for the university’s
successes under his watch ““ Campaign UCLA, the addition of
new dorms on the Hill, substantial increases in research grants and

And he still looks troubled at the mention of problems that have
arisen since 1997 ““ delays with ambitious construction
projects that are now over budget, hundreds of millions of dollars
in funding cuts from the state over the past four years, and steep
drops in minority student enrollment.

Carnesale acknowledges he probably could have been more open to
the student voice. “I’ve tried to “¦ make myself
accessible in ways that are meaningful and useful,” he said,
citing his quarterly office hours and appearances at meetings of
student groups.

“I’ve always been willing to meet with student
government ““ and have. Would it be nice to have had time to
do more? Yeah, absolutely.”

As the chief executive of UCLA, Carnesale has also been the
subject of personal attacks when students and staff were
dissatisfied with the university ““ something that he said got
to him from time to time.

When he first started out as chancellor, Carnesale recalled,
California voters had just passed Proposition 209, which banned the
practice of affirmative action at the state’s public

Students staged massive protests on campus, and some protesters
targeted the newly arrived chancellor.

“I’d just arrived and the extent to which I became
the personal target, as if I were a racial bigot, and that’s
why the enrollments were falling. And I thought, “˜Wait a
minute, me? I just got here,'” Carnesale said.

Despite the pain of those experiences, his skin got thicker.

“I’m responsible for everything at UCLA,”
Carnesale said. “I get credit for some of the wonderful
things for which I deserve almost none of the credit. And I get
blamed for some of the things that go wrong for which I deserve
very little of the blame.”

Though Charles Young, Carnesale’s predecessor, served as
chancellor for 29 years to Carnesale’s eight, UCLA
administrators say he has earned his rest.

“As I said to a friend of mine, “˜Al Carnesale is
going to be 70 years old next July. John Wooden retired at age 65.
Chuck Young retired at age 65. Did it ever occur to anyone that Al
Carnesale wanted to do something with his life other than be
chancellor?’ I say more power to him,” said John
Sandbrook, special assistant to the executive dean and previously
the assistant to former Chancellor Young.

When asked where he would like to see progress made before he
leaves UCLA, Carnesale said that the university is heading in the
right direction.

“What I feel most strongly about is making sure that UCLA
maintains an upward trajectory in all three aspects of what makes a
research university: education, research and service,”
Carnesale said.

Then he added with a grin, “That, of course, and winning
the national championship in football.”

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Charles Proctor
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