Taken by Tsung Su
Taken by Tsung Su

The sounds of Scottish bagpipes issued a warm Highlander welcome to UCR’s newest chancellor, Jane Close Conoley, as she took the stage at her welcome reception on Jan. 11. Held in the University Theater, the welcome event invited an interactive discussion about UCR’s ambitions for admission to the Association of American Universities (AAU), the UCR 2020 strategic plan, the role of the chancellor at UCR and the promise of higher education.

In her first public address to the UCR community, Chancellor Conoley made clear her aims to help UCR meet the requirements for the AAU, primarily through the hiring of additional faculty. The AAU is an association of North America’s leading research universities, consisting of 62 U.S. and Canadian colleges. All member universities have an increased international presence through areas of research and education.

Addressing the elephant in the room, and a topic of much concern to the UCR community, Chancellor Conoley said, “I do know that I am walking behind very mighty footsteps made by Chancellor Tim White, so I will do my best.”

“You should know that when President Yudof asked me to take this assignment, he said to me ‘Your first priority is reaching the goals…set through their UCR 2020 plan,’” stated Conoley, who followed up with her desires to maintain a positive trajectory for the university, while upholding the morale of faculty and the experience of students.

After recapping the passing of Proposition 30, a tax measure which temporarily staved off UC tuition increases for the 2012-2013 academic year, Chancellor Conoley relayed the student enrollment rate for the UCR School of Medicine (SOM), which has received nearly 2,000 applications. Additionally, over 40,000 students applied as freshmen or transfer students to the university for the 2012-2013 academic year.

“What was it about UCR that made you passionate and interested in coming?” asked Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost William Kidder. In response, Chancellor Conoley reflected on her initial interest in UCR’s 2020 strategic plan while working at UCSB.

“I was looking around for some inspiration, so I read this very carefully. If you would look at the strategic plan at my former school [UCSB], you’d be surprised how similar it is to yours,” joked Chancellor Conoley.

Chancellor Conoley directed special attention to the relationship between UCR and the greater Riverside community. “The key to me seems to be matching our talent with community talent with a purpose…You can always go out and talk to a school, but the real key to partnership [is], ‘are we better after that, are we better because we’re together on something?’” stated Conoley.

Following her speech, Chancellor Conoley held an open Q & A session with the audience. Several audience members inquired about an increase in faculty to help meet AAU goals as well as lighten the increasing loads faculty have taken in recent years. ”For faculty lines and the number of students that Sacramento is funding in the university, we have 2500 students for whom we do not have faculty lines and that alone makes a big difference,” stated Rabenstein.

With prior employment as the UCSB Dean of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, Chancellor Conoley was asked about UCR’s growth trajectory in comparison to UCSB. Chancellor Conoley deferred to Kidder for his expertise, who explained that long periods of stasis and fluctuating student enrollment at UCR contrasted with UCSB’s steady rise, resulting in an unequal faculty-to-student ratio between the campuses. “So if you look at the enrollment that we have, our number of unfunded students is really substantial… and Santa Barbara does not have any unfunded students,” Kidder said.

Chancellor Conoley expanded on the university’s position in terms of making a worldwide economic impact through the areas of research and strategic development. “Because all over the world, there is a need for [educators] to make great education accessible to its young people, it’s children…but it’s shocking how few, percentage-wise, young people get access to education,” stated Conoley.

One of the few students who attended the welcome event, third-year business economics major Paul Hwangbo, expressed his concerns about maintaining direct facetime with students through an on-campus presence—an air of familiarity that former Chancellor White was often known for through his Friday Letters and town hall meetings.

“Walking into this, you know, I was a little skeptical because I had really bonded with Chancellor White. I was like ‘okay this is going to be 30 minutes,’ but then it turned into an hour, an hour which passed by fast,” stated Hwangbo. “She’s very charismatic, she knows how to speak…She seems to know what she’s doing and she’s already getting comfortable with the school and faculty, so I am very optimistic.”

Also in attendance was Kris Kuganathan, a fourth-year political science/administrative studies major. “She seems like somebody that can really get on your level, have a conversation with you…as long as the communication channels are open, the student body can continue the dialogue, which will hopefully push us through,” said Kuganathan.

First-year UCR medical student, Vincent Luu, was also reflective of Chancellor Conoley’s background and mindset of the university. “The chancellor appears very perceptive to the campus and I am really glad about the fact that the chancellor is willing to learn about our campus because we do have a really diverse student population,” he said.

During her first academic week as chancellor, Chancellor Conoley has already shown the willingness to make moves. On Jan. 9, she suspended the initial search for the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Business Operations (FBO), which will now be split into two new positions—Vice Chancellor for Administration and Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget—to create greater “checks and balances.” The Office of Resource Planning and Budget was also removed from FBO.