The End of the Blumenthal Era

George Blumenthal retires as chancellor of UC Santa Cruz

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Chancellor George Blumenthal sat attentively in his office chair, fidgeting with his mug of tea. He sighed and looked up at the ceiling as he recounted his decision to retire after serving as the UC Santa Cruz chancellor for the last 12 years.

Blumenthal has worked at the university for 46 years, transitioning from an astronomy and astrophysics faculty member to chancellor of UCSC on Sept. 19, 2007. Before his official start date he had already served as acting chancellor for 14 months. 

“My decision to retire wasn’t easy,” Blumenthal said. “Could I have waited another year? Sure. Could I have done it a year earlier? Sure. When I tried to think, ‘Is there an ideal time from a campus perspective?’ I concluded there was no ideal time. There is always something that’s going to be left undone.” 

With a handful of incomplete projects underway and the subsequent start of a new chancellor search, Blumenthal’s retirement not only marks the end of an era, but the beginning of a new chapter for UCSC.  

The old chapter will bleed into the new one, as a handful of projects created under Blumenthal’s chancellorship remain tentative. Three main programs are the Strategic Academic Plan (SAP), Student Housing West (SHW) and the 2020 Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP). 

The Strategic Academic Plan (SAP) is an initiative that proposes to make the campus marketable by strengthening the university’s scholastics, doing research to identify educational barriers and generating more resources. 

Although the project is underway, concerns echo throughout the student body that the SAP will divert funds from the humanities and non-STEM programs that are seen as unlikely to attract external funding.

Another plan that has received backlash from students is the development of Student Housing West (SHW), an initiative to build 3,072 new beds across UCSC by 2023. SHW is viewed by some students as an unaffordable project that will impact overcrowding in dining and lecture halls.

“I think the need [for SHW] is profound and deep for students,” Blumenthal said. “We can argue about how and where all we want, but it needs to happen and it needs to happen soon.”

Blumenthal is fairly confident he will get the regent’s approval of the project by the time he retires and hopes to see a shovel in the dirt before the new chancellor is appointed. 

Finalization of the 2020 Long-Range Development Plan, a 20-year plan for potential campus growth that dictates what spaces may be used for academics, housing and recreation, will be overseen by Blumenthal’s successor. The drafts of the plan will be publicized and ready for outside commentary at the end of his term. 

“I tried very hard to leave a small present for my successors by starting the LRDP,” Blumenthal said. “[…] Some of the hard decisions like the environmental impact report and bringing it to the regents for approval will be the job of my successor. As well as making peace with all the various constituents who want to go to war over it.” 

When Blumenthal steps down, a new face of the university will swiftly take his place. If there is a delay in the hiring process, Blumenthal has agreed to stay on as chancellor of the university until a new candidate is chosen. 

The search for his replacement will be conducted by UC President Janet Napolitano and an advisory committee. There is no official role for the previous chancellor to participate in the hiring process of the new chancellor, so Blumenthal will have an exceptionally limited part in this process. This could involve informing the chancellor search committee what they should look for in a new chancellor. 

“I would look for someone who can work well in an environment where there are diverse voices having diverse opinions,” Blumenthal said. “[UC Santa Cruz] requires a chancellor or leader to be willing and able to hear the voices in the community. Sometimes decisions got to be made, but […] I think being willing to hear those voices is really important and crucial for the next chancellor.” 

At the end of the search, Napolitano, along with five appointed faculty members on the advisory committee will submit the prospective candidates to an evaluation committee.  Napolitano will then give her recommendations to the University Board of Regents for consideration and approval. 

“My hope would be to have several meetings with [the new chancellor] before they are even announced, so that I can at least sensitize them to some of the issues that are going to hit them in the face when they step onto the campus,” Blumenthal said. 

His predecessor will take on numerous unfinished projects and administrative work but will also be handed the opportunity to work with a passionate and committed student body. 

“I think Santa Cruz is a very special place in many regards. I think for a chancellor it is actually a challenging place,” Blumenthal said. “I don’t think that the culture of Santa Cruz is going to change. If a change is needed, it is going to be the culture of whomever comes in to lead this institution.” 

As the interview drew to a close, Blumenthal relaxed his posture and leaned back in his chair, his mug of tea left unfinished and cold. He began to narrate his thoughts, this time speaking  about his future outside chancellorship.