Chang-Lin Tien: Inspirational educator, renowned engineer
Talk to any Berkeley alum from the 1990s, and they’ll likely have a story about Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of the university from 1990–97. Known for leading enthusiastic “Go Bears!” cheers at games and events, he was one of Berkeley’s most popular and charismatic administrators.
As the first Asian-American to head a major research university, Tien helped Berkeley weather the fiscal crisis of the mid-1990s, when state funding was slashed by 18 percent in four years. In order to fill the void and keep the university competitive, Tien created the “The Promise of Berkeley — Campaign for the New Century” in 1996. The fundraising campaign, the first of its kind for a public university, raised $1.44 billion.
Tien joined Berkeley’s faculty in 1959 at the age of 24, the youngest assistant professor ever hired in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He ascended quickly, becoming full professor in 1968. He also served as chair of the department for seven years, and from 1983–85, was Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research.
He was highly regarded for his thermal science research, and worked with NASA to design heat-shielding tiles for its space shuttles. As one of the youngest members of the National Academy of Engineering, Tien was awarded the NAE Founders Award in September 2001. He was also the first recipient of the UC Presidential Medal and was named a University Professor by the UC Regents in recognition of his service.
Tien was an outspoken champion of equal access and opportunity in higher education, passionately defending affirmative action admission policies. “It would be a tragedy if our nation’s colleges and universities slipped backward now, denying access to talented but disadvantaged youth and eroding the diversity that helps prepare leaders,” he wrote in a 1996 New York Times essay.
For all of his accomplishments, Tien may be most fondly remembered for his tireless dedication to his students, making time to advise them, even if it meant an appointment at 2 a.m., and sometimes with pizza.
This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of UC Berkeley’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library and the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies, the library has curated a special exhibit that includes papers recently donated by Tien’s family. The materials include Tien’s mechanical engineering papers, lecture notes, photographs, newspaper clippings, congratulatory letters from world leaders and more.
To learn more:
- Chang-Lin Tien: Four Decades of Distinguished Service (Regional Oral History Office)
- Chang-Lin Tien, UC Berkeley chancellor from 1990-97 and an internationally known engineering scholar, dies at age 67 (UC Berkeley obituary)