By Pat Sherman
After more than a month on the job, UC San Diego’s new chancellor, Pradeep Khosla, is still learning his way around the campus and community, chatting up students and faculty at every turn.
As dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, Khosla was in charge of about 3,200 students. At UC San Diego, he will oversee 30,000 students, a tenfold transition in scale.
“I had more access to these students (at Carnegie Mellon) than I will have with 30,000 students,” confided Khosla, 55, who replaces outgoing chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who held the position for eight years.
“I want to make sure that as chancellor I’m not this ‘Wizard of Oz’ sitting in some office that they don’t know,” he said. “I want them to connect with me as a professor, teacher and a person — and as a chancellor. … You do that by walking around, meeting students randomly and in an organized manner, and just being part of the community.”
Khosla’s forays into the community recently took him to a Ralphs supermarket, where two students stopped to introduce themselves.
“I’m thinking, do I have anything weird in my shopping cart here?” said the affable administrator, noting that his purchases included mainly cheese, wine and crackers.
“My favorite (wine) is pinot noir,” he chimed. “It’s middle- of-the-line, and goes with just about every type of food.”
Khosla will likely relish the occasional glass of wine to unwind from the pressure of managing the university’s ongoing budgetary and administrative demands, while implementing his own vision and strategy.
“I have an excellent team,” Khosla said of his vice-chancellors. “We have divvied up the responsibilities of running this place. They are my eyes and ears on the ground, and they are responsible for executing a lot of these things.”
At Carnegie Mellon, Khosla was known for his emphasis on diversity, a focus he said he hopes to maintain at UC San Diego.
“Our goal should be to talk with the broader community and make sure that students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds understand and realize that going to a university is not necessarily a rich person’s dream,” he said. “Everybody should have that dream and the UC system has a lot of opportunities for people to attend one of the UC campuses without paying any tuition.
“When there are people from underserved communities who are deemed qualified but don’t have the resources, we need to find a way to support them,” he said.
While there are many opportunities for students from low-income families to receive scholarships and financial assistance through the UC system, state and federal government, Khosla said middle-class students are often left behind.
“That’s where, I think, we need to focus a lot on raising endowments for scholarships,” he said. “One of the things I’ll be doing over the course of the next six months is going to schools in our community and talking about the UC experience and especially the UC San Diego experience.”
How would Khosla handle incidences of racial intolerance, such as Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity’s racially insensitive “Compton Cookout” party in 2010, or a noose that was subsequently left in the library?
Khosla said such situations must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The India native said he believes his status as an immigrant will help him build a climate in which such situations are less likely to occur. “Our response should be more like putting a culture and a climate in place that does not let these situations happen,” he said. “Just being diverse does not mean people are accepting and inclusive.”
Former Chancellor Fox leaves the campus noted for her billion-dollar building campaign and fundraising prowess. Asked what Khosla hopes his legacy will be as chancellor, he said he hopes the university will be in a stronger position than it is today.
“That’s a tall order,” he said. “This is one of the top 10 universities in the country, but I think there is a lot of opportunity.”
With a decrease in funding from the state of California — which currently only provides about 6.6 percent of UC San Diego’s operating budget — fundraising will continue to be key to the university’s success, Khosla said.
“The construction program of the state is pretty much going to be non-existent,” he said. “Most of the buildings that you see out here are state-constructed buildings. The money came from the state, and I don’t see that to be the case going forward. I don’t think you will see as much construction, but I do think we will be constructing, on a very strategic basis, buildings that we need, and these would have to be paid for by fundraising.”
Though the Board of Regents largely establishes tuition, Khosla said he could help offset the impact of rising tuition on students and families by generating more money for scholarships.
“That’s the only way, in my mind, to mitigate that,” he said, noting that despite exponential tuition increases during the past decade, UC San Diego is still a comparatively good value.
“If you look at UC San Diego, where the tuition is about $12,000, in that range, and this is a top 10 university in the country, it offers the same or similar experience as private (universities) at one-third the price or one- fourth the price. Tuition at Stanford is like $42,000 and Carnegie Mellon is like $43,000.
“I don’t say this to justify the tuition going up … but I say this just to put it in perspective,” he said. “This is still an extremely good value and we are working hard to make sure that going forward there will be scholarship money available and this place will be both accessible and affordable.”