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Chang-Lin Tien at the blackboard
Chang-Lin Tien was a talented, tireless teacher and a favorite with students. Even in his years as chancellor at UC Berkeley, Tien made time to mentor graduate students and teach classes in his chosen field of mechanical engineering. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Chang-Lin Tien, UC Berkeley chancellor from 1990-97 and an internationally known engineering scholar, dies at age 67

30 October 2002
Chang-Lin Tien slideshow A life in pictures: Chang-Lin Tien at Berkeley

— Chang-Lin Tien, who, as chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, from 1990-97 was an outspoken supporter of equal opportunity in higher education and who preserved the campus's preeminence despite a prolonged state budget crisis, died Tuesday, Oct. 29 at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Redwood City. He was 67 years old.

In September 2000, Tien was diagnosed with a brain tumor and suffered a debilitating stroke during a diagnostic test. He never regained his health and retired from his many duties on June 30, 2001.

Chang-Lin Tien
John Blaustein photo


Campus memorial service: Even in death, Chang-Lin Tien illuminates and inspires
(Nov. 14, 2001)


Chang-Lin Tien announces the "Berkeley Pledge," vowing to do everything possible to ensure that California students receive a first-rate education, regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender.
(Sept. 7, 1995)

Excerpt from Tien's inaugural address
(March 22, 1991)

UC President Richard Atkinson's tribute, delivered at a symposium honoring Tien
(June 22, 2002)

Chancellor Robert Berdahl's tribute, taped after Tien retired

Tribute of C.D. (Dan) Mote, former vice chancellor for University Relations at Berkeley, delivered at the June, 2002 symposium honoring Tien

Tribute by the Committee of 100, upon conferring on Tien their Inspiration Award in Washington D.C.
(April 26, 2001)

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One of the most popular and respected leaders in American higher education and an engineering scholar of international renown, Tien spent nearly his entire professional career at UC Berkeley. He was the campus's seventh chancellor and the first Asian American to head a major research university in the United States.

"Chang-Lin was an exceptional leader during one of UC Berkeley's most challenging periods, a time of severe budget cuts and political changes," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "His energy and optimism, his willingness to fight for the principles he cherished, and his loyalty and love for this campus made it stronger and better."

"Chang-Lin Tien's visionary leadership, outstanding scholarship, uncommon enthusiasm, and warm regard for his fellow human beings have made an everlasting mark on the Berkeley campus — and have secured for him a very special place in the long line of Berkeley chancellors," said UC President Richard Atkinson. "He has made an immeasurable contribution to the vitality and excellence of UC Berkeley and to the educational opportunities available to students throughout California."

A matter of excellence
Tien once said the most important fight he faced as UC Berkeley chancellor was in the early 1990s when, with California's economy lagging, state funding to the campus dropped $70 million, or 18 percent, within four years. During the same time period, 27 percent of active faculty members took advantage of incentives to retire early and departed.

Tien personally recruited top young professors, dedicated himself to retaining prominent faculty members and presided over consecutive years of record private fund-raising, vowing that UC Berkeley would stay on top.

"It's not a matter of whether we can survive," he said in 1993, asking the public to help spare the campus's dismantling by lobbying their legislators, "it's a matter of being excellent or mediocre."

UC Berkeley more than weathered the storm. In 1995, for the third straight decade, the National Research Council identified UC Berkeley as one of the premier research universities in the nation. Overall, 97 percent of the UC Berkeley graduate programs assessed in the survey made its Top 10 list.

To help reduce the impact of the state cuts on the university, Tien in 1996 launched an ambitious fund-raising drive, the largest of its kind at the time for a public university. "The Promise of Berkeley — Campaign for the New Century" would support students and faculty members through scholarships, professorships, research funds and facilities. Encouraged by Tien to strengthen ties with its alumni and friends worldwide, the campus raised more than $975 million under his leadership.

At a gala in April 2001 to celebrate the end of the campaign, which ultimately raised $1.44 billion, Berdahl announced that a new facility to house campus resources in East Asian studies, languages and cultures would bear Tien's name and be "a tribute to his enduring presence on this campus."

Creating an East Asian center at UC Berkeley was one of Tien’s favorite campaign projects and reflected his roots in the region. The Tien family requests that donations in memory of the former chancellor be made to a project he championed and which will be named in his honor, the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies.

Bridge builder
Both in the United States and overseas, Tien's expertise — in thermal science and engineering, as an educator and humanitarian — was called upon by engineers, scholars and government officials alike.

In the field of thermal sciences, "he was a visionary. ... He marked out new high-impact areas, he did seminal work in those areas, and then he led everybody to the next area," said Richard O. Buckius, a former student of Tien's who is professor and head of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Thermal radiation, thermal insulation and, most recently, microscale thermal phenomena were among the fields carved out by Tien, the campus's first NEC Distinguished Professor of Engineering. He also made important contributions to fluid flow, phase-change energy transfer, heat pipes, reactor safety, cryogenics and fire phenomena.

"His major contribution was always helping to understand the phenomena," said Buckius, "but he also had an eye on the applications in order to insure the impact of the basic research."

Both the United States and Hong Kong governments called upon Tien for technical advice. He helped solve problems with the Space Shuttle's insulating tiles and with the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in the late 1970s.

In Hong Kong, he was chair of the Chief Executive's Commission on Innovation and Technology. The government there recently gave Tien its highest award, the Grand Bauhinia Medal, for service to the territory. In Japan, his basic formulas for "superinsulation" are used in the design of magnetic levitation trains.

In 1999, Tien received from the UC Regents the prestigious title of University Professor for his groundbreaking research and service to the university. The post allowed him to be a "professor-at-large" on all 10 UC campuses. "His scholarly work has been of enormous benefit to humankind," said Berdahl, "and around the world, he has touched tens of thousands of people with his enthusiasm and kindness."

While chancellor, Tien also was an unofficial diplomat in Asia, meeting with heads of state including Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui. He helped found the Committee of 100, a nonpartisan group of prominent Chinese Americans that promotes dialogue and understanding between the United States and China. Last year, the committee presented Tien with its Inspiration Award.

Tien also became "a bridge-builder to overcome the many disconnections between public K-12 education and higher education," former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said in June. "He understood that a university like Berkeley could remain one of the great crown jewels of American higher education only if it had a steady stream of talented students from all walks of life and every stratum of our society."

Rooted in integrity, justice
Tien was born on July 24, 1935, in Wuhan, China, and educated in Shanghai and Taiwan. With his family, he fled China's Communist regime for Taiwan in 1949. After completing his undergraduate education at National Taiwan University, Tien arrived penniless in the United States in 1956 to study at the University of Louisville. Supported by scholarships, he earned his master's degree there in 1957 and then a second master's degree and his PhD in mechanical engineering at Princeton University in 1959.

He joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1959 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. In 1962, when he was 26 years old, Tien became the youngest professor to receive UC Berkeley's Distinguished Teaching Award, an award for which he was enduringly proud. Rising through the ranks, he became a full professor in 1968, later served as chair for seven years of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and, for two years, 1983-85, was UC Berkeley's vice chancellor for research. In 1988, Tien left UC Berkeley — for his first and only time — when he was appointed executive vice chancellor at UC Irvine. He returned to UC Berkeley as chancellor in 1990.

A man of great personal integrity and a fighter for justice and equal opportunity, Tien said his values and ideals were shaped, in part, by the racism and discrimination he encountered in America. To explain his support for affirmative action as a tool to level the playing field in college admissions, he often told the story of how, as a new immigrant, he confronted a South still divided along color lines.

"One day I got on a bus and saw that all the black people were in the back, the white people in front. I didn't know where I belonged, so for a long time I stood near the driver," Tien would recall. "Finally, he told me to sit down in the front, and I did. I didn't take another bus ride for a whole year. I would walk an hour to avoid that."

Tien said that, as a student, he had to stop a professor in Louisville from addressing him only as "China man" and confronted housing restrictions against "Orientals and Negros" in Berkeley in the 1950s and '60s. These experiences made him sensitive not only to victims of racism, he said, but to all people who suffer disadvantage or pain.

Defender of affirmative action
In a 1996 essay in The New York Times, Tien made his case for the use of affirmative action in university admissions, in direct opposition to the UC Regents' decision in 1995 to abolish its use. Tien wrote that America had come a long way since the days of Jim Crow segregation, but that equal opportunity for everyone was not yet a reality.

"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 to prepare leaders," he wrote.

Tien was a naturalized U.S. citizen who said he was deeply grateful to be an American, but he also was proudly Chinese. When he became chancellor, he declined the suggestion from well-meaning supporters that he seek coaching to speak with less of an accent. On his office wall hung the Chinese character for crisis, but Tien explained how it actually represents two ideas – danger and opportunity. He said he preferred to see most crises as opportunities.

He faced both as UC Berkeley's chancellor.

In addition to successfully battling years of devastating state budget cuts on campus, Tien developed ways to counter the impact of the UC Regents' ban on affirmative action. In 1995, for example, he launched the Berkeley Pledge, a partnership between UC Berkeley and California's K-12 public schools that now is called School/University Partnerships. Designed to improve the academic performance of hundreds of students in the Berkeley, Oakland, West Contra Costa and San Francisco unified school districts, the program was a model for Education Secretary Riley in creating a national program that today is active in almost every state in America.

Unabashed cheerleader for Cal
As chancellor, Tien was beloved as a champion of students. He was famous for his frequent strolls to Sproul Plaza to greet students, bringing cookies to those studying late in the library, and yelling a heartfelt "Go, Bears!" at events. If he returned to UC Berkeley at night after a long trip, he'd frequently visit the campus to check in with students working in his lab before heading home.

A great sports fan, Tien found time to cheer on UC Berkeley's teams, often doing so while running onto the field with the players at the start of football games. As an undergraduate in Taiwan, Tien had aspired to play professional basketball, turning to academic pursuits only after reluctantly acknowledging that, at 5’6" tall, a professional career was unlikely.

He also launched a "Smooth Transition" program for incoming UC Berkeley students, special small-class seminars to bring freshmen and sophomores in closer touch with top faculty members, and other initiatives that helped undergraduate retention rates continue to rise.

Tien raised the profile of women in leadership at UC Berkeley, appointing the first woman vice chancellor and provost — the second-in-command on campus — and the first woman chief of the campus police department. He also brought more ethnic diversity to the leadership of the university administration.

An asteroid, an oil tanker and other honors
During his career, Tien's many honors included, in 1976, becoming one of the youngest members of the National Academy of Engineering, which awarded its highest honor to him, the NAE Founders Award, in September 2001. The award recognizes academy members who have made lifelong contributions to engineering and whose accomplishments have benefited U.S. citizens.

He also was elected a fellow of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), as well as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was an honorary professor of the 15 leading universities in China and an honorary research professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Thermophysics.

On his long list of awards is the highest international award in heat transfer, the Max Jakob Memorial Award. He also won the Gustus L. Larson Memorial Award and the Heat Transfer Memorial Award of the ASME, the Thermophysics Award of the AIAA; the Thermal Engineering Award for International Activity of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers; the 1996 Fellowship Award of the International Centre for Heat and Mass Transfer; the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement; and the Harvard Foundation Award from Harvard University.

Tien was the first recipient of the UC Presidential Medal. He also was given UC Berkeley's Clark Kerr Medal and the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Medal of the Berkeley Community Fund.

Tien held 12 honorary doctorates, including degrees from universities in China, Hong Kong and Canada. One unique honor was when the Zi Jin Mountain Observatory in China named a newly discovered asteroid "Tienchanglin." Also bearing his name is one of the world's largest oil tankers — Chevron Corp.'s M/T Chang-Lin Tien.

Tien was a consultant to many organizations, research laboratories and private companies and served on the boards of numerous firms, including Chevron, Kaiser Permanente and Wells Fargo Bank, as well as on the boards of the San Francisco Symphony and Princeton University.

He authored more than 300 research journal and monograph articles, 16 edited volumes and one book.

For all his academic successes, friends and colleagues said that Tien was devoted, above all, to his family.

Tien's wife and children joined some 200 admirers from around the world last June on campus, and many others via Webcast, to celebrate the former chancellor's contributions to research, education and society. Former U.S. Education Secretary Riley, National Science Foundation Director Rita R. Colwell, UC President Atkinson, former UC President Jack W. Peltason, former UC Regent Ralph Carmona, and many former students and colleagues attended.

At the event, Chancellor Berdahl awarded Tien the Berkeley Citation, the campus's highest honor for a retiring faculty member.

On Tien's death, Berdahl said, "For over 40 years, he has been a dedicated citizen of this campus, and he will be sorely missed."

Tien is survived by his wife, Di-Hwa, of Berkeley; a son, Norman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Davis; and daughters Phyllis, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco; and Christine, the deputy city manager of Stockton. Tien also leaves four grandchildren.

Memorial gifts to honor the former chancellor may be made to the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies. Checks, payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation, may be sent to Vice Chancellor-University Relations, University Relations, 2440 Bancroft Way #4200, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-4200. For more information on the center or to make an online contribution, see

More about Chang-Lin Tien:

Timeline: Milestones of Tien's tenure as UC Berkeley chancellor.

Berkeley Scores a Touchdown with Tien: A 1997 profile of the tireless chancellor from Berkeley Magazine.

AsianWeek: "Time Out for Chancellor Tien": In a 1997 conversation with AsianWeek one week before his departure from Berkeley for an extended tour of Asia, Tien talked about the high and low points of his tenure, his impassioned fight to preserve affirmative action, the current political climate toward Asian Pacific Americans, and his brush with national politics.

Bridges with Asia: Asian Americans in the United States: Tien presented this keynote address about affirmative action's role in fighting discrimination to the Asia Society in 1996.

Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies
This new facility will bring together UC Berkeley's incomparable resources and programs in East Asian studies. It will unite the East Asian Library, the Institute of East Asian Studies, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures in a new, state-of-the-art building of architectural distinction. It is one of the university's top fund-raising priorities.

Chang-Lin Tien: An educator, a diplomat, a mentor: A report on the June 2002 UC Berkeley symposium honoring Tien, from the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

What Good Teachers Say About Teaching: Chancellor Tien, a UC Berkeley Distinguished Professor, on the interrelationship between teaching and research.