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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Karl S. Pister: UCSC Chancellorship, 1991-1996

  • Author(s): Pister, Karl
  • Jarrell, Randall
  • Regional History Project, UCSC Library
  • et al.

Pister's recollections of his tenure as the campus's sixth chancellor include his perspectives on a number of issues his administration faced: the recession-caused budget cuts UCSC absorbed, the UC Regents' controversial decision regarding affirmative action, the state of town-gown relations upon his arrival at UCSC in 1991, and controversies surrounding construction projects on campus.

The oral history, entitled Karl S. Pister, UCSC Chancellorship, 1991- 1996, was transcribed and edited from interviews conducted by UCSC Regional Historian Randall Jarrell.

Born in Stockton, California, Pister received his B.S. (1945) and M.S. degrees (1948) in civil engineering at UC Berkeley. In 1952 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in theoretical and applied mechanics.

Prior to his tenure at UCSC, Pister had spent 30 years at UC Berkeley as a faculty member and 15 years there as an academic administrator. He began his career at Berkeley as a lecturer in 1947; in 1952, he joined the faculty of the campus's College of Engineering, where he had a distinguished career as a professor of engineering. He served as dean of the college from 1980 until 1990.

In his narration, Pister describes a number of institutional conflicts he encountered early in his tenure as UCSC chancellor, and he discusses his efforts to reconcile UCSC's unique college system and emphasis on undergraduate education with the university's research mission.

He also described controversies over campus building projects-- the founding of Colleges Nine and Ten and a music/performing arts complex-- and efforts that his administration made to improve UCSC's capital planning process.

Pister also discusses the severe budget cuts, occurring during his tenure, that had a significant impact on campus academic programs and future planning. He describes a collaborative budget process that he said helped the campus weather those budget storms, while at the same time maintaining faculty, staff, and student morale during a difficult period in the campus's history.

In the oral history, Pister also describes the difficult state of town-gown relations that he faced upon his arrival at UCSC. Pister believes he succeeded in toning down the rhetoric and establishing cordial relations with the city and county of Santa Cruz, ushering in a new era of cooperation.

Throughout his tenure as chancellor, Pister was a tireless advocate for university involvement in the effort to improve K-12 education in the region, and he describes UCSC's role in the Monterey Bay Educational Consortium, which has fostered collaboration between the campus and public schools. He also describes his effort to expand UCSC's outreach to the region's 13 community colleges, as well as the Leadership Opportunity Awards scholarship program he instituted that assists community college students transferring to UCSC.

The narrative also includes Pister's detailed commentary on UCSC's admissions strategies subsequent to the outlawing of affirmative action by the UC Regents. He describes the role he played in joining with other UC chancellors to issue a unanimous public statement opposing the board's decision.

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