Berkeley Engineering

Spring 2003


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Chang-Lin Tien (1935-2002): a chancellor's extraordinary legacy


Myers joins College faculty following work on human genome

> Popular scientific press cites College faculty
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Chang-Lin Tien (1935–2002): a chancellor’s
extraordinary legacy

Tien teaching
Tien joined the Berkeley faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1959; by 1962 he received the Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor he cherished. He guided more than 60 students to their doctorates and, even during his term as chancellor, continued to mentor graduate students and teach classes in mechanical engineering.

Chang-Lin Tien is still remembered and mourned across the Berkeley campus and throughout the many communities he warmly inhabited, following his death last fall at age 67.

Tien was University Professor Emeritus, NEC Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Chancellor of UC Berkeley from 1990 to 1997. A beloved teacher, scientist and administrator, he was celebrated for his omnipresence around campus and his enthusiastic cheering at Cal sports events.

Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2000, Tien suffered a crippling stroke shortly afterward and never fully recovered. The Taiwanese immigrant and aspiring basketball player became the first Asian American to lead a major U.S. research university.

His years as chancellor were distinguished by his outspoken support of equal opportunity and his unflagging efforts to stabilize campus funding during a state budget crisis in the early 1990s. His dedication, high standards, energy, and accessibility endeared him to undergraduates, movie stars and international statesmen alike.

"When we walked down the streets of Taipei together, it was like walking the streets of Chicago with Michael Jordan," said C.D. (Dan) Mote Jr., who served as vice chancellor under Tien. Passionate about bridging communications between East and West, Tien was an unofficial diplomat in Asia and active on many commissions and foundations to promote U.S.-Chinese relations.

As an engineer, Tien’s work in heat transfer and thermal science earned him worldwide recognition and many honors, including the highest international award in the field, the Max Jakob Memorial Award. He pioneered a new field known as microscale thermophysical engineering and made notable contributions to fluid flow, phase-change energy transfer, heat pipes, reactor safety, cryogenics, and fire phenomena. He served as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering for seven years.

Tien portrait
When Tien stepped down as chancellor in July 1997, he said, "Perhaps the most important thing that I would like to be remembered for is that I injected a bit of a human touch on the campus and made it more humane, personal and caring."

Nearly his entire 41-year career was devoted to Berkeley. As chancellor, he fortified undergraduate education and worked to improve the quality of the undergraduate experience on campus. He revitalized intercollegiate athletics and, despite the Regents’ 1995 decision to eliminate affirmative action programs, fostered diversity among faculty, staff and students by expanding appointments and admission opportunities to women and underrepresented minorities.

In the face of the deepest budget cuts in campus history, Tien responded by initiating — in the words of current Chancellor Robert Berdahl — "the most audicious capital campaign of any public university in history." Under Tien’s leadership the campaign raised nearly $1 billion. Despite the budgetary woes, new facilities continued to be built (including the Haas School of Business), and Cal maintained its excellence. In 1995, the National Research Council ranked 35 of Berkeley’s 36 doctoral programs in the top 10 nationally, the best record of any university.

Tien set personal records wherever he went. At Princeton he earned his master’s and doctorate in 1959 after only two years of study, later explaining that he worked quickly toward his degree so that his parents would permit him to marry his future wife, Di-Hwa. At age 24, he was the youngest appointee ever to Berkeley’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and, two years later, the youngest faculty member ever to win Berkeley’s coveted Distinguished Teaching Award. At age 41, he was the youngest individual ever elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering.

Other honors included, in 1997, the first UC Berkeley Presidential Medal as well as title of University Professor, bestowed by the UC Regents on scholars of international distinction; and, in 2001, the Berkeley Citation, a campuswide honor for retiring faculty. The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after him in 1999, and Chevron christened its newest tanker the Chang-Lin Tien in 2000. On campus, the East Asian Library and Studies Center will bear his name.

Tien is survived by his wife, Di-Hwa, of Hillsborough; his son, Norman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Davis; daughter Phyllis, a physician at UCSF; daughter Christine, deputy city manager of Stockton; and four grandchildren.

Donations in honor of 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 mailed to Vice Chancellor-University Relations, University Relations, 2440 Bancroft Way, Room 4200, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-4200. For more information on the center or to make an online contribution, see

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