Since Larry Vanderhoef became UC Davis‘ chancellor in 1994, the campus has undergone an explosion in growth. The university has completed $1.6 billion in projects over the last ten years alone and increased its faculty and student enrollment by over 40 percent each.
It may seem hard to believe, then, that just three years ago Vanderhoef was embroiled in a scandal that threatened to discredit his leadership. But regardless of how one feels about Vanderhoef’s tenure, he will undeniably have a lasting impression on the campus.
Vanderhoef joined UC Davis in 1984 as executive vice chancellor and provost. He received a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from Purdue University and subsequently held faculty positions at several universities. Among those is University of Illinois, from which UC Davis‘ incoming chancellor, Linda Katehi hails.
After being named chancellor in 1994, Vanderhoef vowed to bring a world class performing center to UC Davis. The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened with great fanfare in 2002, is arguably the crowning achievement of Vanderhoef’s tenure.
But the Mondavi Center was one of many projects aimed at expanding the campus. Under Vanderhoef, the university constructed the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Building, the Mathematical Sciences Building, the Sciences Laboratory building and Veterinary Sciences 3A.
“Ultimately the chancellor provides vision and leadership for the capital program, so it is his leadership that has expanded these facilities and the campus itself,” said Karl Mohr, assistant vice chancellor of the Offices of Resource Management and Planning.
Vanderhoef also oversaw the opening of the Mondavi Center for Food and Wine and the groundbreaking for the new Graduate School of Management building and accompanying hotel and conference center. The new facilities, in tandem with the Mondavi Center, are part of a larger development of the campus‘ south entry.
Fittingly, the south entry quad, which is bound by the Mondavi Center and Walter Buehler Alumni Center, will be named in Vanderhoef’s honor. The Mondavi Center will also recognize Vanderhoef and his wife, Rosalie, by renaming a theatre in the Mondavi Center the “Larry and Rosalie Vanderhoef Studio Theatre.“
In a letter to UC President Mark Yudof seeking approval for the name change, the Board for Naming UC Davis Properties, Programs and Facilities praised Vanderhoef’s role in bringing the Mondavi Center.
“Simply put, there would be no Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts without Larry’s vision and unwavering leadership and without Rosalie’s fundraising tenacity and deep commitment to arts education for both young people and adults,” the letter reads.
The campus grew rapidly under Vanderhoef. Student enrollment grew from 22,000 to 31,000, and faculty increased by 44 percent. Annual private gifts increased from $40 million to $200 million and annual research funding increased from $169.1 million to $586 million.
Vanderhoef also traveled to Iran in 2004 and 2008 as part of a delegation sponsored by the American Association of Universities. Though some criticized Vanderhoef’s 2004 trip in light of the political climate, the chancellor said his motivation was to strengthen scientific and educational ties between the U.S. and Iran.
But UC Davis‘ expansion was not without controversy. The campus completed its four-year transition to Division I athletics in 2007 with the endorsement of Vanderhoef’s administration.
However, the move to Division I was largely funded by two fees approved by UC Davis students in 1999 and 2004, the Campus Expansion Initiative and Facilities and Campus Initiative. In 2008-2009, UC Davis students will have paid $796 for the two fees, which also funded the construction of the Activities and Recreation Center.
The Academic Senate, a voting body of UC Davis faculty, opposed the move to Division I, and some members were outspoken in their criticism.
In a letter to The Davis Enterprise in 2006, Agricultural and Resource Economics professor Quirino Paris wrote that “the UCD administration conned undergraduate students to approve taxing future generations of students to finance a sports complex.“
Tumultuous relationship with faculty
In 1997, Vanderhoef introduced a plan to switch UC Davis to the semester system, arguing that the move would bring the campus in line with other universities in Northern California and make students more competitive for internships and summer jobs.
Faculty and students, however, were resolutely opposed to abandoning the quarter system. Over 75% of faculty and 80% of students voted against the conversion, and Vanderhoef respected the outcome.
However, the most controversial event of Vanderhoef’s tenure came during the height of the UC executive compensation scandal. The San Francisco Chronicle published an article in December 2005 reporting that UC Davis had agreed to pay a former vice chancellor, Celeste Rose, $50,000 and a new two-year job with an annual salary of $205,000 in exchange for Rose dropping her legal claims.
The media reported that the “job” required no work of Rose, though Vanderhoef told the Academic Senate that the agreement stipulated that Rose be available for “special projects.“
Vanderhoef maintained that he was acting in the best interests of the university, telling the Academic Senate that he “made the best decision he could at the time.” He also said, however, that he was not sure if he would have made the same decision if he had to do it again. He told the Academic Senate that he regretted the “hurt all of us have had to bear.“
The explanation was inadequate for some faculty, who circulated a petition for a no-confidence vote. In March 2006, the faculty voted 70% in favor of Vanderhoef, despite some faculty’s sharp criticism of his leadership.
After the vote was announced, Vanderhoef said he was committed to transparency in administration.
“I’m heartened at the vote’s outcome and so appreciative of those who have expressed their continuing support,” Vanderhoef told Dateline UC Davis the day the outcome was announced. “I do understand, though, the concerns that prompted the vote. I am committed to working with the regents, the president and the chancellors to make the changes in executive compensation policy and practice that are needed to ensure the university’s accountability.“
Jerold Theis, a medical professor who circulated the petition, recently said that he remains unsatisfied with Vanderhoef’s tenure. Theis argued that the university administration has become bloated and Vanderhoef has “wasted millions of dollars of state money to preserve the power structure.“
“[Vanderhoef] has presided over the largest increase in administrative officers in the history of this campus,” Theis wrote in an e-mail interview. “Fiat Lux is the [UC’s] motto, but there is not much light shown on the ethics of the administration and there needs to be.”
Sodexho and Title IX
Vanderhoef was also the target of criticism in 2007, when student and worker activists demanded that UC Davis cease to contract out its food service workers to Sodexho.
On May 1, 2007, police arrested 24 protestors on the intersection of Russell and Anderson. Demonstrations continued thereafter despite Vanderhoef’s assurances that the university would examine its contract with Sodexho. In April 2008, after extensive negotiations, the university announced that Sodexho employees would become eligible for direct university employment.
Under Vanderhoef, UC Davis has also faced several lawsuits alleging that the university does not provide equal opportunities for women in athletics. The university has denied the charges, but the suits are still pending.
A lasting legacy
Despite a few hiccups during his tenure, Vanderhoef has been warmly regarded by most students, faculty and staff.
“Vanderhoef is a principled and approachable leader who has always put the best interests of the university ahead of his own,” said Associate Chancellor Maril Stratton in an e-mail interview.
“UC Davis has truly been transformed under Larry Vanderhoef’s leadership, growing by virtually every measure-student population, faculty, rankings, facilities, research funding, private support and stature,” Stratton said. “And he has fostered a sense of family and a culture of service that truly distinguishes UC Davis. We’ve been so lucky to have him.“
Vanderhoef will take a one-year sabbatical beginning in June and return in the fall of 2010 to teach plant biology. He plans to develop a biology course for non-science majors and write a book about UC Davis‘ history over the past 25 years, according to Dateline UC Davis.
Future generations of people visiting, working or studying at UC Davis are unlikely to remember debates about executive compensation or food service works. Rather, as people walk across the quad named in his honor, they will see the Mondavi Center, a monument of Larry Vanderhoef’s lasting legacy at UC Davis.
LAUREN STEUSSY contributed to this article. PATRICK McCARTNEY and LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.