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Davis, California

Monday, December 6, 2021

End of an Era

The end of every UC Davis spring quarter is often marked by excitement for a leisurely summer, anticipation of graduation for seniors and the rising panic of those students not ready to give up the college life. This spring quarter, however, has a historical significance for the university as Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef steps down from the position he has held for 15 years.

Since Vanderhoef’s appointment in 1994, UC Davis has seen expansion on almost every level. The development of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis’ acceptance into the Association of American Universities (AAU), the revamping of the south entrance to campus and a drastic increase in the student population are just a few changes that have taken place under Vanderhoef’s tenure.

Vanderhoef said progression to becoming chancellor or even attending college was not something he foresaw, but as he eventually embarked on his career in higher education, he found himself being steered down that path.

“I have never planned carefully for the next stage of my life. I was never focused on the point to which I’ve come,” Vanderhoef said. “And I am not doing a lot of that for my next steps either.”

Raised in a small Wisconsin town, Vanderhoef was the first in his family to graduate high school, let alone continue on to college. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in biology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and moved on to earn his Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from Purdue University.

As chancellor, Vanderhoef had specific goals for the campus upon being appointed. Combating the financial crisis, further developing the UC Davis Medical Center and the creation of a performing arts center were foremost on his mind.

“In my inauguration address I announced that we would build the Mondavi Center,” Vanderhoef said. “This was not an easy thing to do because it had to be non-state funded.”

Upon making this announcement Vanderhoef faced skepticism, but a $10 million grant from Robert and Margrit Mondavi made his vision a reality.

Vanderhoef credits the Mondavi Center for emphasizing another side UC Davis has to offer other than agriculture.

“The Mondavi Center is probably one of the single most influential things we have built on this campus,” Vanderhoef said.

There is also a subliminal significance of other developments at the south campus entry, such as the newly planted teaching vineyard, he said.

“The story there is you drive in and you see this vineyard and think about the origins of this campus, which is agriculture,” Vanderhoef said. “Then you go in a little further and see the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine and you realize this is a university. … Go in even further and you see the center for performing arts. The message is that this university is much more than just agriculture.”

Another of Vanderhoef’s priorities was to insure the accessibility of a UC Davis education to students of lower-income families. He said students from families earning less than $50,000 per year have not had to pay the fee increases during his 15 years as chancellor, attributing this to a systemwide “return-to-aid” practice that allots a fraction of each year’s fee increase to go into financial aid.

“Coming from very humble beginnings himself [the chancellor] is keenly interested in insuring access to the university to everyone who is qualified to come, regardless of their financial needs,” said Associate Chancellor Maril Stratton.

Expanding on this goal of equal opportunity for students of all income levels is Vanderhoef’s desire to make study abroad a more feasible option for undergraduates. During his travels to various countries, he would try to visit UC Davis students studying abroad in the area.

“I noticed [that students who studied abroad] always said ‘This changed my life.’ … There was this understanding that people can see the same set of facts on the table and come to different conclusions because of the culture in which they were raised,” Vanderhoef said. “When it comes down to it, it amounts to tolerance … and this is the first step toward bringing peace to the world.”

Vanderhoef said he believes he generally accomplished everything he wanted.

“I probably stayed a little longer than I intended because I kept thinking of one more thing I had to do. But eventually I realized if I was doing my job well there would always be one or two more things to finish,” he said.

As for Vanderhoef’s future plans, he looks forward to having more control over his schedule, developing and teaching a biology class for non-science majors and writing a book about the different developments that occurred in Davis during the past 15 years.

Vanderhoef officially steps down at the end of June and the title of chancellor will be passed on to Linda Katehi, the current vice chancellor and provost of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

To Vanderhoef’s colleagues and UC Davis students he leaves behind a legacy.

“He always has the best interests of the university at heart and he’s very selfless in that regard,” Stratton said. “He is always looking at how he can better the institution and not how he can better himself.”

AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

 

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