Campus prepares to welcome incoming chancellor Cynthia Larive

Cynthia K. Larive
Chancellor-designate Cynthia K. Larive (Photo by C. Lagattuta)

By Jennifer McNulty

Collaborative. Energetic. Prepared. Ready to engage.

These are a few of the ways members of the chancellor’s search committee described incoming chancellor Cynthia K. Larive, who will take office July 1.

“I have the sense that she’s really a person who can bring groups together,” said Carl Walsh, distinguished professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz and chair of the faculty subcommittee that reviewed hundreds of potential candidates for the top job.

Larive, a professor of chemistry and the executive vice chancellor at UC Riverside, came to her interview with the search committee prepared to talk about issues—and solutions.

“She emphasized the importance of all parts of the UC mission—research, teaching, and service—but what was unique about her interview was that she had looked in detail at the campus, identified an issue she wanted to talk about, and brought concrete suggestions of what she’d like to do about it,” said Walsh.

That particular issue—student retention and graduation rates—was one of the priorities Larive mentioned in public remarks made following the UC Regents’ approval today (May 16, 2019) of her selection as the 11th chancellor of UC Santa Cruz. She also emphasized her commitment to diversity—and her intention to implement the Strategic Academic Plan.

“What impressed me about Cindy was that she thinks about the mismatches between what we say we want to do, what we’re currently doing, and the concrete things we can do to achieve our goals,” said Walsh, speculating that Larive’s experience as executive vice chancellor—as well as department chair and dean before that—honed that “problem solver” approach. “As a candidate, she displayed a more granular understanding of Santa Cruz and the campus’s issues.”

“The perfect person for this job”

Search committee member Kamil Hasan, incoming chair of the UCSC Foundation, said he considers Larive “the perfect person for this job.”

“UCSC is a very diverse community, and to have a woman and first-generation college student is really amazing,” he said. “She will be good at bringing people together.”

Hasan was also enthusiastic about Larive’s ability to represent the campus in neighboring Silicon Valley.

“UCSC has not been as successful as it should be in developing relationships with Silicon Valley—building strategic partnerships and joint collaborative projects,” he said. “I am sure she will be good at that. She is a well-known scientist, but UCSC’s interdisciplinary approach is very important—she said that.”

Hasan emphasized that Silicon Valley needs more than scientists and engineers, and that Larive will be a great ambassador, promoting entrepreneurship and looking for “matches” between the campus’s “amazing research” and what Silicon Valley companies need.

“If you look at their problems with inequality, minority representation, and communications, you see they need much more than science, engineering, and technology,” he said. “Cindy sees that. She is a very good leader, a tough leader. And at the same time she has a very, very nice personality. We need a strong leader at UCSC at this critical juncture in its history. She is the perfect person to take the university to the next level.”

Katie Hellier (BS, physics 2014), a doctoral candidate in physics at UCSC and the graduate student representative on the search committee, echoed Hasan’s impression that Larive appreciates the uniqueness of UC Santa Cruz.

“She’s really excited about Santa Cruz,” said Hellier. “She didn’t take this job just because she wants to be a chancellor. She wants to be chancellor of UC Santa Cruz.”

“Being a first-generation student is going to help her connect to our own first-gen students,” added Hellier. “I got the impression that the reason she’s in this to begin with is students. She wants students to feel supported, that they’re in a safe space and are getting what they expect from UC Santa Cruz.”

Hellier described the experience of serving on the committee as “very positive” and said she and undergraduate representative Ayo Banjo felt their concerns were “taken to heart” by the committee.

Larive is deeply familiar with “issues” the campus is facing, including student housing, the budget, relationships with the Santa Cruz community, and the Silicon Valley campus, according to committee members.

It all sounds good to Social Sciences Dean Katharyne Mitchell, who expressed enthusiasm about Larive’s selection. “This is a good fit, a great addition to our campus,” said Mitchell. “Her emphasis on diversity at UC Riverside comes through, as does her commitment to first-gen students and to growing a campus that cares about social justice.”

Mitchell added that she sent Larive a quick note of congratulations after hearing the news of her selection. “She wrote back right away, which I took as a really good sign,” she said.

“I felt ready to jump up and get all excited again”

Fiona Weigant, department manager for education and the staff representative on the search committee, was thrilled by the news of Larive’s selection. “She embraces who we are and will help us capitalize on our strengths,” said Weigant. “For me, what stood out when she came into the room for her interview was how energetic and prepared she was. She knew us. She got Santa Cruz. I felt ready to jump up and get all excited again.”

“Every UC campus considers itself unique, but we’re special at Santa Cruz,” Weigant said with a knowing laugh. “The fear is always with a new person coming in that they will make us different. We’ll lose what makes us special. I think she’ll help us grow on the national and world stage while keeping the unique specialness that is UC Santa Cruz.”

That initial conversation encompassed many topics, including student—and staff—activism. “She seemed to get that this is part of our campus culture,” said Weigant.

As a member of the Staff Advisory Board, Weigant acknowledged the depth of support Chancellor George Blumenthal has provided to staff for years. “He was instrumental in getting the staff advisor to the Regents position approved, and he has been a great advocate for staff at the systemwide level,” she said. “Whenever we’ve needed to talk to him, his door has always been open.”

Her advice for Larive? “Just remember to include staff,” said Weigant. “We keep the whole place going.”

Research that benefits the public

Carrie Partch, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, welcomed news of a female chief executive. Although she doesn’t know Larive personally, she described Larive as an analytical chemist who has made pioneering contributions to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy—a technique Partch likened to “an MRI for molecules.”

“In my lab, we use it to study proteins, but she works on small molecules, including those in blood and urine,” said Partch. “It gives us a snapshot of what comes out of the body.”

Larive’s work is a perfect example of basic university research that has tremendous applied value, said Partch, adding, “She pushed forward the technology.”

Larive’s long tenure with UC, as a professor and administrator, has given her a great understanding of how UC campuses work, noted Walsh.

“My sense is that her natural instinct is to be very collaborative,” he said. “She came across as a very open, honest person. I think she’ll want to touch base with all the various constituencies on and off campus and build relations toward collaborative solutions that will help move the university forward.”