Vanishing Hakuta

It seemed to begin so auspiciously. UC presented us with a builder of educational bridges, here in the Valley, a man who came talking about a "balance between excellence and equity." We were dazzled, as we were meant to be.

Stanford Professor Kenji Hakuta Named as Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at UC

May 13, 2003

MERCED, CA. --- Kenji Hakuta, Ph.D., is an experimental psychologist by training, a teacher and researcher by profession, and a builder of bridges by nature. He will bring this passion for building bridges to educational excellence, opportunity and enlightenment to the University of California, Merced as the newly named founding Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts...

Hakuta is best known for his research on the psychology of bilingualism and second language learning, as well as for his work in education policy and equal educational access for minority students...

"At UC Merced, I will be busy hiring and developing the academic program, but the precious time that I have for research will be trained on improving access to higher education," Hakuta said. "I look forward to partnering with K-12 educational institutions to increase regional student access to the University of California and developing methods to more extensively track progress toward improvement. Fortunately, there is great staff in student outreach already in place at UC Merced, and my goal is to give that effort as much research backing as possible..."

Hakuta is particularly excited about applying knowledge he has acquired from the field of education toward building the liberal arts component of the campus. He has a clear vision for the academic foundation he hopes to help create: an educational environment that fosters critical and reflective reading, persuasive and analytic writing, and effective and responsible leadership.

"I feel it is important to achieve a balance between excellence and equity," Hakuta said. "As a new campus, there also is the really interesting challenge of creating the kind of culture where teaching has a shared priority with research. We want to recruit faculty who have spectacular research programs, but who also see themselves as teachers. That kind of supportive teaching environment is especially vital given UC Merced's special mission to serve students of the Central Valley, many of whom may be the first in their families to attend a university, along with students from the balance of California."

As with the mix of students, Hakuta aspires to attract a mix of faculty, including some with local connections. Another personal priority is hire faculty members whose interests cut across divisions of academic discipline and who are committed to increasing educational access and, more broadly, to regional development such as the environment and the economy. He is intrigued by the opportunity to contribute to the World Cultures Institute, one of UC Merced's two signature research institutes. Looking at the institute as a means to facilitate cultural and linguistic understanding through scholarship and internship programs, he points to the learning opportunities that arise when connections are made between the cultures and languages at the local scale with cultures and languages at the global scale...

So went the UC Merced bobcatflak campaign around the arrival of Dr. Hakuta at UC Merced in the spring of 2003. Last week UC Merced announced he would leave in July 2006.

He said he had considered the move for the past two months, but new job opportunities leading research teams at two California universities would allow him to live closer to his aging mother in the Bay Area.

"There's a lot of things I want to get done," Hakuta said. "We figured the campus is open now, and this is a pretty good time to make the move."

One job option is at a UC campus and the other is at a private university, but he would not say which one he is interested in, because those job searches are still ongoing. His decision should come in February, he said.

Hakuta is the primary caretaker for his mother, who lives in Woodside, so he wants to live in closer proximity as her needs increase.

He was also itching to get back to conducting research in his scholarly work, which emphasizes the psychology of bilingualism and second language acquisition.

"Some of my friends in the field kept saying they missed me, my research," Hakuta said. "I felt guilty to not be training some of these faculty members..."

A research university in the Central Valley would be a fertile ground for bilingual research projects, but the life of an administrator leaves little time for direct contact with research...

Beyond his leadership role as one of three founding deans, Hakuta has made contributions to creating a campus culture that values academic excellence and promotes community interaction, said David Ashley, UC Merced executive vice chancellor and provost...

Regionally, Hakuta has been actively engaged in building connections with the Great Valley Center, where he also serves on the Board of Directors. The non-profit think tank recently entered into a formal partnership with UC Merced.

He said he would continue to serve on the board as long as the Great Valley Center wants him there. He and his wife, Nancy Goodban, will continue to be advocates for the region.

"The Central Valley is something that we'll always carry with us," Hakuta said. "The future of California depends on how successfully the Central Valley transforms itself..."

In the meantime, Hakuta said he still has to lead his school in searches for 10 new faculty members, fundraising and helping current faculty get research funding. But establishing the UC Merced Child Development Center is a project that is very close to his heart.

The childcare center is expected to serve 150 children up to 5 years old, and will include an infant care unit. Officials are aiming to open the campus center in early 2008.

He said he would help the chancellor in the search for a successor, and announcing his departure in January will allow the university to make a smooth transition.

There's no prescription for the perfect leader, he said, but maintaining a Valley focus should be a major focal point for the new dean.

It’s good to know that Hakuta and his wife, who seems to have founded a group called Valley Hopefuls, will continue to advocate for the region from back in the old Bay Area. We got the impression, from more than one Hakuta public appearance, that UC was finally going to explain us Valley people to ourselves and to the rest of the world. Why are we so poor, for example.

But these were the naive speculations of the untutored masses. Instead of a live dean of social science, arts and humanities, we now have a partnership between UC Merced and the Great Valley Center. UC Merced and the recipients of its "outreach" have been saved from intellectual ferment for as long as the grants hold out.

A man, two of whose favorite authors are Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Noam Chomsky, should be missed out at the former municipal golf course. But who, in our humble Macondo, could tell what goes on out there? We are, after all, or were, the objects of research, not its subjects. The objects of UC research are, by definition, incapable of speculation. This explains why whatever UC says to us sounds like flak, and whatever we say to UC sounds like pure cafone.

We were interested in the high praise given Hakuta for a

clear vision for the academic foundation he hopes to help create: an educational environment that fosters critical and reflective reading, persuasive and analytic writing, and effective and responsible leadership.

People have come to the Valley and stayed their whole lives with a vision less clear and grand than that. Here we thought leadership was at least as much about what the leader did as what he said, except that there shouldn’t be too much difference between the two. But, again, you see, we just lack the culture. What sort of example did Hakuta set for the students and faculty, we ask, rudely.

Sal, si puedes? (Get out if you can?)

It is not for us to judge the ways of UC professors or even to attempt to interpret them from the dubious sources broadcasting the rumor of Hakuta's departure. We don't possess the culture to understand. Possibly, it is a question of options.

But, stumbling through the Internet in our crude auto-didactic way, we did learn that UC Merced just hired another professor.

Renowned Berkeley Physicist Raymond Chiao to Join UC Merced Faculty

December 14, 2005

In a major recruiting triumph for the University of California, Merced, Professor Raymond Chiao of the UC Berkeley Physics Department has accepted a joint faculty appointment in the fledgling university's schools of Natural Science and Engineering. He plans to pursue a new line of research in gravitational radiation when he assumes his new post.

"Professor Chiao's expertise and experience as a researcher and teacher will be enormous assets," said Dean Maria Pallavicini of the UC Merced School of Natural Sciences.

"Faculty members and students will benefit from his insight and example, and his high-level research is going to have a major impact on the physical sciences and engineering academic programs. It's an honor for UC Merced that he has decided to join us."

"The potential for engineered applications based on Professor Chiao's scientific research is tremendous," said Dean Jeff Wright of the School of Engineering. "We're extremely pleased that he will be part of UC Merced's Energy Institute, where we are already working on solar energy solutions that use advanced optics. His work will simultaneously fit our mission and expand our capabilities ..."

Clearly, Chiao is a man who deals with immutable facts of nature, not the ephemeria of social life and living languages. Here's solid man, who can produce a win-win public/private partnership to capture earth radiation, just like UC captured cow farts.

Hakuta’s departing insight, with its theme of "balance," suggests prolonged, unhealthy exposure to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the Great Valley Center leaders of "smart growth."

"There needs to be a balance between the regional and national aspect of this university. It can't just be a UC campus that happens to be in the Valley."

Thoughts like that could end up costing people money, if UC administrators don't remain diligent in their sustained efforts to suppress anything resembling rural sociology in California. That would be because people in the Valley need money and there are reasons that they don't have money. If you started studying that topic, there would be rumblings from the trustees of the UC Merced Foundation, who have all the Valley money.

But, whatever are the Valley Hopefuls going to do without the Hakutas?

V.I. Ratliff


Fontamara, Ignacio Silone

One hundred years of solitude, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez