UC regents pick Merced leader

SAN FRANCISCO -- An electrical engineer will serve as the next chancellor of the University of California at Merced.

UC regents unanimously appointed Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang to fill the position Wednesday, highlighting his passion, sincerity and commitment to provide a college education to anyone who wants it.

Kang has been dean of UC Santa Cruz's Jack Baskin School of Engineering for six years. About 1,300 students are enrolled in the engineering program -- that's roughly the same number as UC Merced's enrollment.

Kang, 61, starts March 1. He plans to visit the campus next week to meet with students, staff and community members.

The former AT&T engineer re- places founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who stepped down in August to spend more time with her family and write a book about the campus.

Roderic Park, a former senior associate for academic development at UC Merced, has been serving as acting chancellor since September. Park will stay on through March.

In announcing Kang's appointment at the regents' meeting, UC President Robert Dynes commended Kang's "deep commitment to the University of California and to expanding educational access to students."

Kang said he has a passion for higher education. "I wanted to see what difference I can make to improve the situation of others."

Kang will earn $295,000 annually, a $35,000 increase over Tomlinson-Keasey's salary. Kang also will live in a university-supplied house and receive a $9,000 annual car allowance, $10,000 in moving expenses and access to funds for official entertainment.

As dean at UC Santa Cruz, Kang is credited with developing the engineering program and gathering millions of dollars in donations and partnerships -- a background from which Dynes expects UC Merced to benefit.

"I expect the same from him I do of all UC chancellors -- to make education as accessible as possible, to recruit the best faculty in the world and to develop programs so that there are things UC Merced does that are the best in the world," Dynes said.

Student body President Josh Franco -- who served on the search committee -- said among the handful of finalists, Kang moved to the top of his list because of his energy, intensity and passion.

"Throughout the interview process, in answering our questions, he was very sincere, he just had it," Franco said. "He really wanted to build a university."

Originally from South Korea, Kang earned his bachelor's degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, his master's from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his doctorate from UC Berkeley. All his degrees are in electrical engineering.

After helping develop the world's first 32-bit microprocessor chip at AT&T, Kang served as professor and department head at the University of Illinois. He also traveled to other countries as a visiting professor.

Kang has served in several organizations, including the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Nanotechnology and the UC Santa Cruz Chancellor's Education Partnership Advisory Committee. He holds 14 U.S. patents in electrical engineering and has written or co-written nine books.

Kang and his wife, Mia, a retired engineer, will live in the chancellor's residence in Merced. The couple have two grown children. The Kangs visit South Korea about once a year.

UC Merced, the 10th UC campus, opened in the fall of 2005. Construction continues and new majors and minors open up every semester. UC Merced's immediate challenge is boosting student enrollment.

"The university did a tremendous job in recruitment, attracting students without buildings, without ballparks," Kang said. "We need to do more outreach and work with our community colleges and high schools."

The appointment was the culmination of a six-month search. A 16-member advisory committee of UC regents, faculty, staff and Merced residents met, starting in June. Each member submitted his or her own recommendation from the field of finalists, Franco said. Dynes said Kang's appointment will make the committee "deliriously happy."

UC officials said hundreds of people applied for the position; about 65 were considered candidates. Officials would not comment on how many finalists were up for the top job, citing confidentiality restrictions, but Franco put the number at five to 10.

The costs of the consultants and the overall search were unavailable Wednesday.

Tomlinson-Keasey is earning her full salary of $260,000 during her 2006-07 administrative leave. She is teaching a psychology class on campus. Park, the acting chancellor, will earn $200,000 in addition to staying in the chancellor's residence and earning a car allowance.

Tomlinson-Keasey couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday but in a statement praised Kang's qualifications "to guide UC Merced through its next growth phase."

"Steve Kang has the school stature, interpersonal skills and the boundless energy that a chancellor needs to be successful," she said in the statement.

Kang said he understands many Central Valley students because he was the first in his family to attend college and learned English as a second language.

To stay connected to students, Kang said he will bring some of the policies he instituted at UC Santa Cruz, such as a student advisory council.

"That council helped me out a lot," Kang said. "They are our future leaders -- it's very important to get a link to the students."

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