UC Santa Cruz’s new bumper crop of academic chairs promises to do much to elevate research and discovery in a multitude of areas across campus, from advancing the fight against pediatric cancer to adding prestige and permanence to gender studies.

Other chairs will help take current scholarship to a new level, such as helping science journalists increase their impact, and giving high-tech workers of the future an edge in their fight against hacking and data thievery.

Chairs, established with funding from donors, are awarded to distinguished scholars and teachers to support teaching, research, and other services. Because being named to a chair is a prestigious award, chairs can attract highly sought-after faculty and academic candidates.

A total of 16 new chairs have been established at UC Santa Cruz since October 2013, when the campus launched the public phase of its first-ever comprehensive fundraising effort, the Campaign for UC Santa Cruz. Donors contributed more than $335 million in gifts to the university during the campaign, which closed on June 30. The total number of chairs at UC Santa Cruz climbed from 22 to 38.

The chairs’ importance can’t be overstated, said Paul Koch, dean of Physical and Biological Sciences. “They can spur faculty creativity by offering seed funds to test a new idea that is a little risky or provide a base of support for a talented graduate student.”

Here we’ve highlighted three of the new chairs and their inaugural holders, and included a list of all the chairs that have been established during the Campaign for UC Santa Cruz. A dozen of the new endowed chairs are designated “presidential” in recognition of matching funds provided by the UC Office of the President.

Spreading accuracy

Presidential Chair in Science Communication
Erika Check Hayden, Science Communication Program director

Journalists and communicators have a great burden and responsibility. It is their job to improve the reach and impact of accurate information.

“We can’t simply blame social media companies for the influence of ‘junk news,’” said Science Communication Program Director Erika Check Hayden. “We must adapt our practice to account for the increasing influence of social and digital media in all realms of public life.”

That is why Check Hayden is so excited about the launch of the Presidential Chair in Science Communication, which was established with a joint gift from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation and Mark Headley (Stevenson ‘83, politics and economics) and Christina Pehl. “We have a small program, and during times of budget stress, it can be difficult for programs like ours to sustain themselves,” she said. “The chair offers us a long-term secure future, which we have lacked in the past.”

Every year, the program offers intensive training for 10 students with scientific backgrounds who are transitioning into full-time communications work. “The chair will allow me to undertake a number of projects to help recruit top candidates, including candidates from diverse backgrounds, and support their training,” Check Hayden said.

The funding will also allow Science Communication faculty to launch themselves into ambitious projects. The program was recently awarded a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to explore new ways to use digital and social media more effectively to spread accurate and influential information about science.

A sense of permanence

Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation Presidential Chair for Feminist Studies
Bettina Aptheker, distinguished professor of feminist studies

What is a chair, anyway? Chairs are funded by donors to advance scholarship in specific areas. They are awarded to distinguished scholars and teachers to support teaching, research, and other services. In some cases, the chair payout supports the salary of chair holders or their graduate researchers. A chair can also provide funds in support of a department, research unit, school, or college. Chairs can be named on behalf of the donor or someone they want to honor. They often specify the area of research or administrative expertise supported—at UC Santa Cruz, that includes everything from astrophysics to writing for television.The launch of this chair is a very good sign that gender studies are getting the recognition and respect they deserve, said renowned feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker.

Aptheker is deeply touched by the fact that the donors “recognize and understand that what was once called women’s studies—now also sometimes called gender studies—was not just a fad or something that would disappear, that you can’t really do research and understand the world unless you understand gender, race, class, and sexuality, and how these things interlock and connect.”

Aptheker hopes to use the funds to bring visiting scholars to campus. “This is very exciting for the department,’’ she said. “And it deeply enriches the experience, especially for the graduate students.”

The initial endowment for the department was matched by the UC Office of the President. The result, said Aptheker, “is a sense of permanence to feminist studies, and an understanding that this is a bonafide and important field of study.”

The chair is also a great honor for a scholar of history with a national reputation for her talents as an instructor. Aptheker has taught one of the country’s largest and most influential introductory feminist studies courses for nearly three decades at UC Santa Cruz.

Dealing with a digital dilemma

Veritas Presidential Chair in Storage and Security
Ethan Miller, professor of computer engineering

The Veritas Presidential Chair in Storage and Security will help new generations of high-tech workers explore one of the most pressing questions in modern life: In an age when almost all information is digital, how do you protect your data, and how do you find the data you need?

“How do you manage it and make it reliable so someone can’t break in and steal your information, and how do you avoid losing it?” said computer engineering professor Ethan Miller. “These are issues you have to deal with. What about genomic data, medical data? If you are 20 years old, you’ll want medical records available when you’re 70. But how do you manage and build that? Very large storage and long-term storage are of critical importance.”

The presidential chair will give UC Santa Cruz students access to Git servers running software widely used in industry to efficiently record changes made to code projects.

“Let’s say you made changes to fix something in the code, and something else broke,” Miller said. With the Git server, “you can go compare the new version to the old version to see where to look.” Students can collaborate on complex multi-person projects, work cooperatively, and know exactly what changes each of their team members has made to the code.

The Git software doesn’t cost the university anything, “but you’ve got to run it on something,” Miller said. The endowment money will cover the cost of servers and solid-state drives to store student work, and will soon be expanded to provide storage for research project code as well.

Those students are hard at work addressing “a vitally important issue in our society,” Miller continued. “We are in big trouble if our digital storage fails.”

Bringing chairs to the table

The Campaign for UC Santa Cruz helped the campus establish the following chairs. If an inaugural chair holder has been chosen, that information is also included.

2013


Dorothy E. Everett Endowed Chair for Global Information and Social Entrepreneurship
Chris Benner
, professor of environmental studies and sociology

2014


Veritas Presidential Chair in Storage and Security
Ethan Miller
, professor of computer engineering (see above)

2015


Kenneth R. Corday Family Presidential Chair in Writing for Television and Film

Jordan-Stern Presidential Chair for Dickens and 19th-Century Literature Studies
John Jordan, research professor of literature and director of the Dickens Project

Stephen R. Gliessman Presidential Chair in Water Resources and Food System Sustainability

Sage Weil Presidential Chair for Open Source Software
Scott Brandt
, professor of computer science and vice chancellor for research

Richard L. Press University Librarian Presidential Chair
Elizabeth Cowell
, university librarian

Wilton W. Webster Jr. Natural Reserves Presidential Chair
Gage Dayton
, administrative director of the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserves

Faggin Family Presidential Chair for the Physics of Information
Anthony Aguirre
, professor of physics

2016


Colligan Presidential Chair in Pediatric Genomics

Narinder Kapany Professor in Entrepreneurship
Sue Carter, professor of physics

Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation Presidential Chair for Feminist Studies
Bettina Aptheker
, professor of feminist studies (see above)

E. K. Gunderson Family Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics
Ruth Murray-Clay
, professor of astronomy and astrophysics

Presidential Chair in Science Communication
Erika Check Hayden
, director of Science Communication Program (see above)

Robert Headley Presidential Chair for Integral Ecology and Environmental Justice
Ronnie Lipschutz
, professor of politics

2017


Murray Baumgarten Chair in Jewish Studies
Nathaniel Deutsch
, professor of history


Photos: Miranda Powell

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