UCI’s Second Chancellor Jack Peltason Passes Away at 91

On the northeast side of UC Irvine, Bridge Rd abruptly becomes West Peltason. Bridge Rd connects University Town Center corporate and community businesses to the edge of UCI’s campus at Peltason Dr, the street named after the late Jack Peltason. The transition suits Jack Peltason, UC Irvine’s 2nd chancellor, who passed away on March 21 from Parkinson’s disease at age 91, and is remembered for his active role in bridging community to campus partnerships.

Endearingly nicknamed the “craftsman of consensus,” Peltason was a social scientist and a scholar of constitutional law, government and the US Supreme Court from the University of Missouri with a PhD from Princeton. Peltason valued a comprehensive model for UCI that equally balanced research and the importance of the lecturer.

He was hired by UCI’s founding chancellor, Dan Aldrich, in 1965 as the first vice chancellor of student affairs, and left after three years in his position. Upon his return, he was elected the second chancellor of UCI in 1984, presiding over eight years of remarkable growth for the university.

Peltason’s strong belief in the US democratic process guided his efforts as chancellor, valuing dissent and opposition and revering consensus and community partnership building, boosting UCI academic research and merit. He successfully lobbied the state for higher reimbursement rates from Medi-Cal patients for the UCI Medical Center, bringing the medical center out of a long-term financial crisis.

He transformed the largely reclusive chancellor’s office of Dan Aldrich into a visible symbol for engaging leadership and partnerships within the public and private sector. His easy-going demeanor left community members confident with their investments into UCI — millions of dollars of investments from Arnold and Mabel Beckman (Beckman Center), developer Donald Bren and private donations to the UCI School of Medicine which increased 508% during his eight-year term.

Peltason also engaged the Japanese corporation, Hitachi, to build a joint 16.5 billion dollar biomedical research laboratory in 1990, making UCI the first US school to host a Japanese corporation. With his keen long-term vision, Peltason also planned for the physical growth of the campus along with intrinsic academic growth.

According to an LA Times article about the legacy of Jack Peltason, since 1984, Peltason secured large amounts of state funding for over 36 different construction projects, leaving not only a physically larger and more accommodating campus, but a history of never-ending construction projects.

More than augmenting construction and private donorship, Peltason encouraged and fostered increases in underrepresented minority students. He stuck to this commitment of diversity as he transitioned to his next position within the UC system.

His term of second chancellor came to an end in 1992, when Peltason, who neither lobbied nor expected the position, was unanimously elected UC President. Although some critiqued the salary and benefits Peltason would receive, numerous articles from the year of his election hold Peltason in high esteem for the choice of UC President. Once the dean of the school of humanities, Spencer C. Olin considered Peltason perfect for UC presidency,

“He is a shaper of consensus rather than a dictator of policy.”

As a UC President, Peltason held strong to this characterization. He defended affirmative action, asking the regents to uphold “the 30-year commitment to the twin goals of diversity and excellence” and lobbied the state legislature and governor’s budget to stave-off a 10% tuition fee increase. Peltason sought to expand UC accessibility and proposed a new site of either Merced or Madera county for the 10th UC, which eventually became the University of California, Merced.

Peltason served a short term, retiring after his first three-year contract at age 71. In 1997, the UC Irvine renamed portions of California Ave and Bridge Rd in honor of Peltason, finally memorializing the transformative connections he fostered at UC Irvine. Today, in 2015, we celebrate the late Jack Peltason for his profound contributions that leave UCI a top tier academic school with world-class professors, research, corporate/community to campus relationships and a diverse model of students who cross East and West Peltason every day, connecting the past and present prospects of UCI.