By Camila Dadabhoy
Chancellor Howard Gillman delivered a private presentation arranged by the UCI Anteater Ambassadors Network (AAN) last Tuesday on “what matters most to him, and why” — a reflection on his career at UCI. Organized by fourth-year UCI students Navid Ghaffari (AAN president) and Pauline Nguyen (AAN vice president), the event hosted the Chancellor as he answered questions with pride, sharing his thoughts on UCI’s community.
The Anteater Ambassador Network is an organization at UCI composed of dedicated students representing the school to the surrounding community while building philanthropic awareness and culture. The exemplary members volunteer at a diverse spectrum of campus events: hosting donors for coffee hour, engaging in community service and proudly representing the face, voice and experiences of UCI.
Nguyen had previously met Chancellor Gillman during his seminar, “Free Speech on Campus,” quickly realizing he would be a great inspiration to the Ambassadors network. The Ambassadors were able to host him as the speaker, a great achievement, considering the Chancellor’s busy schedule. The students engaged in a question and answer session with the Chancellor over an array of breakfast sweets, excited to hear the advice Gillman had to offer.
“This job is a great job if you really, really believe in the mission of public higher education and everything it entails. And I certainly do,” Gillman stated.
Chancellor Howard Gillman is the sixth chancellor of UCI, leading the university since 2014. As a Southern California native, Gillman’s earned his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees at UCLA.
“It’s interesting; my parents never really went to college. I think they thought it was about getting a practical education. My dad was in construction and my mom a clerk, so I think they thought I was going to become a lawyer when I decided on UCLA,” Gillman said. “I went to an overcrowded high school in the valley, and only some of my friends were going to college. Half were going to Cal State Northridge, the other half to UCLA. The ones I liked better were going to UCLA, so that’s actually how I ended up there.”
Once at UCLA, Gillman began to fall in love with a variety of subjects rather than just his major studies.
“Maybe because I was an only child in an era before the internet when there was only three things on T.V, but I spent a lot of time in my head, reading and falling in love with music,” he said. “However, when I got to UCLA, I became attached with thinking about important and interesting things. Like every time I would take a new class, say astronomy, and learn how you can map out the building blocks of our universe, I would be amazed at how I was at an institution where I could interact with people who are devoting their entire lives to figuring out new mysteries.”
Driven by this burning curiosity and strive to learn more, Gillman decided in his sophomore year that he wanted to become a professor. In graduate school, he was overwhelmed and excited by the number of different fields he could become knowledgeable in. He wanted to dabble in everything.
“I learned how to interpret texts. It was the era of Watergate, so I wanted to learn American politics, but then also history. Then I really enjoyed philosophy…I liked it all! I was like a kid on the playground,” Gillman recalled.
He explained to students that the path from being an undergraduate student to being a tenured professor, all the way to becoming the chancellor of a university was not easy, but being a professional scholar allowed him the ability to open up and see the world we model in our community.
After his time as a faculty member at UCLA, Gillman recalled, his journey to becoming chancellor of UCI was a complete accident. But he was driven to learn more in different areas and improve our school systems for the better.
“The life-long learner in me couldn’t say no when I was asked to be the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences [at UCLA]. Then onto Chancellor here…my job became a service vehicle for everyone’s ambitions. That is an unbelievable and satisfying feeling,” Gillman said.
With over 160,000 freshman and transfer applications coming in this year, UCI is one of the most applied-to universities in the nation. Chancellor Gillman attributed this to the students and staff, saying what matters most to him will always be to achieve more
He ended citing his favorite motto: “Fundamentally, what really matters to me and why is the belief in this world of inquiry and discovery. Live a curious life. Be willing to change your mind once in awhile. Live your life that way and be a model for society. It’s easy for me to wake up every morning and jump into work when I know that all we do is do good and do gooder! So as I always say, Fiat Lux. Let there always be light.”