Number 39, Fall 2002

Review sets stage for recruitment

Armed with a record of successful programs and recommendations from a university review committee, the UC Office of the President and the UCR chancellor are launching an international search for a new UC MEXUS director.

The search originally began in 1999 when the current director, Dr. Juan-Vicente Palerm, completed his five-year tenure. But delays in the process and personal problems on the part of the selected candidate left UC MEXUS empty-handed. As the time was approaching for the 15-year review, which all UC multi-campus research units must undergo, the decision was made to delay the search until the end of 2002. The review committee’s recommendations will provide an ideal platform to launch the new search, said Palerm.

“(Reviews) are time consuming and difficult,” UC Riverside Vice Chancellor David Warren told the review committee, “but they give us a new perspective — exactly what we need to seek the new director.”

In the meantime, Palerm agreed to remain as director and continue to run the Institute from UC Santa Barbara, where he had returned in 1999 with every expectation of stepping down within a year.

“I feel that I have accomplished what I set out to do when I took the job,” Palerm said. During his tenure, he increased the Institute’s ability to fund research more than 20-fold in addition to seeking out relationships with Mexican institutions to finance graduate student education and support for binational collaborative research. Under his leadership, the Institute has identified issues of urgent binational concern and brought together experts to share their knowledge and launch new research initiatives.

His role in the creation of a binational committee of government leaders, academic and business experts to help pinpoint areas where research is needed, and the creation of a UC hub in Mexico City where UC programs, alumni and researchers can congregate, has placed UC MEXUS on a new level of international academic collaboration.

The director job should rotate among academics to keep the Institute vital, Palerm said. Five years is sufficient for directors to harness their energy and enthusiasm to carry out new initiatives and then return to their research, as he intends to do. His research essentially came to halt when he took over the directorship.

“I had left it on hold at a critical juncture,” said Palerm, whose major projects deal with Mexican farm workers and Mexican communities in rural California, and with Mexican agriculture and rural society. “I have a deep interest in my work. It’s important to me, and to Mexico and the U.S. If I stayed another five years, I would never be able to take it up again.”

The UC Office of Research aims to complete the director search by July, said Carol McClain, director of multicampus research. Her office, in consultation with the Institute, the UC academic senate and UC campuses, will appoint a five to seven-person search committee mandated to pare down the applicants into a short-list that will go to the UC Office of Research and the UCR chancellor for final selection.

But the road to July 1 is paved with challenges. The binational focus of UC MEXUS means not only that the search committee must represent a wide variety of interests; including those of Mexican academia, but also that the Office of Research must cast a wide net in its search. After the committee has finished its work, the list of finalists must circulate to the campuses and the three academic senate committees for additional analysis and recommendations before two or three finalists are invited for interviews.

In fact, the applicant is applying for two jobs. The Institute director must hold a faculty position at the Riverside campus concurrently and so must be approved by the appropriate campus department. The vice provost for research selects the new director in consultation with the executive vice chancellor of the Riverside campus.

The search committee will start out with quite a different agenda from the one it faced in 1993 when Palerm was hired.

In the intervening years, the fledgling multi-campus research unit with three staff members and an annual budget of a few hundred thousand dollars has become a major player in binational cooperative research and the education of new generations of academics and scientific experts. UC MEXUS now employs a dozen people and works with a budget of almost $6 million – not counting matching funds from partner institutions.

This transformation occurred because the director grasped each opportunity and resource that presented itself, said Institute Assistant Director David Kropf.

“He dedicated himself to raising the academic excellence of the program,” he said. “The Institute was flush with good ideas and a great direction and he helped clear a path for it to reach those goals.”

Support for the program has grown, Kropf said, from UC Office of the President to the academic institutions and top-level Mexican government officials.

“Palerm cemented relations with the campuses and allowed the Institute to grow unfettered by personal bias.”

Warren called the changes in UC MEXUS under Palerm’s leadership, “dramatic,” not only encompassing the scope and breadth of its programs but the thriving collaborations within the UC system.

“The most significant changes have occurred in the relationships with Mexico, Mexican universities and Mexican scholars,” he said. “The good health of the United States’ and California’s relationships with Mexico are key enablers of these developments, but the hard and effective work of UC MEXUS and our Mexican colleagues has really made the programs prosper.”

When the political climate toward Mexico chilled soon after Palerm assumed the directorship in 1994 he began to look for ways to build bridges between the academic communities.

“The challenge to academia was to accelerate scientific communication,” Palerm wrote in a UC MEXUS News editorial in 1996. “Not only to serve the needs of society, but also to monitor governmental and corporate activity with a critical eye.”

The UC MEXUS response was to seek a cooperative research funding agreement with CONACYT that sparked the Institute’s rapid growth and positioned it a couple of years later to support state efforts to repair relations with Mexico.

The new director will face the challenge of finding new ways to keep that spark alive and amplify those programs, Warren and UC MEXUS staff agrees.

“Bolstered by the review committee’s recommendations and the Institute’s history of successes,” Kropf said, “(the new director will) take us to the next level.”