Georgia Tech engineering dean Gary May chosen as next UC Davis chancellor

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University of California President Janet Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board that UC's six-year tuition freeze is unsustainable.
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University of California President Janet Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board that UC's six-year tuition freeze is unsustainable.

Georgia Tech engineering dean Gary S. May has been selected as the next UC Davis chancellor, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday.

May, 52, would become UC Davis’ first African-American chancellor if regents approve his contract Thursday in Los Angeles. He is expected to start Aug. 1.

The St. Louis native has been at Georgia Tech for nearly 30 years. He has written more than 200 technical publications and contributed to 15 books on computer-aided manufacturing of integrated circuits, on which he also holds a patent, according to Napolitano’s announcement.

“He is a giant in his field,” said Ari Kelman, a UC Davis history professor and member of the selection committee. “He is an excellent scholar. He is a brilliant man. He is a talented and experienced leader and, as important or more important than any of that, is that he has a genuine commitment to the public mission of the University of California.”

May has UC ties, having earned a master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1988 and 1991, respectively.

He has been a proponent of racial equality in science, technology engineering and technology fields and has spoken about the need to increase minority and female students in those studies. During a lecture at UC Berkeley last year, May warned that the STEM workforce comprised predominately of white males is at odd with demographics, which show every minority group increasing in population.

“We aren’t going to be able to mine the same gold for years into the future because there will less talent available from those traditional sources,” he said. “We have to do something about this or we will have trouble replacing retirees.”

May said in that same speech that he was motivated by the discrimination he faced during his years as a student and campus leader, starting with racial slurs directed at him that were written on his roommate’s door name card on his first day as a Georgia Tech undergraduate. He also recounted being mistaken for a copier repairman when he was in the faculty mail room at Georgia Tech retrieving his mail, among other incidents.

In 2015, May was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Award of Excellence in Science, Mathmatics and Engineering Mentoring.

Kelman said the selection committee was impressed by May’s knowledge of the University of California and particularly of UC Davis.

“He was very clearly the right person to lead UC Davis to even greater heights,” Kelman said. “He has a panoramic vision of what a world-class university can accomplish for the University of California.”

May’s assistant at Georgia Tech said he would not be available for interviews until his contract is approved on Thursday.

In a statement, May said, “I could not be more pleased, nor more excited, to serve as the next chancellor of the University of California at Davis. UC Davis is renowned for its excellent education and research, for providing its diverse student body with exceptional pathways for upward mobility and leadership, for giving its faculty opportunities for impactful discovery, and for serving the state and nation in areas of critical need.”

May would become a permanent replacement for Linda P.B. Katehi, who resigned in August under a cloud of controversy. An investigation found she violated multiple university policies but cleared her of the most serious allegations related to nepotism and misuse of student funds. The inquiry found that Katehi had repeatedly sought ways to enhance her online reputation by hiring outside consultants, despite claims to the contrary to Napolitano and the media.

Katehi was chancellor for seven years. She will return as a full-time faculty member after a yearlong paid sabbatical at her chancellor salary of $424,360.

May was selected from a pool of 525 applicants by a search committee and Napolitano.

“Gary May is a dynamic leader and an accomplished scholar and engineer with a passion for helping others succeed,” Napolitano said in a prepared statement. “He was chosen from an extraordinarily talented pool of candidates because I believe he’s the right person to guide UC Davis to even greater heights, advancing academic and research initiatives, building a stronger community with students, faculty, and staff, and furthering relations with the larger Davis and Sacramento areas.”

Napolitano previously said that the new chancellor will be required to expand the university’s reach in Sacramento. One possibility is a downtown building where students would live, study and work as interns – modeled after the UC Washington Center in Washington, D.C., she said.

The search committee’s requirements for the new leader included a vision for continuing the school’s rise in national and international rankings; embodying a visible and accessible leadership style; increasing commitment to diversity; building bridges between UC Davis, Davis and Sacramento; and ensuring that all members of the campus community feel consulted and fully engaged.

Although May stood out as the clear favorite among the applicants, many of the applicants were outstanding, Kelman said. The job attracted top university leaders from inside and outside the United States, he said.

“The field overall was absolutely extraordinary,” he said. “Several other candidates were off the charts terrific.”

May received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1985 before obtaining his graduate degrees from UC Berkeley. He received an Electrical Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award from UC Berkeley in 2010.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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