Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef
UC Davis Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef succumbed Oct. 15, 2015, to complications of successive ischemic strokes. He was 74.
A soft-spoken administrator whose management mantra was “listen, listen, listen,” Vanderhoef led UC Davis for 25 years—first as provost/executive vice chancellor (1984-1994) and then as chancellor (1994-2009). That quarter-century is arguably the period of UC Davis’ greatest physical and academic growth.
The first in his family to complete high school, and one of the very few in his Wisconsin factory town to make his way to college, he became one of the nation’s longest-serving university leaders and was widely credited with mentoring future university presidents and provosts.
“Larry Vanderhoef was many things over the course of his richly productive life—a pragmatic visionary, an academic diplomat, a tireless institution builder who devoted himself to realizing the potential of an extraordinary intellectual community,” said former UC President and UC San Diego Chancellor Richard Atkinson. “His legacy is reflected today in UC Davis’ status as one of the nation’s leading universities. I will always remember him as a friend and colleague who was in every way worthy of the indomitable Davis spirit. We will miss him deeply.”
Said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris: “Larry Vanderhoef was one of those rare leaders in American higher education who approached every challenge with the best interests of students and the community in mind. I had the honor of working with him for more than two decades and can think of no more gracious and elegant leader than Larry. His contributions were enormous and he never sought credit for his good works."
“Our university has lost a beloved leader, one who gave a quarter-century of his life and more to UC Davis,” said Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who succeeded Vanderhoef. “He built a strong foundation for our university’s service to the state, nation and world.”
Under his leadership, UC Davis grew by nearly every measure: student population, faculty, rankings, facilities, stature, research funding and philanthropic donations (including the 2006 launch of UC Davis’ first comprehensive campaign, with nearly half of its $1 billion goal raised by the time he stepped down as chancellor).
Vanderhoef made good on an inaugural promise to build a world-class performing arts center at UC Davis—just one of numerous state-of-the-art facilities constructed on his watch—and led the university itself to a more prominent place on the world stage.
Thousands of Interstate 80 commuters daily pass by his realized vision of an impressive and welcoming new south entry to the Davis campus, including the soaring Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, a conference center and hotel, and the under-construction Shrem Museum of Art.
Especially gratifying to Vanderhoef was the transformation of an ailing county hospital into the academically distinguished UC Davis Health System, located on the university’s Sacramento campus. He oversaw the health system’s development, first as its governing body and subsequently as chancellor. In particular, he was an early champion of telemedicine and valued the contributions of nursing—his mother’s late-in-life calling—to health care.
Quite the pool player as a young man—he learned how to play at about age 11—Vanderhoef told Sacramento Magazine in 2006 that the best decision he’d ever made was “to get out of the pool hall and into the classroom.” Overcoming the lack of academic role models and guideposts early in his life, he became an outspoken advocate for access to higher education. He elevated the campus’s Division of Education to a new School of Education when other universities were downsizing theirs, expanded partnerships with community colleges, encouraged disadvantaged elementary school students to stay on track through the innovative “Reservation for College” program, and partnered with leaders of regional communities of color to raise awareness of UC Davis.
He also believed passionately in the power of academic diplomacy. In the face of considerable concern and disapproval, he led a UC Davis delegation to Iran in 2004 (believed to be the first high-level university delegation to visit since that country’s 1979 revolution) in an effort to reestablish academic ties, to reopen the free exchange of students and scholars and to further cultural understanding. In 2008, he returned to Iran as a member of a small delegation of university presidents sponsored by the Association of American Universities.
In leading UC Davis through state budget cuts, the aftermath of campus and national tragedies and other challenges, Vanderhoef developed a reputation for being a principled, approachable leader. He was willing to make tough decisions, and remained passionate about the university’s mission to make people’s lives better.
Controversy over a high-level separation agreement, inflamed by executive compensation scandals in the UC Office of the President, led 56 Davis faculty members to call for a vote of no confidence in the chancellor in 2006. Faculty voted 70 percent to 30 percent to reject the no-confidence resolution. Law professor and then-Academic Senate Chair Dan Simmons, in a ballot argument opposing the resolution, wrote: “My several conversations with Chancellor Vanderhoef…convince me that he acted forthrightly in what he believed was the best interest of the campus and the university.”
When he announced his intention to step down as chancellor, the student newspaper (The California Aggie, June 5, 2008) editorialized that “Chancellor Vanderhoef’s service to the hundreds of thousands of students who have passed through the university’s doors during his term as chancellor has forever endeared him into the heart and soul of this campus…. For his leadership we thank him, for his devotion we appreciate him, and for his accomplishments we are forever grateful.”
And The Davis Enterprise (June 3, 2008) editorialized that “Vanderhoef leaves a legacy of excellence at a university that will greatly miss his leadership…. [He] has earned the respect and admiration of campus and community alike. No one in a position like his could be universally liked. But even Vanderhoef’s critics have respect for this quiet mentor who led by example, forged decisions by consensus, nurtured the top-notch talent around him and never shied away from tough issues.”
A two-minute video snippet (http://chancelloremeritus.ucdavis.edu/sign_off_video.html) of his last Mondavi Center convocation address (in fall 2008) shows him visibly touched by a sustained standing ovation.
The “top-notch talent” he nurtured includes more than a dozen UC Davis administrators who went on to become university presidents and provosts during his tenure. They credit his collegial and collaborative approach to problem solving, along with his belief in delegating both authority and responsibility, with providing them the opportunity to move on and up.
“That type of experience, particularly with an excellent, diverse team, provides strong leadership development,” said Virginia Hinshaw, former UC Davis provost/executive vice chancellor who went on to become chancellor of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, in a UC Davis Magazine (Summer 2009) article. Mark McNamee, former UC Davis dean of biological sciences who became senior vice president and provost of Virginia Tech, added: “Larry Vanderhoef sets a positive tone at the top for good behavior among administrators, and I believe this brings out the best in people.”
Recognized for his “passion to make things happen,” he was honored by the Sacramento Business Journal in 2004 as one of the 20 people who had contributed most substantially to California’s capital region over the prior 20 years, and was named the 2004 Sacramentan of the Year by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
In spring 2015, Vanderhoef’s book “Indelibly Davis: A Quarter-Century of UC Davis Stories…and Backstories” was released—a “distinctly different kind of memoir,” according to UC historian Patricia Pelfrey. “[Vanderhoef] makes UC Davis and its remarkable people the heart of his account of 25 years as a provost and chancellor—a choice that is beautifully vindicated by the power and insight of these stories. What emerges is a deeply engaging portrait of a university community and an academic leader for whom a life in higher education is not a career but a calling.”
He wrote about such topics as diversity, no-confidence votes, UC Davis’ controversial move to Division I intercollegiate athletics, the Sea of Cortez research boat tragedy, academic diplomacy in Iran, “wing-and-a-prayer risk-taking” that ultimately resulted in the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the remarkable transformation of the old Sacramento County Hospital into the UC Davis Health System, and about leadership and tough, principled decision-making (“what my dad would call ‘having starch’”).
Vanderhoef’s goal for the book was quite modest: two copies on a shelf at UC Davis’ library. Instead, the book’s first run of 750 hardcover copies was exhausted within months, and the book’s digital version (available, with video attachments, via UC’s eScholarship website at http://escholarship.org/uc/ucdavischancelloremeritus_books) has garnered more than 500 hits and over 100 downloads.
First felled by an ischemic stroke in November 2012, and another one two months later, Vanderhoef made enormous strides in his rehabilitation, noting in his book’s epilogue that “amazingly, the brain can rewire and skills can be relearned.” He worked at his office desk every day; served on multiple university and regional boards; attended numerous Mondavi Center, B Street Theatre, Sacramento Ballet and UC Davis music and dance department performances; supported UC Davis’ football and men’s and women’s basketball teams at most every game; enjoyed U.S. and international travel with his wife, Rosalie; and worked out three to four days a week at the ARC. And he publicly encouraged people to learn and share the F.A.S.T. acronym for recognizing the symptoms of a stroke—Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 9-1-1—because rapid, early treatment can prevent long-term damage and offers the best chance of recovery.
A third stroke again sent him to the hospital, this time on Nov. 2, 2014. Released seven weeks later, he faced a harder road to recovery but resolutely returned to the office part time and continued to attend university meetings and events, grateful for the mobility of a wheelchair.
Born to Wilmer and Ida (Wothe) Vanderhoef on March 20, 1941, in Perham, Minn., Vanderhoef was reared in Wisconsin from age 2 after his father moved to South Milwaukee to work in a war machinery foundry. A commuter student usually working full time, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, followed by a doctoral degree in plant biochemistry at Purdue University. He then joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, progressing through the ranks from assistant professor in 1970 to professor and department head in 1977. He was appointed provost at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1980, and began his career at UC Davis four years later.
His research interests lay in the general area of plant growth and development, and in the evolution of the land-grant universities. He taught classes from freshman level to advanced graduate study, served on national granting agencies’ review committees and on various national commissions addressing graduate and international education, the role of a modern land-grant university and issues of accreditation.
Early in his career, he was named an Eisenhower Fellow, a recognition awarded to emerging leaders from around the world to promote positive relationships and interactions between countries. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Society of Plant Biologists, and was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Purdue University and Inje University in Korea and an honorary professorship from China Agricultural University.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Rosalie Slifka Vanderhoef; daughter Susanne Vanderhoef; son Jon (Kim) Vanderhoef; sisters Lois (Christian) Krenzke and Linda (Curtis) McDermott; brother Lee (Debbie) Vanderhoef; brothers-in-law Andrew (Mavis) and Ronald (Janet) Slifka; and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family asks that those wishing to make a memorial contribution consider a donation to either the Larry N. Vanderhoef Scholarship for Study Abroad (#122598) or the Larry N. Vanderhoef Staff Scholarship (#122599). The scholarships help undergraduates to study internationally and staff members to continue their education (areas of longstanding special interest to Vanderhoef). Checks should be made payable to the UC Davis Foundation, with the scholarship’s name designated on the memo line, and mailed to UC Davis Advancement Services, 1460 Drew Ave., Suite 100, Davis, CA 95618, or contributions may be made online at http://give.ucdavis.edu.
A celebration of his life will be held Nov. 4 at 10:30 a.m. in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall.