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Education is in Chuck Young’s blood

Chuck Young. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Chuck Young. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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After almost 30 years as perhaps the most well-regarded chancellor in UCLA’s history, Chuck Young, 81, deserved a relaxing retirement. Instead, when he and his wife, Judy, moved to Sonoma, he quickly volunteered to be on the board of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, and today he is helping to work his magic on Sonoma’s schools.

“Chuck has a unique understanding of what our students need to be well-prepared for college, and he is helping us strengthen that ramp for Sonoma students,” said Laura Zimmerman, the Education Foundation’s executive director.

Young reigned over what is widely regarded as UCLA’s golden years. He set the goal of moving UCLA “from the second level of good universities to the first rank of excellent universities,” as he put it. By the time he retired in 1997, he had achieved that goal and he was the longest serving university head in history.

Young grew up in Southern California and attended San Bernardino High School. He served in the Air Force in the Korean War, then spent his undergraduate years first at San Bernardino Community College and then on the brand-new campus of UC Riverside, where he was that school’s first student body president.He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from UCLA. He was a faculty member at UC Davis and UCLA, during which time he helped create the California Master Plan for Higher Education.

Appointed chancellor of UCLA in 1968, Young was the youngest chief executive of any major American university. He held the post during a period of considerable tumult, including the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Under his now legendary tutelage, UCLA became one of the largest employers in Southern California and the university now educates more students than any other California college, public or private.

After retiring from UCLA, Young spent a few years as president of the University of Florida and then as president of the Persian Gulf’s Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development from 2004-06.

A few minutes with the charismatic Young and you wonder when he sleeps. You also quickly sense that there are several issues that keep him awake at night. Locally, he worries about how best to get the wider community in Sonoma more invested in the education outcomes of all its students. Further afield, he is still very concerned with and invested in the future of UCLA In his spare time, he is determined to help fix the mess that is NCAA sports. And if that wasn’t enough, Young has also devoted considerable energy to the effort to overturn Proposition 13 in court, believing that it is responsible for the fiscal system that has made the UC system especially vulnerable to state budget cuts.

Young feels strongly that a dramatic change is needed in order for California to maintain its standing as the premier public university system in the country. “The entire UC system should be privatized,” he says firmly. “The state currently contributes such a minimal amount of funding, perhaps averaging less than 15 percent among the campuses today, that it should no longer be telling the system what to do. Tuition should remain high for out-of-state students but should also double for in-state students of means. And there should be terrific aid for in-state students who need it.” He adds, “A dramatic change is needed or the system runs the risk of sliding down the current slippery slope it faces, into disaster.”

Closer to home, Young is pleased with the emphasis Sonoma is making on early childhood education and he believes it is the district’s single best tool in narrowing socioeconomic achievement, particularly when combined with parent education programs. Young is also a big fan of the district’s summer school enrichment programs targeted at helping students in grades three to six achieve proficiency. “If you wait any longer, the chance of those students catching up is very slim,” he warned.

So how did Young choose Sonoma? He has known local philanthropist and former Intel executive Les Vadasz for 30 years, having sat on the board of Intel for decades. He has grandchildren nearby in Novato and, as he put it, “What’s not to love … Sonoma is a beautiful place and the climate is terrific. We’re very happy here.”

“Chuck is perhaps the most notable, but happily one of a cadre, of local luminaries who do not have students in Sonoma schools yet have stepped forward to dedicate considerable time and resources to ensuring that our schools are the best they can be,” said Zimmerman. “How fortunate we are to have the support of the community in this way.”