By Kimberly Lane
Michael Gottfredson is a glass-half-full kind of guy. Where others see challenges, he sees opportunity.
“There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic,” says UC Irvine’s executive vice chancellor and provost, who leads efforts to move the rapidly growing campus forward despite current financial pressures.
That ability to see the best — even in the hardest of times — has earned him the 2012 Lauds & Laurels Extraordinarius award, presented annually by the UCI Alumni Association to those who have prominently contributed to the advancement of UCI and its fundamental missions of teaching, research and public service.
Gottfredson is a 1969 graduate of Davis High School and a 1973 graduate of UC Davis.
“When I saw the criteria for the award, I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving, especially when you think about what he does and the enormous responsibilities he has,” says C. Ronald Huff, a professor of criminology, law and society and sociology who nominated Gottfredson for the honor. “We’ve had some challenging times, but people trust him to be honest, transparent, open and fair.”
He says that Gottfredson’s leadership qualities are among the best he has encountered during his 38 years as a faculty member. Communication is a priority, he says: Gottfredson brings faculty, staff, students and alumni together to suggest budget solutions and then adeptly formulates those ideas into a master plan.
Huff says Gottfredson also has a knack for making the most of limited resources and a natural ability to instill trust and make others comfortable, sometimes utilizing his understated, wry sense of humor.
“He’s very good at dealing with complex situations and making people feel relaxed,” Huff says. “It doesn’t matter how challenging the situation; he stays on an even keel. He seems unflappable.”
The campus has moved forward, in good times and bad, under Gottfredson’s leadership. “The budget has forced us to change the way that higher education is financed,” he says, “but we will not change our commitment to quality.”
Strategic academic planning and budgeting has allowed UCI to take advantage of a tight job market nationwide and entice some of the best faculty and researchers in the world — 70 in 2011-12 and 80 more planned for 2012-13 — to the campus. The number of tenure-track faculty hired since Gottfredson became UCI’s chief academic and budget officer in 2000 totals nearly 750.
Prior to the recent economic downturn, he led academic planning through a period of explosive campus growth. Gottfredson has overseen construction of 40-plus UCI facilities, valued at more than $1.8 billion. This includes UC Irvine Douglas Hospital, several research and instructional buildings, additional student housing and the Student Center.
Under his administration, the campus also launched new schools in law and computer science (and, shortly, in education); programs in statistics, public policy, pharmaceutical sciences and nursing science; and popular majors in public health and business.
In addition, Gottfredson helped establish UCI’s “Focus on Excellence,” a strategic plan for academic development crafted with input from faculty, staff, students, community members and administrators. This ability to bring together different constituencies and build consensus around common goals is key to his success.
Gottfredson’s pride in these accomplishments is obvious, but he refuses to take credit, instead deflecting praise to others. “It’s the qualities of the people who work here and the students who attend UCI that have made this university what it is today,” he says.
“Our medical center is the best in Southern California. Our academic programs are world class, and our enrollment demand keeps growing. It’s uniform excellence across the entire campus.”
At a recent Staff Assembly-sponsored lunch forum, Gottfredson answered questions about hiring freezes and additional state budget cuts. He remained, as always, optimistic.
“We’re better off than any other UC campus,” he told the 50 staff members in attendance. “All our revenue sources – except for what’s coming in from the state — have increased, and we are fundamentally sound.
“It’s a reason to be proud, and it’s a reason to bank on UC Irvine.”
Gottfredson received his bachelor’s degree from UC Davis and his master’s and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Albany. His research and teaching specialties are theories of crime and delinquency and the criminal justice system.
In 1990, he co-authored a book with Travis Hirschi proposing a general theory of crime. The theory is one of the most frequently cited and researched in the field.
Prior to joining UC Irvine, Gottfredson was vice president for undergraduate education and professor of management and policy, law, sociology and psychology at the University of Arizona. In 1999, he served as UA’s interim senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
He also taught at Claremont Graduate School, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the State University of New York at Albany.
He served as the director of the Crime & Justice Research Center in New York and has served on the board of directors for the Parent Connection, Orange County United Way and OCTANe, a nonprofit group that promotes biotechnology in Orange County.
He continues to teach classes at UCI and to serve as a consultant with state, county and federal governments on criminal justice policy.
Gottfredson’s wife, Karol, works as an academic coordinator in UCI’s department of education. They enjoy spending time with their daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters.
— UC Irvine Alumni Communications