Paul Licht to retire as UC Botanical Garden director

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After 13 years serving as the director of the UC Botanical Garden, Paul Licht will retire at the end of June and be replaced by Eric Siegel, the campus announced Monday.

Licht has held various roles at UC Berkeley for the past 52 years. Prior to working at the garden, he was the dean of biological sciences in the College of Letters and Science from 1994 to 2002 and served as the college’s chair of deans from 1998 to 2002. The day after he retired as chair, Licht said, he was asked to be director of the garden.

“My plan for retirement was to volunteer at the garden; I wanted to raise plants,” Licht said. When he was asked to be its director, he realized the position would allow him to be in the garden all the time.

Over the years that Licht has been director, his goal has been to rebuild the garden’s infrastructure to make it more open and inviting to the public. He explained his aim to get the campus community and the wider public to visit the garden as much possible. According to Licht, its attendance and membership have doubled during his tenure.  

Although he will miss the garden greatly, he believes he has reached the age at which it is time to turn the job over to someone “more vicarious.”

Christopher Carmichael, associate director of collections and horticulture at the UC Botanical Garden, said Licht has been a fantastic director for the garden.

“He’s done an amazing job of taking a unit that needed to be stabilized and done a wonderful job supporting staff, finding resources and taking us forward in a very positive way,” Carmichael said.

Siegel, the new appointee for director of the garden, has worked in various museums — most recently the New York Hall of Science — and word-class botanical gardens in New York. He has held senior positions as the director of corporate and science development at the New York Botanical Garden and the deputy director at Wave Hill.

Siegel praised the work Licht has done to stabilize and enhance the garden but has a few changes in mind, mostly pertaining to methods of expanding research and attracting different types of audiences.

“The place is in good shape, (but) the thing I want to build on is the work that’s already taken place in broadening the audience, bringing in more and different people,” Siegel said.

Siegel explained that he has worked in informal, outside-the-classroom science education for 35 years. He said he is grateful for the opportunity, as he has “a lot of interest and experience in engaging the broad public with science and the natural world.”

According to Carmichael, one of the biggest challenges for the new director will be dealing with the UC Botanical Garden’s financial situation. As a result of the university’s financial problems, he said, the garden has been losing monetary support. Carmichael said, however, that he is excited about Siegel’s appointment.

“When I got here, the saying was that the garden is the best-kept secret in the Bay Area,” Licht said. “I’m hoping now that it’s no longer a secret.”

Contact Sareen Habeshian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sareeenn