Former UCSC chancellor, campus dean Karl Pister dies at 96

mug of Karl Pister

After dedicating more than 70 years of his life expanding opportunities for students in the UC system, former campus dean of engineering Karl Pister died Saturday at the age of 96.

Pister began his career as a structural engineering professor at UC Berkeley for nearly 40 years before advancing to become the UC Santa Cruz chancellor and university vice president, according to a UCSC press release.

“During Karl’s tenure as dean of the College of Engineering, the Bechtel Engineering Center was completed, fundraising expanded dramatically, and planning was launched for Soda Hall,” said campus Dean of Engineering Tsu-Jae King Liu in an email. “But what stands out to me is his deep conviction to equitable access to quality public education.”

Pister led UCSC as chancellor from 1991 to 1996 and worked into his 80s, continuing to contribute work that would guide the fields of education and science in California, according to a UCSC press release. UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive added that Pister championed for fair access and pushed for all qualified students to have the chance for a university education.

Larive noted that the 1990s were turbulent for UCSC. During the 1996 passing of California’s Proposition 209, which prohibited state institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity during the college administration process, Pister assured that UCSC would maintain its outreach programs to underrepresented students of California, Larive added.

In 1995, Pister and other university chancellors issued a unanimous public statement in an effort to sway the UC Board of Regents to restore affirmative action. When it did not, UCSC furthered its efforts of outreach, the press release noted.

Under Pister’s legacy is the UCSC’s Leadership Opportunity Awards, now named after him, to aid low-income students from 13 community colleges in transferring to UCSC to earn their degrees, according to Larive. Larive added there have been a total of 326 Pister scholars, with more arriving the next academic year.

“(Pister) demonstrated a commitment to transparency, working together, and the kind of problem-solving that defines an exceptional engineer,” Larive said in an email. “He made a difference on our campus that endures to this day.”

Pister became the university’s first vice president of educational outreach in 2000, where he led efforts to improve education for underserved students of California, according to the press release.

The press release added that Pister worked to improve connectivity between the university and underserved communities throughout his career.

“He launched new programs for equity and inclusion at a time when such efforts were less common, and he did so without fanfare,” Liu said in an email.

Contact Luis Saldana at [email protected].