Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008
Richard C. Atkinson, Commencement Speaker
December 10, 2008
Richard C. Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California, has had a long and distinguished career as an educator, administrator and scientist.
Atkinson, the 17th president of the University of California, assumed the presidency in 1995 and served until 2003. As leader of California's public university system, Atkinson took innovative approaches to admissions and outreach and also established research initiatives to increase the university's contributions to the state's economy. In addition, he worked to institute significant changes to the SAT I, the most widely used college entrance exam, leading to a major shift in the way millions of high school students are tested for college admissions.
Before becoming president of the University of California, Atkinson served as chancellor of the San Diego campus of the University of California from 1980-95. As chancellor at UCSD, Atkinson helped transform the campus into one of the nation's leading research universities. Under his leadership, enrollment doubled to nearly 18,000, and the quality and scope of its programs increased. In 1995 the National Research Council ranked the quality of UCSD's graduate programs 10th in the nation.
Prior to his tenure at the University of California, Atkinson served as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). He was appointed deputy director of the NSF by President Gerald Ford in 1975, then promoted to director in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter. In his role as director, Atkinson was responsible for overseeing the nation's science policy. One of his most important accomplishments was negotiating the first agreement for the exchange of scientists and scholars between the United States and the People's Republic of China.
Atkinson began his academic career at Stanford University, where he was a faculty member from 1956-80, except for a three-year period during which he was at the University of California, Los Angeles. At Stanford he served as a professor of psychology, and he also held appointments in the School of Engineering, the School of Education, the Applied Mathematics and Statistics Laboratories, and the Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences.
Atkinson's research in the field of cognitive science and psychology has focused on problems of memory and cognition. His theory of human memory has influenced subsequent research in the field, particularly in the areas of the relationship between cerebral structures and psychological phenomena and the effects of drugs on memory. His work also has been used to help develop techniques that optimize the learning process. He has written or edited nearly 25 books and more than 170 articles.
He has also applied his research to classroom learning. His system for computer-assisted instruction, one of the first of its kind, served as a prototype for the commercial development of computer-assisted instruction. He was co-founder of the Computer Curriculum Corp.
Atkinson received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate degree from Indiana University. He has been awarded honorary doctoral degrees from a number of universities, including Indiana University.
Atkinson has held numerous leadership positions over the course of his career. He is the past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the former chair of the Association of American Universities. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the National Academy of Education, and the American Philosophical Society. His contributions to science and higher education have also led to a slightly unusual tribute: there is a mountain in Antarctica named in his honor. Mount Atkinson is located at 78° 39' S.L. 85° 30' W.L.