A member of the faculty from UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science since 1962, Viswanathan became chair of the Statewide Legislative Assembly of the Academic Senate on September 1. He will serve for one year.
It has been a long journey from Viswanathan's early days as a graduate student from India in 1957. "What really surprised me when I came here was the ease with which the students interacted with the faculty, which was unlike the rigid system that existed in my school in India," he says.
Influenced by those early years as a student, Viswanathan adopted his own award-winning approach to teaching at UCLA. He received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the UCLA Academic Senate in 1976. And in 1997, he received the undergraduate teaching award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers for establishing a solid-state electronics curriculum.
"The greatest joy I get is being able to teach in front of a large class and see the faces brighten up," he said when he was appointed as vice chair of the senate last year. "I'll miss that."
Viswanathan takes the reins as chair at a critical time. California's public institutions of higher learning expect enrollments to rise by more than 700,000 students over the next 10 years. This surge, dubbed "Tidal Wave 2" by former UC President Clark Kerr, will cause the University of California's enrollments to grow by about 63,000 full-time students, to 210,000, by 2010. That equals the university's total enrollment growth over the last 30 years.
The rise in the student population brings with it a host of other challenges. At least 7,500 new faculty members (of which 4,000 are needed to replace those expected to leave the university) must be recruited throughout the UC system by 2010, or about 750 a year. "We must maintain the quality of our faculty while meeting this goal and, at the same time, not sacrifice in other areas of our support system," Viswanathan says.
After his term as chair of the assembly ends, Viswanathan hopes to have disproved the notion that an engineer cannot be a good administrator. "I hope people say of me, there is a successful engineer who was also chair of the academic senate from UCLA."