UCLA Spotlight


Patricia O'Brien, UCLA College

  • By Wendy Soderburg, Todd Cheney
  • Published Jul 1, 2004 8:00 AM

Tackling big ideas and projects? Patricia O’Brien has a long history of it. Just consider the cover blurb on one of the textbooks she co-authored: “Civilization in the West” is described as “a fascinating narrative” enhanced by images, maps, and works of art - “an effective and exciting combination for exploring the complete story of western civilization.”

Encouraging collaboration? O’Brien is the former director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, a multi-campus research unit whose centerpiece program involves bringing together scholars from all over the world to work together across disciplines.

Now O’Brien brings her formidable scholarship and leadership skills to the UCLA College of Letters and Science, where she is the new executive dean.

“Pat O’Brien is a respected scholar, dedicated teacher and skilled administrator,” Chancellor Albert Carnesale said of her selection. “Her performance in high-level academic and administrative posts in the UC system demonstrates that she is extremely well-qualified to lead the UCLA College into the future.”

“UCLA is such a thrilling opportunity for me, at a very challenging time,” O’Brien responded. “This university is a world leader in public higher education. It’s an opportunity that was just too wonderful for me to turn down.”

In addition to her work with the Humanities Research Institute, O’Brien has made her mark at both the Riverside and Irvine campuses of the University of California.

Most recently, O’Brien was the dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at UC Riverside, overseeing 20 departments. She launched collaborative initiatives in several areas, including digital media and Southeast Asian, Native-American and policy studies. One of her proudest achievements during her five years as dean, O’Brien said, was the hiring of approximately 100 new faculty in the college.

Before that, O’Brien spent 25 years at UC Irvine, where she served as chair of the history department before becoming associate vice chancellor, then acting vice chancellor, for research. It was there, in 1994, that she became director of the Humanities Research Insitute.

“There are moments when such collaborative efforts really push things forward, and the value added is greater than the sum of the parts,” O’Brien said. “This program, for me, was very intellectually stimulating.”

A native of Cambridge, Mass., O’Brien earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in history at Columbia University. She is an expert on modern French history and 19th- and 20th-century social and cultural history.

During her first summer at UCLA, O’Brien plans to listen and learn from her fellow administrators and the faculty. “I’ve become very aware that protecting quality is a primary concern in this challenging budget time, so that will be the benchmark for anything we do,” she said.

O’Brien also looks forward to meeting with students. “The few I met during the interview process were just so impressive to me — their commitment and their understanding of what makes UCLA a great place,” she said. “So I know that’s going to be fun to do, and it’s going to keep me in touch with what UCLA is all about.”