Chang-Lin Tien, the first Asian American to head a major American research university, died at age 67.
Tien, who served as chancellor of the University of California's flagship campus in Berkeley, died from complications of a brain tumor first diagnosed in 2000.
An expert scientist, Tien was equally comfortable conducting research and interacting with students.
"Chang-Lin was an exceptional leader,' said current chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "His energy and optimism, his willingness to fight for the principles he cherished, and his loyalty and love for this campus made it stronger and better."
Born in China in 1935, Tien grew up in Shanghai and Taiwan. He attended the racially-charged University of Louisville in Kentucky in 1956, where his encounters with racism motivated him to fight for affirmative action.
During his nearly four decades at Berkeley, Tien often shared stories about having to ask a professor in Louisville to stop addressing him as "China man."
Despite the prejudice he faced, Tien obtained a master's degree in Louisville and a Ph.D. from Princeton University before heading to the Bay area.
As chancellor from 1990 to 1996, Tien raised the profile of women in the administration. He appointed the first woman vice chancellor and provost and the first woman chief of campus police.
But Tien headed the prestigious university during a rocky period. He faced intense budget cuts from the state during the recession, a hostage situation at a campus bar and a fraternity house fire that killed three students.
One of his toughest fights was with the University of California (UC) Board of Regents, which attracted intense media attention in 1995 when it voted to dismantle the university's affirmative-action programs. Tien, who opposed the idea, resigned the following year.
Tien's career as a scientist was lauded by colleagues, universities and governments.
The government of Hong Kong gave Tien its highest award, the Grand Bauhinia Medal, for his service. In addition, Tien was awarded 12 honorary doctorates from universities in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and China.
The National Academy of Engineering last year awarded Tien its highest honor, the NAE Founders Award, which recognizes academy members who have made lifelong contributions to engineering.
"Chang-Lin Tien's visionary leadership, outstanding scholarship, uncommon enthusiasm, and warm regard for his fellow human beings have made an everlasting mark on the Berkeley campus," said UC President Richard Atkinson. "He has made an immeasurable contribution to the vitality and excellence of UC Berkeley and to the educational opportunities available to students throughout California."
Tien is survived by his wife, Di-Hwa; his son, Norman, a professor of engineering at UC Davis; and his daughters Phyllis, a physician at UC San Francisco; and Christine, the deputy city manager of Stockton, Calif.