Charles E. Young, UF’s 10th President, Dies at 91

Charles E. “Chuck” Young, the tall, affable Californian who, as the famed leader of the University of California, Los Angeles, brought a sense of distinction to UF while guiding it through a period of rapid change into the 21st century, died on Sunday. He was 91.

“Chuck Young arrived at UF at an important moment, and he helped put the university on its path toward becoming one of the nation’s great public universities,” said UF President Ben Sasse. “We mourn his loss, and we join in sharing our heartfelt condolences with his family and loved ones, and with the UCLA community.”

President Young arrived at UF in 1999 after spending nearly 29 years as chancellor of UCLA, where he remains that university’s most iconic leader, credited with transforming UCLA into one of the nation’s top-five public universities and the namesake for the Charles E. Young Research Library and the campus’s main roadway.

He began his tenure at UF as interim president, with the expectation that he would fill the spot left by the departure of the previous president, John Lombardi, only until a search committee found a permanent replacement. When the search failed, Young’s position was made permanent and he remained head of UF until 2004.

Charles “Chuck” Frazier, who served as vice provost during Young’s term and has since retired, said Young guided UF through a time of dramatic change both within the university and in higher education governance statewide.

He arrived as UF was regaining its footing following Lombardi’s departure. Within a week or two, he made several leadership changes in Tigert Hall, including hiring the late David Colburn, a longtime professor and chair of the UF history department, as interim provost – a position that, like his own, later became permanent.

“It was a heady time, to say the least, in administration in particular,” Frazier said. “Every dean, every VP, every administrator of a sizable unit knew the earth was shaking underneath them.”

With his nearly three decades of leadership of UCLA, Young exuded a depth of knowledge and confidence that instilled a “relative sense of calm,” Frazier said.  But as Young and his new team brought stability to UF, they faced a new challenge: the disbanding of the Board of Regents and its replacement with the local boards of trustees that continue to oversee each of the state’s public universities.

Young, working with the inaugural UF Board of Trustees formed in 2001, guided UF in taking over the many responsibilities that had been the purview of the Board of Regents and the state, such as managing, for the first time, human resources and financial systems.

UF Past Provost Joe Glover credited Young with spurring the Faculty Senate to set their own agenda, contributing to the system of shared governance that thrives today.

“At the first Faculty Senate meeting Chuck went to, he said, ‘I’m not talking. This is your meeting. You run this meeting,’ and they were stunned,” Glover said. “Chuck then created a number of task forces on shared governance.”

Frazier and Glover said Young shepherded a number of other advancements during his four-year tenure, including:

  • Implementing the employee classification system that remains in place today.
  • Using university funds or bonds to build major campus facilities, a change from the longtime practice of relying exclusively on state PECO funds.
  • Leading the development of UF’s first university-wide strategic plan.
  • Increasing private contracts without jeopardizing UF employees’ jobs. Said Frazier, “Chuck just had an inherent sense of what’s just and right.”

Perhaps most significantly, Young brought, in Glover’s words, “a sophistication and urbanity,” that, coupled with his sterling reputation from his leadership of UCLA, helped to shape and cement UF’s vision of joining the very best public universities. That aspiration was finally realized in 2017, when UF first joined the top-10 public universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. 

“The University of Florida was a first-class university in the making when Chuck arrived,” said Win Phillips, who was vice president for research and dean of the graduate school under Young and recently retired as executive chief of staff in the UF President’s Office.  “Chuck brought the image and knowledge of a first-class university that had made it, and what that was really about.”

UF in 2020 awarded Young a UF Preeminence Award in recognition of his singular contributions to UF and its growth and rising stature. But among those close to him, he will be at least as well remembered for his congeniality and love of socializing.

He hosted frequent evening gatherings for his fellow UF leaders at the former President’s House on West University Avenue, now the Powell University House. Six-foot-three, with patrician good looks, he was an excellent dancer and greatly enjoyed singing. “What he lacked in talent, he made up for in enthusiasm,” Frazier said.

Young retired from UF in 2004, but then went on to serve as president of the Qatar Foundation in Qatar; CEO of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and, in the eighth decade of his life, as interim superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District in his home of Sonoma, California. 

Frazier said Young lived to bring together people in common cause to support organizations and their goals. At UF, he said, he had colleagues with very different personalities and strong opinions who sometimes clashed – but Young always listened, showed respect and decided issues without pointing out winners and losers. 

“If I had to guess what personal quality most helped him survive 33 or 34 years as a president of two major universities, it would be this,” Frazer said. “Most of us remember those days as some of our best.”

Young’s wife of 51 years, Sue K. Young, was ill with cancer when he arrived at UF, and she died in 2001. His daughter Elizabeth died in 2006. He is survived by his second wife, Judy, his son Charles Young Jr., his stepdaughter Lisa Rendic, his stepson Christopher Hillman, seven grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, according to UCLA.

UF News October 23, 2023