A Steady Hand


By Mary Daily

Published Jul 1, 2007 8:00 AM

A Principled Core

In mid-November, there was yet another challenge. And again, Abrams met it head-on. During a routine 11 p.m. check of Powell Library, community service officers, following normal procedure, asked everyone to show UCLA identification or leave. When one person refused to do either, campus police officers were summoned and eventually used a Taser to subdue the man.

A bystander captured the scene on a cell phone, and a portion of the incident quickly appeared on YouTube.com and ignited a virtual firestorm of controversy. For weeks, UCLA, and especially Abrams, were bombarded by angry and threatening phone calls and e-mails.

Abrams spoke out to the campus and the media, counseling restraint and cautioning against a rush to judgment until all the facts were in. He appointed an independent investigator to review the incident, in addition to the campus police department's own internal review. The results of those investigations are pending as of press time.

"Norm has always had the capacity to look into things, solicit advice from people he trusts and make the call," says Professor Emeritus Herb Morris '51, Abrams' colleague for more than 40 years.

A week after the library incident, campus computer administrators discovered a security breach in a database of personal information on about 800,000 people. Abrams wrote to all potential victims and provided instructions on protecting personal credit files. He informed the Los Angeles Times to help spread the word. "Norm insisted on full transparency," says Morabito.

Throughout the year, Abrams' candor, strength, clarity and determination have been apparent, and so has the "quality of his human interaction," says Patricia O'Brien, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science. At a regular meeting with UCLA leadership days after the Virginia Tech tragedy, he asked for a moment of silence. "He operates from a principled core and brings his own values into whatever he does," she says.

Heart of a Leader

Norman Abrams, a native of Chicago, came to UCLA in 1959 to join the law school faculty. "As UCLA grew, so did I," he recalls. But he shied away from administrative posts until 1989, when he was appointed associate dean. "Norm is a flexible thinker and can act quickly when needed," says Susan Prager J.D. '71, then law school dean and now president of Occidental College. And Abrams says he found in himself "things I didn't know I could do." (He also served as interim dean in 2003-2004.)

Buoyed by that experience, in 1991 he agreed to serve as the university's vice chancellor of academic personnel, dealing with issues of appointment, promotion and retention of top scholars — a post he held until 2001. There he gained the wide respect of faculty beyond his own discipline, a great asset this year. "Norm's decisive leadership style quickly dispelled the notion of 'interim' chancellor," says Academic Senate chair Vivek Shetty. "He is a great collaborator."

As he prepares to pass the reins of power to Chancellor-Designate Gene Block later this summer, Abrams says he has thoroughly enjoyed his walk in the chancellor's shoes, and others have noticed. "He has fed off the stimuli of the role; it has energized him, and his energy has been contagious," says Turteltaub.

"He has given us his all," concludes O'Brien. And, not coincidentally, UCLA has moved forward.

Meet Chancellor Block

Gene Block, UCLA's new chief executive.