As a physicist, Richard Scalettar studies the principles that govern the physical world. As a member of the UC Davis faculty, he participates in another system of governance — shared governance of the university.
For his commitment to the latter, Scalettar is this year’s recipient of the Charles P. Nash Prize, recognizing faculty members who have taken on Nash’s mantle of promoting shared governance, and advocating for faculty interests and welfare.
Professor Emeritus Nash’s family and colleagues established the prize in 2008, a year after his death. The prize is awarded by the Davis Division of the Academic Senate, the UC Davis Academic Federation, the Davis Faculty Association and the Nash family.
Scalettar, who joined the faculty in 1989 and holds the title distinguished professor of physics in the College of Letters and Science, has served on the Undergraduate and Graduate councils of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate and serves now as chair of the senate’s Committee on Special Academic Programs.
He served on the board of the Davis Faculty Association from 2005 to 2011, then rejoined the board as chair in 2014. After three years as chair, he is now serving as co-chair. In addition, he represents UC Davis on the board of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, where he has been active in discussions and in determining the council’s policy positions.
Joe Kiskis, professor emeritus of physics, nominated Scalettar for the Nash Prize, saying, “He has the extraordinary and exemplary quality of being extremely generous in devoting time to helping others. This includes faculty, university students and high school students. He does this so instinctively and without hesitation that it must simply be part of his fundamental makeup to help others as much as he can.”
He has assisted faculty members across the campus, Kiskis said. “I was present for some of his discussions with those faculty members,” he said. “Richard always showed great concern, offered wise and knowledgeable advice, and, if appropriate, accompanied the faculty member to relevant meetings to resolve problems or in other ways followed up with additional support.”
As chair of the Davis Faculty Association, or DFA, Scalettar has worked to build ties between faculty and other campus groups. “These include non-senate faculty, postdocs and graduate and undergraduate students,” Kiskis said. “Often this involved inviting leadership from their respective organizations to DFA board meetings. In some cases, this resulted in DFA support for their contract negotiations or concerns about some actions by campus leadership.”
Kiskis also cited Scalettar’s role in preventing the UC Office of the President from transferring employment data to outside companies, for example, in 2007 when UC attempted to transfer W-2 forms to a third-party vendor, TALX. “His efforts mobilized the senate and others to take up the issue and resulted in the university ending its relation with TALX and agreeing to appropriate consultation and opt-in arrangements for similar issues in the future,” Kiskis said.
Another nominator, Jesse Drew, professor, Department of Cinema and Digital media, said: “In my opinion, Richard embodies the true spirit of the Nash Prize. ... Richard’s work greatly enhances the life of our university community, and, in my opinion, deserves to be recognized.”
Strong record of mentoring
Besides commending him for his service in shared governance, Scalettar’s nominators also noted his strong record of mentoring. “Throughout his work in advocating for faculty, Richard has maintained his commitment to helping younger students,” Kiskis said.
Students entering the field of theoretical physics, Kiskis said, generally do not begin research before they are graduate students — because they first need to develop advanced mathematics skills and facility with programming and the use of computing facilities.
“However, Richard has a real gift for identifying approaches and problems that are accessible to undergraduate and high school students,” Kiskis said.
Scalettar has been chair of the Mentorships for Undergraduate Research Participants in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences (MURPPS) program since 2006 and taught in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program for 15 years. He received the Chancellor’s Outstanding Undergraduate Mentor Award in 2009.