Chancellor's Friday Letters

‘Pete’ goes ‘Undercover’

‘Pete’ goes ‘Undercover’

April 29, 2011

Dear Friends,

Who the heck is Pete Weston?

A chemistry professor?  A campus tour guide?  How about a library assistant or assistant track coach?

Well, a few weeks ago, “Pete” spent a full day being each one of these things at UCR.  He led part of an organic chemistry class.  He guided parents and prospective students on a tour of the campus.  He re-shelved books and timed student-athletes.

But his day job?  Chancellor.

His real name?  Well…it was me in a masterful disguise.

So what’s the deal?  Why all these jobs?  And why was I pretending to be someone else?

It was all part of the upcoming season finale of the CBS television show, Undercover Boss, which will feature UCR this coming Sunday, May 1, at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central.

This popular show reaches millions.  Each episode follows a CEO who goes “undercover” in his/her organization, working alongside several employees at various levels throughout the work place.  The experience offers the “boss” invaluable insights into the jobs and the workforce, and generates ideas for improvement.

During its first two seasons, the show has focused on for-profit businesses, except once, when it focused on the mayor of Cincinnati.  UCR is the first university to be selected.

It was just about a year ago when CBS first approached us about featuring UCR on this Emmy-nominated program.  As the nearest equivalent to a CEO, that meant I was going undercover.

And I couldn’t be happier that I did…

I agreed to do so because I saw an opportunity to immerse myself in the day-to-day work, joy, and trials of the campus in a way that my position of Chancellor would otherwise prevent.

It afforded me the unobstructed opportunity to be part of the campus’ heartbeat.

I was able to observe faculty and students walking slowly down the shaded walkways discussing research, and to see students enjoying a meal and a conversation with 3-4 peers.

In a sense, I was an insider pretending to be an outsider listening to “inside baseball.”  The hardest part for me was remembering pronouns:  referring to UCR as “your university” rather than “ours.”

The experience also provided a unique opportunity to reflect on the vital importance of staff members who understand that their efforts are so much more than just a job, but rather their actions could alter the course – for good or for bad – of a student’s learning or the direction of research.

I experienced, in a very visceral way, the power of accomplishing something with the tools at hand as a powerful antidote to blaming others for the limitations imposed by lack of funding, facilities and equipment.  Neither students nor employees used such issues as an excuse, but rather stayed focused on achieving.

I hoped in advance that I would affirm the noble and transformative work of our research university – transforming people and society – at the very time we are in a protracted struggle to remain the world’s preeminent university system for the good of America’s future.

A 30-second clip of the May 1 show is available at:  http://chancellor.ucr.edu/ub/.   I invite you to watch the entire episode on CBS this Sunday evening.

I suspect that, while I may wince at a few things when the show airs, the episode will in fact evoke both laughter and tears.

Most of all, I hope this show makes you as proud of UCR as I am, and grateful to CBS for the opportunity to tell a large audience across America about the importance of our work together.

And, just for the record…  The rewards granted to the participating UCR employees were provided by the gracious support of several generous donors; no federal, state or student funds were used.

With best regards,


Tim White


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Find out what else is going on at UC Riverside: http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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