Under Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s leadership, UC San Diego has grown into an academic and research powerhouse, and strengthened university and community partnerships.
(Photograph by Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego)
When Pradeep Khosla became chancellor of the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) in August 2012, he believed the university was destined for greatness and spearheaded an ambitious strategic plan that made it come true.
“I saw an unpolished gem,” he says. “There’s a whole spectrum of strategies we put in place to basically position this campus as rethinking the role of public education and as a public institution in our community.”
Man with a plan
Khosla and UC San Diego aimed high from the start, adopting a mission to “transform California and a diverse global society by educating, generating and disseminating knowledge and creative works, and engaging in public service.”
The mission succeeded. Khosla now leads a campus with more than 43,000 students (up from about 25,000 when he arrived), seven undergraduate colleges, and 12 academic, graduate and professional schools. UC San Diego is also home to the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the UC San Diego Health Care System, a top ranked hospital and academic institution. With annual revenues of $6.9 billion in fiscal year 2022, the university is an academic and research powerhouse, attracting more than $1.64 billion in sponsored research in fiscal year 2022.
“What we did was think about UC San Diego as more like a holistic campus rather than multiple individual silos of excellence,” explains Khosla. “We’ve been successful at fundraising, at cleaning up inefficiencies and at rethinking the campus to be an institution for the whole community. This campus needs to be a destination for art and culture, in addition to education and healthcare, and doing so for the community, the whole of California, and the world.”
Now 65, Khosla is married with three children. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, he spent the majority of his career at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he obtained a Master of Science in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. He later joined Carnegie Mellon’s faculty as an assistant professor and rose through the ranks to become dean of the College of Engineering and a university professor.
Although he is now an internationally-renowned researcher and educator with research interests in robotics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, Khosla had to adjust to the American higher education system after arriving in the United States in 1981.
“I wasn’t used to literally studying on a daily basis,” he remembers. “In India, I was one of those ‘sprinters,’ studying before the test, studying before the final. When I came to the United States, there was daily homework and a test every two weeks. I started studying every day, and I think the end result for me was a deeper understanding of the material.”
The India connection
UC San Diego has deep ties to India. As of Fall 2022, the university was home to 1,367 students from India, up almost 30 percent from a year earlier. UC San Diego also hosts 265 international scholars from India. The university has many mutually beneficial research collaborations with partners throughout India, including the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society–a collaboration between UC San Diego, Tata Trusts, and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bengaluru. The university recently launched the 21st Century India Center, which will serve as a world-class hub for research, education and public engagement related to sustainable growth in India and advancing U.S.-India collaborations.
Ambitious missions require money, and Khosla has been immensely successful at fundraising, raising more than $3 billion during his tenure and building strong ongoing relationships with donors. “Fundraising is a multi-person, multi-touch, longitudinal game,” he says. “People give to two things—great ideas and people they trust. I think that is really important, and as a leader I have to build trust with an individual so that they know that their hard-earned money is not going to be wasted, it’s going to be deployed fruitfully and effectively.”
If he could do it all over again, Khosla would repeat his move to the United States for higher education. “Despite all the ups and downs of the past few years, the United States is still the destination of choice for higher education,” he says. “There’s no other country like it. The investment the United States makes in higher education is unparalleled in the world. The United States understands how to create wealth and how to create opportunities for citizens and immigrants alike.”
Khosla is a tireless and enthusiastic advocate of closer U.S.-India relationships. “I think the stronger we can build the relationships between Indian industry and academia and U.S. industry and academia, the better it is for both countries and for the world,” he says. “So I’m here to bridge the two nations, to bridge the cultural gap, to bridge the technological gaps. I have been doing it for many years and I’ll keep on doing it. And I say to all my Indian friends, and there are a lot of them, ‘With open arms, come on over. I want to work with you. I want to be part of who you are.’ ”
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.