Watkins to Assume Leadership Role at UC Riverside

By Laura Kurtzman

portrait of Elizabeth Watkins

Elizabeth Watkins, PhD. Photo by Barbara Ries

Elizabeth Watkins, PhD, vice chancellor of student academic affairs, dean of the graduate division, and a longtime member of the UC San Francisco community, has been named Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at UC Riverside (UCR). She will begin her new position in May of 2021.

“I have loved my time at UCSF, both as a faculty member and as senior leader,” Watkins said. “It’s been a privilege to work with such dedicated faculty and staff to create a supportive and inclusive environment for our extraordinarily talented students.”

As UCR’s chief academic officer, Watkins will oversee seven different schools and colleges and be responsible for shaping and implementing the University’s vision for the future. 

A historian of science, Watkins said she was attracted to UCR because it is a comprehensive research university and the most diverse campus in the UC system. For the past two years, US News & World Report has ranked UCR No. 1 in the country for its ability to foster social mobility.

“UC Riverside not only does world-class research, but it’s also a remarkable engine for social mobility,” she said. “It enrolls a higher percentage of Pell Grant recipients than nearly every other university in the country and more than the entire Ivy League combined.”

Watkins began her career at UCSF in 2004 as a professor in the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine, where she directed graduate studies for the History of Health Sciences program.

In 2012, she became dean of the Graduate Division, and thereby dean to nearly 1,000 PhD and master’s students – the largest single student population at UCSF, while also having oversite of UCSF’s some 1,100 postdoctoral scholars.

In 2013, she took on the additional role of vice chancellor for Student Academic Affairs, where she has overseen the operations of 18 functional units that serve graduate and professional students alike, including the Registrar’s Office, Student Financial Services, Student Health, Student Life, and the Office of Career and Professional Development (which also serves postdocs and other trainees).

Under her tenure the Graduate Division developed the $100 million Discovery Fellows endowment for PhD students in the basic sciences, the largest endowment for graduate students in the history of the University of California. 

Watkins also expanded the Graduate Division’s efforts to create more diversity, equity and inclusion, creating the first assistant dean position for diversity and learner success and beginning five new courses for basic science students on racism in science. 

In response to the high cost of living in San Francisco, she created the cost-of-living supplement program to give current students who do not live on campus a supplement to help them pay housing and transportation costs.

“She’s among the most capable leaders I’ve ever encountered,” said Daniel Lowenstein, MD, executive vice chancellor and provost. “In her maintaining the highest standards of academic excellence, her ability to build, foster and advance the members of her team, her caring about our entire community, and her commitment to social justice, Liz personifies all the things that are of greatest importance to us at UCSF.”

At UCSF, Watkins has been a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet and the Academic Senate Executive Committee, while continuing her work as a faculty member. In her research, Watkins, who earned her doctoral degree in the history of science at Harvard University, has focused on medicine, science, gender, commerce, and culture in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries.

She is the author or co-editor of five books and numerous articles on the history of birth control, sex hormones, and prescription drugs. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Academy of Education, and the University of California President’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities.