When Robert Carr Dynes was named chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, in April 1996, he was said to be a man of humble origins. Born in Canada in 1942, the physicist who had graduated from the University of Western Ontario and gotten his doctorate from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, described to reporters a life of hard knocks, growing up poor in small-town Canada. "I got my block knocked off like everybody else who was raised on the streets," he told the Union-Tribune. Until he decided to begin graduate study in physics, he said, he'd nearly become a high school teacher.
How times had changed. By that spring of 1996, Dynes was assuming command of one of America's most prestigious research universities, with an enrollment of more than 18,000, including graduate schools of medicine and engineering and institutes and think tanks specializing in everything from supercomputing to advanced semiconductors to plant genetics to Latin American politics.
Beyond its place in academia, UCSD and its subsidiaries play a key role in the politics and civic life of San Diego, furnishing experts who pontificate on the state of society and involve themselves in such decisions as whether to build a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium or whether the county should adopt a new form of regional government or build a new airport. UCSD runs two large hospitals, the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest -- where most of the county's indigent patients are taken and which the university has threatened to shut down -- and Thornton Hospital in University City, built in 1993 at a cost to taxpayers of $87 million. With a total budget of well over $1.4 billion and the third-largest payroll in San Diego County, with 18,829 employees, UCSD is a force to be reckoned with.
Yet, when he took over as head of UCSD, Dynes, a former director of chemical physics research at AT&T's Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, seemed to have little experience running anything larger than a physics program. After three years as a UCSD professor, Dynes became head of UCSD's physics department in 1994. In August 1995, less than a year before being elevated to chancellor, he was appointed senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, second in command to then-chancellor Richard C. Atkinson.
Certain other facts were left off the résumé the university presented to the public. According to a later divorce filing, in 1991 Dynes had allegedly deserted his first wife Christel, to whom he had been married for almost 30 years, to move to La Jolla. And later, in the spring of 1998, when Dynes married his second wife Frances Hellman, 43, there was no mention of her wealthy and politically influential San Francisco family, which maintains close ties to the University of California's administrative establishment.
Hellman graduated from Dartmouth College in 1978 and received a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University in 1985. She worked at Bell Labs from 1985 until 1987, when she moved to San Diego to take a position as an assistant professor of physics at UCSD. Dynes's biography in Who's Who says he was at Bell Labs from 1968 until late 1990, when he moved to La Jolla to become a physics professor.
Dynes filed for divorce from his first wife Christel on July 24, 1996, according to New Jersey court records. Documents filed in the case indicate she had remained behind in Summit, New Jersey, when he left home for California six years before. Three months after the divorce filing, Dynes and Hellman first appeared together in an October 29, 1996, Union-Tribune story about a reception in honor of Dynes's inauguration that day as UCSD Chancellor. According to the story, Hellman was seated at Dynes's table, along with his father. Subsequent mentions in the Union-Tribune's Burl Stiff society column had them paired at parties and receptions throughout 1997.
On January 2, 1997, a lawyer for Christel Dynes filed a counterclaim against Robert Dynes, alleging that he had "deserted [Christel Dynes] on or about January 1, 1991, ever since which time and for more than 12 months last past, [Robert Dynes] has willfully and continuously deserted [Christel Dynes]." (Dynes refused comment and terminated an interview last week when asked to respond to the desertion allegations made in the court filing.)
The battle raged for another year, during which Dynes fired his New Jersey attorney and hired another from a well-connected Manhattan law firm. In their final judgement of divorce, filed January 12, 1998, Christel Dynes was awarded alimony of $6000 a month, adding up to a bit less than a third of Dynes's current $262,000 annual salary from UCSD. "The obligation of the Husband to make payments of alimony shall not be decreased by virtue of receipt of earned income by the Wife, provided that her earned income does not exceed $50,000 per annum."
Dynes agreed to turn over to Christel their house in Summit, New Jersey, along with all furnishings and personal property, free and clear. Each agreed to keep title to their own cars, she a 1997 Ford Explorer and a 1984 Honda Prelude, and he a 1997 Mercedes-Benz and a 1987 Mazda. In addition, according to the terms of the settlement, "The Husband is entitled to pension benefits from his former employers, AT&T/Bell Laboratories. Said pension is currently in pay status with Husband receiving monthly payments. The parties have agreed that the pension shall be divided equally between the parties by way of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order."
The parties also agreed that "Husband shall maintain certain present existing life insurance policies on his life, as provided by AT&T and the University of California, which have a combined current face value of $500,000, hereinafter known as the 'policies.' The Husband shall, for so long as the Husband has an obligation to pay alimony to the Wife, maintain the 'policies' with the Wife as beneficiary."
Dynes agreed to give his ex-wife a 50-50 split of "the net proceeds of any royalties, payments, prizes, monies or other emoluments that he may receive now or in the future from said patents, including any monies, prizes, payments, other emoluments or royalties as a result of research conducted during the marriage."