Mrak Hall, shown in this 2000 photo, has been headquarters for the chancellor, admissions, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and various other administrative units over its 43-year history. (UC Davis archival photo)
Namesakes: Emil Mrak
UC Davis has a history of chancellors whose surnames take a while to learn. Memorable among these was Emil Mrak (no, not “Mark” but “Mrak”), whose family hailed from the Balkan Peninsula. Mrak was our beloved second chancellor, taking over the campus when it had about 2,000 undergraduates and 650 graduate students. Our main administration building was constructed in 1966 and UC regents named the building after Mrak in 1969.
Emil Mrak, the chancellor of UC Davis in 1959-69, was known for his warmth, his accessibility and his straight talk.
Having risen from humble beginnings, Mrak admitted that he frequently felt inferior when he was a student at UC Berkeley. Perhaps because of that, he made sure no one ever felt that way in his presence–not legislators or UC presidents, secretaries or, especially, students.
As a teacher, he would ask his students the day before Thanksgiving if they had any plans. If not, he invited them to his home for dinner.
As a chancellor he gave standing orders that, if a student came to see him, the student would be ushered in.
Even if he was in a meeting with other campus administrators or faculty, he would excuse himself to spend at least a few minutes with the student and, for good measure, he would make sure everyone remembered campus priorities by declaring to his colleagues: “Excuse me, there’s a student. A student comes before you guys.”