Denice Dee Denton, chancellor of the University of California-Santa Cruz, apparently jumped to her death Saturday morning from the 44th floor of a San Francisco building where she shared an apartment with her partner.
Denton, 46, landed on the roof of the building's parking structure, said San Francisco police Sgt. Neville Gittens. He was unsure if she had left behind a note. The medical examiner's office is investigating the death as a suicide.
The nationally recognized educator had been in the eye of controversy since she arrived at UC-Santa Cruz less than a year and a half ago.
Sources said Denton had retreated from the campus in the weeks before her death, canceling appointments and clearing her calendar. She began a short medical leave June 15, a campus spokesman said.
San Francisco police said Denton's body was reported at 8:17 a.m. outside the Paramount apartments, where her partner, Gretchen Kalonji, lives. The luxury rentals, which feature a rooftop sky deck, are billed as the ``tallest apartment for rent in San Francisco'' and are on Mission Street at Third, across from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Kalonji was in Washington, D.C., at the time of Denton's death and was heading back to San Francisco, a UC spokesman said.
``Nobody observed her jump,'' said a San Francisco police source, who said the person who reported her body had called police from the nearby Argent Hotel.
Denton was well-known for her efforts to advance women in science, engineering and higher education, and had won numerous awards for her achievements. Having battled gender bias herself, she spent her career trying to pave the way for other women and was not afraid to make waves when necessary. She was cheered by women around the world last year when she confronted Harvard President Larry Summers at a private symposium when he questioned women's aptitude in science and math.
But the accolades were overshadowed by controversy throughout her tenure at UC-Santa Cruz. UC's hiring of Kalonji came under attack almost immediately, and questions were raised about Denton's compensation and renovations to the chancellor's home on campus. She also had some run-ins with students and labor unions.
UC officials struggled Saturday to understand what was behind her death. Spokesman Michael Reese said there were more questions than answers and that officials were trying to put the pieces together.
``Her tragic passing is a tremendous loss for the entire University of California family,'' UC President Robert C. Dynes said in a written statement. ``She was a person of enthusiasm, of big ideas, of tremendous energy, and of great promise.''
Denton stood out from an early age. After earning multiple engineering degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she became the first tenured female faculty member in engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She went on to the University of Washington as the first woman in the nation to lead an engineering college at a major university. She was the youngest of the UC's 10 chancellors and the only one who was openly gay.
Denton also was a champion of diversity and to emphasize that point, she spoke in several languages at her Santa Cruz investiture.
But Denton had been under fire almost since the day she was named to the Santa Cruz post in December 2004 at a salary of $275,000.
The UC system did not initially reveal it had also hired Kalonji to a newly created position in the UC Office of the President that paid $192,000 annually, which angered employee unions. Kalonji, also an engineering professor, came with Denton from the University of Washington, where they had worked together. More recently, Denton's name surfaced in a UC executive compensation scandal because she received benefits that weren't disclosed when she was hired. She also came under fire for adding a $30,000 dog run as part of $600,000 in renovations to the chancellor's home on the UC campus.
Denton was noticeably absent from university commencement exercises earlier this month, and backed out at the last minute of a dinner she was supposed to host for graduation speaker astronaut Steven Hawley, a UC-Santa Cruz alum.
Sources said she recently had seemed depressed and disengaged.
When Denton began her medical leave, ``she said she would be away and on medical leave for a short period of time,'' said Jim Burns, a UC-Santa Cruz spokesman. ``She was expected back early this coming week.''
The death left members of the campus community shaken.
``We're all very, very sad that a person of such substance had this demise,'' said UC-Santa Cruz chemistry Professor Eugene Switkes, who served on the campus search committee for Denton. ``I thought she was a person of integrity and passion. The things she has done for women in science and education and diversity have been wonderful.''
Switkes said he had seen Denton on two recent occasions and said the chancellor was cordial and ``seemed herself.''
David Kliger, who as provost is Denton's second in command, called her death ``a tremendous loss.''
``She led the campus with clear statements of the importance in transforming lives and in creating opportunities for all,'' Kliger said in a statement.
Some of those who knew her said all the controversy had taken a toll.
She had been recently ridiculed by area cartoonists. And on campus, she had been the target of many protests, students said, with protesters rallying against everything from employee wages on campus to workplace conditions in foreign countries where UC apparel is made.
Denton had called campus police a few times after protesters camped out on the grounds around her house, said Santa Cruz City Councilman Mike Rotkin, a lecturer at the school. She asked for increased security after someone threw a parking barricade through a picture window at her university home.
``I don't think she was worried or afraid about a particular person,'' he said, ``but I think she felt personally threatened by it.''
After one recent event in which students surrounded her car and performed a five-minute play in support of workers and minority students, she seemed to grow increasingly fearful, said Josh Sonnenfeld, a student organizer.
``She or the university hired a security guard to be outside her campus home 24/7. She hired a bodyguard-type figure to go around with her everywhere,'' he said.
Denton was appointed by the UC Regents as the ninth chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz, succeeding longtime chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood, who had been promoted to the No. 2 post in the UC system. Denton assumed office on Feb. 14, 2005, and also was given a post as professor of electrical engineering.
At the San Francisco apartment building she had shared with Kalonji, Raven Meadows, 49, said residents were talking about the suicide all day.
``They're saying, `Who was it?' Most of all, they're horrified.''
She said the building has rooftop access for the tenants and that the windows in the building open to the outside.
``Good god,'' she said quietly. ``Good god.''
On the UC-Santa Cruz campus, a woman who answered the door at Denton's University House residence Saturday afternoon told a reporter, ``I can't talk to you.'' Nearby, several unopened newspapers were piled up on the driveway.
Not long after, a driver in a university pickup arrived and blocked the entrance to the driveway. A university police car followed soon after.
Maurene Catto, a university official who arrived on the scene, said relatives were gathered inside the home. She said they had no statement to make.
The normally bustling campus was quiet Saturday; no classes are in session. But those who were on campus said they were stunned by the news.
``I think it's really depressing. It's sad. It's going to affect the entire campus,'' said Erin Ness, 22-year-old psychology major who had just graduated from UC-Santa Cruz last weekend.
``It's definitely going to be a big shock.''