Dan Tsang Retires from UC Irvine and We’re Worse Off for It

Driving to Dan Tsang’s “retirement bash” at UC Irvine Tuesday afternoon, I realized I will soon hear much less of something I used to hear all the time, at least once a week when he pitched me stories.

“Hello, Matt?”

Pause a beat.


It was always the same introduction when the contributing writer from OC Weekly‘s early days would call. The thing is, I knew who it was 99 percent of the time from “Hello,” a percentage that jumped to 120 percent by the time he got to “Matt.”

I could have cut in with a “Hello, Dan” at the pause, but I figured I should let him identify himself so not to jinx the fascinating conversation that would follow.

They were often doozies, with topics involving abusive cops, provocative films, highlights from his many travels abroad, things in Little Saigon that would require actually going to Little Saigon to know they exist and, my personal favorite, the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

Um … wait … just to be clear: I’m not outing Dan or myself as NAMBLA members; he planned to cover a conference.

Of course, Tsang was much, much more than a freelancer, as 10 or so speakers on the fifth floor of Langston Library reminded 100-plus retirement partiers Tuesday. First and foremost, he has been a distinguished librarian and data librarian and bibliographer in Political Science, Economics & Asian American Studies over a 30-year career at UCI.

He’s also been the host since 1993 of the KUCI public affairs program Subversity, which has included interviews with Ramsey Clark, Amy Goodman, Mike Davis, Bao Nguyen and, as Tsang reminded his well-wishers, Bill Ayers. That was back in 2002, but the vast right-wing media hacked the tape and replayed it before the 2008 election to smear Barack Obama over his association with the counterculturist. I’m pleased to report Tsang says he’ll continue hosting Subversity despite no longer being on UCI’s payroll.

He is also a dedicated queer activist, Asian rights activist, civil rights activist—hell, if it’s anything other than a Christian conservative activist, check the roster, he’s likely on your team. In left field, no doubt.

Tsang once took on the CIA to see what the agency had on him—and won a court settlement!

While he was a contributor to this infernal rag (November 1996-May 2003) through the times since that we have run into each other, he was always the dogged reporter, especially when it came to pressing for answers on the survival of OC Weekly. He did and still does pepper me with questions about how the newsweekly is doing financially, no matter how many times I explain that a peon like me doesn’t get to look at the books, doesn’t know where the books are and wouldn’t know what to look for in the books if I did.

Gotta love that tenacity, though. At his retirement party, he wore around his neck another reminder of his need to chronicle important events. It was his trusty camera, which he used to snap solo shots of campus dignitaries who showed up, as opposed to asking someone else to shoot him with the VIP. Always on assignment and never the story—even when he is the story. 

Those sending Tsang off ranged from an associate from his University of Michigan graduate school days to a closet anarchist former UCI official to another member of the University of California system “family” who, like her mentor, is a Hong Kong-born librarian. She gave a touching address about how Tsang has stood by her in good times and bad, like when she lost her life partner.

Thanks, bon voyages and sure gonna miss you’s were bandied about throughout the afternoon, but the overarching theme involved how the hell will UC Irvine fill Daniel C. Tsang’s sandals. It won’t. The man’s an original.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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