Renowned UC Leader Dies

From a Times Staff Writer

Clark Kerr, the elder statesman of higher education whose blueprint for ensuring access to college for all Californians became a model for the nation, died Monday afternoon, according to a statement released by UC Berkeley. He was 92.

Kerr, who served as UC Berkeley’s first chancellor and then as the 12th president of the entire UC system, died in his sleep at his home in El Cerrito, Calif., after complications from a fall, campus officials said.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 11, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Kerr obituary -- The obituary of former UC Chancellor Clark Kerr in Section A on Dec. 2 stated that Kerr resisted the use of force against student protesters. In fact, Kerr eventually supported the use of police against demonstrators, including the arrests of more than 800 protesters at UC Berkeley on Dec. 3, 1964.

David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella organization for the nation’s major universities, said of Kerr, “He clearly was one of the nation’s leading figures in higher education, especially the scale at which he thought about higher education.”


UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl said Kerr “is, without question, a legend in higher education.”

“This quiet, unassuming man with a powerful intellect not only created the state’s master plan [for higher education], but took on some of the most difficult issues facing higher education,” Berdahl said.

Kerr, a labor economist, was the chief architect of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which says that the top eighth of the state’s high school graduates are eligible for the University of California and the top third for California State University, while anyone who can benefit from additional education can attend a community college.

The implied promise of the plan, adopted in 1960, is an affordable place in public higher education for all.

“Clark Kerr did for higher education what Henry Ford did for cars,” Arthur Levine, president of Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York, once wrote. “He mass-produced low-cost, quality education and research potential for a nation that hungered deeply for both.... [Kerr] not only built the modern University of California, he transformed American higher education.”

The current UC president, Robert C. Dynes, called Kerr a “visionary” who was instrumental in creating the high quality and broad accessibility of the UC system.

During Kerr’s time as UC president, from 1958 to 1967, he presided over the creation of three campuses -- UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz -- while clarifying the missions of the other six. He was proud that, while he was president, UC Berkeley was rated the No. 1 graduate school in America -- the first public university ever to top Harvard.

Meanwhile, his book, “The Uses of the University,” published in 1963, changed the way America viewed the modern research institution -- what Kerr called the “multiversity.” The book was reprinted three times, each edition including new postscripts and commentaries from Kerr.

Despite these accomplishments, Kerr was perhaps best-remembered for how his presidency ended: with his abrupt dismissal by the UC Board of Regents. In January 1967, the board -- frustrated by Kerr’s refusal to use force to quell student unrest on campus and worried about his tense relationship with newly elected Gov. Ronald Reagan -- voted 14 to 8 to fire him.

“I left the presidency just as I entered it -- fired with enthusiasm,” he quipped at the time. But Kerr would later describe his dismissal, which the board chairman insisted was “effective immediately” after the vote, as the most painful event in his life.

“I was prepared to be fired,” Kerr said in a 1997 interview with The Times. “But saying it was ‘effective immediately,’ as though I was some kind of criminal who had to go to the guillotine instantly, that was a little too much for me.... I’d worked with the Board of Regents at that time, as chancellor and as president, 14 1/2 years. We’d done an awful lot of things together.... They didn’t have to do it” that way.

In an award-winning investigative report published last year by the San Francisco Chronicle, it was disclosed that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover conspired with then-CIA Chief John McCone to covertly try to get Kerr fired because bureau officials disagreed with his policies.

After the publication of the Chronicle report, which found that the FBI and CIA leaders also conspired to harass students and faculty members, Kerr said that “the FBI came in and added some fuel to the flames. What happened might have happened anyway, but it was more likely with FBI support.”

Parents Revered Learning

Born on May 17, 1911, in Stony Creek, Pa., Kerr was the son of Samuel and Caroline Kerr, both of whom had a reverence for learning and education. His mother, a milliner who had only gone up to the sixth grade, put off marriage for years until she had saved enough to pay for the college education of all her future children. Kerr’s father, an apple farmer who had been the first member of his family to go to college, spoke four languages, held a master’s degree from the University of Berlin and taught his son the value of independent thought.

“He believed that nothing should be unanimous,” Kerr once said. “If he found everybody else for something, he’d be against it on principle.”

Kerr went to Swarthmore College, where, perhaps as a testament to his contrarian father, he became captain of the debating team, not to mention president of the student body. He also joined the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker service group. Later, he would credit his adopted Quaker faith with helping him to endure hard times.

After graduating in 1932, Kerr spent a summer on an American Friends’ “peace caravan,” touring California to educate the public on street corners about issues such as the need to join the League of Nations. He liked the West so much that he delayed plans to go to Columbia Law School and got a master’s degree in economics from Stanford. He never returned East for his education, choosing instead to do doctoral work at UC Berkeley.

The times shaped Kerr’s scholarship -- and his way of seeing the world. As a graduate student, he worked as a field researcher for the board created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end the bloody Central California cotton pickers’ strike. He would later say that these early experiences honed the mediation skills that would help him -- and, at times, handicap him -- as a UC administrator.

Kerr entered the newly developing field of labor economics and taught at Antioch College in Ohio, the London School of Economics, Stanford and the University of Washington. He became a labor negotiator, cutting his teeth during a Pacific Coast coal strike and soon becoming one of the busiest arbitrators in the West, with 500 negotiations under his belt.

In 1945, he returned to UC Berkeley to head the university’s new Institute of Industrial Relations. Four years later, as the Cold War heated up, UC’s regents threatened to fire all professors who refused to sign a loyalty oath. The ensuing controversy put a spotlight on Kerr, a junior member of the university’s committee on privilege and tenure, and changed his life.

He quickly became known as a forceful and reasoned advocate for the faculty before the regents. So in 1952, when the post of chancellor was created at Berkeley, the faculty recommended Kerr.

“Clark was well-known as an expert negotiator ... and captured the respect of everyone, which gave him the level of visibility and regard that occasioned his appointment as chancellor,” said former UC President David Gardner, who wrote his dissertation about the loyalty oath controversy.

Kerr served six years as chancellor, picking up the pieces of a campus torn by controversy. It was a time of growth. Eight new residence halls and the student union went up. The faculty grew in number and in quality. Vocational departments were eliminated, their resources diverted into subsidizing research. Kerr also was a leader in organizing what is known now as the PAC-10, the Pacific Athletic Conference.

UC Enrollment Balloons

In 1958, UC President Robert Sproul resigned, and Kerr was the natural successor. Perhaps no university has ever grown as fast as UC did under Kerr’s leadership. Enrollment ballooned from 43,000 to 87,000 students. Specialized campuses at Davis, Riverside and Santa Barbara were transformed into general university campuses at the same time the three new campuses were being built.

Each new campus was intended as an attempt to solve the problems of mass higher education. UC Santa Cruz was envisioned as a confederation of some 20 residential colleges, sharing central facilities such as libraries and laboratories. UC San Diego set out to break its student population into 12 colleges of 2,000 or so students each, and vowed to maintain the strong scientific tradition of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the base upon which it was built.

The creation of UC Irvine, meanwhile, involved not only a new campus but a whole new community, carved out of what had once been Irvine Ranch grazing land. There, the rigid departmental structure found at most large universities was abandoned in favor of organization by wide-ranging subject areas.

The University of California was not the only branch of higher education that was growing, however. During the late 1950s, the Legislature began to create new state colleges, a development that alarmed Kerr because the growth was occurring without any strategic plan. The state colleges also had begun hiring faculty members with doctorates who resented the higher pay and lighter teaching loads of their UC counterparts. If UC was to maintain its prestige as the state’s research university, Kerr needed a way to quell the insurgents.

By the summer of his first year as UC president, he organized committees to study the future of higher education in the state, with the membership “subtly loaded to favor the university’s interests over the state colleges’, “ Nicholas Lemann wrote in his 1999 book “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy.”

The committees’ recommendations became the spine of the higher education master plan. Each of the three segments of the state’s higher education system -- the UC, state colleges and community colleges -- would grow substantially. Each tier would provide a tuition-free education to California residents.

But only the UC campuses could award doctorates. It also would admit only the brightest students -- those whose academic records placed them in the top eighth of high school graduates. For those in the top third, there would be a seat at a state college. All other high school graduates could further their education at a two-year community college.

The master plan was passed by the state Legislature with only one dissenting vote, and was signed into law on April 26, 1960, by Gov. Pat Brown. It inspired other states and nations to expand higher education, and brought Kerr international prominence.

Kerr’s agenda often put him at odds with Franklin D. Murphy, UCLA’s chancellor from 1960 to 1968. The two men clashed openly over what Murphy thought to be Kerr’s abiding preference for UC Berkeley over the other campuses. Murphy wanted more autonomy for UCLA, and thought that while Kerr talked proudly of his efforts to decentralize the university, he did not always relinquish the control that was necessary to make that work in practice.

Murphy said in “My UCLA Chancellorship: An Utterly Candid View,” an oral history produced in 1973, that Kerr was “basically a Berkeley guy.... He was going to see that Berkeley was No. 1. At the other end of the spectrum, he realized that he’d never get credit for Berkeley.... So he seized upon the new campuses. This would be Kerr’s monument. Now, what fell in the middle was a place like UCLA.”

In his 1963 volume, “The Uses of the University,” Kerr introduced America -- long weaned on a more classic vision of pristine teaching colleges or pure research universities -- to the new reality that had grown to encompass both missions: the “multiversity.”

The multiversity, he wrote, was “an inconsistent institution ... not one community, but several” -- the community of the undergraduate, the graduate, the humanist, the social scientist, the scientist, the professional schools, the non-academic personnel, the administrators.

“Its edges were fuzzy -- it reaches out to alumni, legislators, farmers, businessmen -- who are all related to one or more of these external constituencies,” he wrote.

In the same book, Kerr -- the trained negotiator -- asserted that to be president of such a sprawling institution, the most important attribute was the ability to mediate among warring factions.

“The mediator ... is always subject to some abuse,” he wrote. “He wins few clear-cut victories. He must aim more at avoiding the worst than seizing the best. He must find satisfaction in being equally distasteful to each of his constituencies. He must reconcile himself to the harsh reality that successes are shrouded in silence while failures are spotlighted in notoriety. The president of the multiversity must be content to hold its constituent elements loosely together and to move the whole enterprise another foot ahead in what often seems an unequal race with history.”

Those words would resonate over the final years of his presidency, however, when some UC administrators and regents came to regard Kerr’s talent for negotiation to be at once his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

‘60s Turmoil at UC Berkeley

In 1964, UC Berkeley was in an uproar. Chancellor Edward W. Strong had ordered a halt to student political activity in an area outside Sather Gate, where it always had been allowed. Kerr thought the order was a mistake but felt it would be awkward to reverse Strong’s decision. Instead, he proposed that students be permitted use of Sproul Hall steps.

“I thought we could get things back into channels of discussion if we showed reasonableness,” he said at the time. “But it didn’t work.”

Instead, the campus exploded with the Free Speech Movement, which brought sit-ins, demonstrations and strikes. From then on, Kerr was in trouble. Many UC regents wanted to be tough with the students, and some called for expulsion of the protesters. Kerr said campus due process should decide the protesters’ fate. He also resisted using force against the students.

“When it hit, the Free Speech Movement, I just took it as part of life -- an episode, a problem to be handled,” Kerr recalled in the 1997 interview. “But an awful lot of people -- alumni, regents -- just got terribly upset. A lot of people felt this was the beginning of the revolution, the storming of the Bastille. They felt that something drastic should be done. I got phone calls [from people suggesting] taking a machine gun and shooting the students off Sproul Plaza at Berkeley -- just fierce stuff.

“I was being pounded on to suppress the coming revolution, [but] I had no sense at all that this was a revolutionary situation. I thought the United States was absolutely solid in its devotion to democracy. So ... I was not as sensitive as I should have been to how upset some other people could become under those circumstances.”

In 1966, Reagan was elected governor after campaigning on a pledge to clean up Berkeley, which he called “a hotbed of communism and homosexuality.” He asked Kerr to join his Cabinet, but Kerr demurred, believing that taking such a post would jeopardize the protection from political intrusion given UC under the state Constitution.

Upon entering office, Reagan cut the university budget 10% and proposed charging tuition. Kerr responded by temporarily freezing admissions. Then, at Reagan’s first regents’ meeting (the governor is an ex-officio member of the regents board), Kerr was fired.

As a former arbitrator who chose to negotiate rather than confront, Kerr was a symbol of weakness to conservatives. To the student protesters, however, he remained a symbol of authority. Mario Savio, one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, had this to say about Kerr’s dismissal: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

In later life, Kerr said he was not bitter toward those regents who had voted to oust him.

“I can see how they could say, ‘We can’t go on with a situation where the governor and the [UC] president don’t get along,’ ” he said. “And after all, they got a lot out of it. Reagan had cut the university’s budget quite substantially. So part of the deal the regents had with him was that if they voted for my dismissal, he’d take back $20 million in cuts.... So, I wasn’t sold all that cheaply.”

After his dismissal, Kerr was inundated with job offers from Harvard, Stanford and Swarthmore, among other institutions. Instead, he chose to chair the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education -- and, later, the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. There, he inspired and planned a large series of publications covering every aspect of higher education. The publications are now a mainstay of the literature in the field, a mixture of analysis and policy recommendations never equaled in scope and comprehension.

In 1980, when he left Carnegie to devote more time to consulting, lecturing and writing books, the council closed its doors. Kerr, apparently, was indispensable.

Challenges Own Beliefs

Ever the scholar, Kerr continued throughout his life to challenge even his most fiercely held beliefs. In 1966, he had fought Reagan’s proposal to charge tuition to UC, for example, believing that the tuition-free university favored the poor student.

But during his time at Carnegie, he came to believe “that a very high proportion of students at UC came from upper-income families. This was a free ride for the well-to-do.... I now think it’s better to charge a moderate level of tuition and have a strong program of financial aid for those who can’t afford it.”

Late in life, Kerr continued to try to spur higher education administrators to better prepare for future challenges. He coined the phrase “Tidal Wave II” to refer to this boom, and spoke often to college leaders about the need to become more efficient to better accommodate the coming flood.

In recent years, Kerr published, in two volumes, his memoirs, titled “The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967.” The first book, published in 2001, was “Academic Triumphs,” and this year’s follow-up volume was “Political Turmoil.”

Asked in 1997 for his secret to living a long and healthy life, the son of the apple farmer offered himself as proof that the fruit does seem to keep the doctor away. “I’m a great devotee of apples,” he said with a smile. “But mainly, I think I have had a pretty easy life. I’ve had my disappointments and my rough times, but I’ve also had the chance to feel a sense of accomplishment in a few things. I’ve known a lot of university presidents who were being fired during my period of time, and they ended up being bitter and antagonistic toward their institutions and toward life. I decided that wasn’t for me.”

Kerr is survived by his wife of 69 years, Catherine; and three children, Alexander, Clark and Caroline.


Times staff writers Stuart Silverstein and Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.