Berkeley gets big gift for faculty

Times Staff Writer

UC Berkeley plans to announce today that it will receive $113 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to create 100 endowed faculty chairs and slow the exodus of top professors to wealthy private universities.

The university and the foundation hope that the huge gift will help Berkeley retain faculty members who are sometimes wooed by private universities with offers of $100,000 pay hikes and millions of dollars in research money.

Attracting and keeping the best faculty members, they say, is the key to maintaining the campus’ excellence.

“This Hewlett gift will be transformational,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said. “We are moving toward a model that has been developed successfully at private universities.”

The effort is not a move toward privatizing the university, the chancellor said.


“We are in the ironic position of needing private support for our public character,” he said.

Traditionally in higher education, large donations often help erect buildings or create programs. But the Hewlett gift, the largest in UC Berkeley’s history, is unusual because it is devoted to supporting the campus’ basic activities.

UC Berkeley has endowments totaling $2.5 billion, but nearly all of those funds are restricted to specific purposes.

The Hewlett donation will be used to attract matching gifts from other private donors and create a $220-million endowment that the university can build on. It also includes $3 million to improve management of the campus’ endowments and maximize their return.

The gift, to be paid over seven years, is designed to help compensate for cutbacks in state funding that threaten to erode the quality of the university. UC officials have assured the foundation that the gift will be a supplement to state funding, not a substitute.

“Our goal is to take a great state institution and help it maintain its greatness,” Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest said. “It’s a different model for a public university, one that has worked very well for the privates.”

The endowments of many private universities have soared in recent years. Harvard University has an endowment of nearly $30 billion; Stanford University’s is about $15 billion.

“Private universities figured out long before we did the importance of building up an endowment,” Birgeneau said. “If you look at income from Stanford’s endowment, their payout is $200 million more than what we get from the state.”

UC administrators say that maintaining the faculty’s quality has been one of the biggest challenges after cutbacks in state funding since 2001. At Berkeley, where the average faculty pay is $110,000, salaries in many fields lag 20% behind those at comparable private institutions.

In recent years, Birgeneau said, wealthy private universities have sought to lure more than 200 of Berkeley’s best professors with promises of higher salaries and more resources. The campus has managed to hang on to nearly 70% of them, he said, but it has not been easy to counter the private offers.

“It’s an unrelenting battle,” he said.

Typically, private universities go after professors who have been at Berkeley for many years and have received tenure and national recognition, he said.

Three such faculty members each were recently offered $100,000 salary increases and $4.5 million in laboratory and research funds by one private university, he said. Berkeley could not match the offer but came up with enough additional funds to keep the trio, including meeting the professors’ insistence that labs for their students be upgraded.

“For these three faculty members, it wasn’t that they wanted things for themselves; they wanted things for their graduates and undergrads,” the chancellor said. “Frankly, I was so impressed with that it made me work harder to keep them.”

Faculty chairs, often named after the donors, are a way of providing permanent sources of funding for eminent professors and additional money for their research facilities and graduate students.

Berkeley’s first endowed chair was established in 1872; the campus now has 351. Most of Berkeley’s existing chairs come with an endowment of $500,000.

The Hewlett gift and matching funds will endow 80 chairs at $2 million each, in line with the practice at private universities. It also will endow 20 “distinguished” endowed chairs at $3 million each that will span multiple academic areas.

Birgeneau said the standard $500,000 will go to support the chair, and the remaining money will be used to support graduate students, equip laboratories, develop libraries and pay for common university functions.

The money is expected to help in recruiting top graduate students -- another hallmark of a great university and an area in which Berkeley is in danger of falling behind.

Professors who hold named chairs are often recognized as the leaders in their discipline. The new chairs will be spread throughout the university.

“Some universities are phenomenal in three or four fields, but we have 35 departments that are ranked in the top 10 nationally,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer. “So, we have to invest broadly in order to maintain that breadth and depth of excellence.”

The Hewlett Foundation, which was established by Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett and his wife, Flora, will not be involved in naming the chairs. Instead, donors who provide matching funds will have the chance to name them, creating a greater incentive for giving.

Brest, a former dean of Stanford Law School, said that part of what keeps faculty members at Berkeley is a commitment to its public mission of providing a high-quality education to a diverse student body.

About 56% of Berkeley undergraduates are nonwhite, 34% come from low-income families and 21% have parents who never attended college. UC says Berkeley has more low-income students than all the Ivy League schools and Stanford combined.

But Brest, who used to try to recruit professors from Berkeley’s Boalt law school, said loyalty to the university goes only so far when salaries and resources fall significantly behind.

“Berkeley is a very strong institution, but I have watched it become vulnerable to losing faculty to other institutions because of salary differences,” he said.

Birgeneau said the Hewlett Foundation’s board is made up of members connected to private schools but who recognize the need for strong public universities.

The board includes Yale University President Richard Levin, former Harvard Provost Harvey V. Fineberg and Walter Hewlett, the Hewletts’ son who is a Stanford professor and serves on the Harvard Board of Overseers.

“To a person, they understand the importance of a great public university,” Brest said. “Imagine California without the premier public universities and it would be a sorrowful state.”



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Big benefactors

Largest gifts to the University of California include:

$200 million, David Geffen’s pledge for the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

$150 million, anonymous gift to UC San Francisco Mission Bay for cancer research

$113 million, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s pledge to endow chairs at UC Berkeley

$110 million, Irwin and Joan Jacobs’ commitments to the UC San Diego Jacob School of Engineering

$100 million, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s pledge to establish the UC Davis School of Nursing


Source: University of California