UC Berkeley chancellor to step down after 8 years


UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who has led the prestigious campus since 2004 through state budget cuts, Nobel Prizes and campus protests, announced Tuesday that he would step down Dec. 31.

A Canadian-born physicist who is turning 70 this month, Birgeneau said he has stayed on the job longer than he originally anticipated because he wanted to leave the campus in stable financial shape.

Although funding challenges remain, Birgeneau told reporters Tuesday that he “didn’t want to step down until I was comfortable that we’d reached some kind of equilibrium with our budget.”


Some of his efforts were controversial, such as sharply increasing undergraduates from other states and countries for the extra tuition they pay. Nearly 30% of current UC Berkeley freshmen are non-Californians, the largest proportion among the nine UC undergraduate campuses and a statistic that triggered complaints that state residents are getting squeezed out.

The demand for a UC Berkeley education is driven in part by U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the 36,100-student campus as the nation’s best public university. (UCLA is second.)

Among other honors, three UC Berkeley faculty members have won Nobel Prizes since 2006.

“We kept Berkeley among the top-tier universities in the world while the state was disinvesting at a deplorable level,” Birgeneau said.

Since 2008, the campus has raised $2.4 billion in private donations toward a $3-billion goal, officials said. And, in December, Birgeneau announced a pioneering plan to extend financial aid to students from households earning $80,000 to $140,000 a year, with funding from philanthropy and revenues from out-of-state students.

Birgeneau, whose annual salary is $436,800, presided over the highly political campus during an uptick in protests over tuition hikes.

In November, the Occupy movement erected a tent city on campus and student demonstrators contended that UC police brutally used batons to evict them. In December 2009, protesters smashed windows and threw torches at Birgeneau’s campus residence while he and his wife were inside; the couple were unhurt.


“Berkeley has a culture of protests, so if you’re not comfortable dealing with protests, you shouldn’t be a chancellor at Berkeley,” Birgeneau said Tuesday.

Patrick Callan, president of the San Jose-based Higher Education Policy Institute, said he disagreed with Birgeneau’s expansion of out-of-state student populations.

Still, he said Birgeneau was an effective leader who protected academic quality from the budget ax and cared about minority and low-income students.

“He obviously has done a commendable job in what was the most difficult time,” Callan said. “This is still the preeminent public research university in the country and that was not an easy thing to maintain.”

Previously, Birgeneau was president of the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest public university, and science dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He plans to stay at UC Berkeley as a physics teacher and researcher.

UC President Mark G. Yudof said Birgeneau was “an ardent champion of academic excellence, as well as an unwavering advocate for the underdog.”

Yudof said a committee soon will be formed to find a successor.

“These are contentious times,” he said. “These are hard jobs, and whoever takes it has to come in with their eyes open.”

Los Angeles Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.