The Gold and the Blue. . – Potpourri – book review
Anyone who heard Clark Kerr talk, even amidst tumult and anger, heard a calm, informed voice of reason. That is the tone of The Gold and the Blue (University of California, 2001), a memoir of his years as Berkeley chancellor (195258) and University of California president (1958-67) dealing with the university’s “Academic Triumphs” and troubles. A second volume will discuss the years of “Political Turmoil.”
A Pennsylvania farm boy-at age 3, he cleaned eggs; at 14, “I had my own team of horses”-Kerr became a Quaker at Swarthmore. He acknowledges “two great illusions”: that there is good in everyone, but it is hard to find in some people and that all problems have “reasonable and peaceful solutions.”
Kerr came to Berkeley in 1933, a graduate student in economics. As director of the Institute of Industrial Economics, he reported directly to Robert Sproul, UC president 1930-58, a man of impressive bearing, speech, and energy who personally made the most minuscule decisions, such as reimbursement for a $6 cab fare; before approving Kerr’s request for a file cabinet, he asked where it would be placed.
When, to Kerr’s surprise, the Regents appointed him as Berkeley’s first chancellor, his small office had a yellow desk with empty drawers, no carpet, bare walls, no secretary. “Nothing happened all morning. I just sat there…,” Kerr writes. Sproul and James Corley, vice president for business, ran both the campus and the university. “Did Sproul make a mistake?” Kerr asks: did he think him a patsy?
Powerless in business matters and state politics, Kerr concentrated on academic issues, becoming, in effect, Berkeley’s first provost. The loyalty oath controversy of the 1950s had jeopardized Berkeley’s reputation. Working closely with the faculty senate, Kerr initiated wide-ranging activities to maintain or improve its academic and physical quality. We “looked more at private [than public] institutions…,” he writes. More of our faculty members came from and knew better the former….”
From 1952-62, enrollment rose from 16,000 to 25,000, and over 1,000 new tenured faculty positions were filled. Insisting that “no department had a right to choose mediocrity over excellence,” Kerr rejected a fifth of proposed promotions and new tenure appointments: “the easy ‘yes’…led to perdition, and the hard ‘no’ to distinction.” Student and cultural facilities were enhanced, the grounds were made more parklike, parking was moved off campus. Exasperated by faculty parking complaints, Kerr told a faculty meeting that his job was construed as “providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.”
Quiet-spoken, modest, preferring “shared consultative governance” to decree, Kerr was nobody’s patsy. He had firm moral and academic principles, “a Quakerly…belief that you do not…tip the hat to power,” and he expressed his views forthrightly. Evidently, that was why the Regents appointed him UC president, rather than more experienced UCLA Chancellor Raymond Allen. Both as chancellor and president, Kerr was ready to pay the possible price of forthrightness: he refused a high salary and special retirement benefits, lived in his own house, drove his own car, mowed his own lawn, and did not join the “best” clubs.
As president of the vast, multi-campus university, Kerr faced horrendous tasks: to move to the campuses functions that had been centralized in Sproul’s office; to prepare for the forthcoming deluge of students; to integrate the growth of eight campuses with that of state colleges and community colleges.
The decentralization of authority and staff from the president’s office to campus chancellors was effected, despite resistance by Corley who “never gave an inch.” The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education spelled out the treaty, signed by rival educational and political powers, assigning the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates to the university, the top 33.3 percent to state colleges, and the residue to community colleges.
Basic research and training for the PhD, MD, and other advanced degrees were reserved to UC; state colleges could award MA degrees. A Berkeley enrollment cap spurred growth on other campuses. UCLA, then San Diego and San Francisco, became major research institutions; by 1996, the first two, plus Santa Barbara, Davis, and Irvine, had joined Berkeley as members of the Association of American Universities (AAU).
There were also planning failures. Multiple campuses fed rivalries, program duplication, wasted resources. Efforts to introduce year-round operations, to reduce duplicative language and area studies programs and library acquisitions failed. “Everybody wanted every library resource on every campus…,” Kerr writes. No compromises!”
The university prospered. “California has replaced Massachusetts as the…world center in the production of knowledge,” Kerr boasts. Undergraduate education, however, was less successful. In 1963, Kerr foresaw “an incipient revolt of undergraduate students against the faculty” who delegated to teaching assistants half of all contact hours with lower-division students and saw them only in large lecture classes. With lower student: faculty ratios, leading private universities could give students personal attention. The Berkeley faculty who competed with them in research did not compete in this.
Kerr and Dean McHenry designed Santa Cruz, with small-scale colleges set amid magnificent redwoods, to counter the impersonality of Berkeley. But Santa Cruz became home to the counterculture of drugs, dropouts, and dreamers. When Kerr attended the first commencement in June 1969, some students threw diplomas at him and Chancellor McHenry and denounced them for “complicity” in the Vietnam War. Many faculty applauded the students. “It was one of the worst afternoons in my life,” writes Kerr.
Kerr is best at recounting his own expenence, more tedious when reporting developments at each UC campus. With few exceptions-some San Diego faculty were “arrogant” and librarians “rapacious”-he is restrained, even generous to his opponents. In Volume 2, will he be equally restrained in discussing the Free Speech Movement and his dismissal by Governor Ronald Reagan?
Harold Orlans has conducted many studies of higher education and research policy for private and government bodies in Washington, DC. He retains the copyright for this column.
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