UC Berkeley News


Birgeneau's on the job
Relishing the challenges before him, Berkeley’s ninth chancellor takes the helm

22 September 2004

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau (Peg Skorpinski photo)
To Berkeley’s faculty and staff...

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to begin my work as the ninth chancellor of UC Berkeley. During my career as a research scientist, teacher, and administrator, I have frequently called Berkeley the finest public university on the continent. Leading this institution is a challenge I relish.

As I am sure everyone is aware, the moment in which we now find ourselves is one of profound challenges — not only to the campus and the wider UC system, but to the nation and the world. Some of these challenges we can confront directly, and manage to the best of our ability. Others we cannot solve ourselves — but we can and must think and talk about them together and try our very best to influence those charged with their solution.

At times I will use my position as chancellor of Berkeley to advocate publicly for societal change or defend against attacks on our principles. At other times I will work quietly among our various communities of influence to assure that Berkeley’s leadership is heard and felt.

I see Berkeley’s future as that of a coherent but heterogeneous community of colleagues, and a place where the opportunity to do research, to teach, and to learn will not be compromised by fiscal constraints, inequitable access, or the differences among us. In this — as, indeed, in all the tasks we undertake together — I will look to all of you for advice and counsel.

I have certainly received no small amount of advice just in the weeks since my appointment was announced in the beautiful setting of the Doe Library. The outpouring of congratulations I have received from faculty, staff, students, and others in the campus community has been wonderfully gratifying. As one might have expected, very few such messages have come in without a word or two of advice about what I need to do and when I need to do it! I was fully aware that Berkeley folk are not shy about sharing their ideas, and it has been instructive to see just how true that adage is. Needless to say, I am enormously grateful for it. Particularly for someone coming to Berkeley from outside the campus, a steady flow of information, counsel, and opinion is invaluable. My job will be to sort it all out; yours will be to keep it flowing. Together we will work hard to make the best decisions possible for the campus and the many thousands of people who spend so much of their lives here, making the notion of a living, breathing “community of colleagues” a reality, not just a fine-sounding phrase.

My thanks must go especially to my predecessor, Bob Berdahl, who postponed his well-deserved sabbatical through the summer to help me keep my commitment to the University of Toronto to ensure a smooth transition between administrations there. His counsel has been of enormous importance to me, as has the friendship that he and his wife, Peg, have extended to my wife, Mary Catherine, and me. As we settle into their former home in University House, ready to begin our own life at Berkeley, we will think of them often, and we look forward to renewing our friendship when Bob rejoins the faculty next year.

This is only the first in what I trust will be a long, fruitful series of messages to all of you — not only in print and online but in person, whether in groups or face to face. I will be getting to know as many of you as possible during my hectic first days and weeks here, and I hope that you will make an effort to introduce yourselves to me. We are starting an interesting voyage together. Let’s work hard to make it a memorable, successful trip.

Go Bears!

Robert J. Birgeneau