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A job that keeps on giving
Don McQuade leaves University Relations - having deposited an extra $2 billion in the campus till - to return to the scholarly life

| 07 December 2006


"Life is in the transitions," says McQuade, who returns to teaching after eight years of fundraising. (Wendy Edelstein photo)
 

After eight years at the helm of University Relations, Vice Chancellor Don McQuade steps down this month to return to teaching, research, and writing in the English department. Engaging again in traditional faculty pursuits will be a switch for McQuade, who as vice chancellor has traveled the world, rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, and overseen campus public affairs and a fundraising operation that brought some $2 billion to Berkeley during his time as vice chancellor.

Highlights of his tenure include completing fundraising for the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies and the Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility, both now under construction. He also helped secure two of the largest gifts ever made to Berkeley - a $50 million bequest from the late William V. Power for faculty, student, and academic support and $40 million from the Li Ka-shing Foundation for a new research center in the health sciences.

As McQuade prepared to hand the reins to his successor, Scott Biddy - and amid boxes packed for his move back to his faculty office in Wheeler Hall - the Berkeleyan sat down with him to elicit his thoughts on the job he's done, why donors give to Cal, and the changing face of philanthropy.

Yours has been a high-profile, high-stakes job - were you prepared for that when you started?
It took me several years to learn how to behave as a vice chancellor. There's no manual for doing this. I tend to be very direct and, I think, unequivocal..But as a vice chancellor you have to be careful about what you say, because whatever you say is going to be repeated - and people take your words far more seriously than you might have meant them. There is an art, not a science, to doing this job in terms of your presence and the language that you use, and it took me quite a while to figure that out.

The need for fundraising is indisputable today at universities. What makes people want to give to Berkeley?
For many, particularly those who are self-made, it's a sense of responsibility. I think it's their admiration for the campus and what Berkeley represents, and also affection and gratitude. The concept of giving back is very important to many. That's a value a private institution inculcates in people, and we are only beginning to do that here. . . . One of my goals was to shift development to the freshman year from the senior year. At Stanford or Harvard, when you get the big [admission] package, you're expected to become part of that community and to participate. It's about participation; it's not about money.

What are the biggest challenges in gaining donor support?
I don't think it's a challenge at all. I think it's a question of providing them with the opportunity to give, and also with access to the campus. For a lot of people, the entry point is athletics, it's Jeff Tedford and competitive success. It could be Cal Performances, it could be hearing Bruce Cain on television and saying, "Wow, that's really interesting - that guy's a Cal guy." Or hearing Bob Knight or Marian Diamond talking about the brain. There's no script for this. It's about providing multiple opportunities and multiple points of access for people.

Stanford and other campuses have recently announced $4 billion-plus campaigns - is there a saturation point at which people ask why universities need all this money?
I often wonder whether Harvard needs a $29 billion endowment - it's such a competitive disadvantage for public universities. But there is a difference for Berkeley: in order for us to maintain our public-university identity we need private support. That's the paradox.

Let me explain. We have one-third of our students receiving Pell grants [for students from low-income families], more than the entire Ivy League combined. UCLA has the most Pell-grant students in the country, and we're second..

This is about access - Chang-Lin Tien always used to say, "access to excellence." It's true, absolutely true. If you believe in the principles of the literate and the participatory democracy, then public education is absolutely crucial. That's what's so magisterial about this place - we will compete at the highest level, we will make no sacrifices in terms of quality. And as a faculty member I can tell you, the review process here is absolutely rigorous - no compromises, take no prisoners. And it's that magic phrase that guides us: Berkeley standards. Assuring access and the Berkeley standard of excellence - the two operative values at a place like this - is why philanthropy will always be necessary here.

What have been your chief successes as vice chancellor of University Relations?
When you're in a position like this you think of all the things you haven't done. What I don't think that I've done adequately is to make the case for the arts and humanities on the campus. I had a very clear set of goals I set out to achieve, and to achieve those goals I had to build both an architecture and infrastructure for success. I had to devote most of my time to where donors were or, in our work in government and public affairs, to what most concerned the general public.

So the decision-makers in government focus on science? For its ability to solve problems and have an impact on society?
People in Sacramento want to know what's going on in the sciences. Many were much more interested in knowing what [bioengineer] Jay Keasling or [physicist] Steve Chu were going to do next than in knowing what the poet Robert Hass was working on at the moment. The first question they ask is, for example, what's going on with the energy crisis, and who at Berkeley is going to help us with that? They're not asking who's going to take care of our minds and souls and our spirits.

What's interesting to me is that the solution to a problem usually is in the commonality of our experience. And what poetry does or what the arts do is speak to that very powerfully and enduringly.


Don McQuade has high praise for the work of Berkeley staff members. Here, following a fundraising event at the Library, he shares a light moment with Mark Twain and University Relations staffers (from left) Kaykey Craig, director of principal gifts; Mary Keegan, director of development communications; and Colleen Rovetti, director of University Events and Ceremonies. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
 

You're an English professor, you helped found the College Writing Program, you oversaw the former dramatic-art department - as an advocate yourself, how would you make the case for the arts and humanities?
I think the arts and the humanities often allow themselves to be distracted. What I mean by that is that they often try to compete with the dazzle and sizzle of science. But instead of competing with research that is likely to provide enormous impact on dealing with AIDS or malaria or transcribing genetic codes, what the arts and humanities need to spend their time doing, in my judgment, is articulating the fact that they lie at the center of all of our experience. The arts provide us with the opportunity to understand what our common purposes and common aspirations are, in a way that can not only motivate but also sustain progress. Art addresses fundamental questions, not about the origins of life or the workings of life, but about what sustains us in life.

In your job you interact with some fascinating people - performing artists, entrepreneurs, captains of industry. Who are some of the people who have had a special impact on you?
The truth of the matter is that each of them is quite remarkable in his or her own way. And that's too glib an answer, but it's really the truth. My life and my wife Susanne's certainly will forever be marked by those relationships.

I have to say that of all the people who have had a huge impact on us, Peter Haas is a great example. As a volunteer, he was the single most important person in the success of Berkeley's last fundraising campaign. He solicited hundreds of people on behalf of the campus. He was passionate about Berkeley.

I remember sitting next to him at a football game a few years before he died. He had been ill, and he was pretty frail. Cal was getting thumped at halftime, which bothered me because I'm a very competitive person. I said to him, "Peter, say something encouraging to me." And he looked up from his wheelchair, and said, "Don, you have to think about it in the long haul." And I said, "So what are we talking about?" And he said very slowly with this magnificent twinkle in his eye, "I mean 30, 40, 50 years." And I said to him, "Peter, I don't have that kind of time." He said, "I'm really sorry to hear that."

Not to single him out, but he represented a generation of philanthropists that is very different. They would just say to the chancellor, "Here's support, you decide where you need to use it." Now donors want impact, they want to see some measures of that impact, and it's a very different kind of philanthropy. One is not better than the other, it's just different.

Your work for the campus has taken you to many foreign countries. What places have made a lasting impression?
China and East Asia, because of the people's profound respect for and devotion to scholars and teachers. In this country the teaching profession at the elementary- and secondary-school level in particular no longer has the kind of stature that it has in Europe. In Asia the teacher is a revered figure in the community.

Why do you think that is?
It has to do with cultural values and their sense of time. They're interested in long-term relationships, not quick fixes. It's not a culture of impatience, which is how I would describe America, represented by our move from the tube to the transistor to the microchip to the nano.

When I was a kid, the first time we had television in our house I was 17. You would turn on the TV, and it would have to warm up. Now it's utterly instantaneous. Think about how hard it is for kids to grow up in this culture, and how much easier it was for me to grow up, because I really had a sense of anticipation. I had a sense of expectation. They have an unrelenting pressure that is profoundly different from what my generation had.

You've been on the faculty for 20 years - but have you learned some new things about the campus during your tenure as vice chancellor?
The power of this position is in its access to the high-quality work the staff does. The great untold story here is the breadth and depth of staff excellence. Everybody, including me, talks about the breadth and depth of the faculty. That's true. That's indisputable. But that is not appreciated when it comes to the staff.

For example, downstairs, as we speak, a group of our staff is putting together [a multi-million-dollar fundraising proposal]. They were here until midnight last night, they will be here until midnight tonight, and they will be here all day on Friday after Thanksgiving to finish the job. If I took you downstairs and showed you the product that's being produced, it is dazzling.

It's been really fascinating to me to work with and learn from so many talented people whose work, I think, is not widely understood and widely appreciated. I feel very strongly about this.

There's glamour to your job - the events, the dinners, the travel - but the schedule can be relentless. How have you managed it?
When I said goodbye at the last meeting of the UC Berkeley Foundation board of trustees, I thanked the staff, I thanked the trustees, and then I thanked my wife Susanne. With all the traveling I've done or time I've had to spend on campus business, my goal was to make sure that we did everything together. There is no way ever to express my gratitude to her.

Susanne would always tell our kids, "Do the best you can." That's all. It was that simple. There's an obligation in that phrase: you need to know what the best is and you have to strive for it every day. And that's what I tried to do.

So you'll soon have more time for your own pursuits - are there activities you're eager to resume?
Well, I'll return to teaching. I've continued to teach intermittently, but I haven't taught a big lecture course since I took this job. It's a sustaining pleasure for me, writing and reading and talking to people about literature. I'm working on a book on [industrial-efficiency expert] Frederick Winslow Taylor and the cultural consequences of scientific management. I may write more about advertising..And I probably will write about the culture of philanthropy, and what there is about the society we live in that prompts it to be the most generous on the face of the earth. There are stories that need to be told about that.

So teaching and the scholarly life have their own rewards?
No one likes to say it, but when you teach well, your whole purpose is to make yourself obsolete. At the end of the semester, if the students need you as much as they needed you at the beginning of the semester, then I would say you haven't done a really good job. What you get back is the pleasure of somebody coming to you 10, 15, or, in my case, 20 years later. I was once walking across campus and a woman looked at me as we passed, then turned around and said, "Are you Don McQuade?" She said she took a course from me years earlier, and that was why she was now working toward a Ph.D..When you hear that, it charges your battery for another five years, or ten, or, in my case, maybe longer.

Do you imagine stepping down as vice chancellor will be a big adjustment?
When I took this job I had one suit, and I intend to leave with one suit. Anybody out there who's a 43-long, tell them to contact me.

The line that's in my Christmas card is "Life is in the transitions as much as in the terms connected." That's William James. I've written about William James, and I absolutely believe that line with every fiber of my being.

That's what this has been all about, getting from one campaign to another. So this has been about transitions. It's like the white space between the notes in jazz. The white space is every bit as important as the notes themselves.