UC Berkeley News
Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

'The crown jewel of public higher education'
Walter Hewlett on the Hewlett Challenge

10 September 2007

These are the prepared remarks delivered by Walter Hewlett, chairman of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in announcing the foundation's $113 million gift to UC Berkeley.

I am very pleased to be here today to be part of this important announcement and this important occasion in the life of this university.

As background, I begin by reminding you that the Hewlett Foundation has a long history of supporting public education in California, and today's announcement represents an important continuation of that history and commitment.

Walter Hewlett at the podium
Walter Hewlett: "UC Berkeley is a special case in that we are not only supporting great work, we are supporting an important social concept — the importance of public education and universal access for our best and brightest students, irrespective of their ability to pay." (Steve McConnell / NewsCenter photo)

Rather than dwelling on this, however, I want to talk about this gift in a larger context. We face enormous problems in our country and in the world today. We also have within our reach the capability to overcome these problems and pass on to our children and grandchildren a safer, fairer and more promising world than the one we now inhabit. I cannot think of a category of institution more important to this cause than this country's great research universities. These universities not only educate our future scientists, future engineers, future thinkers, future citizens and future leaders, they also as a group form the bedrock of this country's and the world's efforts in basic research — research that will produce the knowledge and technology we need to solve our problems. I am speaking here in the broadest terms. For our greatest problems are not scientific; they are social and political. And their solutions will be informed as much by what we can learn about ourselves as human beings as what we can create with advances in science and technology.

In the pantheon of great universities, none stands out more distinctly than UC Berkeley. Yes, Berkeley is to be counted among the greatest research universities, but Berkeley is more than this alone. Because Berkeley is unique in being the only public university to so stand out. This university is truly the crown jewel of public higher education — not just in California — but in the country. If the great research universities deserve our support for what they do now and what they could do if given more support, then UC Berkeley is a special case in that we are not only supporting great work, we are supporting an important social concept — the importance of public education and universal access for our best and brightest students, irrespective of their ability to pay.

But, and here is the serious part of my talk, the great public universities and Berkeley in particular are in danger today of losing their position in the pantheon. The cost of running these institutions has for years been going up faster than general inflation and faster than state revenues. Berkeley has already fallen behind its peers in what it can afford to pay its faculty. We cannot not, we must not let this trend continue. This is why the Hewlett Foundation has chosen to step forward at this time to help finance a coordinated challenge to endow 100 faculty chairs. With the advice and recommendation of the Chancellor and his staff, the Hewlett Foundation is reaching out to the friends, alumni and supporters of UC Berkeley for their help in this endeavor. The match is one-to-one. One of our dollars for each dollar contributed to this cause. We hope in this way to extend the beneficial effect of our own philanthropy as well as encourage giving by others. This last point is especially significant, and I will close on it.

It is absolutely clear that if UC Berkeley is to continue its unique role in our society, it will need support from private sources. Foundations can certainly do their part, and we hope our gift encourages other foundations to consider UC Berkeley for major support. But more important, we hope this gift will inspire the multitude of loyal Berkeley alumni and friends to hark and respond to her need at this time. This is the hour to step forward to help one of the greatest causes in our society today.

And one of our greatest hopes for a better tomorrow. Thank you very much.