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Vice Provost Webster to retire at year’s end
Following a transition period, he will be succeeded by Professor Cathy Koshland

| 10 September 2003


Vice Provost William Webster
Peg Skorpinski photo

William Webster, the campus’s first vice provost for academic planning and facilities, has announced his retirement, effective December 31, after 34 years of service to UC Berkeley. Chancellor Berdahl last week said he will appoint Professor Catherine Koshland, last year’s Academic Senate chair, to replace Webster early next year.

“It’s time,” says Webster simply of his decision. “I’ll be 67 next year; it’s time to let a younger group in to set their own future.”

A professor of civil and environmental engineering, Webster joined the Berkeley faculty in naval architecture in 1969. He served as associate dean for student affairs in the College of Engineering from 1991 to 1999.
In July 2000, Chancellor Berdahl restructured the campus’s senior management team, creating three vice-provost positions, including Webster’s, which takes the lead in planning, coordinating, and implementing academic-planning initiatives. He oversees space and capital planning for academic units, a role that has grown even more significant as the campus addresses enrollment growth and implementation of seismic retrofits under the SAFER program.

Webster also oversees UC Berkeley Extension and Summer Sessions.

“It’s important to the faculty that the person [in these key roles] be a respected faculty member,” says Webster. “Knowing that I’m going to be followed by someone as competent and dedicated as Cathy Koshland has made my decision to leave a lot easier.”

Adds Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray, to whom all three vice provosts report, “Cathy’s extensive knowledge of the campus, her appreciation for the critical role that faculty play in planning and governance, and her collaborative style will serve her in good stead.”

A plan with an impact
During Koshland’s leadership of the campus Academic Senate she developed a close professional relationship with Webster, primarily through their joint work on the New Initiatives Process and Strategic Academic Plan (SAP), Each of them says separately that these are the accomplishments in which they take the greatest pride.

“Cathy was a true partner in all of the things we did last year with the Academic Senate,” Webster told the Berkeleyan. “She’ll fit in perfectly with this office.”

“Developing the Strategic Academic Plan was a tough thing to get done,” says Webster, “because we wanted to have the consensus of the whole [campus] community. Most of the academic plans before this one were developed by the administration and then let out to the community. Our approach, which I think was more fruitful in the end, was to develop a plan jointly with the Academic Senate, the staff, and students.” This “bottom-up” process, he says, “suits my style: I much prefer the collaborative approach to the traditional top-down, military approach that administrations gravitate toward.”

Chancellor Berdahl spoke with admiration of both the SAP and Webster’s role in crafting it: “Had it not been for Bill’s knowledge of the campus and his dogged persistence in working through myriad issues with multiple constituent groups, we would not have an academic plan, which, together with the New Century Plan, provides the framework of principles and goals for capital investments at Berkeley through the year 2020. It is a singular contribution to Berkeley’s continuing excellence.”

Webster says he’s especially pleased that the SAP — the development of which, he is quick to note, was significantly shaped by former Senate Chair David Dowall, whom he calls “a guiding light in getting it done”—has already made an impact on campus.

“We recommended more than a dozen action items,” he says, “and with the exception of one or two, we’ve been able to act on all of them in the one year since the plan was finished.” In addition to such recommendations as hiring a campus real-estate consultant, developing a new way of reviewing academic programs, and having the Chancellor give an annual “state of the campus” address, Webster points in particular to the New Initiatives process, which led to the identification of five interdisciplinary initiatives that will be funded with resources and (in most cases) faculty allocated by the state to meet the demands of projected enrollment growth.

“These were interdisciplinary areas that would have eventually [developed] on the campus,” Webster says, “but that would have taken a long, long time to grow out of the traditional disciplines that already exist.”

A short stint as acting provost
Webster will take a required break in service during January 2004, then be recalled as acting vice provost for February and March to provide Koshland and the campus with continuity and guidance during that transition period. (Koshland is currently on sabbatical.)

“Cathy and I feel very comfortable with one another,” says Webster of his successor, “and she’ll be a great addition to this administration. We’re on the same wavelength; we have the same values and love of institution.”

Says Koshland, “During his tenure as vice provost, Bill Webster’s great contribution to Berkeley has been to create the marriage between academic planning and the capital projects that we develop, and to create it in a way that makes sure that the kinds of buildings we construct really meet the needs of the academic program. That’s no easy feat, and he’s set us on a very good course to continue that.”

“I love this place,” concludes Webster. “And this job has been a good opportunity to give back to the institution I love whatever guidance my experience here could yield. Beyond that, what’s really important to me is that I’ve been able to accomplish some things that I really wanted to do.”