UC Berkeley News


'Frontiers of Knowledge, Frontiers of Education'
Excerpts from Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau's inaugural address

21 April 2005

If you look west from the Berkeley hills as the sun sets framed by the Golden Gate, you will see what was once the far edge of the Western frontier. Today Berkeley is positioned at the leading edge of new frontiers - the frontiers of knowledge and education. In our age the threshold of the unknown is intellectual rather than geographic. Nobelist Glenn T. Seaborg, the last scientist who served as chancellor of UC Berkeley, observed, "The spirit of our pioneering past is the spirit we must seek for our present and future.... Learning and discovery are the New Worlds and the Old West, the lands of opportunity."

Today we also celebrate the 137th anniversary of Berkeley's founding..We are fortunate that after 137 years, Berkeley continues to serve as a model for public education in this state and in this nation, and we will continue to break new paths on the frontiers of knowledge and education.

Berkeley's role as a model public university is so important that we must summon ourselves to its highest aspirations. Any failure to lead as a pre-eminent teaching and research university not only diminishes Berkeley but also diminishes the standards to which public education in this nation aspires.

Among the speakers preceding Birgeneau to the podium were (clockwise from top left) staff ombudsperson Margo Wesley, UC President Robert Dynes, former Chancellor Robert Berdahl, and ASUC President Misha Leybovich. (Peg Skorpinski photos)
Three themes must resonate in all of our minds and all of our lives - in order to provide the foundation on which modern education can continue to build. These themes are Leadership, Connection, and Inclusion, and they constitute my vision for Berkeley. . . .

As a physicist, I have learned what is required to pursue the frontiers of knowledge - fortitude, belief in oneself and others, hard work, opportunity, resources, the willingness to take risks in one's research, and, more often than not, a bit if not a lot of luck. Of course, what ultimately matters most in a leader are his or her core values. Leadership, Connection, and Inclusion epitomize mine.

I am a deep believer in the concept of the public "research and teaching university," and it is in this context that we must discuss leadership - leadership in research, education, and public service. At Berkeley, a coherent undergraduate experience, along with graduate research and teaching in the arts and sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, and in professional education are joined together harmoniously - much like the sections in a great symphony orchestra.

A distinguished research and teaching university offers the best possible education that one can obtain as an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student. There is nothing more exciting than being taught by a professor who has just made a discovery that promises to change the paradigm in her field. Every great researcher brings to the classroom a depth of understanding and a passion for the subject which is simply not obtainable otherwise. Thus our absolute first responsibility is to hire, nurture, and retain a diverse faculty that leads the world in research and education. I believe that in the 21st century the faculty who have the greatest impact will, very often, be those who are able to move effortlessly across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Berkeley, with its remarkable combination of intellectual breadth and depth, presents unparalleled opportunities for such multidisciplinary scholars and teachers.

An excellent faculty that leads will attract both a superb staff and outstanding students. I cannot underscore adequately enough the importance of having an outstanding staff - from custodians to senior managers. Their pride, dedication, and hard work enable our university to function effectively. We cannot maintain our high international stature if we do not nurture and develop an exemplary staff. I have been extraordinarily pleased to discover that I have inherited a proud, deeply loyal, and hard-working staff at Berkeley, people who take satisfaction in meeting the highest standards. It is also our responsibility to ensure that our staff are compensated at a level that will allow them to lead dignified lives.

As we consider leadership at Berkeley, we must clarify what is "public" in the public nature of the University. If we had enough financial resources to fund ourselves in every respect without any funds from public revenues, and we were able to do everything we do today but as a private entity, would we have achieved Berkeley's mission? I say emphatically no. At the core of our mission is our commitment to fulfill the public trust and to bequeath to subsequent generations educational opportunities that extend the public good. We embody the desire of the people of California to take ownership of the ideals of knowledge and education, their desire to accept nothing but excellence in this regard, and their historic commitment as a society to put their treasure where their heart is. A public university offers accountability and transparency for this ideal. Californians should be proud of Berkeley - and they are.

Berkeley is a name deeply synonymous with the public mission, and during my time as chancellor it will remain so. I call on each of you to join in a rallying cry for public education. Each generation must have the courage of conviction not to subjugate higher education to the other needs of the state - the conviction that higher education invests in the present and future of our citizens and yields many returns.

To lead, we must be able to provide first-class infrastructure, especially in our classrooms and state-of-the-art research facilities. Our faculty must have adequate research support and teaching resources, and we must offer faculty and staff competitive salaries. For many academic researchers and educators, the quality of the graduate body is also of paramount importance. In order to attract the top echelon of Ph.D. students, we must be able to offer graduate-student support packages that are competitive. So, too, the people of California and the nation will benefit greatly if we continue to recruit the best international faculty and graduate students.

As a public university, we expect that our major support should and will come from the state and federal governments. However, we also recognize that we have important relationships with society as a whole, most especially with the business sector. This means that we must lead here also, and be even more vigorous in facilitating the commercial applications of the results of our research. We need to continue to partner actively with the private sector and to do so in such a way that the rights and freedoms of both our own faculty and students as well as our industrial partners are properly protected.

Let me discuss leadership in terms of individual support. Only in the last two decades have U.S. public universities recognized the critical importance of permanent private support in the form of an endowment. An adequate endowment enables us to guarantee that every qualified undergraduate who is admitted to the University of California will be able to attend independent of family resources. With sufficient endowed funds, we will also be able to offer graduate fellowships that will bring the very best young scholars to Cal. Endowed chairs can provide both enhanced salaries and discretionary research resources for our most distinguished and accomplished faculty. We are deeply grateful to our alumni and friends for their support in the past and we look forward to, if anything, progressively increasing support in the future. . . .

Let me now speak about Connections.

Staying at the leading edge of the frontiers of public education requires not only resources but critical connections to meet the challenges of the day. What are these connections? In thinking about our connections at Berkeley, we must look both inward and outward. Inwardly, on this campus, we must make the intellectual connections among ourselves that are sometimes called "interdisciplinary," but in my view are better described as "multidisciplinary." Much of the rich intellectual and educational territory ripe for opportunity in our time requires attention from many different disciplines. As I have noted before, Berkeley is especially well-situated to meet such challenges because of the phenomenal breadth and depth of expertise on our campus. . . .

Of course, there will always be intellectual challenges that can only be solved by a brilliant young faculty member working in her office alone, and we must enhance that aspect of Berkeley as well. Yet even that solitude is something of an illusion, as our experience working in a library or conversing with a colleague would suggest. Even an apparently solitary inquiry depends on - and in turn expresses - connections.

Our connections must also look outward - from our scholarly communities to the vast world in which our gifts of knowledge can make a profound contribution. It is a privilege to be a student at Berkeley, surrounded by exceptionally talented fellow students, faculty, and staff. But with that privilege comes the obligation to give back to society in proportion to the benefits received. Berkeley is known for its public-service connections, and holds the historic record for Peace Corps volunteers. Let us continue this good work, whether we are the student volunteering as a tutor at Berkeley High or a "Big Sister" to a young girl in an impoverished neighborhood in Oakland - or students and faculty helping the victims of the tsunami rebuild their communities. . . .

In the United States, universities are virtually the only places where knowledge can be pursued for its own sake. As such, research and teaching universities have a special responsibility to maintain and indeed enhance our pursuit of fundamental knowledge independent of any economic imperatives. Fortunately, it has turned out historically that technological advances that are revolutionary rather than evolutionary most often have their roots in undirected basic research. My favorite example is the World Wide Web, familiar to each of us, which originated from elementary-particle physics research at CERN in Geneva. An enduring responsibility of a distinguished public university is to continue supporting undirected basic research, and especially in those fields among the arts, humanities, and social sciences which do not attract large grants or significant private-sector support.
Let me now talk about Inclusion.

As we see these beautiful edifices of knowledge emerging on the intellectual frontiers, my final question for you today is this: Who comprises the "we" I speak of? In my view, the most significant challenge that Berkeley faces today is that of inclusion. We are famous for leadership; we have a long history of connections; and inclusion - equal opportunity for all - is our ideal. But today, I fear inclusion is greatly threatened. This is such a compelling issue that I have begun speaking publicly about it through various media. . . .

Inclusion covers financial as well as social, cultural and religious diversity. More than 90 percent of UC undergraduates come from within the state. For financial inclusion, we must keep tuition and fees affordable, meet financial need, and, most important of all, make sure that required "self-help" levels do not force low-income students, who already come in with an economic handicap, to graduate with an even greater handicap - in loans and other debts. I do point out with great pride that currently here at Berkeley, as measured by Pell Grant data, we have more undergraduates whose family incomes are under $35,000 than all of the Ivy League universities combined. This is a remarkable achievement, and it represents the "public" nature of Berkeley more succinctly than any other statistic I might cite.

We do, however, need to do much more. We must lead the discussion on the unintended consequences of Proposition 209. We are initiating a broad-based diversity research agenda at Berkeley to study this and a myriad of related issues. We must find ways to make this campus the inclusive and welcoming environment to which it aspires.
This call to action extends the efforts of previous chancellors and others at Berkeley. As the current chancellor, I feel a moral obligation to address the issue of inclusion head-on. Ultimately it is a fight for the soul of this institution. Inclusion is about leadership and excellence, principles that California and its leading public university has long represented - and must again.

In closing, I would like to thank each of you for coming this afternoon, most especially former Chancellors and their families Bob and Peg Berdahl, Di-Hwa and Norman Tien, Mike Heyman, and Al Bowker. Their presence helps us remember the important continuity of leadership. I also thank Consul General of Canada Alain Dudoit, Regent Gerald Parsky, Assemblywoman Carol Liu, Mayor Tom Bates, and the many other distinguished academic and national laboratory leaders and institutional representatives who are here for this ceremony. I am especially grateful to my many colleagues from Yale, Bell Labs, MIT, and Toronto, as well as to my scientific collaborators, and my former graduate students who have come here today; these colleagues have traveled from as far away as China, Japan, and Indonesia. Your combined presence honors not only this city, state, and country, but most especially, this great academic institution, the University of California at Berkeley. . . .

In achieving our goals of Leadership, Connection and Inclusion on the frontiers of knowledge and education we will require the participation of our entire community. Underlying these three themes is our deepest value, Academic Freedom, which is fundamental for any great university. I pledge to each and every one of you: I will provide Berkeley with the chancellorship demanded for leadership, connection, and inclusion. Further, I pledge to exercise my leadership with fairness to all members of our community. Thank you.

For a complete transcript of the chancellor's inaugural address, speech, visit berkeley.edu/news/goto/address/.