UC Berkeley News


Prior to the start of Friday's inaugural ceremony, Berkeley faculty assembled outside Zellerbach Hall in their academic regalia (left photo above), preparing to enter the hall in one of four processions - the others being populated by alumni, students, and distinguished academics from other campuses and universities. Chancellor Birgeneau (at left in center photo above) had a busy couple of days both before and after the ceremony: helping to hand out blue-and-gold cupcakes at Friday's Charter Day celebration (along with economics Professor George Akerlof and Mary Catherine Birgeneau, the chancellor's wife). When it was all over, he had a moment to share a laugh with Mary Catherine (right, above). (Photos by Deborah Stalford and Peg Skorpinski)

Birgeneau inaugurated as chancellor
In a three-day celebration filled with ceremony, speechifying, humor - and a bit of picketing - the chancellor focused on themes of 'leadership, connection, and inclusion'

| 21 April 2005

Robert J. Birgeneau was formally inaugurated as the ninth chancellor of UC Berkeley on Friday, April 15, the high point of three days of celebrations, symposia, and other events designed to bring the campus, and the wider UC community, together to honor him and the institution he has led since September 2004.

Inaugural events stretched over several days last week, as the celebration of Birgeneau's installation included Saturday's annual campus open house, Cal Day, and coincided with the celebration of Charter Day, the observation of the university's founding in 1868.

The Birgeneau clan flew in to celebrate the big event. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
The 24 hours preceding the formal inauguration were particularly busy ones for Birgeneau, who attended each of more than half a dozen events planned as part of the campuswide celebration. On Thursday there was a student-sponsored barbecue in Sproul Plaza at noon; the first of two thematic symposia (this one titled "Frontiers of Education"), at 2 p.m.; and a faculty-staff reception at International House later that afternoon. On Friday there was a second symposium ("Frontiers of Knowledge") at 10 a.m.; a Charter Birthday celebration on Sproul Plaza at 11:30; and an inaugural luncheon in Pauley Ballroom at noon, just two hours before the inaugural ceremony itself was to begin.

Birgeneau also made at least one unplanned appearance during the inaugural marathon: a Thursday-morning visit to a group of campus workers participating in a one-day strike against the UC system organized by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Wearing a "Unity" button that suggested his sympathy for their cause, he told them that while he supports their fight for better salaries, it would take an increase in state funding and the support of UC President Robert Dynes to improve pay. (For an account of Birgeneau's brief exchange with strikers that morning, visit newscenter.berkeley.edu/labor.)

Birgeneau spoke again with picketers later that day, on the steps of International House prior to his appearance at the faculty-staff reception.

Friday's Zellerbach Hall inauguration, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. but delayed briefly by a bomb threat, was elaborate and tradition-rich, though enlivened by flashes of humor. More than 500 people in four separate groups (alumni, staff, faculty, and visiting scholars) - most in the latter two groups wearing colorful academic regalia - entered the auditorium in formal processions, the import of which was explained to the audience by campus director of Parking and Transportation Nadesan Permaul. Leading the faculty procession was Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray, who carried the campus mace - a carved wooden bear's head (made from the timber of South Hall, the campus's first building) on a long staff; Robert Knapp, chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, co-led the faculty procession. The staff procession was led by Vice Chancellor for University Relations Donald McQuade, Acting Vice Chancellor for Business and Administrative Services Steve Lustig, and Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Ed Denton.

Chancellor Birgeneau was assisted in donning his Berkeley regalia by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray (left) and Vice Chancellor for University Relations Donald McQuade. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Birgeneau entered Zellerbach wearing a simple blue Yale robe and hood. Taking the stage after seven brief welcoming speeches by colleagues past and present (and two dance interludes featuring student performing groups), he donned a more elaborate UC Berkeley blue gown with gold-trimmed chevrons on the sleeves. As Gray and McQuade, with some difficulty, helped Birgeneau into the robe, UC President Robert Dynes joked that it took a combined 100 years of education among them to put the gown on properly.

That was not the only moment of humor during the proceedings. Birgeneau's predecessor as chancellor, Robert Berdahl, just minutes before had led off his remarks by observing that the "strong common bond" all Berkeley chancellors share might have its source in their "opposition to a common enemy: the Office of the President." (Dynes responded during his own remarks that Berdahl was a welcome presence at the ceremony "despite that crack.") Academic Senate Chair Knapp found amusement in physicist Birgeneau's scholarly interest in superconductivity: "If the faculty were brought to a superconducting state, think of the consequences: no resistance! nothing heats up!" And ASUC President Misha Leybovich got a laugh by observing, "I don't know if I've spoken in front of this many distinguished people before, especially not a room full of Chancellor Birgeneau's genius friends - the ones up front here wearing the Harry Potter robes."

Birgeneau's inaugural address, titled "Frontiers of Knowledge, Frontiers of Education," emphasized his commitment to leadership, connection, and inclusion, which he said "provide the foundation on which modern education can continue to build." He said these themes are his core values and the responsibility of the entire campus community.

Birgeneau also praised that community - from former chancellors to student volunteer efforts to the excellence of the faculty and "an exemplary staff" - and singled out Berkeley's ongoing commitment to the public.

"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," he said. "Californians should be proud of Berkeley - and they are."

Making the campus 'inclusive and welcoming'

Birgeneau spent a great deal of his speech talking about the need for a diverse environment on campus - a theme he has emphasized frequently in his public statements since becoming chancellor, and one that has become more closely identified with him since an op-ed he wrote on the subject was published last month in the Los Angeles Times.

He said at Zellerbach that while California voters in 1996 made "an honest attempt to create a non-discriminatory system" through Proposition 209, the drop in underrepresented minorities at Berkeley is "appalling." He added that "the situation for African Americans is truly at the crisis point."

"It is self-evident that we can neither achieve true excellence here at the University of California nor fulfill our public mission unless we access fully the entire talent pool," he said.

He also spoke forcefully about several initiatives he has set in motion since starting the job in September 2004, primarily efforts to reevaluate and assess the impact of Proposition 209, which bars consideration of race, ethnicity, or gender in the admissions process.

Californians "do not see what I see every day on campus: that an effort at non-discrimination has resulted in creating an environment that many students see as explicitly discriminatory," he said. "We must find ways to make this campus the inclusive and welcoming environment to which it aspires."

After the ceremony, Linda Morgan, a staff member in general accounting with 22 years of service, commented, "I certainly loved what he said about Proposition 209..We're all working and striving step by step, and I'm sure Chancellor Birgeneau, working with all of us, will do great things."

Carolyn Hughes, a production manager in University Relations, was even more enthusiastic: "Birgeneau's a breath of fresh air. He's building bridges and community. I love him."

Archived webcasts of both Birgeneau's speech and the entire April 15 inaugural ceremony can be viewed at