UC Berkeley News
Today's news & events
News by email
For the news media
Calendar of events
Top stories
Untitled Document
Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

The first verdict of history: Excerpts from obituaries on Clark Kerr published around the country

From the December 2 New York Times:
Clark Kerr, who created the blueprint for public higher education in the United States while president of the University of California system in the 1950's and 60's, died yesterday afternoon in El Cerrito, Calif …

Mr. Kerr remained a leading figure in education, particularly for his work as chairman and director of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. He is credited with originating the concept that every student should be entitled to a college education regardless of ability to pay. In 1972 Congress translated that idea into the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, later known as Pell Grants, the backbone of federal aid to needy students.

"Clark Kerr did for higher education what Henry Ford did for the automobile,'' said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. "He mass produced low-cost quality education and research potential for a nation that hungered deeply for both..."

As president of the University of California, Mr. Kerr created a multicampus public institution that became the model for the state universities across the nation.

Under Mr. Kerr's plan, California created a three-tier system that became the largest and most admired in the nation; other states sought to emulate its structure and objectives. At the highest academic layer were campuses like Berkeley whose students came from the top 12.5 percent of the state's high school students. A second tier was state colleges function as teaching institutions focusing primarily on undergraduate education with some graduate courses; they enrolled a third of California students. Community colleges completed the system, offering two-year transfer and vocational programs open to every California high school graduate.

It was an ingenious mixture of populism and elitism. And the timing was right; American culture was ready for a state-supported, widely spread educational supermarket to serve varied educational needs ...

From the December 2 Los Angeles Times:
Clark Kerr, the elder statesman of higher education whose blueprint for ensuring access to college for all Californians became a model for the nation, died Monday afternoon ...

Kerr, a labor economist, was the chief architect of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which says that the top eighth of the state's high school graduates are eligible for the University of California and the top third for California State University, while anyone who can benefit from additional education can attend a community college.

The implied promise of the plan, adopted in 1960, is an affordable place in public higher education for all ...

Despite these accomplishments, Kerr was perhaps best-remembered for how his presidency ended: with his abrupt dismissal by the UC Board of Regents. In January 1967, the board — frustrated by Kerr's refusal to use force to quell student unrest on campus and worried about his tense relationship with newly elected Gov. Ronald Reagan — voted 14 to 8 to fire him ...

In 1958, UC President Robert Sproul resigned, and Kerr was the natural successor. Perhaps no university has ever grown as fast as UC did under Kerr's leadership. Enrollment ballooned from 43,000 to 87,000 students. Specialized campuses at Davis, Riverside and Santa Barbara were transformed into general university campuses at the same time the three new campuses were being built ...

From the December 3 Sacramento Bee editorial:
The news of Clark Kerr's death this week didn't come out of the blue. The former University of California president and architect of the state's once-shining Master Plan for Higher Education was 92, and had recently suffered a bad fall. But it is hard not to see the timing of Kerr's passing as some kind of an omen. The clouds that have been gathering over educational opportunity have been further darkened by the loss of man whose drive and vision did so much to clear the path to college and create better prospects for so many Californians ...

While chancellor at Cal, he oversaw creation of the Master Plan, a revolutionary 1960 document that forged coherence from what had been a growing, pell-mell state system of higher education. It delineated distinct roles for UC, as the state's research university, and for the California State University and Community College systems, as teaching institutions. Its inherent promise – that all who sought to improve themselves through higher education would find a place at one of the three segments – is for the first time being broken by the state's unprecedented budget shortfall.

From the December 2 San Francisco Chronicle:
Kerr was the principle architect of the state's Master Plan for Higher Education, which "had a great deal to do with the fact that the University of California is the greatest public higher education system in the world," said John Cummins, associate chancellor at UC Berkeley, where Kerr began his administrative career as the campus' first chancellor ...

His faith in reason and honest communication were underscored in a famous moment in the 1964 Free Speech Movement when he rejected mass arrests and negotiated with protesters who had surrounded a police car on Sproul Plaza, Cummins said.

As a "staunch defender of academic freedom and individual rights," Kerr refused to crack down on student protesters and became the target of a secret FBI attempt to get him fired, said Chronicle reporter Seth Rosenfeld, who uncovered the FBI plot.