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UC Berkeley Web Feature

As UC President Robert Dynes reads the standing order of the regents, Robert Birgeneau adjusts his hood after donning a UC Berkeley gown at his inauguration as the ninth chancellor of UC Berkeley. (Steve McConnell photo) Chancellor Berdahl dons his chancellorial robe

Robert Birgeneau inaugurated as UC Berkeley's ninth chancellor

topkey   Slide show: A chronicle of festivities, from ice cream to regalia

Inaugural coverage
Inauguration of Robert J. Birgeneau
•  Webcast: The inauguration ceremony
• Chancellor Birgeneau's homepage
– Robert Birgeneau dedicated himself and the entire campus community to providing leadership and creating an inclusive environment as he was officially sworn in today (Friday, April 15) as the ninth chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

"In my view, the most significant challenge that Berkeley faces today is that of inclusion. ... I feel that inclusion is greatly threatened," he told a packed audience at an afternoon ceremony at Zellerbach Hall.

"As the current chancellor, I feel a moral obligation to address the issue of inclusion head-on," Birgeneau said. "Ultimately, it is a fight for the soul of this institution."

Birgeneau's speech was the highlight of an elaborate, tradition-rich inaugural ceremony that was kicked off by a formal procession into Zellerbach Hall by more than 500 people, including faculty members in colorful academic regalia. Leading the faculty was Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Paul Gray, who carried the campus mace — a carved wooden bear's head on a long staff.

Police officer distributes cupcakes
Joining in the Charter Day festivities that preceded the inaugural, a UCPD officer passes out free cupcakes to students and others on Sproul Plaza. (Steve McConnell photo)

Inaugural events stretch over several days this week in particularly festive fashion as the ceremony falls on the eve of Cal Day — the campus's annual open house — and was timed with Charter Day, a celebration of the University of California's founding.

Earlier in the day, Birgeneau and his family — including four children and five grandchildren — joined UC Berkeley students for an informal Charter Day celebration of cupcakes and fun on Sproul Plaza. Teams of students played games including Name That (Campus) Building and Campanile Ring Toss. Nobel Laureate George Akerlof helped distribute 2,000 blue- and gold-frosted cupcakes.

Acknowledging the 137th anniversary of Charter Day in his speech, Birgeneau, a physics professor said:"One hundred thirty-seven may not be a special number to most of you, but for a physicist, it is unique since the number 137 plays a profound role in the quantum theory of light." It is a "singular pleasure," he said, to assume leadership at a university that has "Fiat Lux" — "Let There Be Light" — as its motto.

Birgeneau entered Zellerbach wearing a simple blue robe and his Yale hood before being helped, with slight difficulty, into a more elaborate UC Berkeley blue gown with gold-trimmed chevrons on the sleeves. As Provost Gray and Vice Chancellor Donald McQuade 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.

"UC Berkeley has its greatest days still to come, and Bob Birgeneau is the guy to help us get there," said Dynes, dressed in the white and burgundy robes of his alma mater, Canada's McMaster University.

Misha Leybovich, ASUC president, saying he was awed to be addressing Birgeneau's genius friends "dressed in Harry Potter robes," joked that the new chancellor only came to California "because the hockey season was canceled this year." He also praised Birgeneau, predicting that his tenure at UC Berkeley "will no doubt be one of the most productive ever."

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: "Californians should be proud of Berkeley — and they are." (Bonnie Azab Powell photo)

After also enjoying remarks by former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl and representatives from the faculty, staff, regents, and other universities, Birgeneau 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 as well as the responsibility of the entire campus community.

Birgeneau also praised the campus community — from former chancellors to student volunteer efforts to the excellence of the faculty and "an exemplary staff" — and singled out UC 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."

Birgeneau acknowledged the tough economic times the university and its employees face. "It is also our responsibility to ensure that our staff are compensated at a level that will allow them to lead dignified lives," he said to hearty applause.

He noted that UC Berkeley currently has more undergraduates with family incomes under $35,000 than all Ivy League schools combined. "This is a remarkable achievement, and it represents the 'public' nature of Berkeley more succinctly than any other statistic I might cite."

He added that he would strive to "keep tuition and fees affordable" for all students.

Birgeneau spent a great deal of his speech, titled "Frontiers of Knowledge, Frontiers of Education," talking about the need for a diverse environment on campus.

He said that while California voters made "an honest attempt to create a non-discriminatory system" through Proposition 209, the drop in underrepresented minorities at UC 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.

Faculty in the inaugural audience
Decked out in their multicolored regalia, Berkeley faculty members fill the front rows at Thursday's inaugural ceremony. (Steve McConnell photo)

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 the university from considering an applicant's race, ethnicity, or gender as part of the admissions process. Since its passage in 1996, there has been a dramatic drop in minorities attending UC Berkeley.

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 who works in general accounting and has been on campus 22 years, 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."

Former Chancellor Berdahl agreed.

"There is a kind of agony and ecstasy that are joined in the challenge of being chancellor at Berkeley," he told Birgeneau on stage. "Agony in the fact that there is never enough time, never sufficient resources, never complete agreement, ecstasy in the fact that Berkeley is so blessed with talented faculty, so completely dedicated to excellence, so rich in intellectual diversity and curiosity.

"And so today I am pleased to represent the eight previous chancellors of Cal, those living and those, too, that have passed from among us, as we officially inaugurate you, Bob, as the ninth chancellor of this campus."