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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Q&A: Hewlett Challenge

Q. What is the Hewlett Foundation Endowed Chair Challenge?
A. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has made a landmark $110-million challenge gift to endow 100 new faculty chairs at UC Berkeley. The gift will bring a total of $220 million to bolster decisively Berkeley's efforts to retain and recruit top faculty — the heart of the university's excellence. On the national level, the Hewlett Challenge makes an important contribution to the vitality of public higher education, and is a model partnership to keep academic excellence in the public domain.

Q. What is an endowed chair?
A. Created by a private gift, an endowed chair is an endowment fund that is invested to provide stable financial support in perpetuity for faculty. Appointment to an endowed chair is a mark of high academic distinction for a professor. Endowed chairs offer philanthropists the opportunity to support a field of academic endeavor that is of particular interest to them.

First established in 16th-century England, the endowed chair derived from the practice of rewarding outstanding faculty achievement with an actual chair, considered a luxury at the time. Today, endowed faculty chairs support teaching and research and attract top professors. Berkeley is currently home to 351 endowed chairs in many fields of study. Berkeley's endowed-chair tradition began with the Agassiz Professorship of Oriental Languages and Literature, established in 1872, four years after the university was chartered.

Q. Why are endowed chairs so critical?
A. Endowed chairs are critical to recruiting and retaining top professors — the cornerstone of Berkeley's excellence. The enormous endowments of Berkeley's private peers give them a huge competitive advantage — an ability to offer higher salaries, more-generous compensation packages, and greater research funding. Endowed chairs will help Berkeley continue to attract the finest faculty amid this strong competition.

Berkeley's state funding — which represents 31 percent of the campus's annual budget — has remained relatively robust and constant when adjusted for inflation, and Berkeley's endowment has grown to about $2.5 billion as of FY 2006. However, during the same period, the endowments at Berkeley's private peer institutions have skyrocketed. UC Berkeley will need to rely on the continued commitment of the State of California and aggressively build its endowment to sustain its preeminence.

Q. What incentives will the Hewlett Challenge give to top professors to come to Berkeley or remain here?
A. Endowed chairs created under the Hewlett Challenge will give the Chancellor and deans the ability to develop retention and recruitment packages that provide powerful incentives. These include more-competitive salaries, greater fellowship support to attract the best graduate students, and discretionary funding for creative teaching and research initiatives.

Q. How are faculty chair holders appointed, and for what period of time?
A. Professors are appointed to endowed chairs based on their distinction in teaching and research and great potential to contribute to the university's overall excellence. At Berkeley, holders of endowed chairs are tenured faculty who typically are appointed for renewable five-year terms.

Q. What level of funding is needed to establish an endowed chair at Berkeley?
A. As of July 1, 2006, endowed chairs at Berkeley can be established with a minimum gift of $2 million, and distinguished endowed chairs can be established with a minimum gift of $3 million. Endowed funds typically have a conservative annual payout of about five percent in order to protect the purchasing power of the endowment in perpetuity.

Q. How will the Hewlett Challenge support Berkeley's across-the-board excellence in teaching and research?
A. Even among its prestigious peer institutions, Berkeley stands apart for its comprehensive excellence, spanning the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, engineering, social sciences, arts and humanities, and the professions. This combination of depth and breadth makes Berkeley an exceptionally vital and creative environment for teaching and research.

The Hewlett Challenge will strengthen Berkeley's depth and breadth by providing significant funding to maintain the high quality of faculty and graduate students across all disciplines. The Challenge will produce 80 endowed chairs at $2 million each to support faculty excellence in all of the university's 14 schools and colleges, and 20 distinguished endowed chairs at $3 million each to advance Berkeley's multidisciplinary teaching and research, crucial to cutting-edge work.

Q. What is the mission of the Hewlett Foundation?
A. The Hewlett Foundation makes grants to address serious social and environmental problems facing society, where risk capital, responsibly invested, may make a difference over time. The foundation places a high value on sustaining and improving institutions that make positive contributions to society. For UC Berkeley, the Hewlett Challenge represents a monumental investment in the future excellence of public higher education.