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THE NATION | CLARK KERR | 1911-2003

Renowned UC Leader Dies

As head of the state system, he pioneered a concept of quality, low-cost higher education accessible to all residents.

December 02, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

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, according to a statement released by UC Berkeley. He was 92.

Kerr, who served as UC Berkeley's first chancellor and then as the 12th president of the entire UC system, died in his sleep at his home in El Cerrito, Calif., after complications from a fall, campus officials said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Kerr obituary -- The obituary of former UC Chancellor Clark Kerr in Section A on Dec. 2 stated that Kerr resisted the use of force against student protesters. In fact, Kerr eventually supported the use of police against demonstrators, including the arrests of more than 800 protesters at UC Berkeley on Dec. 3, 1964.

David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella organization for the nation's major universities, said of Kerr, "He clearly was one of the nation's leading figures in higher education, especially the scale at which he thought about higher education."

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl said Kerr "is, without question, a legend in higher education."

"This quiet, unassuming man with a powerful intellect not only created the state's master plan [for higher education], but took on some of the most difficult issues facing higher education," Berdahl said.

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.

"Clark Kerr did for higher education what Henry Ford did for cars," Arthur Levine, president of Columbia University's Teachers College in New York, once wrote. "He mass-produced low-cost, quality education and research potential for a nation that hungered deeply for both.... [Kerr] not only built the modern University of California, he transformed American higher education."

The current UC president, Robert C. Dynes, called Kerr a "visionary" who was instrumental in creating the high quality and broad accessibility of the UC system.

During Kerr's time as UC president, from 1958 to 1967, he presided over the creation of three campuses -- UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz -- while clarifying the missions of the other six. He was proud that, while he was president, UC Berkeley was rated the No. 1 graduate school in America -- the first public university ever to top Harvard.

Meanwhile, his book, "The Uses of the University," published in 1963, changed the way America viewed the modern research institution -- what Kerr called the "multiversity." The book was reprinted three times, each edition including new postscripts and commentaries from Kerr.

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.

"I left the presidency just as I entered it -- fired with enthusiasm," he quipped at the time. But Kerr would later describe his dismissal, which the board chairman insisted was "effective immediately" after the vote, as the most painful event in his life.

"I was prepared to be fired," Kerr said in a 1997 interview with The Times. "But saying it was 'effective immediately,' as though I was some kind of criminal who had to go to the guillotine instantly, that was a little too much for me.... I'd worked with the Board of Regents at that time, as chancellor and as president, 14 1/2 years. We'd done an awful lot of things together.... They didn't have to do it" that way.

In an award-winning investigative report published last year by the San Francisco Chronicle, it was disclosed that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover conspired with then-CIA Chief John McCone to covertly try to get Kerr fired because bureau officials disagreed with his policies.

After the publication of the Chronicle report, which found that the FBI and CIA leaders also conspired to harass students and faculty members, Kerr said that "the FBI came in and added some fuel to the flames. What happened might have happened anyway, but it was more likely with FBI support."

Parents Revered Learning

Born on May 17, 1911, in Stony Creek, Pa., Kerr was the son of Samuel and Caroline Kerr, both of whom had a reverence for learning and education. His mother, a milliner who had only gone up to the sixth grade, put off marriage for years until she had saved enough to pay for the college education of all her future children. Kerr's father, an apple farmer who had been the first member of his family to go to college, spoke four languages, held a master's degree from the University of Berlin and taught his son the value of independent thought.

"He believed that nothing should be unanimous," Kerr once said. "If he found everybody else for something, he'd be against it on principle."

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