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Revered UC Chief Honored at Service

Clark Kerr, who died Dec. 1, is remembered as a pioneer of higher education. Speakers fear his legacy may be at risk.

February 21, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Clark Kerr, the former University of California president and elder statesman of higher education, was remembered here Friday as a visionary whose dream of an affordable, high-quality college education for all Californians may now be at risk.

At a simple, often poignant memorial service for Kerr, who died Dec. 1 at the age of 92, colleagues and friends recalled a man who was personally reserved but passionate about higher education and the University of California, which he led from 1958 to 1967.

The service on the UC Berkeley campus, where Kerr also served as the first chancellor, drew more than 400 people, from current and former UC presidents and chancellors to such political figures as state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) and state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

Several of those who spoke at the ceremony recalled Kerr's role as the chief architect of California's master plan for higher education, a blueprint that defined the mission of the state's public colleges and became a model for the nation. The implied promise of the plan, which was adopted in 1960, is an affordable place in public higher education for all.

And one after another, the speakers expressed concern that at a time of tight budgets and proposed enrollment reductions, that promise may no longer be kept.

"As our state faces a new era of budget cuts, it is worthwhile to recall the legacy of Clark Kerr and reflect on the things that society can accomplish when it makes up its mind that public higher education is a priority," said Robert C. Dynes, the current UC president. "We need to make sure we do not let the Kerr dream crumble."

In his budget proposal last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a 10% increase in student fees for undergraduates and a 40% hike for graduate students at both the University of California and the California State University systems.

The governor also has proposed a 10% reduction in the number of freshmen allowed to enroll next year at both university systems, despite a continuing rise in the number of high school graduates statewide. And he called for additional cuts in research, student services and financial aid.

Speaking at the memorial, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl said Kerr's legacy would be both the statewide master plan and a UC system that emerged from his era with three new campuses: UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz.

But Berdahl said that Kerr, too, worried in his final years that the system of public higher education might be in jeopardy.

"Our commitment to this great man ought to be to see that his creation be sustained," the chancellor said.

Other speakers, including former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young, referred to the moment Kerr would come to describe as the most painful of his life: his ignominious dismissal in 1967 by the UC Board of Regents. The board -- frustrated by continuing student unrest on the Berkeley campus and worried about Kerr's tense relations with new Gov. Ronald Reagan -- voted to fire him, effective immediately.

An investigative series published last year by the San Francisco Chronicle disclosed that the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, had conspired with the CIA to try to get Kerr dismissed because bureau officials disagreed with his policies.

Young described the actions as "despicable," but said Kerr would be remembered most for having protected and transformed the university during his years as its leader.

Some of the memories shared Friday involved Kerr's personal life. His granddaughter, Amber Kerr, 24, recalled a warm, loving man who enjoyed working as hard at his weekend gardening as he did his weekday responsibilities. And he would set his children and grandchildren to work, clearing cattails from the lake near his vacation cabin in the Sierras or raking leaves from around his fruit trees.

In addition, she said, "he was the most even-tempered person I have ever been privileged to know."

And Kerr's longtime research associate, Marian Gade, noted his extraordinary productivity. He wrote 24 books, more than 200 chapters or articles and many reports, much of it while serving as the university's president.

He also had "the ability to take available information and make something absolutely new of it," Gade said. "I admired him greatly."

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