Regents of the University of California on Tuesday named University of Toronto President Robert J. Birgeneau, an internationally known physicist, as the next chancellor of UC Berkeley.
Birgeneau, a former longtime professor and dean of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will assume leadership of UC's oldest -- and to many, its most prestigious -- campus in October. He will replace Robert M. Berdahl, who announced in September that he planned to return to teaching after seven years as Berkeley's chancellor.
In making the announcement, UC President Robert C. Dynes praised Birgeneau, a fellow Canadian, as an acclaimed scientist and teacher who has been an outspoken advocate of greater gender and racial diversity at the institutions where he has spent his career.
"Everything he has done for the past 25 years has been preparing him to be chancellor of UC Berkeley," Dynes said of Birgeneau, noting the campus' long history of social activism. "He is courageous, he is compassionate, and he possesses a deep sense of commitment to social equity and diversity."
Birgeneau, 62, will assume leadership of the Berkeley campus at a time of significant challenges for the university. Overall, UC is coping with reduced state financial support. Both Berkeley and UCLA, the system's two most competitive campuses, are struggling to recruit and admit qualified minority students, given the state's ban on affirmative action.
Several Democratic legislators, including state Sen. Robert Alarcon (D-Sylmar), have recently stepped up criticism of the university over the numbers of some minorities, particularly African Americans, who are admitted and enrolled.
In a news conference at UC Berkeley's Doe Library, where he was introduced after the regents' 11-0 vote to hire him, Birgeneau praised his new institution as the "best teaching and public research university in the world."
"I want to assure you that I'm deeply committed to inclusion for the entire population of California, not just part of it," he said. "I hope there is no kid being born in California right now who will not have full and equal access to what we have to offer here," he added to applause.
Birgeneau said he did not yet know how he might increase diversity at the campus, saying he needed to study both the university and the legal constraints.
A Toronto native who was the first in his family to finish high school, Birgeneau has served since 2000 as president of the University of Toronto, a public institution with more than 60,000 students that is Canada's largest university. While there, he earned a reputation as a successful fund-raiser and as a scientist who continued his research while running the institution.
Birgeneau and Dynes, who is also a physicist, worked together years ago at Bell Laboratories and are friends. Birgeneau also has a long association with Stephen Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist recently named director of the UC-run Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Chu, a former Stanford professor, joked at the news conference that he and Birgeneau both want something from the other at the moment. Chu said he is seeking a part-time appointment as a professor at the Berkeley campus and Birgeneau hopes to set up a laboratory at the facility Chu heads. The two might have to meet to discuss the matter in a neutral setting, Chu quipped.
Berdahl, who said he has gotten to know Birgeneau at academic conferences and on visits to see his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are on the faculty at the University of Toronto, praised his successor as an excellent choice.
Birgeneau, who was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate, a rare honor, has received numerous awards for research and teaching. He is an expert in condensed-matter physics, focusing on understanding the fundamental properties of materials beginning at the atomic level.
"He is an excellent, just a first-rate, prize-winning researcher," said Marvin Cohen, a UC Berkeley physics professor who is president-elect of the American Physical Society, an organization of 43,000 physicists.
Dynes said Birgeneau was chosen from an international pool of nearly 300 candidates, after a search that took longer than expected. Berdahl agreed to stay on in the interim.
The new chancellor will earn an annual salary of $390,000, making him the highest-paid campus leader in the UC system and surpassing the next-highest, UC San Francisco Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, by more than $30,000. He will earn just less than Dynes himself at $395,000. Berdahl's salary was $315,600.
As he has in making previous recent appointments, including the system's new provost in February, Dynes defended the salary figure as necessary to recruit top candidates to the university. "We live in a competitive market," the UC president said.