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UC Berkeley chancellor to head initiative for public universities

After retiring in June, Robert J. Birgeneau will head up a national effort to study and help public universities in an era of reduced tax support, new technology and changing student demographics.

January 28, 2013|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • After retiring in June, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau -- shown here in 2011 -- will head up a national effort to study and help public universities in an era of reduced tax support, new technology and changing student demographics.
After retiring in June, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau -- shown… (Paul Sakuma, Associated…)

After he retires as chancellor of UC Berkeley in June, Robert J. Birgeneau will head up a national effort to study and help public universities in an era of reduced tax support, new technology and changing student demographics.

Birgeneau, a physicist, is to lead the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' new initiative that will propose ways for the federal government, private industry and foundations to better aid state institutions, along with developing reforms the schools could undertake. It is being called "The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education" — named for President Lincoln, who in 1862 signed the Morrill Act granting federal lands for the establishment of public universities.

The announcement is scheduled to be made Monday at UC Berkeley at an academy symposium about higher education.

Birgeneau, who is 70 and has led UC Berkeley since 2004, said he wanted to help develop "workable plans that will help reverse the progressive disinvestment we have seen in public higher education across the country."

He said that will not occur by just urging more state funding but will need a wider range of government and private supporters. "The long-term civic and economic welfare of the country depends heavily on a robust public higher education system," Birgeneau said in an interview, adding that it is too soon to discuss specific goals or plans.

The position is a part-time, unpaid one for Birgeneau, who will begin a sabbatical from UC in June and return at a later date to teach and conduct research. He said he hopes to have the first Lincoln Project proposals ready in a year and that the effort probably will last three years. Previously, Birgeneau was president of the University of Toronto, Canada's largest public university, and science dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is a policy research center and honorific scholarly organization headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. Its president, Leslie C. Berlowitz, described Birgeneau as "a dynamic and highly respected leader in higher education" and noted his efforts to broaden financial aid for middle-class families and for undocumented students.

Other advisors on the project include UCLA chancellor Gene Block; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York; William Powers Jr., president of the University of Texas at Austin; and Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co. and a noted donor to higher education.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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