December 5, 2003 by

Clark Kerr


Categories: Education

ckerr.jpgClark Kerr, the former president of the University of California system of higher education, died on Dec. 1 from complications of a fall. He was 92.
Kerr was raised by parents with a strong reverence for education. His father, Samuel, was the first member of his family to go to college, and spoke four languages. His mother, Caroline, dropped out of school in the sixth grade, but put off marriage until she had saved enough money to pay for her future children’s college educations.
Kerr graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and joined the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that sent him on a “peace caravan” through California to educate the public about social issues. He later received a master’s degree in economics from Stanford University and a doctorate from the University of California Berkeley.
Kerr became a successful labor negotiator, handling over 500 cases, then taught at Antioch College in Ohio, the London School of Economics, Stanford and the University of Washington. When he returned to UC Berkeley in 1945, Kerr tapped into his labor background to run the school’s new Institute of Industrial Relations. He spent eight years as the campus’ first chancellor, during which time he helped organize the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-10).
After UC President Robert Sproul resigned in 1958, Kerr took on the position, and presided over the creation of three new campuses: UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. During his nine-year tenure, Kerr served as the chief architect of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, a policy adopted in 1960 that made college affordable by granting the top eighth of the state’s high school graduates instant eligibility into the University of California system. This plan inspired other states and nations to follow suit, and landed Kerr on the cover of Time Magazine.
Kerr’s downfall began in 1964, when the Free Speech Movement was born at UC Berkeley. Much to the dismay of the school’s regents, the students participated in sit-ins, demonstrations and strikes. Many of these students would have been expelled or injured by authorities during their protests if Kerr hadn’t intervened on their behalf. That intervention, however, cost him politically.
Governor Ronald Reagan retaliated against Kerr by cutting the university’s budget by 10 percent and proposing students be charged tuition. Kerr’s decision to temporarily freeze admissions led to his dismissal. Although President Lyndon Johnson considered naming Kerr the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the offer was withdrawn after the FBI lied in a White House report about his character.
Kerr was offered jobs at prestigious institutions like Harvard and Stanford, but he opted to chair the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education and run the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. He also wrote three books: “The Uses of the University,” which changed the way America viewed the modern research institution, and a two-volume autobiography.

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