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Looking Back May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Remembering Clark Kerr [1911-2003]
By Herbert York

 
     

I first encountered Clark Kerr in 1946. He was a new Assistant Professor of Economics at Berkeley and I was a research assistant in the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Clark taught a very large and popular class in Labor Economics. I was courting Sybil, now my wife, then one of his students. I often accompanied her to class so we could lunch together afterwards at the International House. I came away with some knowledge about labor economics and a strong impression of Kerr as an exceptional teacher.

In 1952 Clark was chosen as the first Chancellor at Berkeley. Six years later he became President of the University of California.

During that same period, I became director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, then an appendage of the Berkeley campus and eventually moved to Washington where I worked in the White House and the Pentagon.

It was the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, that took me east, and it was Sputnik and our scientific rivalry with the Soviet Union, that brought special urgency to Clark’s plans for expanding the University. At the same time, the continuing rapid growth of the California population made expansion of the University necessary. Kerr welcomed all this as an opportunity. Under his 1960 master plan, four of the six existing campuses, Davis, Santa Barbara, Riverside and San Francisco were transformed, and three new campuses were created in Irvine, Santa Cruz and La Jolla.

Since San Diego was the third largest city in California, it was inevitable that it would be one of the expansion sites and that the Scripps Institution of Oceanography would be the core of the new campus. In addition, Roger Revelle, then director of SIO, and his colleagues had their own independent aspirations, hopes and plans for building a general campus here. The ideas of the local leadership, and the ideas developed in Berkeley, coincided in many important ways but differed in others.

Kerr wanted another Berkeley. Revelle and the La Jolla faculty wanted something more like Cal Tech, perhaps with an Occidental College added. Kerr put weight on large size—27,500 students—with lots of undergraduates as well as graduates. Local leaders put their highest priority on research—including at the undergraduate level. Kerr addressed this at one of the La Jolla faculty meetings when he explained that what California needed here was a general campus like Berkeley. Kerr vividly recalled someone responding, “Do you mean you want us to stoop to Berkeley?” Kerr told me this anecdote many times in the ensuing years.

From my perspective, the biggest difference was that the local faculty wanted Roger Revelle to be the first Chancellor here, and President Kerr and Regent’s chairman Edmund Pauley were unwilling to follow the La Jolla faculty’s clear and well-known wishes.

The rest, as they say, is history. In 1960, before the general election, I told Kerr I planned to leave Washington and return to the University in some appropriate capacity. Just a couple of weeks later, to my surprise, he asked me to consider being Chancellor at San Diego. I knew nothing about the issues described above, and I welcomed the opportunity. I greatly admired Roger personally, and I used many of his ideas about how to proceed in building a world-class campus here, but at the same time I followed Kerr’s vision of another Berkeley. Dealing with the differences wasn’t always easy. But in the end it all came out exceptionally well.

Clark Kerr had a cool exterior, but his obvious great love for The University of California broke through and inspired all of us who joined him in this great enterprise of growth and innovation. Throughout his presidency, Kerr favored La Jolla with extra support: more funds, higher level faculty positions (including over scale), a brief delay in admitting undergraduates, and the immediate establishment of a Medical School.

San Diego, the state of California and the world of higher education are in his debt.

Herbert York was UCSD’s first chancellor from 1961-64 and acting chancellor from 1970-72. Last October, he was awarded the Clark Kerr Award for Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education.

RELATED LINKS

Photo Gallery: 1944-1959, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD
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"It was Sputnik and our scientific rivalry with the Soviet Union that brought special urgency to Clark’s plans for expanding the University."