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Clark Kerr (17 May 1911–1 December 2003) was chief architect of the master plan that guided California public higher education for four decades and is still a national model. His vision is credited with launching what has become the Pell Grant program, the foundation of need-based federal support for college students.

Kerr received his academic training during the Great Depression and studied the Dust Bowl migrations and self-help cooperatives of the time. He taught labor economics at the University of Washington while also mediating West Coast labor disputes during World War II. In 1945, he went to the University of California–Berkeley, as associate professor of industrial relations in the School of Business and to head the newly created Institute of Industrial Relations.

In 1952, he became Berkeley’s first chancellor and developed an academic plan to accommodate the first “tidal wave” of students following the war. He strengthened the University’s faculty, departments, and colleges, and transformed Berkeley from a German model to a modern U.S. campus offering student housing and facilities, intramural sports and playing fields, cultural programs, and many other amenities. His plan called for developing the central campus for academic purposes, with clusters of buildings devoted to related subject matter. Nonacademic facilities were plotted on the campus periphery. Recreational areas for student and staff were provided. Kerr directly involved members of the faculty in advising him on various problems, and sought out student participation in long-range physical and academic planning for the campus. In 1957, 24 of Berkeley’s academic departments were rated as outstanding in a national poll, and the campus was ranked third in the nation.

Based on his impressive five-year record, Kerr was named the University of California’s 12th president in 1958. During his tenure, he negotiated the creation of the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education that assured access to public higher education for all California students and defined the roles of the University of California campuses, California State University, and California’s system of community colleges. The plan has been used a model in educational planning around the world. He also established three new campuses, reoriented four existing campuses, improved libraries, student facilities, and cultural programs on all campuses, established education-abroad programs, and introduced equality-of-opportunity programs.

Despite all his successes, Kerr struggled with growing student unrest, which reached its peak with the Free Speech Movement at the Berkeley campus beginning in 1964. Kerr ultimately persuaded the University of California Regents to allow political activities and demonstrations on campus. His actions, however, ran counter to their conservative stance, and in 1967, after the newly elected governor, Ronald Reagan took office, Kerr was dismissed.

From 1967 through 1980, Kerr served as chair and director of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education and the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. These groups’ work was described as being “the most important body of descriptive and analytical literature about American higher education ever produced.”

In the 1980s, Kerr conducted studies on university presidents and spouses and on university trusteeship for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He is the author of many books on labor economics and higher education, most notably, The Uses of the University, now in its fifth edition and considered to be a “basic book” in higher education. His two-volume memoir, The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949–1967, Volume I: Academic Triumphs; Volume II: Political Turmoil (University of California Press 2001; 2003), details his career and the many adventures along the way.

Kerr was listed by U. S. News and World Report as the most influential person in the nation in the field of education in 1974, 1975, and 1976, and was included among the “Thirteen Innovators Who Changed Education” in a survey conducted by the New York Times in 1997.

Contributed by Maureen Kawaoka, University of California–Berkeley

Berkeley Digital Library SunSite. 2003. Days of Cal: Clark Kerr. Berkeley, Calif.: The Library.

UC Berkeley. 2004. Former UC President Clark Kerr, a national leader in higher education, dies at 92. Berkeley, Calif.: UC Berkeley Public Affairs.

University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz. 2004. Clark Kerr. Berkeley, Calif: UCSC’s Public Information Office.

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