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 Stories for April 22, 1998

Seeking Continuity in the Midst of Change
Chancellor Berdahl Talks About His Inauguration and the Challenges Facing Berkeley

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 22, 1998

After nine months on the job – a suitable gestation period – Robert M. Berdahl will be inaugurated Friday, April 24, as Berkeley’s eighth chancellor.

“It’s a tradition, and a nice celebration of the university,” he says. “It’s a good thing to do – to have an opportunity to restate the values, principles, directions of the university and to demonstrate that there is continuity in the midst of change. It’s an opportunity for faculty, staff, students and alumni to renew their claim to ownership of the university. I also want the students to be seen as the real purpose for the university.”

Chancellor Berdahl’s theme for his inaugural address at 10:30 a.m. is “Higher Education in the 21st Century.”

“This isn’t like a president of a different party being elected,” notes Berdahl.

“Every administration is characterized by a mixture of the ideas, aspirations and goals of the campus community and the particular interests and personality of the chancellor. There will be things that are quite different from past administrations, and then there’ll be a lot of continuity. The Berkeley Pledge, for example, is very vital for us. We’ll continue that with all of our energy and efforts.”

The chancellor’s priorities include recapturing the library’s leadership position, operational excellence to match Berkeley’s academic excellence, expanding opportunities in undergraduate education, improving campus infrastructure – especially seismic safety – and building a sense of community.

He says community is “a pressing need in American society today. People feel alienated from the places they live and work. We need to care about one another and have ways of showing that.”

Asked about issues he will address during his tenure in the 21st century, Berdahl poses these questions: “When only one-third of your budget comes from the state and you have to charge substantial student fees, what does it mean to be a public university? When we’re as selective as we are, how do we relate to the public? Whom do we serve?”

Technology’s pervasiveness is another issue that will dominate. “How do we use technology to enhance education without further alienating the community?” asks the chancellor.

“Clark Kerr was instrumental in transforming UC into a major research university that produces the basic science and ideas that drive the economy. Berkeley has always had strong departments in the humanities and social sciences, reflecting on the major human issues and the nature of our social institutions. It has always had outstanding professional schools,” says the chancellor.

“The research function is only going to increase as the information age continues. We need to balance that with our educational mission,” he says.

The role and obligations of faculty is another pressing issue for the next century. It will be the topic of an inaugural day public forum (see schedule, below).

“How should faculty handle conflicting obligations and how should we recognize and reward outstanding faculty performance?” asks the chancellor.

Asked what he looks forward to most about his inauguration, Berdahl replies, “truth be told, having my family here.” His three daughters and their husbands will attend the festivities, as well as relatives and friends from around the country. “It’s like a wedding or a funeral – an occasion for the family to get together, but without the hassle of a wedding or the sadness of a funeral,” he laughs.

“The occasion will be a celebration of community, a reaffirmation of our commitment to being a university – a unity of disciplines,” says the chancellor.

“Our strength and reputation is based on the excellence of our faculty and quality of our graduates, but I want staff to feel appreciated for their critical role in the success of this university.”

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