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Chancellor says he’ll step down next June
Berdahl cites his long tenure, family considerations as factors in his decision

01 October 2003


Chancellor Robert Berdahl
Peg Skorpinski photo

Robert M. Berdahl, the eighth chancellor of the Berkeley campus, announced on Sept. 25 that he will step down in June 2004 —the end of the current academic year and of his seventh year in office.

In a message to the campus community, Berdahl, 66, said that his decision to step down, while a difficult one to make, was “the right decision, both personally and professionally. Personally, because my family deserves more of my time. Professionally, because I have been in demanding administrative positions for 17 years and it is time for me to close my career, as I began it, as a teacher and a scholar.”

After a one-year sabbatical, Berdahl said, he will return to Berkeley to teach and to pursue scholarly interests.

The announcement came as a surprise to many, but not, perhaps, as a shock. Though energetic and in apparent good health, Berdahl survived a bout with prostate cancer in 2002. In addition, his wife, Peg, and a daughter, Daphne, have themselves battled cancer in recent years. Though he acknowledges the degree to which these concerns had an effect on his decision to step down (see A conversation with Chancellor Berdahl), Berdahl, characteristically, spoke primarily in terms of his longstanding immersion in academic leadership.

“When I leave in June,” he said, “I will have completed 18 years in very rewarding, but very demanding positions. It is time for me to return to my academic roots and to the pleasures of teaching and scholarship.”

A litany of achievement
Berdahl became chancellor in July 1997. Under his leadership, the Berkeley campus retrofitted and refurbished buildings, classrooms, and laboratories in every corner of campus and across all disciplines, including the arts, humanities, and sciences, and in the professional schools. Among the renovated buildings are Barrows, Barker, Hildebrand, Wurster, Hearst Memorial Mining, Doe Library, Goldman School of Public Policy, Silver Space Sciences Laboratory, Berkeley Art Museum, and Haas Pavilion.

Construction is currently underway to increase the stock of student housing by 20 percent. Additionally, the campus is in the early stages of constructing the largest research building at UC Berkeley — the $162.3-million Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility.

Among the other achievements marking Berdahl’s tenure are:

• a return by the Library in 2001 to the top rank among public research universities, as determined by the Association of Research Libraries;

• the launching of three major research initiatives — the Health Sciences Initiative, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), and California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3). CITRIS and QB3 are two of the four new California Institutes for Science and Innovation;

• the greatest growth in private philanthropy in the history of the university. From 1998 through June 2003, the campus raised more than $1.3 billion;

• an all-time high in graduation rates (82 percent of undergraduates now graduate within six years) and a record low in the average time to degree (4.31 years for freshmen who entered Berkeley in fall 1996);

• completion of the campus’s Strategic Academic Plan and New Century Plan for facilities, which together form the foundation for the Long Range Development Plan now being developed to run through 2020.

‘…an eloquent and outstanding leader…’
Though Berdahl is focusing on the nine months remaining before he steps down, his achievements and work to date were widely praised by his colleagues and associates, many of whom learned of his decision only when it was made public last week.

Professor Catherine Koshland, immediate past chair of the campus Academic Senate, and Vice Provost-Designate for Academic Planning and Facilities, said, “Bob Berdahl has paid particularly close attention to administrative matters and management issues. He has a quiet leadership style that allows individuals to express what they think, to act in many cases with a fair degree of independence. He’s worked hard to build a sense of teamwork among his senior leadership, and that’s something he probably doesn’t get enough credit for.”

Koshland’s successor as Academic Senate chair, Professor Ron Gronsky, echoed her sentiments: “The man’s accomplishments will really be evident in the historical record. He’s a personable, big-hearted guy; he has terrific communication skills, and really knows how to speak to people. We’ve faced some serious crises during the time he’s been chancellor, and he’s always found a way to give the proper response — consulting with all of the folks who need to be informed at the appropriate junctures, and making the right decisions in a timely way.”

Outgoing UC President Richard Atkinson called Berdahl “an eloquent and outstanding leader for the Berkeley campus who will be greatly missed.” He added, “Taking the oldest campus and rebuilding a substantial portion of it for future generations is a monumental accomplishment. His commitment of substantial resources to undergraduate education and his unprecedented record of fundraising will bear fruit for many years to come.”

A nationwide search for a new Berkeley chancellor will be initiated in the next few weeks, and a panel of regents, faculty, students, alumni, foundation trustees, and staff will be named to serve as members of the advisory committee. UC President Robert C. Dynes will chair the search, which is expected to take approximately six months.

For more on Berdahl’s announcement, and to access a variety of related features, visit the campus online NewsCenter at newscenter.berkeley.edu.

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