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The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967: Volume 1, Academic Triumphs

reviewed by Donald E. Heller - 2002

coverTitle: The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967: Volume 1, Academic Triumphs
Author(s): Clark Kerr
Publisher: University of California Press, Los Angeles
ISBN: 0520223675 , Pages: 585, Year: 2001
Search for book at Amazon.com

I first heard Clark Kerr speak while attending graduate school in the early 1990s.  I knew quite well of Kerr’s reputation not just as the President of the University of California (UC), and before that, first Chancellor of UC-Berkeley, but also as the architect of the Master Plan for Higher Education in California. I remember Kerr as an entertaining and lively speaker. 

I am pleased to report that Clark Kerr is still going strong a decade later.  The University of California Press has issued the first of two volumes of Kerr’s memoirs of his days at UC.  This first volume, which Kerr describes as focusing on the “private life of the university” (p. xxx), is an interesting and important contribution to our understanding of the development of UC during the golden age of American higher education.  The book is also valuable for those interested in higher education governance and administration, and the tensions of autonomy versus coordination so often present in many of this nation’s great public colleges and universities.  Kerr’s second volume, focusing on his and the university’s internal and external political relationships, is scheduled for publication in 2003.

With 28 chapters in five sections, Kerr begins his story with a short recounting of his own background growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania.  He describes his experiences as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, and how, largely as a matter of happenstance, he found his way to the economics department at Berkeley as a graduate student and later as a faculty member.

After this brief introduction, the remainder of the book describes his six years as chancellor of the Berkeley campus, and nine years as president of the University.  The second section covers the Berkeley years, where as the first chancellor appointed by long-time UC president Robert Sproul (who initially fought the decision of the regents to create chancellor positions on the Berkeley and UCLA campuses), Kerr notes that “my job as chancellor had already been precisely defined for me [by Sproul]: I. . .would be in charge of whatever nobody else wanted.  I was slated to be a garbage can” (p. 42).  This is a good example of the candor and humor with which Kerr writes of his skirmishes with Sproul to define his position, obtain some modicum of authority, and balance the tension between the needs of the campus and the desires of the systemwide administrators.

In the book’s third section, Kerr turns to his years as president, having been elevated to the position upon Sproul’s retirement.  Coming out from under the shadow of Sproul, Kerr’s major presidential accomplishments described in this section were the decentralization of authority from the president’s office to the campuses, the design of the Master Plan for Higher Education, and the move to develop and secure the national reputations of the Berkeley and UCLA campuses.

The fourth section of the book deals with the establishment of three new UC campuses in Santa Cruz, Irvine, and San Diego during Kerr’s presidency.  The author provides an in-depth description of the academic and physical planning for each campus, including a forthright accounting of the within-system tensions between the existing six campuses and the new campuses.  The fifth and final section covers what he describes as “universitywide innovations” in the areas of academic affairs, student life, and faculty development.

A common theme throughout the book concerns Kerr’s efforts and that of others to make Berkeley (and UCLA) into world-class research universities, as determined by the traditional measures of National Research Council rankings, student test scores, library rankings, and faculty recognition.  Kerr’s description of the development of the Master Plan alone is worth the price of the book.  He provides an excellent insider’s account of the role of the regents and other statewide leaders in recognizing the need for the Plan, and how the state and UC responded to that need.

By definition, an autobiography provides a singular accounting and analysis of events.   While Kerr at times does bring in the views of others, mostly through existing reports or oral histories, there is no question that the book provides his perspective on the critical events that helped make UC what it is today.  For example, he describes in some detail the process through which he was chosen president, much to the “great and even devastating disappointment” (p. 154) of Raymond Allen, then chancellor of UCLA.  Kerr ascribes the decision primarily to the regents’ dissatisfaction with the plans Allen had submitted to the board, along with his tendency to vacillate on key issues.  Kerr’s description leaves one wondering whether there were other issues behind the regents’ decision; the perspectives of others would be interesting to read.

Kerr also expends much effort describing his management of the tensions among various constituencies: between the campuses and the system administration; between administrators and faculty; and between the president’s office and the regents.  He describes himself upon reaching the presidency as “concentrat[ing] on seeking consensus, or at least consent” (p. 164).  Yet he was not unwilling to exercise his authority as the chief executive of the system, occasionally doing so by fiat.  He describes a committee composed of the heads of some of the UC campuses and the California State University (CSU) campuses.  The committee was charged with negotiating an agreement on whether CSU would be allowed to offer doctoral degrees, a right that had been reserved exclusively for UC (a conflict that continues to this day).  When the three UC chancellors agreed with their CSU counterparts that the state colleges should be allowed to start Ph.D. programs, Kerr describes his reaction: “Giving the three campus heads no more advance discussion or warning than they had given me, I replaced them on the committee with three other chancellors.  That ended not only the tentative and unapproved offer but also the active life of the joint advisory group” (p. 178).

Later in the book, Kerr describes his decision to move to the campuses many of the functions that had resided in the president’s office, resulting in a shrinking of the systemwide staff by 750.  Almost all the employees were offered positions at the campuses, though some required relocation far from the system offices in Berkeley.  Kerr asks: “Why were a few so bitter?  They had jobs.  None had reductions in pay.  It was, in large part, a matter of status. . . .They had been at the center of action.  Now some found themselves out in the provinces” (p. 194)  While this may have been Kerr’s view, it ignores the fact that some of these people may have been upset because the “provinces” were hundreds of miles away from their friends, family, and communities.

Kerr’s recounting of his years at UC also reminds us of how different this era was for higher education.  Kerr weaves into his account literally hundreds of faculty, administrators, regents, and the like.  Yet women, as individuals, are virtually invisible.  Other than secretaries and clerical staff, I found only two women among all the administrators Kerr describes as contributing to the development of UC.  One, Katherine Towle, was dean of women at Berkeley, and the second, Virginia Smith (who later became president of Vassar and Mills College), was hired by Kerr as an assistant vice president in the president’s office.

There are some important omissions in the book, lapses that Kerr presumably will address in the next volume.  Kerr mentions the loyalty oath controversy in 1949, the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964, and his ultimate firing by the regents in 1967.  Yet he provides few details of these incidents, and one can certainly make the case that all three had an important impact on the development of UC (Though the first pre-dated Kerr’s appointment at Berkeley, its effects lasted well into his administration as president.).  I look forward to reading more about these in Volume Two.

The Gold and the Blue will be interesting and informative reading for scholars of higher education, as well as for anybody interested in the formative years of one of this nation’s great university systems.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 5, 2002, p. 943-946
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10874, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 3:23:55 AM

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About the Author
  • Donald Heller
    The Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    Donald E. Heller is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to his appointment at Penn State, he was an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Michigan. Dr. Heller earned an Ed.D. in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and holds an Ed.M. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from HGSE and a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Tufts University. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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