The chancellor at UC Berkeley, Robert Birgeneau, announced Tuesday that he will step down at the end of this year to return to teaching and research.
When Birgeneau – a tall, lanky gray-haired physicist – left his former job as president of the University of Toronto at age 62 to become Cal's ninth chancellor in 2004, he hoped to serve for seven years but said he remained longer because of the the state's economic crisis and the challenges posed to the university by “the most extreme disinvestment by the state in UC’s history,” according to a campus news release.
In a letter today to the Berkeley campus community, Birgeneau said, “I am deeply grateful to have been entrusted with the profound responsibility of leading this great institution and its outstanding faculty, staff and students through one of the most challenging periods in its 144-year history.”
Birgeneau said he will return to the departments of physics and materials science and engineering as a regular faculty member, expressing the "hope I have one more truly significant physics/materials science experiment still to come in my academic career.”
Birgeneau was a strong advocate for equal access to higher education, and his first major initiative as chancellor was a call to address the diversity "crisis," particularly the low numbers of under-represented minority students on campus.
A statement from the president of the Association of American Universities, Hunter Rawlings, said, "Robert Birgeneau is a leading national spokesman for public higher education and for making sure that all qualified students, no matter what their income level, have access to an excellent education.”
The campus statement released today said in part,
"A tireless advocate for the right to higher education for undocumented students, Birgeneau testified in Sacramento on behalf of the California DREAM Act, signed last October, which provides undocumented students the same opportunity to attend college as all Californians.
"He also took up the cause of students who are former foster children, and upon winning the 2008 Academic Leadership Award from the Carnegie Corporation, gave $50,000 of his prize to seed an endowment fund for UC Berkeley students from the foster care system, saying 'they face unique and substantial financial challenges.'
"Birgeneau’s 2009 Pathfinders to Peace Prize from the Shinnyo-en Foundation commended him for his 'commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and to the integration of public service as an essential component of the academic experience.'”
State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, whose district includes Berkeley, as well as El Cerrito and Kensington, issued this statement:
“I am grateful for the dedication and service Chancellor Birgeneau has provided to Cal and our UC system. At a time when it is increasingly difficult for students to meet the financial burden, Chancellor Birgeneau has been an eloquent voice advancing the debate on higher education funding. He has worked hard to give access to all students independent of income, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. I look forward to working with Chancellor Birgeneau in the coming year, and am very pleased he and Mary Catherine will be remaining a part of the Berkeley family.”UC President Mark Yudof was quoted saying Birgeneau “has proven to be a passionate, dedicated and effective steward of the world’s greatest public university. He has been an ardent champion of academic excellence, as well as an unwavering advocate for the underdog."
A student-led activist group, BAMN, called his resignation a "victory" for protestors, saying it was forced in the wake of controversy over Occupy protests on campus. Four students and a professor were charged last week with misdemeanor arrests and other crimes during the November protests, which featured YouTube-circulated video of police jabbing batons at students, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.
UC President Mark Yudof said Birgeneau “has proven to be a passionate, dedicated and effective steward of the world’s greatest public university. He has been an ardent champion of academic excellence, as well as an unwavering advocate for the underdog."
“The chancellor has aimed high in his efforts to make UC Berkeley a truly global force in higher education and research, but he also has managed to preserve its historic standing in California as a beacon of hope and opportunity for all prospective students,” Yudolf said.
Yudolf will establish a committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new chancellor, the campus said.