Clark Kerr

Clark Kerr (born 1911) was an economist and labor/ management expert who served as president of the multi-campus University of California from 1952 to 1967, a period of rapid growth and expansion. He was concerned about the role of the university in society and created a master plan for coordinating the programs of all of the state's colleges and universities.

Clark Kerr was born May 17, 1911, in Stony Creek, Pennsylvania, to Samuel William Kerr and Carolina Clark Kerr. He received a B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1932 and an M.A. from Stanford the following year. He attended the London School of Economics during 1935-1936 and in 1939 was awarded a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He was subsequently awarded numerous honorary degrees from the most prominent American colleges and universities. Kerr married Catherine Spaulding Kerr, and they had three children, two boys and a girl.

Kerr began his teaching career in 1936 with successive one year stints at Antioch College, Stanford University, and the University of California before accepting a professorship at the University of Washington in 1940. An expert on labor, he was named to the U.S. War Labor Board in 1942 to arbitrate wage disputes between unions and companies. His expertise as a labor/management consultant became widely known, and he soon became the highest paid negotiator on the West Coast. Following five years at the University of Washington, Kerr returned to Berkeley to establish the Institute of Industrial Relations and serve as its director while teaching a regular load of classes. In 1952 he was appointed chancellor of the Berkeley campus, and in 1958 he succeeded Robert Gordon Sproul as president of the multi-campus University of California.

The rapid growth of universities in response to the post-war baby boom had begun when Kerr took office. Rapid growth and expansion of the university system was on the horizon, and during his tenure the university doubled its enrollment to more than 50,000 students. The previous president had kept a tight reign on campus political activities to the extent that even Adlai Stevenson was not allowed to speak on the Berkeley campus. In 1949 Kerr had fought the application of faculty loyalty oaths, and that action identified him as a liberal in the eyes of many. Upon becoming system president he lifted the speaker ban on Communist speakers—winning him the American Association of University Presidents Meiklejohn Award—and liberalized a few other rules.

His policies were put to the test by the growth of activist groups on campus during the civil rights thrust of 1963-1964. Students aggressively pushed for remedies to racial discrimination in the university community and confronted local businesses, often leading to demonstrations and arrests. This antagonism led to Kerr's banning of on-campus recruiting and solicitation of funds for off-campus groups. Students denounced the president's action, and the Free Speech Movement was formed. In the fall of 1964 police attempted to arrest a non-student manning a table for the Congress of Racial Equality and were denied access to this individual by a massive 30-hour sit-in. Further incitement was provided by the Free Speech Movement (F.S.M.). Kerr met with Marco Savio, leader of the protesters, and was assumed to have resolved the disagreement, but Governor Brown intervened the next day and ordered the arrest of the students. There was immediate campus outrage, and the Berkeley faculty voted overwhelmingly to meet the F.S.M. demands.

The next three years of Kerr's administration were marked by constant attempts at mediation between the university and various interests, including the California state government. Ronald Reagan became governor in 1967, and conflict developed immediately between his administration and Kerr over proposed cuts in operating funds and the proposal to end free education by imposing tuition and other fees. An impasse developed, and on June 20, 1967, the California State Board of Regents voted to dismiss him as president, pointing to what they saw as his mishandling of the 1964 unrest at Berkeley.

Clark Kerr's accomplishments as president lay primarily in the evolution of the University of California into a "multiversity," a term he coined. He argued that a university must of necessity cater to the elite, but in an egalitarian society its role is that of a "prime instrument of national purpose." It must serve many constituencies, including government, industry, and the general public as well as its students and faculty. He devised a master plan to coordinate programs of all the state's colleges and universities. The result was a hierarchy of higher education, with the top 12 percent of high school graduates attending the universities, the rest of the upper third attending the colleges, and the remainder attending the junior colleges. This model was considered by many to be a proper national goal.

Kerr continued to hold his faculty position at Berkeley's School of Business Administration following his dismissal as president. His administrative innovations led to his appointment as head of a Carnegie Commission study of the structure and finance of higher education. In 1968 the commission called for a federal civilian "bill of educational rights" to guarantee a college education to any qualified student regardless of his/her ability to pay. Kerr's committee evolved into the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education, whose final report Three Thousand Futures: The Next Twenty Years in Higher Education has become the benchmark for reform in higher education. Clark Kerr's membership on numerous governmental and industrial commissions throughout his career bore witness to his position of respect and influence. He was also an extremely active worker in the Committee for a Political Settlement in Vietnam. He and his wife lived in El Cerrito, California, in a home overlooking the San Francisco Bay, a tranquil site where he wrote and pursued his favorite leisure activity of gardening.

Kerr held memberships in many professional and honorary organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Economic Society, American Economic Association, National Academy of Arbitrators, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Kerr continued to publish through the 1980s. Economics of Labor in Industrial Society, edited by Clark Kerr and Paul D. Staudohar and Industrial Relations in a New Age: Economic, Social, and Managerial Perspectives, edited by Kerr and Staudohar appeared at the end of the decade. Kerr also co-authored The Guardians: Boards of Trustees of American Colleges and Universities with Martin L. Gade in 1989. The book discusses problems with the governing boards of various universities and suggests a number of reforms.

Further Reading on Clark Kerr

Industrialism and Industrial Man (1964); Labor and Management in Industrial Society (1972); Marshall, Marx, and Modern Times (1969); The Future of Industrial Societies (1983); The Uses of the University (1972); and Unions, Management, and the Public (1967) all by Clark Kerr; for reviews of his work, see: Monthly Labor Review, March 1988, vol. 111, no. 3, p. 51-52 in which Morris Weisz reviews Economics of Labor in Industrial Society and Industrial Relations in a New Age: Economic, Social, and Managerial Perspectives, both edited by Kerr and Paul D. Staudohar; and a review of The Guardians: Boards of Trustees of Americas Colleges and Universities, by Carolyn J. Mooney in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 17, 1989.

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