December 02, 2003
Clark Kerr obit

Yes, there's an obituary of Clark Kerr here:

"Clark Kerr did for higher education what Henry Ford did for the automobile,'' said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. "He mass produced low-cost quality education and research potential for a nation that hungered deeply for both.''

The chancellor of Berkeley, Robert M. Berdahl, said yesterday, "Clark Kerr is, without question, a legend in higher education.''

As president of the University of California, Mr. Kerr created a multicampus public institution that became the model for the state universities across the nation.

Under Mr. Kerr's plan, California created a three-tier system that became the largest and most admired in the nation; other states sought to emulate its structure and objectives. At the highest academic layer were campuses like Berkeley whose students came from the top 12.5 percent of the state's high school students. A second tier was state colleges function as teaching institutions focusing primarily on undergraduate education with some graduate courses; they enrolled a third of California students. Community colleges completed the system, offering two-year transfer and vocational programs open to every California high school graduate.

Whatever you think of this man – and I smell a lot of taxpayers parting with a lot of money to make this man a "legend" – he certainly made a difference.

I remember him as a major protagonist in the campus ruckuses (rucki?) of the sixties, an episode which this piece also touches on. He got caught in the middle, which is a bad place to stand when you are dealing with uncompromising adolescent fanatics who were spoiling for a fight, and would have carried on attacking and caterwauling until they got it. (If it hadn't been Vietnam, they'd have invented another grievance. I was at a British University at around that time. British students weren't being conscripted to fight in Vietnam, but that made no difference to the protesters. They simply wanted a fight. Vietnam, perfect for their ideological cousins in Ameria, sufficed for them, and something else would have suffice for both if Vietnam hadn't been happening.)

But that shouldn't totally distract us from considering the more enduring legacy of men like Clark Kerr, which was the semi-publicly financed modern mass university. We are now trying to introduce a bit more of that semi- stuff here. And guess what, the people who protested against the likes of Clark Kerr are protesting again.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:25 PM
Category: Higher education