Clark Kerr

Clark Kerr (May 17, 1911 – December 1, 2003) was an American professor of economics and academic administrator. He was the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and twelfth president of the University of California.

Clark Kerr
Twelfth President of the
University of California
In office
Preceded byRobert Gordon Sproul
Succeeded byCharles J. Hitch
First Chancellor of the
University of California, Berkeley
In office
Succeeded byGlenn T. Seaborg
Personal details
Born(1911-05-17)May 17, 1911
Stony Creek, Pennsylvania, USA
DiedDecember 1, 2003(2003-12-01) (aged 92)
El Cerrito, California, USA
Spouse(s)Catherine Spaulding Kerr
Alma materSwarthmore College
Stanford University
U.C. Berkeley
ProfessionEconomist, educator, administrator
Academic background
ThesisProductive enterprises of the unemployed, 1931-1938 (1939)
Doctoral advisor 
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Washington
University of California, Berkeley
University of California


Early years

Kerr was born in Stony Creek, Pennsylvania to Samuel William and Caroline (Clark) Kerr, and earned his A.B. from Swarthmore College in 1932, an M.A. from Stanford University in 1933, and a Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley in 1939.[1] In 1945, he became an associate professor of industrial relations and was the founding director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Industrial Relations.


Becoming Chancellor of UC Berkeley

Soon after the beginning of the Second Red Scare (the McCarthy era), in 1949, the Regents of the University of California adopted an anti-communist loyalty oath to be signed by all University of California employees. Kerr signed the oath, but fought against the firing of those who refused to sign. Kerr gained respect from his stance and was named UC Berkeley's first chancellor when that position was created in 1952. As chancellor, Kerr oversaw the construction of 12 high-rise dormitories. In September, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

Becoming President of the University of California

The chancellor's job had come to be defined as providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.


The university president in the United States is expected to be a friend of the students, a colleague of the faculty, a good fellow with the alumni, a sound administrator with the trustees, a good speaker with the public, an astute bargainer with the foundations and the federal agencies, a politician with the state legislature, a friend of industry, labor, and agriculture, a persuasive diplomat with the donors, a champion of education generally, a supporter of the professions (particularly law and medicine), a spokesman to the press, a scholar in his own right, a public servant at the state and national levels, a devotee of opera and football equally, a decent human being, a good husband and father, an active member of a church. Above all he must enjoy traveling in airplanes, eating his meals in public, and attending public ceremonies. No one can be all of these things. Some succeed at being none.


The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views.


In October 1957, Kerr was the Regents' unanimous choice to lead the entire university system. Raymond B. Allen had been widely expected to succeed Robert Gordon Sproul as systemwide president, but Allen's tenure as UCLA's first chancellor was marred by athletics scandals, poor campus planning, and the perception among the southern Regents that he had not put up enough resistance—especially in comparison to Kerr—to Sproul's stubborn refusal to delegate anything to the campus chancellors.[4] Therefore, when Sproul finally announced his retirement in 1957, Allen was passed over in favor of Kerr.[4]

Kerr's term as UC president saw the opening of campuses in San Diego, Irvine, and Santa Cruz to accommodate the influx of baby boomers. Faced with a dramatic increase of students entering college, Kerr helped establish the now much-copied California system of having the handful of University of California campuses act as 'top tier' research institutions, the more numerous California State University campuses handle the bulk of undergraduate students and the very numerous California Community College campuses provide vocational and transfer-oriented college programs to the remainder. A Mother Jones article mentioned that Kerr's achievements in this field earned him international acclaim.[5]

In 1959, Kerr along with Chancellor Glenn T. Seaborg helped found the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory.

Student protests

Controversy exploded in 1964 when Berkeley students led the Free Speech Movement in protest of regulations limiting political activities on campus, including Civil Rights advocacy and protests against the Vietnam War. It culminated in hundreds of arrested students at a sit-in. Kerr's initial decision was to not expel University of California students that participated in sit-ins off campus. That decision evolved into reluctance to expel students who later would protest on campus in a series of escalating events on the Berkeley campus in late 1964. Kerr was criticized both by students for not agreeing to their demands and by conservative UC Regent Edwin Pauley and others for responding too leniently to the student unrest.[6]


In 2002, the FBI released documents used to blacklist Kerr as part of a government campaign to suppress subversive viewpoints at the University.[7] This information had been classified by the FBI and was only released after a fifteen-year legal battle that the FBI repeatedly appealed up to the Supreme Court, but agreed to settle before the Supreme Court decided on hearing the matter. President Lyndon Johnson had picked Kerr to become Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare but withdrew the nomination after the FBI background check on Kerr included damaging information the agency knew to be false.

Edwin Pauley approached CIA Director John McCone (a Berkeley alum and associate) for assistance. McCone in turn met with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.[8][9] Hoover agreed to supply Pauley with confidential FBI information on "ultra-liberal" regents, faculty members, and students, and to assist in removing Kerr. Pauley received dozens of briefings from the FBI to this end. The FBI assisted Pauley and Ronald Reagan in painting Kerr as a dangerous "liberal."

Kerr's perceived leniency was key in Reagan's election as Governor of California in 1966 and in Kerr's dismissal as president in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Kerr's old friend Thomas M. Storke insisted that Kerr should be allowed to participate, as previously scheduled, in the dedication of a building on the Santa Barbara campus in Storke's honor.[10] At the dedication ceremony Kerr stated that he had left the presidency of the university just as he had entered it: "fired with enthusiasm."[10]

Kerr's second memoir, The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967 Volume Two: Political Turmoil details what he refers to as his greatest blunders in dealing with the Free Speech Movement that ultimately led to his firing.

Later career

Following his dismissal, Kerr served on the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education until 1973 and was chairman of the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education from 1974 to 1979.

Kerr also served as Chair of the 1984 USPS National Agreement Arbitration Panel, after which he joined the USPS panel of national contract arbitrators.[11]

Personal life

Kerr was married to Catherine "Kay" Spaulding on Christmas Day, 1934. Kay along with friends founded the Save San Francisco Bay Association in 1961, which became Save the Bay. The couple had three children; Clark E., Jr., Alexander, and Caroline Gage. He died in his sleep on December 1, 2003 in El Cerrito, California, following complications from a fall.

Legacy and honors

There are Kerr Halls on the campuses of U.C. Davis, U.C. Santa Barbara, U.C. Santa Cruz, and U.C. Berkeley.[12][13] A large student residence complex at Berkeley is named Clark Kerr Campus.[14]

The Berkeley facility is located a few blocks from the main campus, and includes residences and sports practice facilities. The Spanish-style residential complex houses 700 students and features landscaped gardens and a conference center. It was previously the site of the California School for the Deaf and Blind, and was acquired by the University after a court battle. (The University was not a party to the case. It was offered the site after the Schools for the Deaf and Blind relinquished it to the State as surplus property.)

The Clark Kerr Medal is named in his honor.

Another legacy was his wit—after writing a serious book, The Uses of the University, Kerr surprised an audience with this riposte--"The three purposes of the University?--To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty."[15]


  • Charles Burress "The Long, Hard Years at Berkeley; Second Volume of Clark Kerr’s Memoir Covers Politics and ‘Blunders'," San Francisco Chronicle, 9 February 2003, Sunday Review, p. 1.
  • Arthur Levine (ed., 1993). Higher Learning in America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Seth Rosenfeld Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. ISBN 9780374257002
  • Schrum, Ethan, “Clark Kerr’s Early Career, Social Science, and the American University,” Perspectives on the History of Higher Education 28 (2011), 193–222.

Primary sources

  • Clark Kerr The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967
  • Clark Kerr The Uses of the University, 5th edition. 1963; Harvard University Press, 2001.
  • Clark Kerr, John T. Dunlop, Frederick H. Harbison, and Charles A. Myers, Industrialism and Industrial Man: The Problem of Labor and Management in Economic Growth. Harvard University Press, 1960.
  • "UC Won’t Expel Sit-in Students," Los Angeles Times, 6 May 1964, p. 8.
  • "The Arrests at Berkeley," New York Times, 5 December 1964, p. 30.


  1. Kerr, Clark (1939). Productive enterprises of the unemployed, 1931-1938 (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley. OCLC 14232631 via ProQuest.
  3. [
  4. Kerr, Clark (2001). The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949–1967, Volume 1. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 154–155. ISBN 9780520223677. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  6. Hechinger, Grace (2001-12-02). "Clark Kerr, Leading Public Educator and Former Head of California's Universities, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  7. Seth Rosenfeld (2002-06-09). "The Campus Files". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  8. Seth Rosenfeld (2002-06-09). "The Campus Files: Trouble on campus". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  9. Seth Rosenfeld (2002-06-09). "The Campus Files: The McCone Meeting". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  10. Kerr, Clark (2001). The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967, Volume 2. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 309–310. ISBN 9780520925014. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  11. Noble, Kenneth (1984-12-25). "Postal Contract Includes a Raise and Concessions". New York Times. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  12. "Clark Kerr Campus". Living at Cal. U.C. Berkeley. 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  13. "UCSC - Virtual Tour: Kerr Hall". U.C. Santa Cruz. Archived from the original on 2009-02-17. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  15. W.J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War: The 1960s, p. 12, quoted at
Academic offices
New office Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
1952 – 1957
Succeeded by
Glenn T. Seaborg
Preceded by
Robert Gordon Sproul
President of the University of California
1958 1967
Succeeded by
Charles J. Hitch
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