Is it true that nice guys always finish last? If so, there’s something missing from “The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California (1949-1967),” by Clark Kerr, who was chancellor of the Berkeley campus from 1952 to 1958, and president of the university from 1958 to 1967… while at the same time working as a highly-respected professional labor arbitrator in some of the biggest labor-relations conflicts in America.
Clark Kerr comes across as mild-mannered, able to deal with difficult people with infinite patience, and so modest you don’t realize right away that he’s incredibly smart.
Clark Kerr’s meteoric rise from visiting graduate student to president of UC Berkeley makes engaging reading. Kerr describes arriving in the fall of 1932 in a Model-A Ford, and being impressed with his first view of Berkeley: the sight of the Campanile looming up at the end of Telegraph Avenue. Kerr writes that this view of the Campanile is still his favorite view on or off campus.
Clark Kerr began his tenure in UC Berkeley’s Economics Department and at a special new division he headed called the Institute of Industrial Relations. He writes affectingly of his joy in teaching…. He was especially appreciative of the veterans who flooded the Berkeley campus after World War II as a result of the G.I. Bill. According to Kerr these students, who had faced death, were more serious about attaining their career goals, and were fearless in asking questions.
Clark Kerr writes equally affectingly of his anguish over painful situations which surfaced during his watch. During the McCarthy era, for example, congress required all University of California faculty members to sign loyalty oaths. Faculty members with affiliations to the Communist Party were dismissed; as were those who refused to go along with the McCarthy Era oath-signing on principle. The faculty members were led to believe that they could get their jobs back if they were cleared by a special committee, but this promise was broken by the board of regents. Even though the jobs were later reinstated, Kerr remains embittered over the broken promises and dismissals.
Kerr says less about any personal anguish. We learn little about what went on behind the scenes in 1967, when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan dismissed Kerr himself. Was the dismissal related to the 1967 riots at People’s Park? We learn little of Kerr’s nonprofessional life beyond hearing about his near idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania; his identity as a Quaker; his dedication to peacemaking; and a mention, here and there, of his supportive wife and children.
“The Blue and the Gold” is a long book – 540 pages – which minutely covers many of the challenges, issues, and strategic moves made by the UC Berkeley while Clark Kerr was present. The strength of this book lies in his description of how this academic organization became one of the finest educational establishments in the world; for example, the book closely covers the growth of each of the nine campuses in the University of California system.
Gold stands for the gold in the California hills. Blue stands for the blue of Yale, since Yale alumni initiated the university. The next volume of Clark Kerr’s memoir of the gold and the blue will cover the public life of the university.
Sari Friedman teaches writing in local colleges and can be reached via sari2@ earthlink.net.