Endowed with an enviable constitution, Clark Kerr, President Emeritus of the University of California, died at age 92 about midday on the first of December 2003. He had always appeared indestructible, his intellectual powers invariably on automatic pilot. He survived nasty attacks from the political left and right, and overcame the humiliation of an abrupt dismissal from office by the Board of Regents.
At his death, his renown was never greater. He had been ailing for a year, his vision impaired, and yet until the end he worried perhaps as much about the promise of America as he worried about himself. Alexander the Great is said to have wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. Clark Kerr wept, literally, because his ability to carry out a lifetime's dedication to promoting a moral America through a moral higher education system was finally being taken from him.
Some readers may be startled by the characterization of Kerr as a "moralist." Detractors associate him with a managerial ethos, an economist's preoccupation with resource allocation, a policy analyst's passion for problem-solving. One well-known journalist has disparaged him as an "elitist," a word certain to raise hackles in a rancorous age. His neologism "multiversity" strikes some as a semantic barbarism.
None of these criticisms comes near to capturing his essence. But let us acknowledge that a careless reader of the Godkin Lectures given at Harvard in the spring of 1963 might be misled into suspecting his motives. The Federal Grant University, he said then, had no poetry, but it was an "historical necessity." It was new, it was different, and it was not to be dismissed but understood.
Yet this was said with a keen sense of loss, the Quaker and puritan at war with the realist. The philosopher John Stuart Mill might have made Kerr into a cross between the two great thinkers of his own age, the poet-metaphysician Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the legal reformer and utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. Like Bentham, Kerr wanted universities to be "useful"; and like Coleridge he wanted to preserve and advance their integrity.
The fact is that the fundamental thrust of Kerr's entire life was to make certain that universities retained principles to which he himself was permanently loyal. The celebrated State of California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, for example, was more than a "treaty" or set of compromises between contending systems. It was also a blueprint for expressing basic national values of the first order.
He defined them in an essay first published in 1992. They were drawn from Jefferson's conceptions of democracy and talent, from Franklin's Enlightenment program of useful knowledge and from Keynes' ideas about mixed social objectives. A later thinker, John Rawls, focused Kerr on theories of justice. In the Godkin Lectures he wondered out loud whether the unparalleled wealth and success of the modern university would lead to unbridled institutional aggrandizement. Money, he once wrote, was not the root of all evil, but it was the root of some.
Kerr certainly enjoyed attention, but never for its own sake. As he grew older, he liked to talk, but he was fundamentally a shy man who declined to write a conventional autobiography. In his recently-published memoirs, he made the University of California the protagonist. His prose style was spartan, reflecting his modesty; but it was also a highly-developed instrument for penetrating through the skin of issues that concerned him. These were the nature and condition of higher education in the United States, but it needs to be emphasized that this interest was inseparable from wider issues relating to the development of industrial democracies, his scholarly field before entering campus administration.
He had a grasp of the international dimensions and exhibited, in his plentiful writings and speeches, a remarkable understanding of many different kinds of social and political institutions. What is equally remarkable is that for a man constantly in the public eye, as much after his departure from the UC presidency as before, it must be stressed, his observations were uncommonly free of the academic clichés freely circulating today. Platitudes and commonplaces did not interest him. He sought deeper explanations.
As head of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, he oversaw the production of a bookshelf of studies on every aspect of higher education. He deserves credit for virtually establishing contemporary higher education policy studies by gathering around him many of the most eminent names in the field: Martin Trow, Burton Clark, Neil Smelser, Fred Balderston, Henry Rosovsky, Seymour Martin Lipset, Earl Cheit, Alain Touraine and others who could be mentioned. His influence, and that of California, was spread around the nation and the globe.
He traveled and lectured. He was often enough in the state capital of Sacramento, meeting with legislators, civil servants and staff. He was frequently overseas. He continued to advise chancellors and presidents, and all the while he revisited his former ideas and principles, testing them under new circumstances, measuring them against recent changes. He entertained, but an evening at dinner with the Kerrs was also an oddly formal occasion where guests were expected to discourse on significant public developments.
Kerr's attention to detail is legendary-otherwise, he could hardly have made a career as an industrial relations mediator and arbitrator. But what is so astonishing about him was his capacity to express, in those short, sharp bursts, the core beliefs underlying the development of American democracy as they were actually embodied in the humdrum workings of institutions. As an intellectual, he possessed a holistic understanding of how different institutions with different missions were nonetheless part of an organic structure. No campus or system could succeed without regard to the health of all the others. This is possibly easily said, but he meant it, and what is more, he worked out a practical framework for advancing the goal.
He appreciated the great range of American colleges and universities. He held degrees from Swarthmore and Stanford before taking his doctorate at Berkeley. It was Harvard, very likely, more than Berkeley or the other UC campuses that was his archetypal multiversity. But his archetypal college was Swarthmore. In the euphoria of institution building in the late 1950s and 1960s, he dreamt of a public campus committed to undergraduate teaching. He poured his soul and his hopes into the collegiate university of UC Santa Cruz.
Readers of Kerr's many essays and lectures or even his memoirs may well overlook the intensity of his emotional investment in Santa Cruz, or the profound disappointment about it that he carried to his grave. Sadly, he came to believe that no public university in the United States could ever achieve the excellence of undergraduate education typical of a private liberal arts college. It was not merely that Santa Cruz was unfortunately born when the counter-culture flourished, but that the values traditionally associated with historic forms of liberal education were simply unattainable within the parameters of a public research multi-campus system that he himself had encouraged. Reluctantly, if at all, he finally accepted the irony of this conclusion.
The holistic character of his thinking baffled those whose own views about higher education were more limited. Also, he did not wear his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at. Yet those with whom he closely worked were loyal, affectionate and admiring. When the burdens of office were removed, the freedom from day-to-day affairs allowed the moralist side of him to flourish. If anything, his national and international reputation rose, and his university remembered him with tributes, buildings and prizes given in his name.
These were not tardy gifts, compensation for past deeds. They were the recognition of an active life, disinterested in the best sense, a continuous effort to explore the moral limits of the modern university. Was it accessible to all who were qualified? Was it just? Was it publicly legitimate? Was it genuinely committed to education and learning? Did it respect history? Could it triumph over greed and self-interest?
He did not wish to live in a university without poetry. Was he, after all, more Coleridge than Bentham?
Howard "Pete" Rawlings
Marylanders have just witnessed history, the conclusion of a public life truly worth living. It was, of course, the life of Delegate Howard "Pete" Rawlings, who died at 66 on November 14 after a four-year battle with cancer.
Although well known around Baltimore, Rawlings was not a household name in the Washington, D.C. area, even though his influence in Prince George's and Montgomery counties was profound. For more than 25 years in the state legislature, the last 11 as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rawlings had arguably more effect on Maryland residents than most of the Free State's governors.
Rawlings helped create Maryland's higher education reorganization act and was the impetus behind the restructuring of troubled public school systems in Baltimore City and Prince George's County. He helped shape the modern Maryland Medicaid program and was the father of the state's housing policy.
But Rawlings was much more than the sum of his extraordinary accomplishments. His career is an example of the power of moral courage in public office.
A mathematician by training, Rawlings arrived in Annapolis in 1979 after having taught in Maryland colleges and having worked as an activist on the desegregation of higher education. He loved to remember when he felt his first calling for public office.
"I was speaking at a faculty rally and gave a great speech," he'd explain. "And when I finished, I set my faculty ID card on fire. The crowd loved it."
Once Rawlings came to Annapolis, he didn't have to light matches to be heard, nor did he strive to be a crowd pleaser. On the floor of the House, he would speak quietly and deliberately. The usually boisterous House would grow still, knowing that his message would be filled with hard truths and wise counsel.
Rawlings grew to be the legislature's expert on the budget. He demonstrated the political maturity to put fiscal integrity ahead of his social justice commitments, as painful as it often was. As governors and fiscal leaders came and went, he became the institutional memory on the budget, lending the reassuring sense that the state's finances were under adult supervision.
Rawlings' values were shaped in the Poe Homes, a public housing project in Baltimore, where he grew up. He remembered that "there were six of us, three in a bed, and life was good and secure and safe, and everyone was part of your family." His parents educated all six children on his father's postal worker salary, and each child went on to a substantial career.
Rawlings' rise from Poe Homes became the formative experience of his political life. It shaped his commitment to education and housing and gave him the strength to overcome entrenched opposition to his reform efforts.
But the delegate's greatest legacy will be in the public schools. Rawlings devoted a decade to reforming Baltimore's public schools, ordering management audits and impounding funds, until finally, in 1997, the legislature overhauled the system management and appropriated $254 million in new money. Baltimore schoolchildren now are posting higher test scores for the first time in a generation. Rawlings spearheaded similar efforts in Prince George's.
For his courageous efforts, Rawlings was brutally criticized by groups that might have seemed to be his natural allies: labor, the NAACP and Baltimore officials. He took their criticisms in stride. He was that rarest of politicians, one for whom political fear did not exist. He loved to tally up the cards and letters that the interest groups would send to fight his latest reform initiative. And when the attacks turned personal, he would offer a lovely smile, knowing that the intellectual arsenal of his opposition had been exhausted.
The modern political culture frowns on the kind of legislative life led by Pete Rawlings. No political consultant would recommend it. Today, many politicians spend their days on fundraising call lists, cocktail parties, "photo op" pubic hearings and partisan posturing.
This stands in stark contrast to the life of Pete Rawlings. He had no ambition for higher office. Instead, he had a deep ambition to bring a better life to the poor children of Maryland. He leaves behind a historic record of accomplishment, but perhaps his deepest legacy will be his example on how to live a public life, fully, wisely and courageously.
Lumina Foundation for Education has awarded the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education a one-year, $71,000, grant to learn more about students who enroll in postsecondary education, particularly those who borrow student loans, but fail to complete their educational programs. Lawrence E. Gladieux, consultant to the National Center, will serve as principal investigator and Joni E. Finney, Vice President of the National Center, will oversee the project. The project will be completed in December 2004. Lumina Foundation, a private, independent foundation based in Indianapolis, strives to expand access and success in education beyond high school.
Virginia B. Smith Award
Jean MacGregor (left) and Barbara Leigh Smith, winners of the 2003 Virginia B. Smith award
(PHOTO BY JIM COIT, BLACK STAR, FOR CROSSTALK)
Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor received the Virginia B. Smith Innovative Leadership Award for 2003 at a ceremony in San Diego last November. The award, which carries a stipend of $2,500, recognizes individuals who have brought about successful change in higher education.
Smith and MacGregor are co-directors of the Pew Charitable Trusts' National Learning Communities Project. Learning communities link courses around themes and enroll a common group of students.
The award is named for, and honors, Virginia B. Smith, President Emerita of Vassar College. It is administered by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.