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Clark Kerr served as chancellor of the University of California,
Berkeley, from 1952 to 1958, and president of the University of
California from 1958 to 1967. He presided over the launching
of three new UC campuses—Irvine, San Diego and Santa
Cruz—and is generally regarded as the principal architect of the
California Master Plan for Higher Education. The interviewer
is Patrick M. Callan, president of National Center for Public
Policy and Higher Education.
Patrick Callan: As you think about the situation the
state of California faced in 1960 and what we’re looking at
in the 1990s, what seem to be some of the differences and
some of the similarities?
Clark Kerr:
I think one of the biggest differences is that
in 1960 we were a very prosperous economy nationwide
and particularly in California. In the 1990s, we’ve had
this prolonged nationwide recession, and California is in
considerably worse shape than the rest of the country. I’d say
that’s really the biggest difference.
In terms of similarities, we are facing another tidal wave of
students about as large or maybe even larger than the 1960s.
Proportionately, it’s
not nearly as large,
but there’s another
tidal wave coming.
Now, in the 1960s
we also had the
problem of the tidal
wave of students,
but we didn’t have
the problem of lack
of resources. In the
1990s, and looking
ahead, we will have
both the tidal wave
and a problem of
resources, so it’s
much more difficult.
PC: As you look
at the financial
resources versus
the student tidal wave that’s coming, do you see this as a
short-term, recession-related issue that we’ll naturally pull
ourselves out of, or as a long-termproblem?
CK
: I see it as a long-term or at least a medium-range
set of problems, at least to the year 2010. The big question
mark is going to be, howmuch will productivity recover? In
the 1960s we were increasing productivity nationally at the
rate of three percent per year, which is an enormous rate. It
doubled productivity every 25 years. Then we went down to
two percent, then one percent, and some years we went down
Spring 1993
AN INTERVIEW:
Clark Kerr
to zero.
Now, if the economy
could pull back to
increasing productivity by
two percent a year—not
the three percent of the
1960s, that was unusual,
but around two percent—
then I think we would have
the resources to take care
of what we envisioned in
the Master Plan for Higher
Education.
However, there are now
more competitors for these
additional resources than
there were then. We have
an aging population, we
have a whole generation of
young people, and we need
to take care of them, and lots of other things coming in, too.
But with a two percent annual productivity increase, I think
it’s a do-able situation. At the one percent growth rate of the
1980s, it might not be do-able. At three percent, we’d be in
clover.
PC: Turning to the Master Plan, what do you think was
essential about it? If we have difficult times in the 1990s
and the first decade of the next century, what should we try
most to preserve?
CK
: The big thing of the Master Plan was to agree on
some reasonably clear-cut differentiation of function. That
was intended to make possible universal access for high
school graduates and people who were otherwise qualified,
to greatly increase the supply of people
in the essential occupations of business
managers and engineers and teachers and
so forth. And, at the same time, to carry on
professional-level training of the highest
quality and research of the highest quality.
Through this differentiation of function,
the community colleges had a reasonably
clear assignment, and the state colleges had
a clearer assignment than they chose to
effectuate.
The state colleges were really assigned
to take care of the polytechnic needs of
modern industrial society—the need
for production engineers, production
managers, and so forth. The demand for
these people has been expanding faster
than the need for universal access or the
I think there’s an
obligation to the polity,
to the political society,
to give people some
chance to move up in
society, which these
days really means
getting something
more than a high
school education.
With the University
of California, Caltech,
Stanford and USC,
we were offering
as high a quality of
basic research and
professional training
as any part of
the world.