Robert J. Birgeneau, an internationally distinguished physicist and current president of the University of Toronto, today (July 27) was appointed the ninth chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, by the UC Board of Regents.
Acting on the recommendation of UC President Robert C. Dynes, the Regents appointed Birgeneau to the Berkeley post effective on or about Oct. 1. He replaces Robert M. Berdahl, who announced last September his intention to step down after seven years as chancellor.
Birgeneau, 62, has served as president of the University of Toronto since 2000. He previously was dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent 25 years on the faculty. He has been elected a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, has received numerous awards for teaching and research, and is one of the most highly cited physicists in the world.
“Everything Bob Birgeneau has done has prepared him to be chancellor of UC Berkeley,” Dynes said. “He is a distinguished scientist of the highest academic caliber, known internationally as a leader in his field. He is a compassionate and courageous man who possesses a deep commitment to social equity and to the social responsibilities of a public university. He also is one of the mostly highly sought-after leaders in higher education today, and we are extremely proud to be bringing him to the University of California.”
Birgeneau was selected from an international pool of 298. In making the selection, Dynes was assisted by an advisory committee of Regents, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community representatives.
“It is a tremendous honor to accept this appointment, and I am truly excited to be joining the UC Berkeley community,” Birgeneau said. “Berkeley is a remarkably innovative institution that continually sets new standards of excellence. I am eager to begin working with everyone in the Berkeley community – faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the broader community. Together, we will continue this university’s world-renowned tradition of producing cutting-edge research, creating new knowledge, and teaching and developing tomorrow’s leaders.”
A Toronto native and the first in his family to finish high school, Birgeneau received his B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1963 and his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1966. He served on the faculty of Yale for one year and then spent one year at Oxford University. He was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975 and then joined MIT as a professor of physics. He was named head of the physics department in 1988 and in 1991 was appointed dean of science. He became the 14th president of the University of Toronto on July 1, 2000.
He and his wife, Mary Catherine, have four grown children.
A leader on gender issues within higher education, Birgeneau is well known for his commitment to diversity and equity in the academic community. “Crucial to Cal’s pre-eminence is its historic commitment to access and inclusion,” Birgeneau said. “I firmly believe that people from all segments of society must be included in the opportunities afforded by institutions like Cal, and that we must work to remove impediments to that opportunity.”
Dynes commented: “Bob Birgeneau believes very strongly that it is the responsibility of a university to be a forum for the exchanging of ideas, the airing of differences, and the working through of those differences. His understanding of, and commitment to, the public purposes of a university make him a truly outstanding match for UC Berkeley.
“I am confident that he will work very effectively – and in concert with Steve Chu, the newly appointed director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – to preserve and enhance Berkeley as a leading center of excellence and opportunity.”
Birgeneau will hold a faculty appointment in UC Berkeley’s Department of Physics in addition to serving as chancellor.
Birgeneau’s research focuses on understanding the fundamental properties of materials beginning at the level of a single atom and building up to macroscopic dimensions. The materials he and his students study vary from liquid crystals embedded in glass gels to ceramic oxides made up of copper and oxygen, which are perfect conductors of electricity at very high temperatures. Birgeneau’s group uses beams of neutrons from a nuclear reactor, or X-rays from a synchrotron, such as the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to probe these materials at a microscopic level. Liquid crystals are commonly used in displays such as flat-panel televisions, and Birgeneau’s work could influence the next generation of display devices. The ceramic superconductors are already appearing in a variety of electronic devices and could someday be used in transmission lines.
Birgeneau has published extensively and has received many honors for his research. In 1987 he was awarded the O.E. Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society. The only other Canadian to win this award is Dr. Bertram Brockhouse of McMaster University, who later was awarded the Nobel Prize. In 2000, Birgeneau received the J.E. Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, given to a physicist who has made outstanding contributions to physics and has exceptional talent at explaining physics to diverse audiences. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 2001 and the Royal Society of Canada in 2002.
At the University of Toronto, Birgeneau has met regularly with students, improved financial support for Ph.D. students, worked with the Black Student Association to support tutorial programs and recruitment programs in area high schools, and worked successfully with students on post-9/11 issues and Palestinian-Israeli issues.
Additional information about Birgeneau is available on his current web site at http://www.utoronto.ca/president/about.html. His speeches and other writings at the University of Toronto are available at http://www.utoronto.ca/president/messages.htm.
The Regents approved an annual salary of $390,000 for Birgeneau. In recognition of the retirement benefits he will lose by leaving his current position before the full retirement age, the Regents also approved an adjustment in the calculation of his UC retirement benefit. It will be calculated on his full salary, averaged over 36 months, rather than on the $205,000 level that would otherwise apply.
Since its founding, UC Berkeley – the first campus established in the University of California’s 10-campus system – has stood as one of the top institutions in the nation for higher education and research. Berkeley ranks first nationally in the number of graduate programs in the top 10 in their fields, with 97 percent of Berkeley’s programs in the top 10, according to the National Research Council. Berkeley’s academic departments consistently rank among the top five in the country, and the faculty, renowned for both teaching and scholarship, includes eight Nobel Laureates and 19 MacArthur Fellows. The fifth-largest employer in the Bay Area, UC Berkeley expenditures generate more than $1.4 billion for the California economy. The campus enrolls more than 32,000 students and has one of the nation’s highest percentages of faculty elected to the prestigious national academies. For more about UC Berkeley, visit www.berkeley.edu.
# # #
For more news and information about the University of California, please visit www.universityofcalifornia.edu.