Carol Christ nominated as UC Berkeley’s next chancellor

Carol Christ, event organizer Danielle Wiskerson
Hulda Nelson/Courtesy

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After a monthslong search, Carol Christ — UC Berkeley’s interim executive vice chancellor and provost — was nominated Monday to serve as the campus’s next chancellor.

If appointed to the position by the UC Board of Regents on Thursday, Christ would become the first woman to serve as UC Berkeley’s chancellor in the campus’s 149-year history.

The UC Office of the President has been taking steps to appoint a new chancellor since August 2016, when Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced his intention to resign amid several high-profile controversies, including sexual misconduct cases and a structural deficit in the millions.

“I feel honored and privileged to lead the campus at this challenging time,” Christ said in a UC press release. “It is a small way to give back for everything the university has given me. My experience at Berkeley has been transformational; it formed my ideas of higher education, and it formed my ideals of higher education.”

Christ has earned a reputation as a “tireless champion” of gender equality and diversity, the press release said. In her first administrative position, she assisted the chancellor on issues surrounding the status of women, and she has also served as the campus’s Title IX compliance coordinator.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus administration will not comment on Christ’s appointment until the UC Board of Regents votes on it.

Christ first came to UC Berkeley as an assistant professor of English in 1970, when only three percent of the faculty were women. By 1985, she had become chair of the English department. In 1988, she became dean of humanities, and a year later, she became provost and dean of the campus’s College of Letters and Science.

She became UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor and provost in 1994 and later was named executive vice chancellor, making her the highest-ranking female administrator on campus. She left UC Berkeley in 2002 to serve as president of Smith College — a position from which she retired in June 2013.

Robert Powell, chair of UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate, said he thinks that Christ’s experience at both UC Berkeley and Smith College make her particularly well-suited for the position.

“She brings to the position both deep knowledge of Berkeley but also the perspective of an outsider,” Powell said.

Powell added that many believed that inside knowledge of UC Berkeley would be an important quality in the next chancellor. The past two — Dirks and Robert Birgeneau — had come to the campus after serving in administrative positions outside the UC system.

Christ returned to UC Berkeley in 2015 as director of the campus’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, and in May 2016, she began her term as interim executive vice chancellor and provost after Claude Steele resigned. In the position, Christ oversees the campus’s day-to-day operations and finances, and she functions as UC Berkeley’s chief academic officer. She is responsible for faculty recruitment, retention and renewal, in addition to planning and implementing academic programs and policies.

According to campus freshman Haden Modisett, having a female chancellor would be influential to millennial and female voices on campus. Modisett added that he hopes Christ would be able to prevent the privatization of UC Berkeley and strengthen the relationship between students and the administration.

“I hope the new chancellor can really combat the threat that this new administration is, like, kind of showing to us about, you know, to protect our undocumented students, protect our tuition and protect our services,” Modisett said.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner said in a press release Monday that she approves of Christ’s nomination as the first female leader of UC Berkeley and recognizes that Christ holds the qualifications necessary to succeed in the position.

“As we anticipate celebrating Cal’s 150th anniversary next year, I welcome Carol Christ’s appointment as the first woman to lead UC Berkeley, leadership the campus has been awaiting and has deserved,” Skinner said. “I look forward to her leadership and serving as her partner to advance the world’s premier public higher education institution.”

A worldwide search for the new chancellor began in October last year after an advisory search committee was appointed in August and its 17 members were announced in September. The committee included UC President Janet Napolitano, five UC regents, three campus faculty members and one student representative each from the undergraduate and graduate student bodies, among others.

The full advisory search committee met every month between October 2016 and March 2017. Meetings of the faculty sub-committee took place 10 times during this time period, according to Tsu-Jae King Liu, vice provost for academic and space planning and a member of the search committee.

In the month of November, the advisory committee drafted a position profile and criteria for candidates that was inspired by campus forums, written input from the campus community and discussions between members of the advisory committee who also went through an implicit bias training workshop in October.

Liu said prospective candidates were interviewed by the full advisory committee over a period of two days in February, and multiple finalists were recommended to the UC president thereafter.

“In the strictest sense, this still has to be approved by the regents on Thursday, but it’s essentially a done deal or they would not have made a public announcement,” said Kathleen Valerio, governing council member of the Berkeley Staff Assembly.

According to the opportunity and challenge profile, chancellor candidates must have a demonstrated record of academic achievement, leadership, financial acumen and cultural competency in order to serve effectively as an external ambassador of the institution and to strengthen UC Berkeley’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity, among other requirements.

“I am delighted that Carol Christ has agreed to lead Berkeley at this pivotal time in the campus’s storied history,” Napolitano said in a press release. “From among the many highly qualified candidates for the position, Carol’s exceptional leadership and strategic planning skills, her deep commitment to the university’s core values, her many academic and professional accomplishments, as well as her deep knowledge of, and affection for, UC Berkeley stood out.”

Contact Jessica Lynn, Parth Vohra and Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].

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  • flashsteve

    72 years old and she’s starting a new, high stress job? I’m not an ageist (I’m 70 myself), but the odds of her lasting more than a couple of years are slim. Why not find someone younger, or is this position cursed?

    • Nunya Beeswax

      My guess is that this appointment is an intentional stopgap to give the administration time to search for someone who will be longer-term. I don’t think anyone expected Dirks to crap out after a couple of years.

      • flashsteve

        I actually thought that myself, but thanks for making the point. You are probably correct. I would even guess that she has an ‘agreement ‘of two or three year’s max.

    • s randall

      It’s a tough job. You really need someone that knows and understands the place. I think she’s someone that will work smarter and not harder. She’ll be OK unless she has health issues.

  • rijman

    “Christ has earned a reputation as a “tireless champion” of gender equality and diversity, the press release said.” Today I watched Mark Zuckerberg live stream from a college campus. In response to a question he discussed the importance of diversity at FaceBook, including ideological diversity with a high ranking conservative on his Board. He said all voices must be heard. I wonder if Carol Christ is as open minded to diversity as her press release claims.

  • CSears

    I hope she’s good because Dierks and Birgeneau weren’t. Tien was awesome.

  • s randall

    Great choice! Go Bears!