Carol Christ unanimously voted 11th chancellor of UC Berkeley

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Sally Dowd/Staff

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Carol Christ has been named the 11th chancellor of UC Berkeley among widespread praise and celebration by students and her colleagues.

Christ was officially unanimously confirmed as the chancellor-designate Thursday by the UC regents after being nominated Monday. She will be the first female chancellor in the campus’s 149-year history. She will fulfill the role as of July 1.

In a statement released after her confirmation, Christ said she felt honored to have been chosen to lead the campus at such a critical point in UC Berkeley’s history.

“I will need your wisdom and imagination as we do this together; I hope I can rely on your advice, your candor, and your trust. I am honored to serve the campus and its mission,” Christ said in the statement.

Christ said when she came to UC Berkeley in 1970 as an assistant professor of English, she had never been west of Philadelphia. UC Berkeley transformed her and her understanding of higher education, Christ said in a statement.

Julia Bader, a UC Berkeley professor emerita, said in an email that she worked with Christ when they were both junior faculty and that she has recently been receiving emails from former and present students expressing how excited they are to have a woman in the position of chancellor.

“She’s always been the same calm, thoroughly grounded, reliable presence. She’s also principled and amiable, and I and my colleagues are thrilled and excited at her being named chancellor,” Bader said in an email.

Mark Danner, UC Berkeley’s chancellor’s professor of English and journalism, recalled when he went into a meeting with Christ during her time as interim executive vice chancellor and provost. During the meeting, she asked him how she could help him achieve his intellectual goals at UC Berkeley.

“It was an illuminating and thought-provoking question and got us instantly to the point — though in truth until that moment I hadn’t realized myself that that was the point,” Danner said in an email.

Beyond the English department, Dean of the College of Engineering Shankar Sastry said the difference in his and Christ’s fields of study does not come into the equation when he thinks about her as a leader.

“She truly exemplifies the best of Berkeley,” Sastry said. “She brings a wonderful open style of listening to many constituencies in order come to a consensus. She has the best interest of Berkeley at heart.”

Some students expressed excitement for change in campus leadership that may lead to more open dialogue with students and less administrative controversy. In May 2016, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks came under fire from students after building a $700,000 fence around his on-campus residence.

Additionally, the campus administration has been criticized for its handling of sexual misconduct violations — 20 campus employees have been found in violation of UC sexual misconduct policy by the university Title IX office in the past six years.

“I’m glad someone who seems politically sound is taking charge, and I hope (she) can make a change,” said campus freshman Asef Ali.

ASUC Senator Rosa Kwak said she is excited to have not only a woman but a pioneer in sexual harassment prevention as a chancellor. Christ has served as a Title IX compliance coordinator for the campus.

“We are excited and hopeful, but at the same time, that doesn’t change that we will still keep her accountable,” Kwak said.

Both Bader and campus English professor Elizabeth Abel praised Christ as a longtime feminist who has been a trailblazer for women at UC Berkeley for decades. Christ was also the highest ranking woman in the campus’s administration when she served as executive vice chancellor and provost from 1998 to 2000.

Despite the excitement about a woman taking on the role of chancellor, some students expressed disappointment that women have not had a larger presence in campus leadership earlier.

“It’s almost disappointing that this is such a big deal,” said Aditya Ranganathan, a campus alumnus, on Christ being the first female UC Berkeley chancellor. “But at the same time, we have to admit where we are at.”

Christ served as the president of Smith College for more than 10 years after leaving UC Berkeley in 2002. When she retired from her position at Smith in 2013, her role was filled by Kathleen McCartney. McCartney said she spoke to Christ for advice several times during Christ’s last semester at Smith, adding that she is grateful for Christ’s mentorship.

“She just couldn’t have been more generous with my onboarding,” McCartney said. “I’m happy for Berkeley; I think she will be terrific.”

Campus freshmen Autumn Kleinman and Kirpah Sahota said they were interested to see how Christ would transition from a private all-girls college to a public, co-ed campus.

Christ returned to campus in 2015 to become the director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education. Michael Nacht, the center’s interim director and a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, said the center is confident Christ will make a fantastic chancellor.

“We at the center are thrilled with this appointment,” Nacht said. “Dr. Christ has been an extraordinarily talented campus leader who knows the UC Berkeley culture very well.”

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.

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  • Douglas Bonham

    They couldn’t get anybody of stature to take the job. She can preside over the decay of Cal, all except STEM,