In its 149-year history, UC Berkeley has never had female leadership at the very top — until this year, with the appointment of Chancellor Carol Christ.
On March 16 of this year, Christ was confirmed as the chancellor-designate of UC Berkeley by the UC Board of Regents. During the announcement, Janet Napolitano, the first female UC president, lauded the accomplishments of Christ as a “tireless champion of gender equality and diversity.”
Christ joined UC Berkeley faculty for the first time in 1970, when only 3 percent of her colleagues were women. She established herself as an advocate for women’s rights on campus when she served as faculty assistant to the chancellor for the status of women and Title IX compliance coordinator from 1983-84.
“I look forward to serving UC Berkeley under (Christ’s) leadership,” said Oscar Dubón, Jr., who will serve on Christ’s leadership team as vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. “We should be more than disappointed to have waited 149 years to have a female chancellor at UC Berkeley, which should be at the forefront of equitable and inclusive practices.”
The campus, however, is not alone in its slow integration and acceptance of women leaders. A report published earlier this June by the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that female representation in the highest offices on campus has stagnated in the last decade. Of the 60 public and private national universities that are members of the Association of American Universities, the percent of women presidents has plateaued in the last decade at about 25 percent. Out of the 61 universities, only one — the University of Pennsylvania — has had female leadership since 2000.
Women’s organizations on campus such as Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, or WYSE, and Berkeley Women in Business, or BWIB, see Christ’s appointment as a significant step forward.
“Having a woman hold the highest office on campus sends a positive message to all of us who fear what it means to be a woman in the workforce, especially under the current presidential administration,” Sofia Heffernan, president of WYSE, said.
Despite the positive signal her appointment has sent to campus communities, Christ doesn’t see her gender as a definitive factor in her identity as chancellor.
In an interview with The Daily Californian on June 19, Christ said, “That’s not how I define my identity — the first female chancellor. I define myself as a chancellor at a very, very critical moment in Berkeley’s history, a moment in which we have to change the financial model for the campus.”
While Christ doesn’t see her gender as chiefly operative in her identity, many campus community members hope that her presence will positively affect the campus culture in the wake of highly public sexual misconduct cases and former Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ resignation.
“I personally feel more comfortable about the administration, not only because Christ is a woman, but because she has a convincing track record of supporting women and education and working on issues of diversity,” Pallavi Chadha, president of BWIB, said.
Mary K. Gaillard, who in 1981 was the first woman faculty member in the campus physics department, said she hopes that the appointment of Christ will send a signal to prospective UC Berkeley applicants, both undergraduate and graduate.
“After the sexual harassment cases a few years ago, we’ve seen a decline in science — well, astronomy was a huge decline, but in physics too — in women applying to graduate school,” Gaillard said. “It sends a very good signal to have her in this position.”
Starting Saturday, Christ will be at the helm of campus leadership. She will hold meetings in the chancellor’s conference room, where portraits of past chancellors, all male, line one wall.
“There are eight photographic portraits that … fill the wall and there is room for one more, a ninth, and I’m obviously going to look very different,” she said.