‘Activist-scholar’: UC Berkeley’s 1st female graduate dean Mary Ann Mason dies at 76

UC Berkeley School of Law/Courtesy
Mary Ann Mason

Mary Ann Mason, UC Berkeley’s first female graduate dean, died July 27 at the age of 76.

Mason applied for an assistant professor position at UC Berkeley in her 40s after a career as a paralegal. She rose quickly through the ranks to serve as a full professor at the School of Social Welfare and ultimately became the first female dean of the Graduate Division in 2000. As dean, she oversaw nearly 10,000 students across more than 100 graduate programs and worked to promote equity and diversity in the division.

“[Mason had] an unusual start for an exceptional academic career at U.C. Berkeley,” said campus social welfare professor Neil Gilbert in an email. “A delightful colleague, she was that exceptional breed of activist-scholar whose intellectual and policy achievements are a magnificent bequest to our community and an inspiration to those who follow.”

Mason was considered a “national expert” in the field of children’s rights, family law and child custody issues, according to her profile on the UC Berkeley School of Law website. She also frequently appeared in national and international media.

According to Gilbert, Mason published 10 books over the course of her career, including “The Equality Trap,” “Mothers on the Fast Track,” which she co-authored with her daughter, and “Babies of Technology: Assisted Reproduction and the Rights of the Child,” which she co-authored with her son.

Mason’s research has been central to “ground-breaking” policy initiatives, according to the Berkeley Law website, such as the national “Nine Presidents” summit on gender equity at research universities.

Gilbert added that Mason’s contributions to the campus community extended far beyond her research work.

“As the first women Dean of the Graduate Division she was instrumental in increasing the financial support of students and led a ground-breaking effort to strengthen women’s rights in the academic world,” Gilbert said in the email.

During her tenure, Mason advocated for diversity of graduate student populations, worked to strengthen career-life balance for all faculty and promoted equity for student-parents.

An online memorial in honor of Mason will be held Aug. 31 for friends and family, according to the UC Berkeley Graduate Division website.

“Mary Ann exuded a charismatic magnetism that attracted those around her and enlivened our faculty meetings,” Gilbert said in the email.

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AryiaDm.