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Former U. of I. provost Robert Berdahl to speak in chancellor's series

11/7/2012 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Robert Berdahl, a past president of the American Association of Universities and former leader of several nationally renowned universities, is up next in the University of Illinois’ chancellor’s speaker series, “The Research University in the World of the Future.”

Berdahl, a retired history professor who earned a master’s degree from the
U. of I. and was the Urbana campus provost from 1987 to 1993, will speak from 4-5 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.

Berdahl contends that America’s economic strength and stability are directly proportional to the degree at which the nation invests in the education of its
citizens – and that investment is not being made at the necessary levels.

“There’s been a change of attitude in investing in the public good, and it’s not just public universities,” he said. “That’s a tragic development and the long-term consequences are pretty serious.”

The question of “who should pay” is affecting student debt and access, which threatens the inclusion of qualified students and ultimately opportunities for upward mobility, he said.

“(Upward mobility) used to be the hallmark for the U.S.,” he said. “We have to rediscover the value of investing in ourselves. I think this era will be seen ultimately as a time not unlike the 1920s in which we pulled back from public investment. I don’t think this is going to be seen as the golden age for the U.S.”

Berdahl was the president of the AAU for five years, beginning in 2006, and is the former head of the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oregon.

He said he looks forward to being on the Urbana campus again.

“I enjoyed my time at the U. of I.,” he said. “I was the provost when I was there, but they didn’t call it provost back then. Compared with the present, it was not a bad budget time; but it seemed like it at the time.”

Berdahl’s tenure at Illinois included the beginning of construction for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
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