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Chancellor of UC-Berkeley next up in the U. of I. Chancellor's speaker series

2/27/2013 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Robert J. Birgeneau, the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley for the past nine years, will speak on the University of Illinois Urbana campus at 3 p.m. March 6.

The talk, part of Urbana Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise’s “Research University in the World of the Future” speaker series, will be in the Knight Auditorium of the Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana.

Birgeneau, who steps down as chancellor after the academic year, is credited with leading the university through some of California’s most challenging economic times. After retirement he plans to return to his physics research on superconductors and lead the Lincoln Project, a national discussion on higher education funding sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A Toronto native, Birgeneau earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Toronto in 1963 and his Ph.D. in physics at Yale University in 1966. He served on the faculty of Yale for a year, spent a year at Oxford University and was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975. He joined the physics faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and stayed for 25 years. During his tenure at MIT he was named physics department chair in 1988 and the dean of the School of Science in 1991. He served four years as the president of the University of Toronto before joining Berkeley in 2004.

Birgeneau, who has professional connections with faculty in his field at the U. of I., has won a host of awards both in his field and as an administrator. His most recent awards include the Karl T. Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics, presented by the American Institute of Physics, and the 2012 Clifford G. Shull Prize of the Neutron Scattering Society of America.

Birgeneau said his talk at the U. of I., as well as his work on the Lincoln Project, will focus on strategies addressing the national higher education funding crisis and the states’ general “disinvestment” of education funding.

“No responsible leader can assume that the state is magically going to see the light and reinstate funding,” he said. “Public universities have to decide what their missions are.”

His message also will call for universities to reassess their missions amid changing times and technologies, while still serving underrepresented students.

“There are pressures all the time to compete and it seems the most vulnerable are the first sacrificed” during times of austerity, he said. “Those areas are part of the challenge.”

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