September 29, 1958
The Worth Of Intellect
At The Dawn Of The New Golden
By Clark Kerr, President, UC Berkeley
BERKELEY -- There are occasions
in the life of an institution which we surround with ceremony in
order to pause and take stock, to recall its past, to consider its
future, and to remind ourselves of its purposes. This is such an
Members and friends of the University have
met here and are being honored with the presence of distinguished
visitors--delegates from great universities throughout the world
and representatives of the state and nation.
You have just heard representatives of
The Regents, of the students, of the alumni, of the faculty, of
the State of California, and of our sister institutions extending
their good wishes for the years to come.
By their presence and their greetings,
they have conveyed to all of us a feeling of the dignity of this
day and an appreciation of the far-reaching extent of our University
My own first thoughts at this ceremony
are of the men who have preceded me. Eleven times in the past 90
years, a new President has been invested with the task which it
is now my privilege to assume.
Each of them was deeply dedicated to the
University; each must have been grateful and proud of the opportunity
to contribute to its development. All of them faced exciting challenges:
for especially in the early days, the odds against great achievement
have seemed enormous.
Among academic institutions, distinction
is usually wedded to long tradition, and the prospects for a center
of higher learning in the frontier state of California must often
have seemed dark.
But the accomplishment was great. For many
years now, this University has had an honorable position in the
academic world; and today I first wish to pay tribute to the men
who led in the building of this edifice.
Several of their names are known even to
our freshmen, for it is an academic practice to remember our more
famous predecessors by naming buildings for them.
This is a good tradition, but the steel
and concrete of the buildings must not lead us to forget that it
is for the sweep of their ideas and the impact of their policies
that we are indebted to these men.
I should like to review, very briefly,
some of their contributions, and to suggest that their ideas and
visions of our University still retain their vigor. The presidency
of the University changed hands seven times in its first three decades
This rapid succession of administrations
during the institution s formative years sometimes caused the Regents
understandable consternation, but on the whole the results were
Each man brought to the young campus the
imprint of his particular educational background, interests and
aims, thus broadening the foundations upon which others were to
Two of our early Presidents--Henry Durant and
Martin Kellogg--were classical scholars and helped to foster here
an abiding reverence for the great cultural heritage of mankind.
Three were eminent scientists: Daniel Coit
Gilman, John LeConte and Edward S. Holden. Scientific studies were
just then, and sometimes grudgingly, being accorded a significant
role in a university curriculum, and the influence of these three
presidents helped establish the renown in the scientific field which
the University has held almost since its beginnings.
One of the early Presidents, William Thomas
Reid, was a school administrator, and another, Horace Davis, was
a lawyer, business-man and former California Congressman.
Five of the first seven Presidents were
graduates of Harvard or Yale; and so the rich traditions of these
older institutions were blended with the vigor and enthusiasm of
the frontier environment.
The University's physical growth was slow
in those first decades; at the close of the nineteenth century enrollment
was still less than 2,000 students.
But growth in other ways was solid and
impressive. The University had established firmly its unswerving
commitment to high academic standards, to the need for a broad liberal
curriculum, to the importance of adding new knowledge to the intellectual
heritage of the past.
The University had now reached the point
where it could benefit most from the stability of a longer administration.
And destiny helpfully provided an administration whose length was
matched by its distinction--that of Benjamin Ide Wheeler.
During his twenty-year tenure, enrollment
climbed from 2,000 to almost 12,000. The face of the Berkeley campus
began to assume its present form with the construction of the Doe
Library Building, Agriculture Hall, Hilgard Hall, the Hearst Mining
Boalt Hall, the President's House, Gilman
Hall, the Greek Theatre, Wheeler Hall, which was named for him,
and the Campanile which has become so beloved a symbol of the Berkeley
Professional schools were instituted at
Berkeley. Many new academic departments were established to accommodate
new or rapidly expanding disciplines.
The College of Letters and Science was
created by merger of the separate Colleges of Letters, Social Sciences,
and Natural Sciences.
The University established research facilities
at Davis and at Riverside. The notable succession of accomplishments
during the presidency of Benjamin Ide Wheeler brought the University
to the forefront of the nation s centers of learning.
The presidencies of David Prescott Barrows
and William Wallace Campbell were marked by the emergence of a concept
of definitive importance to the future of the institution: the concept
of a statewide University.
It was during their terms of office that
the Los Angeles campus was developed, at first as an experiment,
and then as the guidepost for the further growth of the whole University.
And the statewide University system was
brought to its present level of service to the community and to
scholarship under the devoted stewardship of the only one of my
predecessors who is with us today.
I am deeply grateful for his presence:
first of all, because he is able to share, more fully than anyone
else, my feelings on this occasion; and second, because I can take
this opportunity to express what all of us must feel: our profound
admiration for a lifetime of high accomplishment.
It was 28 years ago this fall, in this
same magnificent setting, that Robert Gordon Sproul was inaugurated
as the eleventh president of the University of California.
As he stood were I now stand, he looked
to the future in the following words: It is not with the interesting
and glorious history or manifold and notable present accomplishments
that we must concern ourselves. . . . we are interested not so much
in what our institutions have been as in what they shall be.
The test for the president of this university
has been here established, and what he contributes in the creation
of wider opportunities for those who are facing the future. This
test is a stern one. A stern test indeed.
Yet as we view the University of California
today, an academic community unsurpassed in size and seldom equaled
on the more important scale of scholarly distinction, we can turn
to him and say, with conviction and with gratitude: Robert Gordon
Sproul, you have passed your stern test, summa cum laude.
Now I must assume the responsibilities
which my predecessors have discharged so well. I have had to assess
how I might meet this same stern test. Certainly I must hope for
the fullest measure of generous support.
The most willing efforts of a single individual
can count for little among the myriad actions which will govern
the future of an institution such as ours.
Even in the earlier days, it required more
than the devotion of a handful of men; throughout its history, the
University has been shaped by countless personalities.
Some imprints have been sharp and clear,
others blurred. But it is too massive and complex an institution
to owe its character to a few. There have always been the immeasurable
benefits of an enlightened and friendly environment.
The long vision and the understanding of
the legislators and officers of our State have yielded generous
support usually beyond the minimum needs of the moment.
Thoughtful private donors have come forward
to make provisions above and beyond what the state could do or even
should do; we owe to them many of the best-loved facilities which
lend distinction to our campuses, including the splendid Greek Theatre
where we are now meeting.
The University s loyal alumni have always
provided the principal link between the University and the community;
they have been its prime defenders as well as its most incisive
Leading citizens of the State have performed
the crucial function of overseers--our Board of Regents, who have
worked tirelessly to insure the University s financial soundness
and academic repute. We have been richly rewarded in our efforts
to attract an outstanding faculty.
Drawn from all corners of the world for
their scholarly ability, deeply dedicated to both teaching and research,
our faculty members have assumed broad responsibility for the academic
development of the University and for the selection of new colleagues
in the never-ending process of replacement and growth, certainly
the key process in University life.
Finally, we must express our debt to our
students, who are, of course, the major reason for a university
s existence. Our students are chosen with care; they come here with
sound academic records and a promise of intellectual growth.
They have always responded to the opportunities
the University has offered them, and they continue to provide the
throbbing vitality of our campuses.
In sum, it has taken the effort and the
judgment of thousands of people to build this University so quickly
and so well; and I draw comfort from the thought that this effort
and judgment, which had been so abundantly available in the past,
will continue to sustain it.
If ever the University has needed the wholehearted
support of its friends, it needs it today.
We are all proud of the University's past;
and we have a right to expect that it will have a great future.
But if our expectations are to be fulfilled, we shall have to meet
immense challenges. The University is still growing, and growing
In part, this growth is a response to the
need to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers of young people
coming from the high schools; here our problem will be how to expand
facilities at a swift pace while maintaining high standards.
The accommodation of students in increasing
numbers is only a part of the vital role which the university is
called upon to play in the modern world. I believe that this role
is more important in our century than ever before in the history
of civilization--that the work to be done by men and women of trained
intellect is greater and more desperately urgent today than at any
Each civilization has produced its characteristic
institutions of learning. They have reflected the essence of the
civilization which created them, and usually their place has been
at the vital center of society. In the ancient empires which the
archaeologists unveiled, secret knowledge was guarded and kept alive
in the great temples. The spirit of ancient
Greece, the heritage of all Western civilization, produced Plato
s academy and the legendary library of Alexandria. When Islam swept
across Asia Minor and North Africa, it gave birth to illustrious
centers of learning such as El Azhar, the still surviving University
When, around the time of the Crusades,
the West reentered the history of progress, the scattered cathedral
schools of Europe turned into those medieval universities which
were the direct forerunners of so many modern European schools.
In the New World the Universities of Santo Domingo, of Mexico and
of San Marcos in Peru came into being in the sixteenth century.
As for ourselves in North America, no sooner
had the Pilgrims arrived on this continent than they founded the
institution we know as Harvard.
To safeguard and transmit that knowledge
which was considered vital to the survival of society and the salvation
of its members--such was the main function of these institutions
of earlier times.
Knowledge was usually conceived of as a
finite and limited substance, inherited from the past. All that
was worth knowing, indeed all that could be known, was often assumed
to have found its authoritative expression. Scholars were the custodians
of this fixed fund; their task was to reconcile apparent contradiction
and, in the case of the most ambitious schoolmen, to set down in
their Summas the definitive balance sheet of man s comprehensive
of the universe.
As long as this conception of knowledge
hung over the universities, their role in society, however important,
was inevitably a relatively passive one. When Abelard, in the twelfth
century, said that the first key to wisdom is constant and frequent
interrogation; for by doubting we are led to question, and be questioning
we arrive at truth --this was the call of a heretic, and the University
of Paris was not long in expelling him.
More often than not, the atmosphere of
the universities of earlier centuries was one of rigid conservatism
and the sort of pettifogging pedantry which has given the word academic
its invidious overtones.
The great periods of intellectual ferment
in earlier Western history were usually inspired outside the orbit
of the universities, and against much academic opposition.
In the Renaissance, in the scientific revolution
of the seventeenth century, in the enlightenment of the eighteenth,
intellectual leadership passed to men who not only led their lives
outside the academic institutions but who often regarded academic
learning as sterile and old-fashioned.
If the universities did not originate great
intellectual changes, even less were they the mainspring in the
vast social and political transformations which made up historical
change. The universities may have been guardians of the past, but
the course of history was not set by the academicians. For thousands
of years, the history of mankind was shaped by prophets and visionaries,
by warriors and rulers. Faith and power, rather than abstract intellect,
provided the energies by which the societies rose and without which
they crumbled. Even the gigantic technological upswing of the West
was at first quite independent of science--indeed, it has been said
that during the first 200 years of modern science, from 1600 to
1800, science learned much from technology but taught it relatively
little. Merely to recall these things is to realize the extent of
the change which has taken place.
The world has changed--from an emphasis
on tradition to an emphasis on progress-- and the universities have
changed, albeit at first reluctantly, to become the architects of
progress instead of the protectors of tradition. In so changing,
their role in society has become ever more important.
Increasingly, the leading universities
of the world have absorbed functions of intellectual leadership,
and today we are all intensely aware of the link between intellect
and power, of the appalling urgency and historical significance
of our scientific and intellectual capabilities.
As the university in recent times has become
the undisputed headquarters of intellect, so has intellect invaded
all corners of society. I am not thinking merely of the role of
science in the modern world, for ours is also an age of ideologies.
As Lord Keynes said, more than 20 years
ago, and proved so well himself: The ideas of economists and political
philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong,
are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world
is ruled by little else.
In the eyes of the public, the actors in
the world arena may still be athletes and politicians, generals
and diplomats; but no one now can afford to ignore the class rooms,
the laboratories and the libraries which have become the small back
rooms where history is really made.
Of all the forces which have combined to
cast the university in this role, the principle one--which also
presents us with one of our greatest challenges for the future--is
the unbelievable acceleration in the accumulation of knowledge.
Professor Teller once suggested that in
each century since 1650 man has roughly doubled his knowledge of
the physical and biological universe; but even this may be a conservative
estimate. Not only is our knowledge growing, but we are putting
it to use in more ways than even the dreamers and visionaries of
the past could imagine.
Every facet of our society reflects its impact,
and we have become dependent upon a level of skill and a degree
of scientific training and knowledge which has the most profound
implications for us all, both as individuals and as a society. We
know so much that no one can know very much; for as there is more
to know each one of us grows relatively more ignorant. Even as a
society we are finding it difficult to digest and to store the torrent
of new knowledge. Our libraries are bursting under our eyes, and
it is no coincidence that much creative talent is being devoted
to the construction of electronic computing machines with copious
memories to facilitate storage of information as well as to handle
the administrative tasks which we are creating for ourselves. Looking
ahead, it seems to me that at least four paramount tasks present
themselves to the university in our society.
One is to continue to stimulate the quest
for knowledge. Another is to transmit our knowledge
to future generations. A third is to enable us to remain masters
of our knowledge, to prevent the complete fragmentation of our view
of ourselves, our society and our universe. The fourth and perhaps
most exacting is to assess the values which our knowledge should
enable us to serve.
Let me discuss each in turn. It is clear
that our welfare and our security, now and in the future, depend
intimately on our ability to continue our scientific and technological
progress. This alone would suffice to make the research work of
the university one of its central responsibilities, one which it
can not escape.
To be sure, the quest for knowledge is
not the monopoly of the universities, but they alone combine the
task of research with the basic training of the researchers, and
provide the environment, if not the salary, that attracts outstanding
men. In a recent survey, the major foundations and government research
agencies were asked to submit lists of the scientists below the
age of forty whom they considered most promising, whether located
in universities or industrial laboratories.
When a master list was compiled, it was
found that of the 225 persons nominated--by agencies whose crucial
business is to recognize talent--221 proved to be university members.
Our government's research program leans
heavily upon these scientists; and those branches of industry which
operates the frontier of knowledge and whose own research efforts
have contributed so much to our technological advance are now beginning
to locate their facilities in the convenient neighborhood of major
The university, with its libraries, its
laboratories, its training facilities, its faculty to consult, and
its disinterested flow of ideas, is becoming one of the principal
assets of our economy and our nation.
Scientific research is much in the limelight
these days. But many of our most urgent problems are of a different
nature. It is not only technical know-how that makes a modern society,
but above all organization in the most general sense.
Our efforts to help the so-called underdeveloped
areas of the world have brought home to us the enormous differences
between rigid societies where the very fabric of social life opposes
change and dynamic societies where the ceaseless adaptation to new
circumstances is relatively painless.
But even in our country, social change
is not without its difficulties. In this country the fabulous efficiency
of our economy has almost removed the curse of grinding poverty
under which mankind has hitherto labored; but the new abundance
itself creates new social problems.
The most important thing now may be not
to find new ways of making things, but to find new ways of living
together. Our architects and city planners are evolving new physical
patterns to fit the changing modes of family and community life.
Social scientists of all descriptions are
trying to analyze the implications of the increasing complexity
of our society. Biologists and medical research workers are joined
by psychologists and sociologists in our attempts to understand
and t meet the needs of the individual in his modern industrial
In all this work, the university has a
natural function and responsibility, for here, too, the role of
intellect has become indispensable.
The never ceasing flow of new ideas, in
all fields, is the lifeblood of our kind of society, and change
and movement is the way it achieves its dynamic equilibrium.
But scholarship does not exist only for
its application. The pursuit of knowledge and insight is perhaps
man s noblest adventure, and needs no other justification.
As all scholars know, rigorous intellectual
work is one of the most intense and rewarding forms of human experience,
and to subordinate everything to the demands of utility would be
to impoverish our lives.
When the conquest of space excites us,
it is not for its practical consequences, whatever they may be,
but for the human achievement it represents. To expand the boundaries
of our knowledge is simply one of our obligations to a civilization
based on reason.
The extension of knowledge, in its myriad
forms, is but one of our major obligations. We must also devote
the utmost skill to the education and training of the vast numbers
of highly skilled intellectual personnel without whom the machinery
of modern society could not operate.
This task alone--to transmit enough knowledge
to sufficiently many--presents a challenge to our educational system,
the full extent of which we have hardly yet explored.
A further kind of effort is also necessary if
we are to come to terms with the stupendous changes of today and
tomorrow. We must weave this new knowledge into the fabric of our
social lives and consciously subject it to our service.
We must face the problem of living with
a body of knowledge and learning which in its complexity and diversity
almost defies attempts at classification. Our knowledge is already
separating us, and specialists speak different languages, enigmatic
to colleagues in other fields and totally incomprehensible to laymen.
In part we must learn to accept this state of affairs; in part we
must strive to overcome it.
Unless educated men are able to perceive,
however dimly, the compass of human behavior, our knowledge will
become a tyrant and we shall be all at sea in a universe more utterly
meaningless than before we began to explore it.
Finally, there is a task even weightier than
the accumulating, the transmission, and the comprehension of knowledge.
In a century which by creating much has overthrown so much, men
of intellect everywhere have an obligation which they must not betray.
The philosophers and humanists of our universities
bear a large share of that burden, as creative and sensitive thinkers
and as teachers of our values and our heritage.
Whatever demands in the way of technical
training the age of science may make on the universities, we recognize
that education is more than information, and that the wisdom and
experience of the human condition which we have inherited are more
pertinent than ever in an era of drastic change.
The tradition of the humanities is a noble
one, based on a belief in the dignity and worth of the individual,
in understanding and tolerance. And more than anything else it is
the cement which binds our civilization together.
The future for which we are preparing need not
be the result of blind fate. It can be ours to make, and this is
the greatest challenge of all.
A people's image of the future may shape
its destiny: where the image is fearful and apprehensive, society
will be faltering and slow-moving; where it is confident and optimistic,
a society is capable of civilization. Intellectual and moral vision
can animate a culture, and without it all our scientific achievement
may be in vain.
In conclusion, the university over the
centuries has moved from its role as the guardian of the past to
that of the explorer of the future; and in this transition it has
become one of the great focal points of human endeavor.
To create new knowledge, to train the men
and women who can use this new knowledge, to make this knowledge
comprehensible and thus the servant rather than the master of men,
to help men know the values this knowledge should be made to serve--these
are the great tasks of the university in the advancing industrial
society that is sweeping around the world.
These are the tasks of the University of
California in an age when the worth of intellect is more apparent
than ever before--an age of the most fabulous unfolding of the human
mind in history.
This can be a truly Golden Age in the life
of the University of California during what may yet become a Golden
Age for mankind.
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