UCOP > A Brief History of the University of California > The University Builders >

President Wheeler

The Faculty Revolution

Growth of the Campuses

The Modern University

President Sproul

The Loyalty Oath

Progress and Problems

The Chancellorship

The Multiversity

Achievements of the 1960s


Chapter 17: The Multiversity

Clark Kerr (1958-67) was the first UC President who had also been a Chancellor. He brought a new perspective to the leadership of the University, shaped not only by his experience as a chief campus officer but also by his years as a professor of economics and labor relations on the Berkeley campus, a labor mediator, and head of the campus's Institute of Industrial Relations. Kerr had a singular ability to look at mountains of information and discern patterns and trends where others saw only a jumble of unrelated facts and statistics. He was a particularly acute observer of higher education. In his Godkin Lectures, delivered at Harvard University in 1963, he presented a magisterial view of the American research university at midcentury. The traditional university of the past, he said, had been succeeded by a new kind of institution-the multiversity:

The University started as a single community-a community of masters and students. It may even be said to have had a soul in the sense of a central animating principle. Today the large American university is, rather, a whole series of communities and activities held together by a common name, a common governing board, and related purposes. This great transformation is regretted by some, accepted by many, gloried in, as yet, by few. But it should be understood by all.12

The fragmentation of the university into the many-purposed multiversity served the needs of postwar society, in which knowledge was growing exponentially and becoming a vital economic commodity. The research university, connected at multiplying points to government and industry, was thrust into new responsibilities that it was more than willing to accept.

The price for the university—its growing impersonality and loss of community—was balanced by the exuberant energy and sheer productivity of this new entity, which had "no living peers in the search for new knowledge; and no peers in all history in serving so many of the segments of an advancing civilization." Kerr described the progress of the American multiversity in a way that united admiration with unease:

The multiversity has demonstrated how adaptive it can be to new opportunities for creativity; how responsive to money; how eagerly it can play a new and useful role; how fast it can change while pretending that nothing has happened at all; how fast it can neglect some of its ancient virtues.13

One observation was to ring with special meaning a few years later: "The multiversity is a confusing place for the student. He has problems of establishing his identity and sense of security within it. . . . The casualty rate is high. The walking wounded are many."14


12. Clark Kerr, "The Idea of a Multiversity," The Uses of the University (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), p. 1.

13. Kerr, p. 45.

14. Kerr, p. 42.



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Last updated 09/29/05.