History of the University of California, Berkeley

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The history of the University of California, Berkeley can be traced to the establishment of the private College of California and its merger with the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College to form the University of California in 1868.


In 1866, the land that comprises the current Berkeley campus was purchased by the private College of California. Because it lacked sufficient funds to operate, it eventually merged with the state-run Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College to form the University of California. The university's charter was signed by California Governor Henry H. Haight on March 23, 1868. Professor John Le Conte was appointed interim president, serving until 1870 when the Board of Regents elected Henry Durant, the founder of the College of California.

The university opened in September 1869, using the former College of California's buildings in Oakland as a temporary home while the new campus underwent construction.[1]

In 1871, the Board of Regents stated that women should be admitted on an equal basis with men.[2]

With the completion of North and South Halls in 1873, the university relocated to its Berkeley location with 167 male and 22 female students.[3]

In 1874 the first woman graduated from the University of California; Rosa L. Scrivner[4] earned a Ph.B in Agriculture.[5] Elizabeth Bragg, the first woman to receive a degree in Civil Engineering from an American University, earned her degree at Berkeley in 1876.[6]

Early development[edit]

Postcard of Berkeley campus circa 1900

Starting in 1891, Phoebe Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, made several large gifts to Berkeley, endowing a number of programs, sponsoring an international architectural competition, and funding the construction of Hearst Memorial Mining Building and Hearst Hall. Levi Strauss was another notable donor in 1897.[7]

In 1899, the university came of age under the direction of Benjamin Ide Wheeler, who would be its president until 1919.

In 1905, the "University Farm" of Berkeley was formed near Sacramento, ultimately becoming UC Davis.

UC Berkeley's reputation grew as President Wheeler succeeded in attracting renowned faculty to the campus and procuring research and scholarship funds.[1]

The campus began to take on the look of a contemporary university with Beaux-Arts and neoclassical buildings, including California Memorial Stadium (1923) designed by architect John Galen Howard;[8] these buildings form the core of UC Berkeley's present campus architecture.

In the 1910s, Berkeley had a significant role in the Indian independence movement, when Indian students studying at the university took an active part in forming the radical Ghadar Party, especially in publishing its paper, the Hindustan Ghadar, beyond the reach of the British colonial police in India.

Robert Gordon Sproul assumed the presidency in 1930. During his tenure of 28 years, UC Berkeley gained international recognition as a major research university. Prior to taking office, Sproul took a six-month tour of other universities and colleges to study their educational and administrative methods and to establish connections through which he could draw talented faculty in the future.[9] The Great Depression and World War II led to funding cutbacks, but Sproul was able to maintain academic and research standards by campaigning for private funds. By 1942, the American Council on Education ranked UC Berkeley second only to Harvard University in the number of distinguished departments.[9]

Because the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College (a public institution formed in 1866) was created by the state legislature after it took advantage of the federal Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862, the first male undergraduates at the new University of California were required to serve two hours per week for four years being trained in tactics, dismounted drill, marksmanship, camp duty, military engineering, and fortifications. In exchange for California's share of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha), North Hall, which no longer exists, housed an armory. In 1904, the service requirement was dropped to two years, and in 1917, Cal's ROTC was established more or less as it exists today with ROTC programs for the four main branches of the military. The university president's report from 1902 states, "The University Cadets from last year numbered no less than 866. Appointments as second lieutenants in the regular army have been conferred upon several men who have distinguished themselves as officers in the University Cadets. It is very much to be hoped that the War Department will establish permanently the policy of offering such appointments to the graduates of each year who show the highest ability in military pursuits." Commander Chester W. Nimitz established the Naval ROTC at Cal in the fall of 1926. Transferred in June 1929, Captain Nimitz left a unit of 150 midshipmen enrolled with a staff of six commissioned and six petty officers.

World War II[edit]

Aerial view of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

During World War II, Ernest Orlando Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory in the hills above Berkeley began to contract with the U.S. Army to develop the atomic bomb, which would involve Berkeley's cutting-edge research in nuclear physics, including Glenn Seaborg's then-secret discovery of plutonium (Room 307 of Gilman Hall, where Seaborg discovered plutonium, would later be a National Historic Landmark). UC Berkeley physics professor J. Robert Oppenheimer was named scientific head of the Manhattan Project in 1942.[10][11] Along with the descendant of the Radiation Lab, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California originally managed and is now a partner in managing two other labs of similar age, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which were established in 1943 and 1952, respectively.

From 1943 to 1946, Berkeley was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission.[12]

The military increased its presence on campus to churn out recruits from the officer training corps. The army program took over Bowles Hall, a dormitory, and the naval program took over the International House, the Student Co-op Barrington Hall, and several fraternities for its trainees. By 1944, more than 1,000 navy personnel were studying at Cal, roughly one out of every four male Berkeley students. Former secretary of defense Robert McNamara and former Army chief of staff Frederick C. Weyand are both graduates of Cal's ROTC program. With the end of the war and the subsequent rise of student activism, the California Board of Regents succumbed to pressure from the student government and ended compulsory military training at Berkeley in 1962.

1950s and 1960s political influences[edit]

During the McCarthy era in 1949, the Board of Regents adopted an anti-communist loyalty oath to be signed by all University of California employees. A number of faculty members objected to the oath requirement and were dismissed;[13] ten years passed before they were reinstated with back pay.[14] One of them, the noted comparative psychologist Edward C. Tolman, is the namesake of a building on campus which houses the departments of psychology and education. An oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic" is still required of all UC employees who are American citizens.[15][16]

In 1952, the University of California became an entity separate from the Berkeley campus as part of a major restructuring of the UC system. Each campus was given relative autonomy and its own Chancellor. Sproul assumed the presidency of the entire University of California system, and Clark Kerr became the first Chancellor of UC Berkeley.[8]

1960s and the Free Speech Movement[edit]

Memorial Glade, at the center of the Berkeley campus
Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps, 1966

UC Berkeley's reputation for student activism was forged in the 1960s, beginning with the Free Speech Movement in 1964.[17] The area in front Sproul Plaza had traditionally been a free speech area analogous to Speakers corner in London's Hyde Park. The university administration banned all political activity on campus--especially speeches at the free speech area. This was met with an impromptu response called the Free Speech Movement, which eventually led to the formal establishment of students' freedom of expression. Student protests continued through the Vietnam War era in the 1960s, as campuses across the nation spoke out against American involvement in the war.

Perhaps the most publicized event in Berkeley was the People's Park protest in 1969, which was a conflict between the university and a number of Berkeley students and city residents over a plot of land on which the university intended to construct athletic fields. A grassroots effort by students and residents turned it into a community park, but after a few weeks, the university decided to reclaim control over the property. Law enforcement was sent in and the park was bulldozed, setting off a protest. California governor Ronald Reagan — who had said in his gubernatorial election campaign that he would clean up the perceived unruliness at Berkeley and other university campuses — called in National Guard troops and more violence erupted, resulting in over a dozen people hospitalized, a police officer stabbed, a bystander blinded, and the death of one student.[18] The university ultimately decided not to develop People's Park, though it remains the owner of the property.

Present day[edit]

Today, students at UC Berkeley are generally considered to be less politically active than their predecessors,[19] and far more liberal than the surrounding city of Berkeley. In a poll conducted in 2005, 51% of Berkeley freshmen considered themselves liberal, 37% considered themselves moderate, and 12% identified as conservative. 43.8% have no religious preference compared to a national average of 17.6%. In 1982, 20.8% identified as conservative, 32.9% identified as liberals, and 46.4% identified as moderate.[20] Although Republicans are in the minority, the Berkeley College Republicans is the largest political organization on campus.[21] Democrats outnumber Republicans on the faculty by a ratio of nine to one, leading to some conservative student criticism of the faculty for teaching with a liberal bias.[22]

Tightwad Hill

Although considered a liberal institution by some, various human and animal rights groups have protested the research conducted at Berkeley. Native American groups contend that the university's dismantling of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology's repatriation unit demonstrates unwillingness to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, while Berkeley officials say the museum's reorganization complies with the law and will involve all museum staff in the repatriation process.[23] Animal-rights activists have taken to committing various acts of vandalism and intimidation against faculty members whose research involves the use of animals.[24] Additionally, the university's response to a group of tree sitters protesting the construction of a new athletic center has galvanized some members of the local community, including the city council, against the university.[25] Plans to renovate Memorial Stadium in a way that would eliminate a view of the field from the surrounding hills also have encountered opposition from alumni and others who have regularly watched Cal football games for free.[26]

As of 2006, the 32,347-student university needed more capital investment just to maintain current infrastructure than any other campus in the UC system, but as its enrollment is at capacity, it often receives less state money for improvement projects than other, growing campuses in the system.[27] As state funding for higher education declines, Berkeley has increasingly turned to private sources to maintain basic research programs. In 2007, the oil giant BP donated $500 million to Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to establish a joint research laboratory to develop biofuels, the Hewlett Foundation gave $113 million to endow 100 faculty chairs, and Dow Chemical gave $10 million for a research program in sustainability to be overseen by a Dow executive.[28][29]

BP deal[edit]

The $500 million ten-year contract between UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and BP (formerly BP Amoco), one of the world's largest energy production companies, officially went into effect Wednesday November 14, 2007 following approval by a majority of the faculty.[30] The grant is the largest in the University's history. The deal has garnered criticism from some students and faculty who claim the agreement was negotiated in secret, and that it threatens Berkeley's reputation as an autonomous and democratic institution of higher learning.[citation needed] Supporters of the deal, on the other hand, assert that the infusion of capital from the venture will benefit the campus as a whole at a time when public universities are dealing with increasing cuts in State and Federal funding. They also point out that the BP deal focuses on developing alternative energy, an important issue in today's world.[31]

Nuclear physicist and BP Chief Scientist Steve Koonin began the process that led to BP's selection of Berkeley as a co-recipient of the grant.[30] Berkeley faculty and graduate students will aid BP scientists in designing and implementing genetically modified plants and microbes which can be used in the Bio-fuel industry. The deal is controversial among some UC Berkeley faculty, with some professors including Ignacio Chapela and Miguel Altieri who claim that the project will displace farmland needed for food crops in poor nations and replace them with patented crops owned by multinational corporations, and others including Randy Schekman speaking out in support of the deal.[32]

In March 2007 the UC Regents, who signed the deal, voted to build a new research facility to house the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), BP's chosen name for the project. University officials describe it as "the first public-private institution of this scale in the world".[30][33]


At the time of its founding, Berkeley was the first full-curriculum public university in the state of California and thus was known as the University of California. As occurred in other states with only a single major public university, University of California was frequently shortened to California or Cal, for ease of identification. Because the school's long sports tradition stretches back to an era before the founding of the other University of California branches, its athletic teams continue to be designated as California Golden Bears, Cal Bears, or simply, Cal. Andrew Gabrielson, a trustee of the College of California at its beginning, suggested that the college be named in honor of the Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley.[34]

As a reflection of the University of California's development into a multi-institutional university system, the term University of California is no longer applied to the campus outside of varsity sports; the official name is University of California, Berkeley. Informally, the campus is called UC Berkeley, Berkeley, or Cal. More specifically, the campus uses the terms in the following ways:[35]

  • "UC Berkeley" is the standard brand name for communications to the general public. The university's current brand identity standards call for "UC Berkeley" to be used in the first reference in any communication.
  • "Berkeley" is used in further references in any document in which "UC Berkeley" is used. In addition, according to the campus, "Berkeley is the academic expression of our brand and is used by colleges, schools and departments in official communications."
  • "Cal", according to the campus, "is the social expression and pet name for Berkeley. It is used by Cal Athletics, Cal Alumni Association and by development, student organizations and licensed products".

The term University of California has come to refer to the entire University of California system. The campus office for trademarks disallows the use of Cal Berkeley,[35] though it is occasionally used colloquially. Unlike most University of California campuses, which are commonly known by their initials, usage of UCB is discouraged (as is University of California at Berkeley, except in instances where use of the comma would cause confusion), and the domain name is berkeley.edu.[36] While ucb.edu and ucberkeley.edu are also registered by the school, they are not actively used.

Berkeley is sometimes confused with Berklee College of Music, a private music school in Boston, or Berkeley College, a private college with campuses in New York and New Jersey; it is not affiliated with either of these colleges.


  1. ^ a b UC Berkeley - About UC Berkeley - History Archived September 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Douglass, John Aubrey (2007). The Conditions for Admission: Access, Equity, and the Social Contract of Public Universities. Stanford University Press. p. 21. ISBN 9780804755597. 
  3. ^ "The Centennial of The University of California, 1868-1968". Retrieved June 10, 2016. 
  4. ^ Rosa L. Scrivner
  5. ^ Ph.B in Agriculture
  6. ^ "History of Women Engineers". All Together. 2018-03-07. Retrieved 2018-08-28. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Grace Powers (1898). Where to educate, 1898-1899. A guide to the best private schools, higher institutions of learning, etc., in the United States. Boston: Brown and Company. p. 10. Retrieved August 17, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Days of Cal | A Brief History of Cal: Part 2
  9. ^ a b University of California History Digital Archives
  10. ^ Manhattan Project Chronology | The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb | History of the Atomic Age | atomicarchive.com
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 4, 2007. Retrieved November 30, 2008. 
  12. ^ "Guide to the Navy V-12 program archives - University of California, Berkeley - 1943-1946" (PDF). Online Archive of California. 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  13. ^ The Loyalty Oath Controversy, University of California, 1949-1951
  14. ^ The Daily Californian[dead link]
  15. ^ "California Constitution: Article 20 Miscellaneous Subjects". California Legislative Information. Archived from the original on October 9, 2014. 
  16. ^ The Daily Californian
  17. ^ Days of Cal | Berkeley in the 60s
  18. ^ "Berkeley in the 60s". The Bancroft Library.  Ironically, People's Park remained an empty lot long after, and was eventually used by the university for other purposes.
    Jeffery Kahn (June 8, 2004). "Ronald Reagan launched political career using the Berkeley campus as a target". UC Berkeley News. 
  19. ^ Doty, Meriah (February 5, 2004). "Examining Berkeley's liberal legacy". CNN. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  20. ^ Powell, Bonnie Azab (January 24, 2005). "Berkeley freshmen are more liberal and less religious than their national counterparts - but survey finds their views are closer than labels suggest". UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  21. ^ Ilves, Luukas (November 10, 2006). "Stanford Republicans Revived". The Stanford Review. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  22. ^ Tierney, John (November 18, 2004). "Republicans Outnumbered in Academia, Studies Find". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  23. ^ Paddock, Richard (January 12, 2008). "UC Berkeley's bones of contention". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-01-13. [dead link]
  24. ^ Krupnik, Matt (January 11, 2008). "Animal rights activists protest at Cal". The Daily Argus. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  25. ^ McKinley, Jesse (September 7, 2007). "University Fences In a Berkeley Protest, and a New One Arises". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  26. ^ McKinley, Jesse (December 4, 2006). "Fighting to Save the Really Cheap Seats". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  27. ^ La Ganga, Maria L. (2006-10-28). "A money gap and a brain drain; UC Berkeley, long on reputation but short on funding, is losing talent". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  28. ^ Paddock, Richard C. (October 6, 2007). "Less to bank on at state universities". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 6, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2007. 
  29. ^ Schevitz, Tanya (October 31, 2007). "Cal given $10 million by Dow Chemical to work on sustainability". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  30. ^ a b c Brenneman, Richard (November 13, 2007). "UC Signs BP Contract". Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 2007-11-15. 
  31. ^ Burress, Charles (November 15, 2007). "UC Berkeley, BP finally sign contract for research project". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  32. ^ the laughing cow (April 24, 2007). "Partial recording of UC Berkeley academic senate deliberation on proposed BP deal". San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  33. ^ Sanders, Robert (November 14, 2007). "Energy Biosciences Institute contract signed" (Press release). UC Berkeley News. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  34. ^ Wollenberg, Charles (2002). "Chapter 2: Tale of Two Towns". Berkeley, A City in History. Berkeley Public Library. Archived from the original on June 12, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  35. ^ a b Editorial style guide (pdf); see also [1], [2]
  36. ^ "Brand Guidelines" (PDF). University of California, Berkeley. 2013. p. 20. 

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