The History of Cal

Part 2: Coming of Age, 1899 - 1952

Benjamin Ide Wheeler was President of Cal for 20 years, from 1899 until 1919. His presidency was the longest up to that point, and under his tenure Cal assumed the look and identity it has today. As President Gilman had predicted 25 years earlier, the protestant college and the agriculture school evolved into the modern research university.

Wheeler changed the fundamental landscape of the university. During his tenure the "Southern Branch" -- UCLA -- and other campuses were created or expanded; he brought dozens of world-renowned faculty to the university; the number of students and faculty went from 200 to the thousands. Phoebe Apperson Hearst funded a contest to create an architectural plan for a new campus. Cal architecture professor John Galen Howard became responsible for executing Frenchman Emile Bernard's winning plan, which was vastly too expensive as originally envisioned. Therefore Howard modified the plan and designed Doe Library, Sather Tower, Sather Gate, Dwinelle Hall, Wheeler Hall, and other structures. These grand beaux-arts and neo-classical buildings, now hallmarks of Berkeley, gave the new campus a pedigree of respectability and prestige.

Wheeler's methods of dealing with students and faculty were dramatically different from those of his predecessors. He treated students like adults, allowing them to govern themselves. Students could propose regulations, investigate student conduct violations, and elect their own government. The students lived up to the challenge, and the rowdy free spirits of the Gilded Age transformed into eager, serious students in the early decades of the twentieth century. Even by 1905, a student writing in a Cal yearbook could clearly contrast the differences in the student population: "If the history of the older University is ever written it will be as wild and rugged as the chronicle of the Angle and Saxon raids upon the British coast."

While giving students new and expanded freedoms, Wheeler simultaneously treated the faculty in the opposite way. He hired and fired professors himself, appointed all deans and department chairs, named all members of the faculty Senate's committees, and single-handedly wrote the University's budget. The faculty, disliking his "autocratic" ways towards them, forced him out after 20 years.

After the strictness of Wheeler's presidency, the faculty demanded more autonomy from President David Prescott Barrows than ever before. This "faculty revolt" expanded the powers of the faculty through increased participation in governance via the already-existing Academic Senate. Students, too, began their fight for free speech when the student editor of a campus magazine was expelled for printing sexual and sacrilegious material in 1925. Barrows was succeeded by William Wallace Campbell, who was blessed with a more-contented faculty. During both administrations, the university grew slowly but steadily, a pace which was quickened with Robert Gordon Sproul's appointment to the presidency in 1930.

Though Sproul was not an academic, he was the first alumnus to preside over the University. His long tenure of 28 years saw depression, war, and economic boom. While Wheeler built up the infrastructure, size, and duties of Cal, it was Sproul who transformed the University from a regional institution into an international, cosmopolitan center of research and learning. During his presidency, Sproul saved Berkeley from the despair and cutbacks of the depression and helped transform UCLA from a second-class satellite campus into a sister-institution to Cal. Sproul mobilized the campus to help fight the Second World War in every possible way, from student-officer training to laboratory research leading to the development of the atomic bomb. After the war he watched the campus balloon with returning G.I.s and millions of dollars in Federal research grants. Throughout these tumultuous decades, the reputation of the faculty and the level of research began to rival those of Berkeley's east-coast cousins.

This transformation wasn't seamless, however. Sproul's strident anti-communism and insistence on loyalty oaths for employees, for example, led to a faculty uproar in 1949. And the tremendous expansion of the University system impelled Sproul to cede power over the various campuses in 1952, naming Clark Kerr, a popular Industrial Relations Professor, as the first Chancellor of the Berkeley campus. Sproul continued as President of the University of California system until his retirement in 1958.

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