Photo of Robert Birgeneau
Photo by John Blaustein

Robert Birgeneau: Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley from 2004 - 2013 from Oral Histories on the Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley: 1960 - 2014.

Conducted by John Cummins in 2014, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.

Robert Birgeneau was Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley from 2004 - 2013. During his term as Chancellor, the University experienced the worst financial crisis in its history following the Great Recession of 2008. This enormous challenge brought with it large student protests over tuition increases, the need to streamline the campus bureaucracy and to create a new long-term financial model for the campus. His leadership during this period enabled Berkeley to maintain its standing as one of the greatest universities in the world. Despite the economic downturn, Birgeneau successfully completed the largest capital campaign in the history of the campus, totaling more than $3 billion. He relentlessly championed the needs of the underprivileged and the importance of access and diversity.

Birgeneau's recollections of this critical period in the University's history will be documented in his oral history, soon to be underway. The management of intercollegiate athletics also became a controversial, hot button issue during his term. Long standing budget challenges led him to cut five sports and then reinstate them when private donations were forthcoming. He was also responsible for the construction of the Simpson Student Athlete High Performance Center and the renovation of Memorial Stadium. His reflections on those and related events are documented in this oral history conducted by John Cummins, Associate Chancellor Emeritus, as part of a larger oral history project on the management of intercollegiate athletics at Cal from the 1960s to 2014.

Project History
This interview is part of the larger oral history project: Oral Histories on the Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley: 1960 – 2014. The project includes approximately seventy interviews conducted from 2009-2014 by John Cummins, Associate Chancellor - Chief of Staff, Emeritus who worked under Chancellors Heyman, Tien, Berdahl and Birgeneau from 1984 - 2008. Intercollegiate Athletics reported to him from 2004 - 2006. The purpose of the project is to explore the history of the management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley from the 1960s to the present. The interviews are with a cross sampling of individuals who played key roles in the management of intercollegiate athletics over that period of time: Chancellors, Athletic Directors, senior administrators, Faculty Athletic Representatives, other key faculty members, directors of the Recreational Sports Program, alumni/donors, administrators in the Athletic Study Center, and others.

A publication of the results is underway and will be co- authored by Cummins and Kirsten Hextrum, a PhD student in the Graduate School of Education, a member and two-time national champion of Cal Women's Crew from 2003 - 2007, and a tutor/adviser in the Athletic Study Center since 2009. This paper addresses administrative and management issues that typically concern those responsible for the conduct of a Division I-A intercollegiate athletics program. It assumes that such a program will continue for many years to come and that it provides important benefits for the Cal community. Its focus is principally with the market driven, multi-billion dollar phenomenon of the big-time sports of Men's football and basketball, their development over time and their intersection with the academic world. The Olympic or non-revenue sports at UC Berkeley more closely resemble the amateur intercollegiate ideal with high graduation rates and successful programs. Even these sports programs, however, are gradually being pulled into the more highly commercialized model.

In November of 2013, Cummins and Hextrum published the white paper, The Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC: Turning Points and Consequences, which is available online.

On September 26, 2014, the Final Report and Recommendations from Chancellor’s Task Force on Athletics and Academics issued its report, which is available online.

Additional project oral history transcripts will be released in 2015.

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