One reason for Berkeley’s preeminence can be traced back to the quality of the teachers that it attracted during its earliest days, because faculty are the heart of any institution of higher education.
Fittingly, the first major gift to the University of California was an endowed chair of learning established as the Agassiz Professorship of Oriental Languages and Literature in 1872. Regent Edward Tompkins deeded 47 acres of land that was sold to yield $50,000 in gold coin — a gift that has grown to support four endowed chairs and that is valued at many millions of dollars today.
Over the years, Tompkins has been joined by hundreds of other benefactors who have chosen to support endowed chairs, recognizing them as an especially effective method of ensuring the strength of the university’s teaching and research.
None has made a greater impact than the 2007 gift from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which was established by entrepreneur William R. Hewlett, his wife, Flora Lamson Hewlett ’35, and their eldest son, Walter B. Hewlett. This landmark $110 million challenge gift — the largest single donation ever made to Berkeley — created 100 new faculty chairs at UC Berkeley and was completed in 2012, two years earlier than anticipated. In all, the challenge brought a total of $220 million to the university, greatly bolstering its efforts to retain and recruit top faculty.
Under the guiding influence of Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, the campus extended its tradition of access and excellence, partnering with another family of steadfast supporters. In 2010, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund made an exceptional commitment to advancing multidisciplinary research related to equity, inclusion, and diversity through a $16 million gift. It supported five faculty chairs and the Haas Diversity Research Center, which has become a national hub of innovative research and scholarship.
Other enduring programs aimed at nurturing promising young faculty include the Hellman Fellows. Established in 1995 by philanthropist Warren Hellman ’55 and his wife, Chris, this early-career fellowship program has nurtured nearly 400 junior faculty at Berkeley, many of whom have gone on to become groundbreaking leaders in their fields, both on campus and beyond.