The multicampus expansion of the University of California during the Sproul years created the need for a decentralized university administration. In the early 1950s, the campuses were granted more local autonomy, and Berkeley appointed its first chancellor, Clark Kerr Ph.D. ’39.
Kerr had joined the faculty in 1945 as an associate professor of industrial relations, and during the 1950 loyalty oath controversy he became a respected faculty leader. His background made him particularly well suited for the turbulent era ahead. In the meantime, Kerr created an administrative structure to support the new position of chancellor and developed a campus building plan that included the constructing of dormitories, the former Eshleman Hall, and a new, and much larger, student union.
Like the Stephens Memorial Union, the new student union attracted significant support from alumni and friends. The ballroom was named for Barbara McHenry Pauley ’36, whose husband, Regent Edwin W. Pauley ’23, made a lead gift, as did Regent Edward Hellman Heller ’21. Completed in 1961, the student union was later named to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
When President Sproul retired in 1958, Kerr was appointed president of the University of California system. In that capacity he was an architect of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California, calling for a three-tier system of two-year community colleges; four-year state universities focused on undergraduate education; and the University of California, emphasizing both undergraduate and graduate education and research. This plan created the largest and most successful public higher education system in history.
Both Berkeley and Kerr made headlines in 1964, when the Free Speech Movement erupted. The conflict over students’ right to conduct political activities on campus was resolved, but “the ’60s” had begun. Protests about civil rights, the Vietnam War, and other issues continued throughout the decade. As John Kenneth Galbraith M.S. ’33, Ph.D. ’34 observed about that time, “Berkeley is the most intense and political community in the world; perhaps, indeed, it is the nearest thing to a total university community in modern times. As such it would be silly to suppose it could be altogether tranquil.”