A president of enormous intellect and vision, Benjamin Ide Wheeler was a classical philologist who taught at Harvard and Cornell before he came west to lead the University of California. Describing his arrival in 1899, Wheeler remarked: “As it were in a night a college has grown here into the dimensions of a university.”
Over the next 20 years, with his guidance, the university continued to mature and grow. Wheeler understood well the dynamic between the state legislature, the university, and the public, and one of his great strengths arose from his ability to interpret their needs and interests to each other.
During his tenure, the student body increased from 2,600 to 7,380, and the faculty grew in number from 153 to 583. He believed that both students and faculty should play an active role in governing the university, and he fostered the students’ role in managing individual and collective discipline.
As John Galen Howard implemented the Hearst Architectural Plan, 11 new buildings were built, including Doe Memorial Library. The university’s curricula expanded to include nearly 20 new departments, and programs such as summer session and University Extension flourished. Precursors of other UC campuses, such as the Citrus Experiment Station at Riverside, the University Farm at Davis, and the Hooper Foundation for medical research in San Francisco, also date from these years.
Wheeler was a gregarious man and his range of acquaintance ran from Cal students to five United States presidents. He cultivated some of the university’s most important benefactors, particularly three influential, strong-minded women who became his friends — Jane K. Sather, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and Annie Montague Alexander.
Wheeler believed that there should be no boundaries between the teacher and the taught, the governing and the governed, research and instruction — that the university was one organic whole. Thus he established an ideal for the university that continues to guide its development to this day.