Genaro Padilla honored for outstanding diversity-related contributions

Painstaking work to support student diversity, not always adequately measured and recognized through the academic merit system, was front and center this week as Genaro Padilla, professor of English and associate dean of undergraduate advising in the College of Letters & Science, was given the Leon Henkin Citation for Distinguished Service. At a luncheon held Thursday at the Women’s Faculty Club, Padilla was honored for his efforts, during more than a quarter-century on campus, to promote access for underrepresented students and foster their success at Berkeley.

Genaro Padilla with co-chairs of the Academic Senate committee

Genaro Padilla, center, with Patricia Baquedano-Lopez and Charles Briggs, co-chairs of the Academic Senate Committee on Student Diversity and Academic Development.

“It is in his blood and everything he does,” Professor Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, said of Padilla’s diversity-related efforts.

“The adjective ‘monumental’ to describe his service is not hyperbole,” added Samuel Otter, English department chair, who nominated Padilla for the prestigious campus citation. Otter extolled Padilla’s “all-of-a-piece” record of diversity-related service, teaching and scholarship.

He cited, as example, Padilla’s extensive and influential scholarship on Chicano literature and culture, a decade-plus as vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs, his labor-intensive service as the English department’s faculty-equity officer and his key role in the launch and success of both the California College Preparatory Academy (the central Berkeley charter high school known as CAL Prep) and the George Miller Scholars Program, which assists community-college transfer students.

“The UC Berkeley community is extremely proud to have faculty of your character and caliber,” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a congratulatory message conveyed verbally to attendees by Professor Christina Maslach, Academic Senate vice chair.

Patricia Baquedano-López, associate professor of education, recalled how, soon after joining the Berkeley faculty, fresh out of graduate school, “I received an email from Genaro: ‘Are you free for coffee?'” The welcoming gesture — from an esteemed Latino scholar at that — was “very significant to me,” she recounted. “Genaro has always been there for faculty of color.”

The Henkin Citation is given annually by the Senate’s Committee on Student Diversity and Academic Development, in recognition of “exceptional commitment to the educational development of students from groups who are underrepresented in the academy.” An early recipient, Caroline Kane, now professor emerita, was among those present to honor the newest, as was Padilla’s wife, Maria, who serves in the campus’s Office of Campus Climate and Compliance.

Genaro Padilla was named head of undergraduate affairs in 1995, a year before passage of Proposition 209, which prohibited state-government institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in their work. In remarks following presentation of the Henkin plaque, he referred to the years following the passage of 209 as “one of the hardest periods” of his long career at Berkeley.

Undergraduate admissions “all at once” was forced to adopt “an almost entirely quantitative” formula that, he said, “literally pushed aside the aspirations of thousands of Latino and African American high school students” who hoped to attend Berkeley. Over a number of years, however, he and others succeeded in developing an admission process that now looks holistically at every applicant’s complete portfolio. “It was a major achievement of that period,” he recalled.

“Being a member of the faculty here at Berkeley is a blessing,” added Padilla. “I’ve long had a sense of commitment as a citizen to a place. If you live and work somewhere over a number of years, you’re just a citizen and you try to be helpful.”