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Campus completes landmark Hewlett Challenge — more than two years ahead of schedule

The largest private gift ever to UC Berkeley — a $113 million dollar-for-dollar challenge gift in 2007 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — has inspired a sweeping number of donations and led to creation of 100 new endowed chairs. The campus has exceeded its own expectations in completing the Hewlett Challenge more than two years ahead of schedule, Chancellor Birgeneau announced Nov. 5.

Walter Hewlett

In the last five years, UC Berkeley has created 100 new endowed faculty chairs as part of an unprecedented challenge begun in 2007 when it received $113 million, the largest private gift in its history, from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau announced today that the campus has exceeded its own expectations in completing the Hewlett Challenge more than two years ahead of schedule. The dollar-for-dollar challenge inspired a sweeping number of donors to give, resulting in more than $220 million in endowments for faculty chairholders and their departments and students.

Walter Hewlett leading the Cal Band in a song at the celebration marking the close of the Hewlett Challenge. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

“The success of the Hewlett Challenge makes me very confident about the future of our great University,” said Birgeneau, in a statement to the campus community. “On behalf of the many faculty and students who will benefit from the extraordinary generosity of the Hewlett Foundation and the outpouring of support from our alumni and friends who stepped up to the challenge, I express my deepest and most sincere gratitude.”

The benefits for the campus will be wide-ranging and grow for generations as endowment income, leaving a legacy that will be long associated with the leadership of the departing chancellor, who plans to return to teaching and research in the departments of physics and of materials science and engineering in the spring.

Of the 100 chairs established, the 69 appointed to date have already made a difference. Funds from the chairs have been used in a variety of ways across the campus, from teaching and research by distinguished faculty to support for academic departments and students, as illustrated by this broad overview:

  • Highly efficient and culturally appropriate cook stoves were designed and tested, and tens of thousands have been distributed to Sudan’s war-torn region of Darfur, and an affordable water treatment technology was invented, devised and tested to reduce the dangerously high level of naturally occurring arsenic in the drinking water in Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Safe Water and Sanitation funded these innovations.
  • Students in Renaissance studies meet with visiting scholars in a seminar format, receive competitive graduate fellowships, and have access to money-saving online readings and resources through the Katharine Bixby Hotchkis Chair in English.
  • Financial aid for multimedia student assistants and vital support for courses in the Graduate School of Journalism are available to students with funds from the Bloomberg Chair.
  • Undergraduate and graduate students interested in economic theory have received mentoring, and support has been provided for a course that prepares students for the mathematics required in parts of the graduate economics curriculum, thanks to the Richard and Lisa Steiny Chair in Economics.  

In many cases, chairs have provided funding that makes it possible for faculty to attract the best students and to finance and test new technologies in the field. 

“This is such an inspired gift,” said Victoria Kahn, a scholar of the Renaissance in the early modern period who holds the Katharine Bixby Hotchkis Chair in English. “It has improved my life and the lives of my two departments and graduate students measurably.”

“If I couldn’t use the money to support graduate students and to improve the intellectual life of my department, Berkeley would be a less desirable place to be,” Kahn said, adding that UC Berkeley’s status as a public institution and the quality of its students are compelling reasons for her to stay. “I am thankful to the vision of this particular donor who understands the importance of the humanities to the life of the campus and society.”

For Ashok Gadgil, his chair has helped him recently to attract the very best graduate students — six of the students working with him are or were National Science Foundation fellows who could have gone anywhere to do their research, but chose Berkeley. The funds are making it possible for him to pursue projects that improve the lives of the poorest people on the planet.

A physicist whose work touches on diverse areas designed to alleviate poverty and human suffering, Gadgil holds the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Safe Water and Sanitation. In addition to serving as a professor in civil and environmental engineering, he is also director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The chair provides validation and recognition that engineering innovation and world-class technology can be used to improve the lives of people at the bottom of the economic order,” said Gadgil. “It also aligns with the university’s bigger vision to produce leaders and to apply our intellectual energy and intellectual prowess in such a diverse range of areas toward making a better world.”

For donors, the Hewlett Challenge provided a strong motivation to support Berkeley, and the campus made the case that attracting and retaining a strong faculty is key to ensuring the university’s global academic leadership.

When the challenge began in 2007, campus officials estimated that it would take at least seven years for sufficient donors to match all the funds. Beating this timetable, enough alumni and friends had responded by the start of the fall semester with individual gifts of $1 million to $1.5 million each to endow the 100 chairs, which are spread across the campus.

In addition to the $110 million matching grant, the Hewlett Foundation also earmarked $3 million in 2007 for setting up a professional infrastructure to manage the university’s endowment and ensure its strong stewardship. This allowed the UC Berkeley Foundation to create a nonprofit subsidiary, the Berkeley Endowment Management Company, to oversee the investment of endowment funds given in support of UC Berkeley’s mission of teaching, research and public service.

The Hewlett Challenge has been a signature success of The Campaign for Berkeley, which has raised more than $2.6 billion so far toward its goal of $3 billion to support UC Berkeley’s students, faculty, research and programs.