Visionaries At Berkeley, Syracuse Honored With Top Educator’s Prize

Grantees in this story

ROBERT BIRGENEAU, NANCY CANTOR, CHAMPIONS OF EXCELLENCE AND EQUITY IN EDUCATION, WIN $500,000 CARNEGIE CORPORATION ACADEMIC LEADERSHIP AWARD

The 2008 Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award honors two innovators—Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and Nancy Cantor, Chancellor and President of Syracuse University—whose commitments to equity, access to an affordable education, curricular innovations and excellent liberal arts instruction are preparing students to exceed in a global era. The awards were announced today by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award annually celebrates outstanding individuals whose uncompromising commitment to academic excellence and bold, visionary leadership are establishing new standards for U.S. higher education. Honorees are reviewed and approved by a committee of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s board of trustees. Berkeley and Syracuse will each receive a grant of $500,000 to be used for the express purpose, and at the discretion, of the respective winners to fund work that contributes to each one’s academic priorities.

“With intellectual ferocity, creativity and sheer will, Robert Birgeneau and Nancy Cantor have created for their students an even deeper, more engaging academic experience aimed not just at sustaining America’s world-class system of higher education, but transforming it to equip students for success in a global knowledge economy,” said Vartan Gregorian. “Recognizing that higher education is for many families the gateway to the American Dream—the principal means of achieving social mobility—Birgeneau and Cantor have each implemented programs in their respective communities to improve college readiness.” Gregorian also added that this year’s winners continue to advocate for increased access to quality higher education regardless of socioeconomic status.

The Award recognizes leaders of institutions of higher education who have an abiding commitment to liberal arts and who have initiated and supported curricular innovations, including development of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary programs that aim to bridge the gulf between the theoretical and the practical. In addition, the award honors leadership that actively supports K-12 school reform, strengthens teacher education and emphasizes community outreach.

2008 Academic Leadership Award winners:

Nancy Cantor, Chancellor and President of Syracuse University, has elevated the national reputation of Syracuse University through her ambitious “Scholarship in Action” campaign to build upon the school’s scholarly distinction; access and support the best students from all socio-economic and cultural spheres; and better engage with the surrounding community, the nation and the world. Her efforts have played a key role in improving relations with the surrounding community and spearheading badly needed economic development in Central New York. A recognized scholar in social psychology and an advocate for racial justice and diversity in higher education, her accomplishments include helping to found Imagining America, an initiative now hosted by Syracuse University that involves a consortium of 80 colleges and universities whose mission is to strengthen the public role and democratic purposes of the humanities, arts and design. President Cantor’s commitment to diversity in higher education was illustrated by her involvement, while at the University of Michigan, in the defense of affirmative action in the cases Gutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, decided by the Supreme Court in 2004. She has also been a key force in the Partnership for Better Education, an alliance between Syracuse University and the Syracuse City School District to assist area high school students in pursuing higher education by providing new opportunities for quality instruction in the arts, literacy, science and technology, engineering and math.

Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, an internationally distinguished physicist, is well known for his commitment to student and faculty diversity and equity in the academic community. Starting with a landmark study he commissioned when dean of sciences at MIT, he has been a nationally prominent advocate for improving opportunities for women faculty in the sciences. At UC Berkeley, he has introduced important initiatives to focus on international challenges such as global poverty, climate change, and multi-cultural societies and has built strong links with the surrounding community. Birgeneau has emerged as a leading spokesman for public higher education and the importance of ensuring America's young people have access to the best education available. He is a champion for maintaining affordability —particularly to families of limited means— noting that public universities, which educate the majority of the nation’s undergraduates, lack the substantial endowments and other financial resources available to private institutions. In a related effort, Chancellor Birgeneau has advocated on behalf of undocumented students who have completed secondary education in U.S. schools but are barred from receiving the financial aid necessary to continue their education. In a testament to his efforts to equip public universities to compete effectively with private institutions, the university received the largest grant in its history: the $110 million Hewlett Foundation Challenge, designed to ensure the development and retention of top-level faculty by endowing eighty chairs and twenty “distinguished” chairs spanning multiple academic areas. In addition, Chancellor Birgeneau has helped to develop and expand several strategic programs aimed at students from challenging backgrounds, including the incentive awards program, which provides a full scholarship as well as support services to low-income students who have demonstrated leadership potential and academic excellence. Other initiatives Chancellor Birgeneau has spearheaded include cal prep, a new charter school collaborative between the Berkeley campus and aspire public schools, designed to immerse students in a culture of high academic expectations, improve their preparation for college and develop a model teaching curricula for college readiness.

The annual Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award, established in 2005, was initially awarded every two years. Previous winners are: Jared Cohon, President of Carnegie Mellon University (2005); Henry S. Bienen, President of Northwestern University (2005); Don Randel, former President of the University of Chicago (2005); and Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor of the City University of New York (2007).

The Academic Leadership Award is not simply an award: it is also an investment in leadership by the Corporation and builds on the foundation's long tradition of developing and recognizing leadership in higher education. In the Carnegie Quarterly of April 1959, published during the presidency of John Gardner, the strength of the Corporation's grants program was described as seeking to be “as responsive as possible to the expressed concerns of college and university leaders” and to “lend itself to the kinds of giving which will strengthen the institution in terms which the president considers necessary.” The reestablishment of this award for academic leadership renews and continues a Carnegie Corporation higher education tradition. The selection process is initiated by the Corporation and does not depend on external nominators or recommendations.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”