Robert J. Birgeneau

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Robert J. Birgeneau
Birgeneau in May 2016.
9th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
In office
Preceded byRobert Berdahl
Succeeded byNicholas Dirks
14th President of the University of Toronto
In office
ChancellorHal Jackman
Vivienne Poy
Preceded byRobert Prichard
Succeeded byDavid Naylor
Personal details
Robert Joseph Birgeneau

(1942-03-25) March 25, 1942 (age 82)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
SpouseMary Catherine Birgeneau
Residence(s)Berkeley, California, U.S.
EducationSt Michael's College, Toronto
Yale University
AwardsFounders Award, American Academy of Arts & Sciences[2]
Scientific career
ThesisMagnetic interactions in rare earth insulators (1967)
Doctoral advisorWerner P. Wolf
Doctoral students

Robert Joseph Birgeneau (born March 25, 1942) is a Canadian-American[3] physicist and university administrator. He was the ninth chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley from 2004–13, and the fourteenth president of the University of Toronto from 2000-04.


The first from his family to finish high school, Birgeneau graduated from St. Michael's College School in Toronto. He received a B.Sc in mathematics in 1963 from St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto, where he also met his wife Mary Catherine; they have four children.[4] Birgeneau received his Ph.D in physics from Yale University in 1966 for thesis titled Magnetic Interactions in Rare-Earth Insulators under the supervision of Werner P. Wolf.[5]

He spent a year each on the faculties of Yale and the University of Oxford. From 1968 to 1975, he worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories.


He then joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a professor of physics. During his 25 years at MIT, he served as Chair of the Physics Department and ultimately as Dean of Science.

University of Toronto[edit]

He was then appointed to serve as the President of the University of Toronto, a role he held from 2000 to 2004. Birgeneau appointed Shirley Neuman as Vice President and Provost (chief academic officer) in July 2002, but she resigned on February 2, 2004, after just 19 months on the post. It was reported that Neuman’s head-strong approach alienated her from colleagues and students, and there were also tensions between Birgeneau and herself.[6][7][8][9]

He left the University of Toronto after only four years of his term (despite the fact that his five-year term had been extended to seven years on his own request), causing a flurry of controversy with his abrupt departure.

UC Berkeley[edit]

He was recommended to the UC Board of Regents by Robert Dynes, then President of the UC system and a former colleague of Birgeneau when both worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Birgeneau has used his platform as Chancellor to make contributions to several political debates. On June 14, 2007, Birgeneau joined the President of Columbia University in condemning Britain's University and College Union for boycotting Israeli academics and academic institutions and insisting that any boycott include their universities.[10] Citing the "likely" threat to California's academic competitiveness if Proposition 8 were passed, Birgeneau urged the UC Berkeley community to vote against a 2008 state ballot measure which would eliminate the right of gays and lesbians to marry.[11] During the 2011-2012 academic year, he sent campus wide messages in support of the California Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to qualify for financial aid, the reform of Proposition 13, which would close corporate property tax loopholes passed by voters in the late 1970s and reallocate that funding to social services, including higher education, and the repeal of Proposition 209, which would reenact affirmative action and significantly increase diversity in the nation's public higher education institutions.

Also during the 2011-2012 academic year, Birgeneau unveiled Berkeley MCAP, the Middle Class Access Plan, a new financial aid model that caps the total annual cost of an eligible students' education - from tuition and fees to expenses including room, board and books - at 15 percent of the family's total income. Families with incomes from $80,000 to $140,000 and assets typical of that range are eligible for the program, which will provide grants beginning with the fall 2012 semester. While the UC-wide Blue and Gold program aids lower-income families, this is the first program of its kind in the system to benefit the middle class. It also served as impetus for the statewide Middle Class Scholarship program, announced by California Assembly Speaker John Perez.

Birgeneau was succeeded by Nicholas Dirks as chancellor of UC Berkeley on June 1, 2013.[12]


  1. ^ Incoming chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau pledges to increase accessibility, funding for UC Berkeley
  2. ^ "Prizes".
  3. ^ Robert J. Birgeneau
  4. ^ "Robert J. Birgeneau Appointed UC Berkeley Chancellor" (Press release). University of California. July 27, 2004. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  5. ^ Birgeneau, Robert Joseph (1967). Magnetic interactions in rare earth insulators (Ph.D.). Yale University. OCLC 702754522 – via ProQuest.
  6. ^ Humes-Schulz, Lisa (August 2, 2004). "University of Toronto Vexed by Birgeneau's Exit".
  7. ^ "Our New Provost - Shirley Neuman". University of Toronto Magazine. Autumn 2002.
  8. ^ Holloway, Kelly (April 15, 2002). "U of T's new provost has a mixed past". The Varsity.
  9. ^ Kennedy, Ryan (February 2, 2004). "Shocker: Provost resigns from office". The Varsity.
  10. ^ Birgeneau, Robert J. (June 14, 2007). "Statement from UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau in response to British faculty union's proposed action against Israeli universities". University of California, Berkeley (Press release).
  11. ^ Birgeneau, Robert J. (2008-10-22). "Chancellor Birgeneau informs campus of likely impacts of Proposition 8". University of California, Berkeley (Press release). Retrieved 2008-10-29.
  12. ^ "Chancellor Dirks - Biography". Office of the Chancellor. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 15 July 2013.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by President of the University of Toronto
2000 – 2004
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley
2004 – 2013
Succeeded by