Press Release

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Launches Initiative to Address Challenges to Public Higher Education


Robert J. Birgeneau to Lead American Academy Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. and BERKELEY, Calif. – The American Academy of Arts and Sciences today announced at the University of California, Berkeley, a new initiative – The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education – to advocate for the importance of public colleges and universities. As key engines of economic growth, innovation, and upward mobility, these schools are facing fundamental challenges from cutbacks in government support, competition from for-profit education providers and foreign universities, and emerging technological changes.

The American Academy also announced that UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau has agreed to lead the project and will be a Senior Visiting Scholar at the Academy when he steps down as chancellor on June 1. Birgeneau will also return to teaching and research at UC Berkeley after nine years of service as chancellor.

The Lincoln Project is named for President Abraham Lincoln to commemorate his role in signing in 1862 the Morrill Act, which laid the groundwork for the nation’s unparalleled public university system. An overarching goal of the project will be to assess the implications of the forces that threaten public higher education and to develop recommendations to preserve the strength and diversity of colleges and universities. The initiative will engage state and federal policymakers, elected officials, university and business leaders, philanthropists, learned societies, and ultimately, the broad public. It will reinforce the work of other organizations and advocacy groups concerned with these issues.

“Chancellor Birgeneau is a dynamic and highly respected leader in higher education, having led key public universities – the University of Toronto in Canada and UC Berkeley in the U.S.,” said American Academy President Leslie C. Berlowitz. “He has been outspoken about the right of all qualified students to have access to excellence at our public colleges and universities.” Birgeneau has launched initiatives at UC Berkeley that are models for public colleges and universities elsewhere, including a grant-based financial aid plan for middle class families and scholarships and support for undocumented students.

Berlowitz made the announcement during the Academy symposium, “The Benefit of Public Investment in Higher Education: California and Beyond,” that is being held today at UC Berkeley in honor of Birgeneau, one of the panelists. Other participants include Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Henry E. Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy; and Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co.

“Public disinvestment and escalating costs are increasingly threatening our vaunted system of public higher education,” Birgeneau said. “Without bold steps to stabilize the financial model of our public universities, hundreds of thousands of deserving students will be denied access to a better life and the country’s ability to innovate, create jobs, and support a strong economy will be severely compromised.” He added that as an independent, nonpartisan, and cross-institutional organization, the American Academy is ideally suited to sponsor such a study.

“America’s system of higher education, both public and private, has long given America a decisive competitive advantage in the global economy,” Berlowitz said. “Public universities have provided a special pathway for immigrants and new generations of learners in America. Today, the ability of the system to maintain high quality and access for all qualified applicants is at risk.”

The Academy has assembled a group of senior advisors to guide the initiative. Confirmed participants include Lawrence S. Bacow, former president of Tufts University; Gene Block, chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles; Henry E. Brady, dean of Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy; Nancy E. Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse University; John T. Casteen III, former president of the University of Virginia; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of The City University of New York; Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co.; William Powers, Jr. , president of the University of Texas at Austin; Gerald Rosenfeld, Senior Advisor and Vice Chairman of U.S. Investment Banking at Lazard Ltd.; and Frank D. Yeary, chairman of CamberView Partners LLC.

The Academy will organize a series of national conferences and engage leaders in government and industry who influence education policy at the state, federal, and institutional levels. The Academy has received initial support for the planned three-year project from public and private sources.

About the American Academy of Arts & Sciences: Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on the humanities, arts, and higher education; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.

About Robert J. Birgeneau: Appointed Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley in 2004, he also holds faculty appointments in the Departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering. He is an internationally distinguished physicist and well known for his commitment to diversity and equity in higher education. Previously, he served as President of the University of Toronto and Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent twenty-five years on the faculty. He is the recipient of many awards for teaching and for his research on the fundamental properties of materials. He is a Fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the American Philosophical Society. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.

About Leslie C. Berlowitz: The President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she also holds the William T. Golden Chair. She has led the Academy since 1996 and previously was former Vice President for Academic Advancement at New York University. She has served on advisory boards of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation of Yaddo, the National Humanities Alliance, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among others. Her publications include America in Theory (Oxford University Press, 1988) with Denis Donoghue and Louis Menand; Greenwich Village: Culture and Counterculture (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1990); Restoring Trust in American Business (MIT Press, 2005) with Jay W. Lorsch and Andy Zelleke; and Reflecting on the Humanities, Daedalus (MIT Press, 2009) with Patricia Meyer Spacks. Awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by Northeastern University in May of 2011, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2004.