David Pierpont Gardner Biography

President of Two Universities

David Pierpont Gardner served from 1973 to 1983 as the president of the University of Utah, where he was also a professor of higher education. In 1983, he was appointed as president of the University of California and as a professor of higher education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served until 1992. 

At the beginning of his presidency in 1983, Dr. Gardner found a University of California that was still suffering from an era marked by student protests and diminishing public support. Relations with the governor and legislature had deteriorated, morale within the university was low, and there was no expectation for enrollment increases during the coming decade.  Thus in his first year as president, Dr. Gardner proposed and then persuaded the new governor, George Deukmejian, and the legislature to approve a permanent 32 percent increase in the University’s state-funded operating budget, thus recapturing in a single year the percentage of state funds lost during the preceding sixteen years. What followed was a period of significant growth and achievement, during which enrollment also unexpectedly grew by 25,500 students to 166,500.

Background and Early Career

A native of Berkeley and graduate of Berkeley’s public schools, Dr. Gardner received his B.S., majoring in political science, history and geography, from Brigham Young University.  Following service for two years in the United States Army, stationed in Korea and Japan, he took up graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his M.A. in political science in 1959 and Ph.D. in higher education in 1966.  During his graduate school years, he also served as assistant to the chief executive officer of the California Farm Bureau Federation.  Subsequently, from 1960 to 1964, he held positions in the California Alumni Association as field and scholarship director, then as the first director of the California Alumni Foundation.  His doctoral dissertation on the University of California loyalty oath controversy became the classic book, The California Oath Controversy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). 

From 1964 to 1970, Dr. Gardner served the University of California, Santa Barbara as a faculty member and vice chancellor responsible for all aspects of external relations during a tumultuous era of culture wars, ethnic divisions, and anti-Vietnam-war protests.  From 1971 to 1973, Dr. Gardner joined the University of California Office of the President as Vice President for the Extended University and Public Service Programs.  The idea of the Extended University was to enroll adult part-time students in University of California degree programs at places and times convenient to them.  He was also University Dean of University Extension.

President, University of Utah

Beginning in 1973, Dr. Gardner served for ten years as the 10th President of the University of Utah, where he was also a professor of higher education.  Immediate challenges included improving relations with the governor; for example, among other matters, the governor had proposed eliminating faculty tenure in Utah’s public colleges and universities, but withdrew the proposal at Dr. Gardner’s urging.  Dr. Gardner also succeeded in reestablishing a working relationship with the state legislature that checked the downward trend in state funding for the University.  Under his leadership, the University established more rigorous undergraduate admission standards; enrollments in the health sciences grew; the University’s research, graduate and professional programs expanded; and major new initiatives were undertaken, for example, in genetics research and in development and implantation of the world’s first artificial heart.  During 1973 to 1982, the University also saw major additions to its capital facilities.  From 1981 to 1983, Dr. Gardner also chaired the U.S. Department of Education’s National Commission on Excellence in Education.  Its influential 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, helped spark a nationwide effort to improve and reform schooling in the United States and was supported by then-President Ronald Reagan and later by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

President, University of California

 As 15th President of the University of California from 1983 to 1992, Dr. Gardner successfully led the university through periods of intense controversy over affirmative action, animal rights, AIDS research, management of weapons laboratories at Livermore and Los Alamos, divestment of University-owned securities with holdings in South Africa, issues of free speech, and a disagreement with the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG).  At the same time, the University engaged in the largest building program in its history--$3.7 billion in capital projects, funded by both public and private sources. Restoration of the state operating budget, as noted above, made possible a series of University-wide initiatives, among them, expanded support for research in the humanities, building of the world’s largest optical telescope and the associated Keck Observatories in cooperation with the California Institute of Technology, improvements in undergraduate education, increased opportunities for minorities entering as freshmen and for women and minorities seeking graduate and professional school admission, and a dramatic increase in the University of California’s Education Abroad Program as well as international programs focused on California’s Pacific Rim neighbors in Asia and Latin America, among others.  Private and public funding, and funding for University research increased substantially.  To help meet a projected increase in enrollment demand of 60,000 more students by the year 2005, the University began planning a tenth campus, the result of which was the opening of the University of California, Merced, in 2005.  In 1992, however, the state's budget crisis required that Dr. Gardner impose an eight-point program--including salary freezes, student fee increases, and an early retirement program for faculty and staff--to meet $300 million in budget cuts.  Dr. Gardner resigned in 1992 following the illness and death of his wife Libby in 1991.  He held the third longest tenure of the University of California's presidents, behind Benjamin Ide Wheeler and Robert Gordon Sproul.

Foundation Leadership: From 1993 to 1999, Dr. Gardner served as President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  In addition, from 1992 to 2004 he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which he chaired from 2001 to 2004.  During those years, on a site near the University of California, Los Angeles campus, the J. Paul Getty Center was built to house a major museum and research and conservation institutes; and the Getty Villa Museum in nearby Malibu was renovated. 

Other Involvement in Higher Education

  In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Dr. Gardner served as an advisor to the Planning Committee and as a founding member of the Governing Council of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. From 2001 to 2005 he held the position of Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Utah Graduate School of Education.  Throughout his professional career, Dr. Gardner also served on a number of policy committees and commissions at the national level representing the interests of public higher education in the United States.  At present, Dr. Gardner spends time sharing his knowledge of higher education by consulting with colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. 

Publications, Honors and Recognition

 The author of many articles and books on educational policy reform, Dr. Gardner’s major works include The California Oath Controversy, Higher Education and Government: An Uneasy Alliance; and Earning My Degree: Memoirs of an American University President.  The Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley also holds an extended oral history, A Life in Higher Education: Fifteenth President of the University of California, 1983-1992

        Dr. Gardner's work in education has brought him many academic and other honors. For example, in 1970, Time magazine named him as one of 200 men and women “destined to provide the United States with a new generation of leadership;” and in 1978, a Change magazine survey recognized him as one of “100 Young Leaders of the Academy.”  In 1979, he was a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England, after which he was named a life member and was also elected as an Honorary Fellow of Clare Hall. In 1989, he was named the University of California, Berkeley’s Alumnus of the Year.  Among other honors, he received the French Legion d'Honneur in 1985 and the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1992. He is a member of the National Academy of Education and the American Philosophical Society; and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 1986, he was named the Fulbright 40th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow in Japan.  He is President Emeritus of both the University of Utah and the University of California and Professor Emeritus at both institutions.