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College of Natural Resources receives $50 million naming gift

Former dean Gordon Rausser has gifted $50 million to Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, the largest amount ever received by the college. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

The College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley, has been renamed the Rausser College of Natural Resources in honor of a landmark $50 million gift by Gordon Rausser, former dean of the college and the Robert Gordon Sproul Distinguished Professor Emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley.

The gift, the largest donation ever received by the college and the largest naming gift of any academic unit at UC Berkeley, will support the school's land-grant mission to take on key economic, social, environmental and health challenges facing the state and the nation. Major initiatives led by the college include mitigating and adapting to climate change, accelerating the clean energy transition and improving food security and nutrition for all. 

“The state of California, and the nation as a whole, face enormous environmental risks today that didn't exist 20 years ago, and we as a society haven't found the will to address them squarely,” Rausser said. “Rausser College has some of the best economists in the world and some of the best scientists in the world, and by working together, as they must, they uniquely position the college to provide not only the fundamental science, but also the practical solutions, needed to tackle these challenges.” 

Rausser's gift is a major component of UC Berkeley's landmark $6 billion “Light the Way” fundraising campaign, which officially launched Saturday, Feb. 29.

“Gordon Rausser's incredible contribution of his own personal resources to support the mission of UC Berkeley and Rausser College is an unparalleled vote of confidence in the college, the university and our mission,” said Chancellor Carol Christ. “Gordon's legacy of outstanding leadership at the college in and of itself left an indelible mark on our campus and community. His willingness and ability to now provide a strong financial foundation for the college's future is a contribution whose true value is beyond measure.”

The majority of the funds will create an unrestricted endowment that can be used at the direction of the dean, in consultation with faculty leadership, to support a variety of needs across the college's five departments — from supporting graduate students to launching new interdisciplinary research programs.

In addition, a portion of the gift will be used to establish the Gordon Rausser Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, where Rausser served for over four decades. Another portion will help set up a Rausser-Zilberman Program Endowed Fund for the Master of Development Practice (MDP) Program, which will support students, curriculum enhancements and field opportunities abroad. 

“An endowment gift of this size and nature provides the college with a permanent funding source that will fuel innovation and creativity, enhance the quality of our programs and help us stay competitive — it is truly extraordinary,” said David Ackerly, dean of Rausser College. “We will invest in graduate student support to recruit and train the world's best scholars and support innovative interdisciplinary research to tackle major problems at the state, national and global levels.”  

Other priorities include faculty recruitment and retention, equity and inclusion programs and curriculum innovations, Ackerly said.

More than 40 years of commitment to Berkeley

Rausser first joined the Berkeley faculty in 1978 after leaving his faculty position at Harvard University. He went on to serve as chair of the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics on three separate occasions before being appointed dean of the College of Natural Resources in 1994. As dean, Rausser oversaw a massive expansion and reorganization of the college, growing the number of faculty at the college by approximately 20%. 

Rausser foresaw the need to increase the college's fundraising enterprise, and under his leadership the college greatly expanded its philanthropic activity. During his time as dean he worked in partnership with the alumni community to create eight new faculty endowed chairs. Today, these endowed chairs are a crucial tool for recruiting and retaining the highest-quality faculty. He also spearheaded the Berkeley-Novartis Agreement, a creative research and development agreement between the College's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute to advance fundamental research in plant biology and genomics. The Berkeley-Novartis Agreement was novel at the time and laid the groundwork for future public private partnerships.

Outside of Berkeley, Rausser has distinguished himself as an economic and policy adviser to the U.S. government and the state of California, as a business consultant and venture capitalist and an entrepreneur. While on academic leave, he served as senior economist on the President's Council of Economic Advisors (1986-1987) under Ronald Reagan and subsequently became chief economist of the U.S. Agency for International Development (1988-1990). His accomplishments also include co-founding Emeryville-based OnPoint Analytics, which provides business consulting services specializing in expert testimony in economics, data analytics, finance and statistics, and co-founding with Berkeley colleagues the Law and Economics Consulting Group. 

He is the recipient of 29 academic research, teaching and leadership awards. The most recent of which is having his professional society — the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) — honor his work by naming the conference keynote, in perpetuity, in recognition of his lifetime research achievements and exceptional intellectual leadership of the profession. The first Rausser Keynote address will take place this year at the AAEA annual society meetings. 

Rausser said the gift is a continuation of his more than 40-year commitment to the campus and its public mission — and that his success as a business leader and entrepreneur enabled him to make it happen. 

“Personally, I can think of no institution in California that's had a greater impact on our past, or has a greater power to shape our future, than Berkeley has, and I take great pride in the fact that Rausser College is one of the cornerstones of this remarkable institution,” Rausser said. “I know what the college is capable of, given the right resources, and I want to ensure that the college achieves an unparalleled level of excellence.”


Posted on Monday, February 24, 2020 at 2:38 PM
  • Author: Kara Manke

CNR welcomes David Ackerly as new dean

David Ackerly
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ announced the appointment of Professor David Ackerly as the next dean of the College of Natural Resources (CNR). Ackerly joined the faculty of the Department of Integrative Biology from Stanford in 2005, held the Virginia G. and Robert E. Gill Chair in Natural History from 2010 to 2015, and has most recently been serving as associate dean of the College of Letters and Science's Biological Sciences Division since 2016. He will assume his new role as dean of CNR on July 1, 2018, succeeding J. Keith Gilless.

A skilled communicator and collaborator, Ackerly is an advocate for the notion that the university must cross traditional disciplines to better understand and address society's greatest challenges. His vision for CNR is to strengthen the links among its departments, to collaborate more closely with other academic leaders, and to partner with the campus and other deans to pursue major philanthropic funding opportunities. A devoted mentor himself, Ackerly has also expressed a strong desire to focus on enhancing the graduate and undergraduate student experience at CNR.

Trained as a plant ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Ackerly has most recently been working on programs that bring together multidisciplinary teams to explore broad research areas including the effects of climate change on biodiversity, the integration of phylogenetics and ecology, and novel approaches to conservation biology. In the past decade, as a senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and member of the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology steering committee, he has been increasingly involved in data-intensive projects.

Ackerly received his B.A. in Biology from Yale University in 1984 and his doctorate from Harvard University in 1993. He is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the Ecological Society of America, as well as a recipient of the Berkeley Graduate Division's Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award.

“I look forward to joining the community of innovative scientists, teachers, students, and staff at the College of Natural Resources,” said Ackerly. “CNR's interdisciplinary research and mission is helping to address the environmental and societal challenges facing our world, and I look forward to working with the College in the months and years ahead.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at 9:04 AM
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Q&A: Gilless reflects on CNR

After 11 years leading the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, Dean J. Keith Gilless stepped down from his post in June. As dean, Gilless has been dedicated to supporting CNR's diverse research, teaching and outreach activities. He has led the college through major growth, launched a number of interdisciplinary initiatives and tackled infrastructure-renewal projects. After completing his second term, Gilless—who has been a professor of forest economics at Berkeley since 1983—will continue to teach, conduct research and serve as the chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. 

Keith Gilless talks with students in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. Photo by Jim Block

Looking back on the past 11 years, what are your proudest moments?

The entire CNR community has a lot to feel proud about. We've doubled the number of undergraduates in the College by responding to students' intellectual and career interests and creating a strong culture of advising and student support. Despite budget constraints, we found ways to create two new cross-campus centers: the Berkeley Food Institute and the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity. We launched the Master of Development Practice program. We became more successful and sophisticated in our fundraising efforts, allowing us to increase graduate student support and make some much-needed improvements to our infrastructure. We expanded our network of research forests at a pivotal time for understanding the effects of climate change on California's ecosystems. And we've been a major contributor to campus-wide initiatives in biofuels and gene editing. 

Beyond this long list, what makes me proudest is that UC Berkeley has come to recognize CNR as one of its most successful and dynamic centers of excellence. Our college embodies the relevance in modern society of the vision that created the land-grant universities. We share the mission of Berkeley —and of public education generally—to serve society through problem-solving research and discovery, instruction that enables students to realize their potential, and public service. Here, we really do aspire to “See the bigger picture and make a better world.”

Favorite memory of being dean?

That's easy: congratulating students at commencement. Education transforms lives. My own education—and my participation in the research and educational mission of  UC Berkeley—transformed my life and my understanding of society and the environment around me. Berkeley students are overwhelmingly the first or second generation in their family to attend college. When they cross the stage in cap and gown, and their families and other loved ones applaud and cry, I feel privileged to have been allowed to be a part of their joy on that day.

What are the needs and opportunities you see for the College going forward?

Continued success for CNR depends on our ability to continue to grow our philanthropic base. Success here will help us to improve our facilities, fund cutting-edge research, and achieve strong financial support for our graduate students. We must also ensure that all members of our community feel they are heard, valued, and respected. I firmly believe that we can meet these challenges, in part because what we do is so directly relevant to many of the difficult problems facing our world—these are problems people want to solve. Complex issues require interdisciplinary solutions, and that's something at which this College excels.

CNR doesn't exist in a vacuum. Our fate is inextricably tied to the fate of the campus, and the fate of public education. No single unit can succeed without collaborating across administrative boundaries—and without the campus successfully addressing its financial challenges with respect to aging infrastructure, accessibility, and housing, among other issues. CNR needs to help Berkeley thrive in order to thrive itself.

Any other thoughts? 

I've been part of the Berkeley and CNR community for 35 years and have enjoyed it all. I never cease to be amazed at the opportunities to interact with brilliant and inquisitive students; faculty colleagues who set the bar for excellence in research, teaching, and service; and dedicated staff who keep the College running no matter how difficult things get. I have never known what to expect at each new stage in my career here, other than that I would find myself working with people who inspire me to try harder to do a good job. As I change my business card back to reading simply “Professor of Forest Economics,” I know this feeling will continue. 


Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 1:37 PM
  • Author: Julie Gipple
Focus Area Tags: Natural Resources

Aug. 15 final day to comment on SNE plan

The final comment period for the Sustainable Natural Ecosystems plan will close on Sunday, August 15.

Send comments via e-mail directly to James Bartolome.

A draft of the Sustainable Natural Ecosystems plan, which will guide efforts in this area for the next five years, is available at
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 10:02 AM

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