October 31, 2014

Business education and university leader Earl F. Cheit dies at age 87

Earl Cheit

Earl F. Cheit, former executive vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, and dean and professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business, died of cancer at his home in Kensington, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 2. He was 87.

Cheit, or “Budd,” as he was known by friends and colleagues, joined the business school in 1957 and stayed until retiring in 1991. While there, he served as dean twice (1976-82 and 1990-91) and presided over the school’s growth and modernization. He was a pioneer in the study and teaching of the impact of business on society.

Cheit held key roles at UC Berkeley, including as executive vice chancellor (1965-69), athletic director (1993-94) and trustee of the University of California Berkeley Foundation. He also served as vice president of financial and business management for the University of California system from 1981-82.

Cheit was born in Minneapolis in 1926 as the son of Russian immigrants and grew up in Hague, N.D. He was the first in his family to attend college and became a staunch advocate for higher education.

His academic writing included ground-breaking studies on the economic impact of and compensation for occupational injuries and social insurance. He wrote in the 1970s about the affordability concerns facing universities. He also noted the need to draw more women to management education and careers.

“The impact of Budd's contributions extends well beyond our school and campus. He sowed many seeds of our school's Institute for Business and Society, which helps for-profit and non-profit enterprises magnify their impact on society,” said Rich Lyons, dean of Berkeley-Haas.

“Budd influenced management education more broadly through his research and teaching on the role of business in society and the potential for markets to create a better world,” Lyons added. “We are deeply in his debt and will miss him dearly as a colleague and friend.”

A man of wide interests, Cheit began an association with Cal Performances and Zellerbach Hall during the hall’s construction in the 1960s. During this time, he created and chaired a board that developed a budget for the new facility. In 1996, he was elected founding chair of the Cal Performances Board of Trustees and remained an active member until his death.

Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky said that Cheit “had an incredible capacity to bring together the visionary and the practical, with his unabashed advocacy for quality and for the essential importance of the performing arts. His voice at Cal Performances’ board and committee meetings often would be the last heard, and importantly so – summing up the issues in an artistic, historical and economic context which simply made sense, and showed us all a clear path to the future. “

In 2010, Cheit received the Award of Distinction in the Performing Arts from the Cal Performances Board of Trustees.  

Cheit attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned his undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Law degree, a J.D. degree from the law school and a Ph.D. in economics. His thesis, “Incentive Effects of Workmen’s Compensation,” disproved a commonly held belief that higher compensation for workers injured on the job would result in “malingering” – employees remaining on worker’s compensation longer than necessary.

After practicing law and labor arbitration, in addition to teaching at the University of Minnesota, Cheit accepted an academic post with the Department of Economics at Saint Louis University.

In 1957, Cheit came to UC Berkeley’s Institute of Industrial Relations to head a three-year research project on occupational disability that was funded by the Ford Foundation. This research was captured in his seminal book “Injury and Recovery in the Course of Employment.”

Cheit’s work at the institute also led him to organize in 1964 one of the first multi-disciplinary academic conferences in the nation on business and society. It resulted in the book “The Business Establishment,” which Cheit edited.

After becoming a tenured professor at UC Berkeley, Cheit helped develop courses in the emerging area of the social and political environment of business. A recipient of the campus’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989, he also taught industrial relations, labor law and labor economics classes.

In 1964 at UC Berkeley, during the Free Speech Movement, Cheit was elected to the Emergency Executive Committee of the Academic Senate. The following year, he was appointed executive vice chancellor of the campus. In 1965, he also chaired the Wage Board of the California Industrial Welfare Commission.

While on sabbatical with the Carnegie Commission, Cheit studied the financial situation of 41 U.S. colleges, leading to his book “The New Depression in Higher Education” (1971), which made national headlines and resulted in a two-year follow-up study. He served from 1972–73 as the Ford Foundation’s program officer in charge of higher education.

In 1976, Cheit was named dean of UC Berkeley’s business school during a time of state funding cuts and campus enrollment cutbacks. To transition the school from an academic department to a professional school, he sought to increase the autonomy and standing of the school and to forge closer relationships with the business community, according to a book on the history of Berkeley-Haas written by Sandra Epstein that is due out early next year.

Cheit took first steps toward securing a new home for the business school, which was named for Walter A. Haas Sr., a 1910 graduate of the school and former president and chair of Levi Strauss & Co. In Cheit’s honor, the school named its teaching award the Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching and one of the building’s classroom wings Earl F. Cheit Hall.

Cheit was a family man and avid hiker who also loved the arts, music and sports. In addition to his roles over the years at the university, he served as a program manager for higher education and research at the Ford Foundation and was a Mills College trustee, chairman of Shaklee Corp., director of CNF Transportation Inc., director of Simpson Manufacturing Co. Inc., associate director of the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education and senior advisor for Asia-Pacific relations for The Asia Foundation.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, June (Andrews) Cheit; four children, Danielle (Wendy) Cheit of Kensington, Calif., David Cheit of Davis, Calif., Ross Cheit of North Kingston, R.I., and Julie Ross of New York, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Haas School of Business or to Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. A celebration of Cheit’s life will take place on campus this fall. A tribute in his memory will be held on Sunday, October 19, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM on the Faculty Glade and Club Lawn on the UC Berkeley campus. More details at http://haas.berkeley.edu/alumni/cheit_tribute.

Cheit’s life and work also is captured in an oral history conducted by the Regional Oral History Office at UC Berkeley and available at the Bancroft Library.

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