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University of California, Berkeley honours President Meric Gertler

Former U of T president and former Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau with President Meric Gertler (photo by Teo Salgado)

The University of California, Berkeley has recognized renowned geographer and urban issues expert Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, with its distinguished alumni award.

Gertler received the award for his outstanding academic and professional accomplishments. It was presented by former U of T president and former chancellor of Berkeley, Robert Birgeneau, and Jennifer Wolch, dean of Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.

Previous recipients include Gyo Obata, designer of the National Space and War Museum in Washington, D.C. and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Will Vinton.

Gertler received his master’s degree in city and regional planning from Berkeley in 1979, going on to complete his PhD in urban planning and regional development at Harvard University in 1983. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in the United Kingdom, he is the author, co-author or co-editor of more than 80 scholarly publications and six books. Gertler’s academic work focuses on the economies of cities, the urban foundations of innovation, and the role of creativity, culture and diversity in urban life.

“The public university plays a significant role in California and here at home,” Gertler said. “The University of Toronto is a critical piece of social infrastructure in the city-region of Toronto and UC Berkeley – one of the world’s great public universities - is virtually synonymous with the Bay area."

Gertler has studied and written about the role of the university in urban economies and in the cities in which they are situated, and how each benefits the other – how a strong university helps a city become stronger and how a great city enables a university to be even greater.

“For both Berkeley and U of T, the importance of the university to the city, and the city to university is crucial,” he said. “Our campuses are home to public discussions of some of the most pressing and compelling urban issues of today, and our students and faculty play a key role in generating innovation throughout the region.”

“I am grateful for this honour, and excited to receive it,” Gertler said. “Berkeley played a key role in my formation as a scholar and our relationship has remained very close over the years.”

Birgeneau said he was impressed by Gertler from Birgeneau’s time as U of T’s president, noting his successor’s intelligence, thoughtfulness and scholarship. Speaking from experience of the challenges of leading U of T, with its three campuses and partner research hospitals, he said he was certain “that Meric would do a superb job in leading Canada's pre-eminent university.”

Gertler was in the region also to meet U of T alumni and friends in the Bay Area.

In Palo Alto, he hosted a roundtable meeting with alumni volunteers to discuss U of T’s strategic priorities. Participating in the conversation were: engineer George Barnett, co-founder of The ClearLake Group; Richard Berman, founder of VerbFactory; Don Harrison of Google Inc.; Mark Endler of Apple Inc.; engineer Angela Tsui-Yin Kingyens of VersionOne Ventures; Rotman graduate Michael Pangia, president and CEO of Aviat Networks; Eric Quon-Lee of Detecon and chemist Mona Sabet, president of Viblio Inc. David Stewart, former academic relations & public affairs officer, Consulate General of Canada, also took part in the event.

In San Francisco, approximately 100 alumni turned out for a reception, where Gertler talked about the University's global stature in innovation and entrepreneurship, and ongoing efforts to raise awareness of U of T’s strengths, in key international regions.

"Between 2009 and 2012, the latest years for which we have official data, U of T has emerged as number one among major North American institutions in the creation of start-up companies, ahead of MIT," Gertler said. "And in research output and research impact, U of T and its partner hospitals rank as high as the top three among biomedical and health sciences clusters in North America."