Robert J. Birgeneau to Lead American Academy Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education CAMBRIDGE, Mass. and BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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.