Earl F. Cheit impacted Berkeley Haas and management education in profound and lasting ways
For nearly two decades, Haas students have passed through the classroom wing named for Earl F. Cheit, business school dean and professor emeritus and former executive vice chancellor of UC Berkeley. And yet the number of lives Cheit touched—through his exceptional foresight, compassion, and an early and determined grasp of what a business school could be—extends back more than half a century.
Cheit, or “Budd,” as he was known by friends and colleagues, died of cancer at his home in Kensington, Calif., on Aug. 2. He was 87.
Born in Minneapolis in 1926 to Russian immigrants, he grew up in Hague, North Dakota. He was the first in his family to attend college and became a staunch advocate for higher education. Cheit’s obituary in The New York Times cited his “prescient” understanding of the challenge of keeping higher education affordable. A report Cheit wrote in 1970 discussing these financial issues and offering forward-looking solutions sparked a front-page article and editorial in the newspaper.
From 1957, when he joined the business school, until his 1991 retirement, Cheit envisioned and initiated the modernization of the Haas School. In 1995, the much-lauded architectural gem that is home to Haas was just the newest jewel in his crown, a shining mini-campus within a campus that came to exist in part through Cheit’s years of determination and hard work.
Today Haas enjoys a measure of partial autonomy within the larger Berkeley campus—with its own offices of admissions, alumni relations, and career services, not to mention a development staff to secure private donations. None of these existed before Budd Cheit.
“His legacy at the school and at the university is a permanent one.”
—Haas Prof. David Vogel
Cheit was also a pioneer in the study and teaching of the impact of business on society. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Business and Public Policy (BPP) group at Berkeley—a path he chose after experiencing firsthand the campus turmoil of the 1960s. Cheit urged the business school to examine its role within the larger community.
“I was the first person to be recruited at Cal (and, I believe, nationally) to work in what was then a very nascent area of management education,” says Professor Emeritus Ed Epstein, who helped found what became BPP. “Budd contributed greatly to the well-being of the Berkeley campus, the business school, and higher education writ large for nearly sixty years.”
Former Haas Dean Raymond Miles helped recruit Budd for the dean’s position. “He was clearly the most experienced administrator on the faculty, and his campus leadership experience and his relationship with the Haas family were valuable.”
Cheit actually served as dean twice, in 1976–82 and 1990–91. “We often joked,” says Miles, “that he was not only my predecessor but also my successor.” As dean, Cheit made superlative teaching one of his top priorities, a passion that is immortalized with the school’s annual Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Cheit also held high-level administrative positions at the university, including interim director of athletics and executive vice chancellor. His dedication to the arts led him to be named a founding chair and lifelong patron of the Cal Performances Board of Trustees.
“I can’t think of anyone whose variety of services to the campus has been so significant,” Haas Professor David Vogel told The Daily Californian. “His legacy at the school and at the university is a permanent one.”
Yet perhaps Cheit will most be remembered for his role in developing the character of Haas’ culture. Beyond Yourself was a principle Cheit took to heart long before the school codified it.
In an introduction to an oral history transcribed 13 years ago for a University of California History Series, Cheit’s colleague at Berkeley’s School of Law, Professor Emeritus Robert H. Cole, described Cheit’s concern for others: “His remarkable career is one of virtue rewarded, with the emphasis all on the virtue. The force that has driven Budd’s career is character, and his wide achievements are the realized expression of character. [His] respect for other people…for the worth and integrity of each person is perhaps best illustrated by how thoroughly it is ingrained in the details of his daily life.”
“The impact of Budd’s contributions,” says Dean Rich Lyons, “extends well beyond our school and campus. He sowed many seeds of our school’s Institute for Business and Social Impact, which helps for-profit and nonprofit enterprises magnify their impact on society. 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. We are deeply in his debt and will miss him dearly as a colleague and friend.”
Cheit 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.
“‘Retired’ is the last word I would have ever used to describe him,” says his son David Cheit, BA 74 (political science), JD 85. “His energetic service and unwavering support over the years for Cal Performances, Cal sports, and countless activities in between were driven by a love for this university that lived as long as he did.” —John Deever