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Earl Cheit, Haas visionary and campus leader, dies at 87

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AUGUST 10, 2014

Earl Cheit, former dean and professor emeritus at the Haas School of Business, died of cancer Aug. 2. He was 87.

Cheit, known by many as “Budd,” served as dean of the business school, which he joined almost six decades ago, from 1976 to 1982 and 1990-91. During his time at UC Berkeley, he held several other senior campus positions including executive vice chancellor, athletic director and UC vice president of financial and business management.

“I can’t think of anyone whose variety of services to the campus has been so significant,” said Haas professor David Vogel, a member of the school’s business and public policy group, which was founded by Cheit. “A major part of his life and commitment was to Berkeley and many different aspects of it. His legacy at the school and at the university is a very permanent one.”

David Aaker, a professor emeritus at Haas, described Cheit as a distinctively effective leader and remembered his surprise when the hallways of Barrows Hall — where the business school was previously located — were painted just months after Cheit took over as dean.

“We always thought, ‘Well, Berkeley is a bureaucracy, and nobody can get anything done,’ and Budd Cheit … completely changed the curriculum,” Aaker said. “He was just an incredible talent and an incredible person.”

During his time at Haas, Cheit embedded a passion for interest in teaching in the school, said Haas senior lecturer Sara Beckman. The business school’s award for excellence in teaching and one of the building’s classroom wings were named after Cheit.

Cheit also played a critical role in fundraising for Haas, Vogel said. His close relationship with the family of Walter A. Haas Sr., an alumnus of the business school and former president and chair of Levi Strauss & Co., led the way to securing funding for a new building of the school.

Aside from academics, Cheit was also passionate in the arts and was founding chair of the Cal Performances Board of Trustees.

Matias Tarnopolsky, director of Cal Performances, recalled Cheit’s reaction when he was invited to sit onstage as the renowned Takacs Quartet played after he was presented with the Cal Performances Award of Distinction in the Performing Arts from the board of trustees in 2010.

“The sheer enjoyment, his enjoyment about sitting amongst these great artists and being in the middle of the sound, that twinkle in his eye, that broad smile, that soaking up the music — that’ll be my overriding memory of him,” Tarnopolsky said.

Cheit served as campus executive vice chancellor from 1965 to 1969 and interim athletic director from 1993 to 1994. These diverse roles Cheit held are a testament to his dedication to UC Berkeley, said his son, Dave Cheit.

“One of the great constants in my entire life has been how much he loved the University, the campus, and the Golden Bears,” Dave Cheit, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1974 and the UC Berkeley School of Law in 1985, said in an email.

Cheit’s success in such a variety of positions stemmed from his compassion and ability to connect with people, said Haas professor John Morgan, who saw Cheit as a mentor.

“He was interested in people, whereas many academics are just interested in ideas … That’s really reflected in the breadth of his involvement,” Morgan said. “Where Budd’s true passion lay was either doing extraordinary things himself or enabling others to do extraordinary things.”

Cheit is survived by his wife, June Cheit, four children and three grandchildren.

A memorial service for Cheit will be held on campus in the fall.


Somin Park is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_sominpark.

AUGUST 11, 2014