Milton Chernin

1910 – 1987

Exemplary role model for blending academic, government and community work

Milton Chernin was a larger than life figure at the University of California, Berkeley for nearly sixty years, including thirty years as the Dean of the School of Social Welfare (1947-77). He was born in Russia to Jewish parents and came to New York as an infant. He graduated high school at age 15 then began studies at Columbia University. When his family relocated to California during his sophomore year, he transferred to University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned his B.A. In 1929, he moved to Berkeley as the George Douglass Fellow in Political Science and received his M.A. in 1930. He then received his Ph.D. in 1937 in Public Administration while being employed at the California Bureau State Relief Administration and later at the Bureau of Public Administration. During this time, he married a fellow student, a social worker.

His sojourn to becoming the first Dean of the School of Social Welfare was somewhat circuitous. He began teaching on the subject of the criminal justice system, and in 1940 was appointed Assistant Professor in the newly formed Department of Social Welfare. He then took a leave during the war and worked in the Board of Economic Warfare and next in the Office of Foreign Relief. He was inducted into the Army in 1943 and assigned to the American Military Government in Europe, where he assisted in the de-Nazification program and in the reorganization of the German police system. He rose in rank, and earned the Legion of Merit. He returned to UC Berkeley in 1946 as Acting Dean of the new program, and became its first Dean the following year.

Berkeley was his second home for the next forty years. He was involved in all aspects of campus life far beyond the School of Social Welfare. At the same time, he remained highly active in the community, especially with causes tied to his Jewish heritage. In addition, he was involved in governmental affairs at an international level, serving as an emissary for enhanced collaboration between universities and working as a consultant for other government’s planning bodies.

Despite his profound professional accomplishments, Milton Chernin is said to have remained a modest man with a fine sense of humor. He was quick-witted and tenacious and genuinely lacking in guile.

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