The visionary concept of a College of Commerce at the University of California was first proposed in an 1883 commencement address by Arthur Rodgers, a Berkeley graduate and well-traveled businessman.
He stirred his audience, inspired the governor, and set in motion ideas that, 15 years later, would create the nation’s first college of commerce at a public university.
At the time of Rodgers’ commencement address, the university itself was only 15 years old. It owed its existence to the gold rush pioneers and the preachers and teachers who had followed them west. Their collective vision for a College of California predated even the admission of California as a state in 1850.
The Haas Family Connection
The business school at UC Berkeley has a long and close association with the Haas family, who are relatives of Levi Strauss, the co-originator of the blue jean and founder of San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. For over a century, this great California family has earned a stellar reputation through its leadership in socially responsible business, philanthropy, and community service. The family’s commitment to the university began with Levi Strauss himself, who endowed 28 Berkeley scholarships in 1897.
Walter A. Haas, Sr., for whom the school is named, graduated from Berkeley’s College of Commerce in 1910. His long association with Levi Strauss & Co. began in 1914 when he married Elise Stern, the founder’s grandniece and daughter of the firm’s president, Sigmund Stern. After military service in World War I, he began his career at Levi Strauss in 1919, serving as president from 1928 until 1955, and as chairman until 1970. He led the business school’s first advisory council under Dean E. T. Grether. Until his death in 1979, he was a benefactor to the school, as well as a counselor and friend of the deans who succeeded Grether.
The cornerstone contribution for the campaign to raise the money for the school’s current building came from the children of Walter A. Haas, Sr. The gift from Walter Haas, Jr., BA 37, Peter Haas, BA 40, and Rhoda Haas Goldman, BA 46—then the largest in the history of the Berkeley campus—prompted the university to rename the business school in honor of their father. Speaking on behalf of the family, Rhoda Haas Goldman said, “All of us have been devoted to Berkeley, no one more so than our father. He would be most pleased to know that his family is continuing his legacy of support to the university he so dearly loved.”
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