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W. Norton Grubb

Professor, Graduate School of Education

UC Berkeley



W. Norton Grubb, the David Pierpont Gardner Professor of Higher Education, Emeritus, and a distinguished member of the Graduate School of Education, died on January 15, 2015, in Taipei. He was on vacation with his wife of 46 years, Rikki Grubb, when he died peacefully in his sleep. He had celebrated his 67th birthday while on the trip.


Professor Grubb completed his B.A. (1969) in Economics at Harvard and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard in 1975. Professor Grubb joined the Berkeley faculty in 1985, having taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas, Austin. He was fond of describing himself to his colleagues and students as “an economist by training and a historian by predilection.” He worked for almost three decades on issues related to problems of equity in schooling. His scholarship encompassed the role of schooling in labor markets, reforms in high schools and community colleges, the effects of institutional practices on teaching quality, the interactions among education and training programs, the flow of students into and through postsecondary education, and social policy targeted to children and youth. His 14 books and scores of articles focused on a wide range of policy issues. All of his work brought a razor-sharp focus to questions of equity, supplying convincing evidence that institutional practices produce inequality of educational opportunity.


Professor Grubb was a prolific scholar and a thoroughly committed teacher and mentor. His former students now hold prestigious university positions in China, Japan, France, Korea, Canada, and many states in the US. For the last 15 years, he also served as Faculty Coordinator of the Principal Leadership Institute (PLI), a professional program he helped develop to foster strong leadership in urban schools.


Professor Grubb earned numerous awards throughout his career, culminating with the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in 2012. He shared his expertise around the world, holding visiting scholar positions in Oxford and Cambridge, speaking at conferences in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and consulting in Paris and many countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He also actively participated in more local efforts, conducting numerous workshops for community college instructors and administrators, working on reform agendas with the Berkeley Unified School District, and contributing to the California Master Plan Commission.


Many of Professor Grubb’s friends and family will remember his non-academic enthusiasms as much as his scholarship. He was passionate about travel, hiking, art, and cooking. He delighted his family with culinary experiments, making hummus from scratch, pesto with homegrown basil, and Christmas feasts that featured both Yorkshire pudding and potato latkes. He was a devoted father who helped his daughter study for her medical boards and enjoyed wild travels in China with his son. He announced the birth of his first grandchild in December 2014 with a long email to friends and colleagues, and he spent the three weeks before leaving for Taiwan posing for pictures with her in his arms. Grubb collected traditional textiles and decorated his home with folkloric artifacts gathered during his travels and frequent visits to auction houses across the globe.


Professor Grubb retired from the Graduate School of Education in 2013, but remained active in scholarly endeavors and in his role of faculty director of the Principal Leadership Institute (PLI). His death was an unexpected and deeply felt loss for the PLI, the Graduate School of Education, and for the profession, and for his family, friends, and colleagues. As one of his colleagues wrote, “Norton was a genuine life force in all of his activities and endeavors. It didn’t matter what it was he was doing—talking, negotiating, reprimanding, consoling, thinking, writing, dining, or just living, he lived it all to the fullest. I loved his energy, even when it was focused on telling me why I was wrong! I will miss that energy most of all. But we are all fortunate to have known him for the time we did. Our lives are richer for his collegiality.”


Professor Grubb is survived by his wife, Rikki, a daughter Dr. Hilary Maia Grubb, and son Alex Grubb (Trisha Ma); granddaughter, Zoe; parents Bishop Edward and Mrs. Anne MacBurney; and brother James Grubb (Anne).


  - Judith Little