Kerr was born on 17 May 1911 in Stony Creek, Pennsylvania, and died on 1 December 2003 in Berkeley, California. He was educated at Swarthmore College where he gained his A.B. in 1932 and then at Stanford where he completed his M.A. in 1933. He then moved to the University of California at Berkeley to undertake his Ph.D. in economics which he received in 1939. After completing his doctorate he taught at various universities including the University of Washington from which he returned to Berkeley in 1945. He was to spend the rest of his academic career attached to Berkeley in a variety of prominent roles. His first position there was as an associate professor of industrial relations in the School of Business Administration and also as founding director of the Institute of Industrial Relations. He was chosen as Berkeley's first chancellor and served as such from 1952–8. He was president of the University of California from 1958–64.
From The Biographical Dictionary of American Economists in Oxford Reference.