Next Berkeley Chancellor Must Rebuild Trust

POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN

“We need a chancellor who will not be engaged in the doublespeak of proclaiming UC Berkeley’s preeminence as a public university while simultaneously insisting on marketizing every aspect of its existence. We need a chancellor who does not believe that the negative impact on educational access and the quality of our student body caused by tuition hikes and more nonresident students can be offset by scholarship programs and student loans. We need a chancellor who does not proclaim that, as the flagship campus, UC Berkeley needs greater independence from the UC system while at the same time depending on the UC Office of the President to refinance $2 billion of capital loans for signature projects on the campus. We need a chancellor who does not think we can fundraise and borrow our way out of state spending cuts, but who wishes to be a leader in making a case for renewed public investment in Berkeley’s excellence.”

These words are taken from a powerful op-ed piece published today in The Daily Californian, the independent student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley.  It was written by the current and several former chairs of the UC Berkeley Faculty Association (BFA), a partner organization of the AAUP — Professor of Political Science Wendy Brown, Professor of Sociology Michael Burawoy, Professors of English Celeste Langan and Colleen Lye, Professor of History James Vernon, and Professor Emeritus of Geography Dick Walker.  The op-ed comes in the wake of the recent decision by beleaguered Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to resign, pending appointment of a successor.

In the piece the BFA leaders note that “Dirks was less the victim of inexperience and incompetence than that of adherence to the failed policies of his predecessors. Capitulation to “the new normal” of reduced state funding and the enthusiastic embrace of privatization has been the common sense of Berkeley’s leadership for over a decade.”  Dirks and his predecessors “insisted state funding cuts and the distribution of resources within the UC system meant that there was no alternative to austerity and privatization.”

But, these faculty members argue, there is an alternative.  That alternative “has far more support among the public than the elites would have us believe, as the past year has shown. The alternative is to recommit UC Berkeley to the fundamental principles of a public university and to ask Californians to fund it as a public resource as part of the broader ecology of public higher education in the state. Only the state can deliver the scale of investment and funding necessary to renew and extend UC Berkeley’s comprehensive excellence.”

To build the public trust essential to such an investment, the authors recommend that the next chancellor “be appointed with a salary appropriate for a servant of the public and receive no more than 10 times that of the lowest-paid university employee.”  And they urge a moratorium on new construction, including of athletic facilities, which already accounts for some two-thirds of the campus’s structural deficit.

This is precisely the direction in which Berkeley, of which I am a proud alumnus having earned my doctorate there, should go and I heartily applaud this intervention by my colleagues.  Indeed, this is precisely the direction in which all public universities should move.  It is long past time that we abandon the futile and self-serving approach of far, far, far too many university administrators and trustees that seeks to accommodate to a destructive “new normal” by shifting costs to students, relying on underpaid contingent instructors and get-rich-quick online schemes, and by privatizing services.  The experience of the past two decades in every state has proven that we can’t have high quality public higher education without sufficient public funding; well-meaning donors (and by no means all are actually well-meaning) are not enough.

To read the full op-ed by the BFA leaders go to http://www.dailycal.org/2016/08/30/next-chancellor-must-rebuild-trust/

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