Calling budget challenges ‘extraordinary,’ Birgeneau asks regents for flexibility for UC campuses

Raising the specter of Bell Labs, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau today reminded the UC Board of Regents that “formerly great institutions have disappeared or become a shadow of themselves,” and warned that the University of California is not immune to the same threats.

He called on the regents to support “enlightened policies” on such “critical issues” as enrollment, fees and financial aid, and compensation and benefits for faculty and staff, and urged them to give individual campuses “as much flexibility as possible, since each campus is different.”

“Given enough flexibility,” Birgeneau said, “we can resolve our budgetary challenges and still be a great university. But the immediate challenge is extraordinary.”

Bell Labs, where Birgeneau worked before launching his academic career, “was weakened by a string of bad decisions by the legal system, government, weak corporate leadership and boards of governance,” he said, and added: “We are in danger of doing exactly the same thing in California.”

Birgeneau was one of three chancellors invited to speak at UCSF Mission Bay on Wednesday morning, part of a regents session devoted to the impacts of budget cuts on UC campuses. He told the board “we cannot accept” the $500 million in state funding reductions currently proposed for the UC system, and said the failure of a proposed ballot measure to extend some taxes — aimed at cutting the state’s $25.4 billion deficit in half, and avoiding even deeper spending cuts —  “would devastate our faculty and staff.”

Noting the effects of previous state cuts on students, staff and faculty, he warned that it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain top faculty. “To convince our faculty to stay, we need to assure them that five years from now, the University of California will have resolved its budgetary challenges,” and that Berkeley will still be a great public university.

“You cannot take greatness for granted,” Birgeneau said. “You must nurture it.”

See also: Chancellor Birgeneau testifies in Sacramento