A warm welcome and updates on the budget, housing, free speech

Chancellor Carol Christ

Chancellor Carol Christ (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent this message to the campus community on Monday:

Dear students, staff and faculty,

I want to begin this back-to-school message with a warm welcome for Berkeley’s new students, faculty, and members of our staff. So much awaits those of you for whom our university is new and unexplored territory. I wish each of you nothing but the very best on the road ahead. I hope you will come to cherish your membership in this extraordinary community, just as I have.

In my first year as chancellor, I set five goals for myself: to build community, to enhance the student experience, to increase diversity, to support research and to create a new financial model for the campus. Today, I am providing you with a written update on our progress, and where we are headed as a campus and as a community in the coming year.

We have made significant progress in reducing the budget deficit and in building a sustainable financial model for the University. That progress is setting the stage for an emerging set of plans, priorities, investments and initiatives that will enable us to not only preserve, but enhance Berkeley’s academic preeminence.

Budget update

Berkeley has been working to eliminate a structural budget deficit that stood at $150 million just two years ago. With a goal of reaching a balanced budget no later than 2020, we have surpassed our improvement targets each year. For the fiscal year that just ended, we initially set a deficit target of $57 million. While the numbers are not yet finalized, we are projecting that the actual deficit will be much lower, somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.

The news gets better: Our original plan called for lowering the deficit to no more than $20 million by July 2019. However, the state provided Berkeley with one-time funding of $25 million, in recognition of our budgetary efforts and the extent to which the excellence of our academic programs promotes the greater good. As a result, we should reach a balanced budget by next summer, a full year ahead of schedule. We are thankful for the state’s financial assistance, and what has been a constructive partnership with the governor’s office, the state Department of Finance, and many legislators. We also deeply appreciate the persistence and persuasive power of the many Berkeley students who repeatedly travelled to Sacramento to make the case for the funding that is keeping tuition at current levels and helping to sustain the excellence of our University.

We will achieve a balanced budget with this strong state support together, and with the hard work and sacrifice on the part of our faculty, students and staff, to whom we are grateful. While we must continue to be disciplined, we can now look ahead, dedicating attention to the investments we need to make in order to address challenges like the student housing crisis, the seismic condition of our buildings, and a daunting backlog of deferred maintenance. In concert with plans to improve our infrastructure, we also intend to invest in expanding the size of our faculty and in implementing new strategies to further improve the quality of student education and experience.

Free speech

Perhaps the issue that most defined the experience of our community last year was free speech. It was challenging to uphold our unwavering commitment to the bedrock value of free expression, as well as related legal obligations, while at the same time fostering the values of diversity and inclusivity that are also core to the campus. At the end of last semester, the Commission on Free Speech issued its recommendations for how the campus might better reconcile this conflict. I will be writing to the campus community soon about how we will implement those recommendations.

Strategic plan update

Our success in confronting short-term challenges has provided us with the time and space necessary for an essential effort to create a long-term vision for the University’s future—a strategic plan that identifies our goals and priorities. A planning committee of faculty, students, and administrators—who received input from a broad range of stakeholders—have completed a draft, which can be found on this website dedicated to our Strategic Plan.

Over the next several weeks, we welcome final comment on the plan from the campus community before moving into implementation. We will use it as the basis for the goals that will define the comprehensive fundraising campaign that we will launch publicly in 2019. Our progress in fundraising this last year will provide an excellent foundation; we set an all-time record of gift commitments in a single year — $569 million — more than $90 million over our previous record. This extraordinary generosity reflects our donors’ confidence in the direction the campus is taking today.

Housing

One of our key initiatives will be student housing. I am committed to doubling the number of beds available to undergraduate and graduate students in the next 10 years. This will require multiple strategies — long-term leases as well as new construction. To meet our goal, we will need to build on all the available, university-owned land close to the campus. We are already making progress in expanding our housing inventory. Through long-term leases and the opening of Blackwell Hall, our newest residence hall, we have added 836 beds this fall.

Diversity

This year, I will be devoting particular attention to the issue of diversity. One of the boldest goals in our draft strategic plan is to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in the next 10 years. (In a HSI, at least 25 percent of students are Hispanic; six UC campuses have already earned this distinction). We also must expand our African American and Native American student populations. To achieve these goals within the confines of California law, we will assess our entire admissions process from outreach to yield, and work even more closely with Bridges, our student group that does excellent work with recruitment.

Recruiting a diverse student body is only the beginning. We must assure that every student thrives at Berkeley, not just survives. To achieve this goal, we must guarantee what I call equity of experience — the commitment that all students have equal access to Berkeley’s extraordinary opportunities. This will require greater investment in advising, in navigation tools, in mentoring and community-building programs like Berkeley Connect, and in what we are calling discovery experiences — opportunities for undergraduate research and internships.

Perhaps the most important result of getting our financial house in order is the freedom it gives us to think about the future, to embrace a strategic plan with audacious and visionary goals. Everything about Berkeley’s pioneering, innovative, and resilient past, as well as the energy, excellence, and passion of the present moment, gives me great confidence and optimism as we set out to pursue the future and make it ours.

Fiat Lux, and Go Bears!

Carol Christ
Chancellor