Campus & community, Campus news

A welcome message from Chancellor Christ

Chancellor Carol Christ sent the following message to the campus community on Wednesday afternoon:

As the new academic year begins, I want to offer a few updates about matters of importance and interest to the campus community.

I have spent my entire professional life in higher education, and this is my favorite time of the year, as the fall semester begins, as our community comes together again, as energy and anticipation build, as the campus fills with potential and promise, and as our university reanimates as Berkeley only can. In this place filled with passion and purpose, new arrivals are joining the Cal family, bringing with them new ideas, interests, and perspectives. There is a renewed sense of amazing possibility and purpose as some 60,000 people come together again in support of each other and in support of Berkeley’s mission, values and excellence.

As this year begins, I cannot help but marvel at the relentless interest of our faculty, staff and students in confronting the planet’s most pressing challenges and complex opportunities. From climate change to artificial intelligence — two existential issues with extraordinary significance for the world — we are at the very forefront of research, teaching and learning. And this being Berkeley, we are going well beyond the science and technology involved in these academic arenas. As is par for our course, we are also leveraging, on behalf of the greater good, our unique ability to transcend the traditional borders between academic disciplines in order to also explore the societal, legal, ethical and economic aspects through a public interest lens, with a particular emphasis on how these phenomena are impacting diverse communities. These are but two salient examples of what makes Berkeley, Berkeley.

I have said it before, and I will happily say it again: There is no place I would rather be.

A community unlike any other

As many of you already know, I recently announced that this is my last year as chancellor. Next July, I will be stepping down and retiring, which means I have finally reached my senior year after first coming to campus in 1970. And so, I will surely treasure, more than I ever have before, every opportunity to engage with, learn from, and enjoy the benefits and support of our university’s extended community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. A strong, supportive campus community is what allows us to take intellectual risks, to continuously challenge the status quo, to learn from one another, to model and embody our societal values, and to thrive amidst an amazing diversity of origins, identities and perspectives. I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties that bind us together.

A campus that reflects California

These are some of the reasons we are more committed than ever to building and sustaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive community that offers a true sense of belonging to all. I also believe that as a public university, we must represent and reflect the state and the people we serve, particularly those from historically under-represented backgrounds and communities.

As we work to expand the diversity of the campus community, and create a truly inclusive campus, I am enormously proud of, and grateful for the students, staff, faculty and alumni who have joined forces to support and advance important programs like our Thriving Initiatives, which help provide support, representation, and connection for members of the African American, Asian American & Pacific Islander, Latinx and Native American communities. So, too, have we opened a new Disability Cultural Center and instituted new online training for faculty that is helping to ensure they have the necessary tools, skills and knowledge to fully and effectively accommodate the needs of members of our Disabled Students Program. These actions and initiatives are but a few examples of our efforts to ensure that all our students, staff and faculty feel welcome and respected at their university.

Ways and means

There is much I want to accomplish in this final year of my tenure, and little, if anything, is more important than the pressing need to strengthen our budgetary foundations and ensure we have a sustainable financial model for the campus. While we are grateful that the state of California preserved the 5% increase in funding for the university, our fixed expenses continue to grow faster than the revenue we receive from tuition and the state. Fortunately, Ben Hermalin, our provost and executive vice chancellor, is providing strong leadership for our Financial Sustainability Initiative, which seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our financial operations and to devise new ways to allocate our limited resources to ensure their highest and best uses consistent with the principles of equity and fairness, as well as our commitment to maintaining the university’s expansive comprehensive excellence. In a highly collaborative process involving deans, faculty and administrators, we are working to develop a budget model that is more simple, predictable and transparent, and better aligns resource allocations with institutional goals, academic activities and costs. My confidence that we can, together, succeed in these efforts has only increased as our new interim vice chancellor for finance, Dan Feitelberg, with the support of his excellent team, has begun to wade into the deep weeds of Berkeley’s finances.

Generosity and appreciation

In February 2020 we launched the “Light the Way” fundraising campaign with an audacious goal of $6 billion. Even as we approach the campaign’s finish line at the end of December, it is not too soon to thank and express gratitude to our extended community of generous alumni and supporters who continue to step up in support of our university and its mission. To date, more than 221,000 donors have contributed more than $6.7 billion to our university and its priorities, including over $471 million for undergraduate scholarships and $150 million for our libraries, a figure which includes an exceptional $15 million gift from an anonymous donor in support of the Center for Connected Learning at Moffitt Library.

Academic building and student housing construction

Among the most significant developments last year was the establishment of Berkeley’s first new college or school in 50 years. I am speaking of course about our College of Computing, Data Science, and Society. Interest in data science has skyrocketed among students, and the new college makes data science education accessible to diverse students in every discipline, not just those studying engineering or technical fields, so that they become the ethical leaders the world needs. Last year we broke ground on The Gateway, a donor-funded building that will be CDSS’s new home and a collaborative space for faculty, students, researchers and staff. While they may be drawn from different disciplines, they will be united by their shared interest in utilizing computing, data science and artificial intelligence to advance the greater good.

Beyond that project, our efforts to address the urgent student housing crisis continue. A donor-funded project, Anchor House — representing the largest single gift in the university’s history — continues to rise on the west side of campus. Anchor House will provide new residential space for more than 772 transfer students, with a design and location intended to help them thrive academically, socially, and culturally. The building is also a gift that will keep on giving: Net income generated by the property will fund scholarships for some of our undergraduates with the greatest needs.

We are also thrilled that work has begun on another wonderful donor-funded project, a renewed and expanded Engineering Center that has been designed to support the contemporary needs and interests of our students.

Construction is also well underway on the Albany Village Graduate Student Apartments, a project that will offer housing to 761 graduate students — all in single-occupancy bedrooms at below-market rental rates.

While construction of urgently needed student housing has been paused on the People’s Park construction site, our commitment to the project is unwavering. We look forward to presenting our appeal to the Supreme Court of California, and we are monitoring the progress of new legislation which, if passed, may allow us to re-start work on the site. We are very grateful for the strong support we’ve received from students, who have backed the project by a two-to-one margin in two, independent, random sample polls. So, too, are we appreciative of the backing and partnership the university has received for the project from our neighbors, parents, Governor Newsom, state legislators, Mayor Arreguin and members of Berkeley’s city council.

If you are new to campus, I invite you to review information on the essential elements of the project which includes the preservation of nearly two thirds of the site as open green space; commemoration of the park’s legacy; two housing facilities — one for students and one for extremely low-income members of the greater Berkeley community; and our partnership with the city and community organizations to provide housing, services, and a daytime center for unhoused people who gathered on the site and slept there. Together the state, city, and campus have already spent millions of dollars to provide for the needs of those who lived or gathered on the site. In this regard, as well, we have an ongoing and unwavering commitment to meet our responsibilities as a good neighbor in the City of Berkeley, and as a university dedicated to meeting the housing needs of its students as well as the public we serve.

We will also take another major step towards improving our academic infrastructure later this year when work gets under way on the whimsically named Undergraduate Academic Building, which will replace a surface parking lot adjacent to Dwinelle Hall. Once completed, it will hold more than 10 percent of our general assignment classrooms and serve as a centralized home for Letters & Science Advising.

You can learn more about construction projects that are underway or in our planning pipeline.

The Pac-12

As you may be aware, the Pac-12 Conference has undergone dramatic changes. In partnership with UC President Michael Drake, and our Athletic Director Jim Knowlton, I have been deeply engaged in the exploration of options, and in complex negotiations, in order to ensure that our student-athletes can continue to thrive, and our program can continue to excel in a manner that reflects our values and budgetary realities. We prize the singular role Cal Athletics plays in providing students with world-class participatory and educational opportunities and in supporting the spirit and unity of our extended Cal Family. I am optimistic that our efforts will succeed, and I am committed to providing the campus community with more comprehensive information as soon as possible.

Principles and community

I want to close by returning to the essential subject I began with, the power and purpose of a university’s community. I urge everyone, in their own way, to find avenues and activities that will enable you to connect with the Cal community. We need, and benefit from your participation, and this community has so much to offer in return for all who dive in. Berkeley is the very antithesis of the proverbial ivory tower. We are individually and collectively deeply engaged with and concerned about the world around us. We are changemakers with a propensity to challenge the status quo. With election season on the horizon, I look forward to the passionate debates and differences of opinion and perspective about the complicated and often controversial issues of our day. With that in mind, we are fortunate to have our foundational Principles of Community, which provide for the coexistence of a strong, supportive campus community, free speech and strongly held beliefs. Developed through an extraordinary collaboration among students, faculty and staff, the principles enshrine essential values — such as respect, civility and honesty — that enable all of us to feel heard and accepted, to explore new ideas, to advocate for our beliefs, to feel safe and to thrive amidst a wonderful diversity of origins, identities and beliefs. So, please take a moment to read and embrace Berkeley’s Principles of Community.