Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

A fall semester update

By Carol Christ

As we approach the yearly rituals of the season—the Big Game and the holidays—we have an opportunity to reflect on the fall semester.

Free Speech and Community Values

The semester was an eventful one, as we tried to balance our commitment to free expression with our values as a community. The discussions and conversations we had over the course of the semester have certainly deepened my appreciation of the complexity of the issues related to free speech. I hope the same has been true for you. To that end, we are examining our events policy. Thank you to the hundreds of people who have offered input into that process. Your voices have been heard, and an updated events policy will be in place by next semester.

To further inform that process, I appointed a Free Speech Commission, chaired by Prudence Carter, dean of the Graduate School of Education, and Jay Wallace, professor of philosophy. The Commission is comprised equally of students, faculty, and staff and will examine issues related to large-scale events, including event planning and logistics, campus security, budget and campus climate.

Intercollegiate Athletics

I have also devoted considerable time and thought to the challenges we face in our athletic program. I believe that athletic sports have an important role at Berkeley. Our athletic program provides our student athletes the opportunity to compete at the highest level, and attending games helps build and sustain community between students and alumni. Our athletics program faces many challenges. The recent task force on athletics summarized them well; intercollegiate athletics cannot simultaneously achieve a balanced budget, assume the entire responsibility for the football stadium debt, and maintain the current size and scope of its programs. I have told Intercollegiate Athletics that it must have a balanced budget by 2020, the year by which the campus must balance its budget.

In order to assist them in this goal, I have decided that the campus will assume the portion of the debt resulting from the seismic retrofitting of the stadium and its life-saving/safety improvements that took place several years ago. (No similar unit has ever been asked to assume the cost of seismic retrofitting — that cost has always been borne by the campus.). In return for this concession, I have asked Intercollegiate Athletics to develop options for relocating soccer and track and field away from Edwards Stadium so that we can consider alternate uses for that site.

I want to assure the community that we will not use academic program funds for servicing the stadium’s debt. Nor will we divert money from philanthropic contributions made in the support of academic programs. We have recently engaged an external consultant, funded through private support, to conduct a thorough examination of the finances of the athletic department. I will be working closely with the department as we develop plans to balance its budget.

Deficit Reduction and a New Budget Model

I have worked intensively on the campus's budget as well, seeking to eliminate our deficit and develop a new financial model for the campus. We are making excellent progress on that front. We ended June 2016 with a deficit of $150 million; we ended June 2017 with a deficit of $77 million. This reduction has involved many painful choices.

I thank the faculty and staff for working with me on the intractable financial problems we face. I have said repeatedly that the solution lies in multiplying and diversifying sources of revenue. This year we are working to streamline administration, including the regionalization of CSS, and develop projections for the funding streams from new revenue sources.

Strategic Planning

Today we face a volatile higher-education environment and many decisions that will require prioritization of our use of limited resources. To that end, we will launch a strategic planning process, co-chaired by Rich Lyons, dean of the Haas School of Business, and Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, chair of the Academic Senate, that will help us pose critical questions and develop strategies to chart the best path forward for the campus. We will begin with a retreat of campus leaders next week and engage the campus more broadly early in the spring semester, concluding with a presentation of a plan in early summer.

Building Community

Over the past few months, I enjoyed meeting with a wide variety of student, faculty and staff groups, hearing your concerns and working with you to develop solutions. Thank you for welcoming me to your gatherings, meetings and celebrations. I look forward to continuing to build relationships, within and across diverse communities, and to working together to make this campus a place that values each individual and where each of us can live out our mission of learning, discovery and service.

This Saturday is the 120th anniversary of the Big Game. On Friday night, the Rally Committee will hold the annual bonfire at the Greek Theater, during which we will observe a moment of silence for the victims of the North Bay fires. They will also announce the results of a fundraising effort to support Santa Rosa Junior College, an institution that was affected by the fires and which has close ties to Cal. Please consider supporting them by clicking here.

Thank you for all that you do to make Berkeley the number one public university in the world. Thank you for making my first few months as chancellor such an amazingly rich and illuminating experience. Thank you for reading this update, and Go Bears!