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Marc Fisher: Seeing Berkeley through ‘new eyes’

UC Berkeley's top administrative leader describes the surprises of his first year on campus

A man in a suit stands on the beach surrounded by a group of people

Marc Fisher, middle, stands with colleagues and students on the beach at UC Santa Barbara, where he spent 15 years before coming to UC Berkeley.

While most senior leaders at UC Berkeley have had decades of experience with Berkeley, some as grad students, faculty and administrators, this October marked my first anniversary as a Golden Bear. Having spent seven years at UCLA, followed by another 15 at UC Santa Barbara, I assumed Berkeley would operate much the same way as the other UC campuses. Believe it or not, that’s not the case!

Arriving as a relative outsider has given me the benefit of seeing the campus through “new eyes” and appreciating the stimulating, complex, self-questioning and invigorating culture that makes Berkeley special.

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One of the first things that struck me when I arrived on campus is that everyone in Berkeley loves ideas and wants to be a part of the conversation, no matter what the issue. I did not expect that Berkeley students would want to engage in administrative issues. This was a pleasant surprise to me. Berkeley has created better solutions to administrative challenges because students, faculty, and staff are engaged.

Another thing that caught my attention is Berkeley’s self-critical culture. This was not the norm at UCLA or UCSB. In every meeting, Berkeley faculty, staff and students push themselves and each other to find the smarter solution to problems. While this approach is inspiring, it can require us to spend more time making decisions. But I wanted to take a moment to give a few examples of how, while we are often self-critical, we should be really proud of how advanced our systems are.

First, let’s consider the administrative support systems and tools we have. Berkeley has the brightest faculty, students and staff in the world, and our systems of accounting, purchasing and time management are here to support their ideas and academic pursuits.

Berkeley has the brightest faculty, students and staff in the world, and our systems of accounting, purchasing and time management are here to support their ideas and academic pursuits.”

– Marc Fisher

While we can always improve upon what we have, Berkeley’s administrative tools today are well-regarded in the UC system and by other universities. I just attended a national meeting of higher education professionals called the Educational Advisory Board (EAB). There, the integrated business systems and tools at Berkeley were lauded as the best that the EAB researchers had seen. Cal Answers, our data portal available to anyone with a CalNet ID, was recognized as a best-in-class tool that consolidates the many sources of data that we use to make smart decisions.

Another example is our CalTime timekeeping system. When Berkeley began implementing CalTime in 2012, it consolidated more than 80 separate timekeeping systems into one. Most other UC campuses still have multiple timekeeping systems and are just now looking at doing what we did in 2012. To be honest, when I was at UCSB, we looked to Berkeley when we made the decision to consolidate. The Berkeley team was a huge help as we made the switch

While most UC campuses are now beginning to implement online purchasing and budgeting systems, Berkeley has already achieved efficiencies and gained strategic insights through its BearBuy and CalPlanning tools. Neither of these tools are perfect, and there is more we wish they could do, but they are an improvement over older systems and, having implemented them early, we can now focus on improving them.

A man in a suit stands at a podium

Fisher is in charge of UC Berkeley’s administrative functions.

Through the process of adopting these tools in the past few years, Berkeley has developed skilled personnel who know how to implement system enhancements. This fall, I assembled some of my colleagues in portfolio management, process improvement and change management into a new Business Process Management office that works with schools, colleges and departments that want to make their business practices more effective.

Providing administrative support to UC Berkeley’s world-renowned teaching and research enterprises is challenging. Limited resources compel us to develop innovative solutions to complex issues. While Berkeley’s culture propels us to continuously improve, it is also important to remember that we already have systems and tools that are admired by our peers at other UC campuses and universities.

Santa Barbara was a phenomenal place to work and live. I wouldn’t have left without the promise of great personal challenge, the context of a brilliant community and the opportunity to make a significant contribution. I am very pleased with my decision to join the Berkeley family — this is an amazing place to be!