With balanced budget, Berkeley ready to ‘turn a corner’

Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos spoke on Monday. (UC Berkeley video by Stephen McNally)

UC Berkeley’s budget is balanced, Chancellor Carol Christ told an excited crowd of students, staff and faculty Monday.

But the hard work is far from over.

Speaking at Alumni House in the latest installment of Campus Conversations, Christ and Paul Alivisatos, the executive vice chancellor and provost, outlined their vision for how the campus will change in the coming years, including through hard work on pressing issues including student housing, campus diversity and seismic safety.

After two years of budget cuts and pushing aside projects to close what was once a $150 million budget deficit, Berkeley is ready to “turn a corner from a difficult budget situation into one where we are essentially creating a new model for what higher education is going to look like,” Alivisatos said.

“I think it is a good moment for us right now,” he added. “We have a lot to look forward to, even as we stand on slightly shaky ground.”

That new model includes an exploration of online classes, the addition of new majors like data science, work to attract a more diverse group of staff, faculty and students, and a sharper focus on student housing and wellness.

Christ and Alivisatos said Berkeley must also start to consider how it can address its $4 billion in capital needs, which include new academic buildings, new residence halls, seismic upgrades and $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance.

“I want you all to understand the gravity of this issue,” Christ said, before outlining how she hoped a combination of state funds, philanthropic gifts and public-private partnerships could help Berkeley tackle these building and maintenance needs.

Berkeley must also make the campus community more diverse, Christ said.

“We have to be committed to making the experience of being at Berkeley as equitable as possible for our students,” she said. “In the long run, if Berkeley is not more representative of the population of the state in terms of its ethnic mix, we are going to lose credibility as a public institution.”

Detailed plans to make Berkeley more diverse and more supportive of underrepresented minorities will be released in the coming months, Christ said.

Improving the student experience must also include laser-like efforts to build new housing around Berkeley’s campus, including in People’s Park and at the Oxford Tract, Christ said. Christ has said she intends to double the number of beds available to students in the next 10 years.

Asked about the next school year, Berkeley’s first without a budget deficit since 2016, Christ and Alivisatos said they have bright plans for the campus.

“Right now the big questions are about implementation,” Christ said. “It is about being steady and focused on the goals that we’ve identified. And, for me, this is — very importantly — (about) diversity and the student experience.”