Chancellor Christ: Entering Berkeley’s new era of excellence

Chancellor Carol Christ issued the following message to the campus community on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019: 

Dear friends and colleagues,

As the academic year begins, I want to provide you with an update on the progress we are making with key campus initiatives. Thanks to strengthened financial foundations and extraordinary preparatory work by faculty, staff and students, we are putting the pieces in place for a new era of excellence.

While I will have more to say about budgetary matters in a future message, on July 1, 2019, we reached a major financial milestone, a precursor for the transformational tasks and changes that lie ahead: Our $150 million structural deficit is gone. Our budget is balanced. While painful cuts played an important, if unfortunate, role, new revenues accounted for the bulk of our budgetary improvement. This is a particularly encouraging development. Even as we continue to advocate for robust state support and gradual, predictable tuition increases, the university’s efforts to benefit from entrepreneurial activity and increase philanthropic support hold out great promise. In fact, we have had two consecutive, record-breaking years of fundraising that brought in an impressive total of $1.2 billion, setting the stage for this year’s launch of what will be one of Berkeley’s most important and most ambitious fundraising campaigns.

In preparation for this return to financial health, members of the campus community came together to develop and launch Berkeley’s first comprehensive strategic plan, which rests on three aspirational pillars: 1) empowering our students and faculty to change the world, 2) discovering innovative solutions to society’s grand challenges and 3) embracing the California spirit that is fueled by inclusion, entrepreneurial activity and diversity of every sort.

That strategic plan is now driving changes in the undergraduate experience that will improve the support and academic counseling we provide and put discovery and creative expression at the very center of our students’ academic lives.

On a related front, the strategic plan is also guiding the development of a new set of Signature Initiatives that will bring our research prowess to bear on the salient challenges of our day, such as climate change and persistent socioeconomic inequities. Working groups are, at this moment, incorporating feedback from the Academic Senate and town hall discussions into their final reports that will, in turn, guide next steps.

Our efforts to truly embody and reflect California’s spirit and population include the implementation of initiatives to enhance the diversity of our students, staff and faculty. During the spring semester, three working groups assigned to our Undergraduate Diversity Initiative put forward a comprehensive set of recommendations to expand Berkeley’s pool of qualified underrepresented undergraduate applicants, increase the number of those accepted who decide to enroll, and provide a genuinely inclusive experience once they join our campus community. In the days ahead, we will be posting a full list of the recommendations and a status report for each one.

Changes we are making in how we search for and hire new employees are also beginning to yield results. Over the summer, I welcomed to campus a remarkably qualified and diverse group of new faculty members and administrative leaders. In addition, we will soon be announcing the launch of a new Graduate Student Diversity Task Force.

The university is moving ahead, too, with plans to address the student housing crisis. We are in the process of completing an agreement with a generous donor who will construct and donate a new student residential building at the Gateway site on the corner of University Avenue and Oxford Street. Work is also proceeding on the People’s Park housing projects: We plan to start construction on the site in about two years, and have hired an architect for the student residence and an exceptional nonprofit developer who will lead work on the supportive housing facility for unhoused members of the city’s community. Unfortunately, litigation filed by the city of Berkeley is likely to delay the construction needed to meet our goal of providing at least 7,500 new beds for Berkeley students. The city has sued the campus over our project on the Upper Hearst Parking Structure site and has demanded hundreds of millions of dollars to fund general city services as a condition of dropping the lawsuit. The university must rely on public-private partnerships to construct new residential facilities, and those partnerships are much more difficult to finance when there is pending litigation. While city leaders have repeatedly admonished the campus to build more housing, they are now hindering our efforts to do exactly that, unless we accede to extravagant financial demands that have nothing to do with housing. However, we continue to hope and believe the lawsuit can be settled out of court, avoiding unnecessary delay in our plans to meet the pressing needs of our students — a shared goal for both city and campus.

The start of this academic year also marks the full launch of a new, first-of-its kind Division of Data Science and Information. Spanning multiple schools and departments, the division is a direct response to unprecedented student interest, as well as the profound and growing impact of data and computing in a rapidly evolving digital world.

We will have much more to say about all of these important projects and initiatives, each of which is a testament to the power of collaboration and shared commitment to the values and aspirations that animate and unite us. It is a wonderful time of year, and a great time in the life of our university.

Sincerely,

Carol Christ
Chancellor