Ask Me Anything — Chancellor Carol Christ answers questions on Reddit

Christ holds a message announcing her AMA forum

Chancellor Carol Christ hosted a Reddit AMA on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (UC Berkeley photo by Mike Dirda)

Chancellor Carol Christ took questions on everything from campus housing, seismic remediation and enrollment size to her favorite Berkeley eatery (it’s Fat Apple’s!) and the recent caterpillar infestation when she sat down last week for an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

Here are a few AMA highlights:

Question from cuzziewuzzie: Can more work be done to improve student safety? Many students live off campus, and there has been an alarming increase increase in Nixle alerts of robberies in areas a few blocks from campus.

Chancellor Christ: To an extent, our campus’s location means that we can’t entirely separate the campus from the city. We’re an open campus in an urban neighborhood.

Still, student safety is a top priority and we do have services designed to keep you informed and safe. One major new development is that we are doubling the number of CSOs (community service officers). I also encourage you to sign up for Nixle alerts if you have not, to use night safety services and to follow UCPD’s general guidelines — walk in groups at night, keep electronics out of sight.

Question from mrchu39: Can we get an update on the progress of the renovations making campus buildings more earthquake-proof?

Chancellor Christ: Thank you for asking this. There is simply nothing more important than ensuring the basic safety of our campus community and guests. The initial round of seismic assessments looked at just over 100 of our more than 600 buildings and found that 62 of them are likely to need retrofitting or replacement. The remaining buildings are now being examined and that work will be completed in June 2020. Once the initial assessments are done, the next phase of the project will determine the exact remedies needed to strengthen or replace deficient buildings. We do already know that Evans Hall, used by several thousand students and others every day, will need to be replaced at an estimated cost of $340 million.

I want to emphasize that UC Berkeley has, over the years, spent more than $1 billion to address seismic deficiencies, and work continues to this day across the campus. (The work being done on Giannini, for example, is a seismic remediation project.) Remediating seismic deficiencies is a process of continuous improvement driven by advancements in technology and scientific understanding. We are committed to keeping our campus as seismically safe as possible.

Question from Jason_is_A_N00b: Hi Chancellor Christ, what are some things about you think UC Berkeley does exceptionally well, and what are some areas that you believe the school is lagging behind in?

Chancellor Christ: I think Berkeley has extraordinary strength in research across a broad range of disciplines. It has a powerful sense of excitement … that new things are happening here — historic things — whether they are discoveries in the laboratory or social movements on Sproul Plaza. Berkeley has a strong sense of activism.

Berkeley does less well in providing affordable housing for its students, meeting their basic needs and creating what I call “equity of opportunity” for all students.

Question from Winstonp00: Chancellor, do you believe that with respect to our current enrollment numbers, that the campus is accommodating more students than it can actually handle? It is very often that resources like counseling, health care and getting into classes has a long delay, yet our enrollment number increased in 2019.

Chancellor Christ: Over the past few years our freshman enrollment has been down, mainly because of an over-enrollment in years prior to that. But I generally believe our campus is at or above capacity, yes.

Strange as it may sound, enrollment targets are not actually determined by me or my administration. Through negotiations, the state legislature, UC Regents, and UC Office of the President arrive at a total enrollment number, and then work with the campuses to divide it up. Pressure has come from the state legislature for all UC campuses to take more undergraduate students. We have taken our share, and then some. The last major jump in enrollment was the result of negotiations between UC President Napolitano and then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who believed that the Berkeley needed to enroll more Californians if it was to earn its state funding allocation.

All this said, I can and do offer guidance during this process. I joined with other UC chancellors last year to make clear that there are some campuses, like ours, that do not have the space or resources to take in more undergraduates, while there are other campuses that do have that room. I have asserted that Berkeley must be a “no growth” campus until we have met some of my other priorities to make sure we can provide a positive experience for the students we have and for any others we may take. We will stand firm on that position of no growth, while trying to alleviate the stresses in other ways — by hiring 100 new faculty so that we can offer more space in classes and a better faculty-to-student ratio, by building more housing close to campus.

Question from lulzcakes: Chancellor, last year during your previous AMA here, you talked about building more housing for students. A full year later, how is the progress on turning People’s Park into student housing? Is everything going smoothly? What other major overhauls do you have in mind for the student housing issue?

How do you feel about making literal on-campus housing? By that I mean housing that is quite actually right in the middle of campus. This is something I have thought a lot about. Many universities around the world offer this feature for students (such as Mills College in Oakland), and I think it would be very much welcome here as well. We could charge a large premium for a dorm room right next to Doe, for example, and then use that revenue to pay for added student services for low income students.

Chancellor Christ: Everything is moving ahead as hoped in regard to the People’s Park development. We just hired an architecture firm for the student housing portion of the project, and have selected a non-profit developer — Resources for Community Development — to lead the work on the supportive housing for homeless members of the community. We are about to launch a public comment and engagement process that will last nearly a year and offer members of the campus and community the chance to hear about the project and give feedback. The start of construction is probably two years away.

Beyond People’s Park, we are at this moment 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 and Oxford. Next in line is likely to be the development of the Oxford Tract. We have committed to maintaining the students’ organic garden on that site, and to finding a new location for the academic facilities and fields currently located there.

A committee I chaired a few years ago looked at dozens of parcels of campus land for potential development a few years back; we try to keep all housing on the periphery of the main campus, reserving the main campus for academic and administrative buildings. Our campus is actually relatively small in size, and we want to preserve its open spaces.

Question from InfernalWedgie: Chancellor Christ, would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

Chancellor Christ: I’m told that this question is a Reddit AMA rite of passage. 100 duck-sized horses, any day, particularly if they’re pretty ponies.

After 1.5 hours, Christ left the AMA, but came back the next morning to answer more questions. Read more and join the conversation on Reddit.