Campus & community, Campus news

Chancellor confronts challenges in campus space, diversity

In her regular conversation with the campus community, Chancellor Carol Christ talked with about her plans for Berkeley

carol christ looks at the camera
Chancellor Carol Christ speaking at a December 2019 Campus Conversation.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ took questions from students, staff and faculty at this week’s Campus Conversation. (UC Berkeley video by Stephen McNally)

UC Berkeley is moving forward as quickly as possible on a complex, ambitious building program that will help to address earthquake safety and shortages of affordable housing, classrooms and up-to-date laboratory space, UC Chancellor Carol Christ said yesterday.

In a year-end Campus Conversation, Christ cited the building program and the urgent requirements of campus diversity and inclusiveness as top priorities, both of which support the campus’s global leadership in education, research and public service.

Her wide-ranging remarks also touched on progress and challenges in Berkeley’s budget and the importance of the campus athletics culture, while noting early progress on an ambitious fundraising campaign that will be announced early in 2020.

In her remarks, Christ said that new housing projects are advancing for the corner of Oxford Street and University Avenue in Berkeley, and in People’s Park, where the campus plans to build both student housing and a permanent supportive housing facility for the homeless

“We’re moving as fast as we can on housing,” Christ told the audience at Alumni House. But plans for new and improved academic and research buildings are “much more complicated.”

“I think of it as like a giant chess game, or a kind of Rubik’s Cube,” she explained. “We have to figure out how we can strengthen our buildings seismically, … build whatever new facilities and modernize whatever facilities we need to, and minimize the number of moves that individual units need to make” during construction.

Tolman Hall, recently demolished because of seismic risks, is the ideal site for a new data sciences building, Christ said.

At the same time, Berkeley is exploring options to construct a building that will include space for general assignment classrooms and offices for academic departments displaced by the decant of Evans Hall. That, in turn, would allow for the demolition of Evans Hall, she said.

Funding for these capital improvements will be complex, Christ said, pointing to a combination of state funding, donations and a “modest” use of borrowing. An “extremely important” $15 billion bond issue will be on the March 3, 2020 primary election ballot to support construction for California schools and universities, including $2 billion for the UC system.

Diversity and the breakdown of norms

Since taking office in 2017, Christ has included campus diversity and inclusiveness among her top priorities. In her remarks Wednesday, she said the entire university community must redouble its efforts to improve the environment in ways that can ensure full inclusion and empowerment for all students, staff and faculty.

Demographic diversity is a key component: Berkeley must do all it can to assure that it reflects a diverse population. But demographic change is not enough, Christ said, and she called on the campus community to do more to make its entire culture welcoming and supportive of all people.

Christ cited a recent viral video in which a Berkeley undergraduate made offensive remarks about women and members of the black and LGBTQIA+ communities.

“I’ve had many conversations with members of the black community who have told me how much this pained them, how much this hurt them, and how much it made them feel that they didn’t belong here,” she said.

In other conversations, she said, members of the queer community told her that the video “‘is obliterating my existence.’”

Christ suggested that, at first blush, she thought of the video as an isolated and “incredibly misconceived” offense by an immature and misdirected young man. But she acknowledged that her initial response may have been colored by her privileges: she is white and powerful and secure, and so much less affected by such hostility.

“That’s not true of people who feel that they exist in a marginalized position, and somebody is saying, ‘You don’t matter, you don’t count, you don’t deserve to exist,’” she said.

As to the issue of demographic change, Christ cited her recent comments about using the SAT test in admissions, noting that studies show that SAT test success is correlated to the wealth of the test taker, not the individual’s academic or intellectual ability.

“I believe the SAT does not create a level playing field for our students and their applications to our university,” she said. “When I was president at Smith (Smith College in Massachusetts), we did away with the SAT as a requirement for application. We subsequently experienced a much larger and more diverse applicant pool and a much more diverse student body.”

A UC study group is exploring the issue, and its report will be delivered to the UC Board of Regents.

A ‘very ambitious’ funding campaign

Christ said details for the 2020 fundraising campaign would be announced in February, with the final goal to be set at a “very ambitious” level. She said she sees early signs that the campaign could be successful.

She said the donations could be used to add at least 100 faculty members, provide support for graduate students, and to finance undergraduate scholars and programs to support students trying to navigate the complex campus environment.

Campus Conversations is a monthly event where top Berkeley leaders take questions from staff, faculty and students. The next one will be held Jan. 21 and will feature Cal women’s basketball Coach Charmin Smith and men’s basketball Coach Mark Fox.