Berkeley Talks transcript: How higher ed is transforming during the pandemic

Robert Kilpatrick: Good morning. I am Dr. Robert Kilpatrick, the chair of the health and medicine member-led forum here at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. We’re currently continuing with our online program. Today, we are continuing with the Healthy Society Series. The purpose of this Healthy Society Series is really to look at all the elements that will come together to create the society that we want to live in. There’s no doubt about it that education, particularly higher education, has a crucial role in creating leaders across the spectrum of society for the future.

So, I’m really delighted with today’s program, “Changemaking in Higher Education.” We have three of the top leaders from the University of California, Berkeley, today with us: Chancellor Carol Christ; the dean of undergraduate studies, Bob Jacobsen; and Rich Lyons, who is the chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, a newly created job, formerly the dean of the Haas Berkeley School of Business. So without further ado, I’ll pass you to Rich, who will move us into the program. Thank you for viewing.

Rich Lyons: I want to just say a couple of more quick things, if I may, about our two guests today. Carol Christ has the top job at UC Berkeley. It’s the title chancellor that we use, as Robbie mentioned. She was, prior to that, the head or the president of Smith College. So, she has lots of perspective there and prior to that at Berkeley served in the number two job, what we call the provost and executive vice chancellor and professor of English for many years at Berkeley. Bob, as the dean of undergraduate studies, professor of physics, he’s seen a lot of parts of Berkeley and higher education, generally. Anyways, so there’s more bio information that’s on the website. I’ll direct you to that, but let’s jump right into this programming if we may.

So let’s start with COVID. I think we have to start with COVID. It’s on all of our minds and understandably. So, why don’t we start with you, Chancellor Christ, Carol, if I may. When you think about your management or Berkeley’s management of this crisis, are there certain things that in your own experience, for example, has helped you manage through this crisis, given how unique it is? I know that’s a big question. Thanks.

Carol Christ: Thank you, Rich. Yes, indeed. We had the experience at Berkeley of the fires two years ago, which necessitated a canceling of classes, and then even more significantly, the power outages in the fall. That also gave us experience with sudden disruption of most university activities. So, we started at that point working on a plan for instructional resilience without any sense that a pandemic was coming, and that has really served us well. We’re, of course, dealing with two different crises. One is the pandemic, the other is a financial crisis in our country, but certainly in our university. I’ve had maybe it’s the dubious privilege of leading through four previous budget crises. So, I think I’ve figured out some of the principles for how you deal with that.

Rich Lyons: Undoubtedly. As I recall, I was actually teaching last fall with the fires and so forth. A number of faculty had to immediately go to remote. That was a much shorter duration thing, but we were doing some remote teaching back then too, weren’t we?

Carol Christ: That’s right.

Rich Lyons: Yeah. So, how about sort of writ large, right, I think people have perhaps had a chance to speak to higher education leaders and so forth. Are there things that either of you is seeing that in kind of the higher ed leadership landscape, things that are inspiring you, the decisions that are getting made that feel like, “Wow. We weren’t thinking that way a couple months ago, and I like what I’m seeing.” And maybe some things that are troubling you about our response to higher ed generally?

Carol Christ: Yes. The thing that’s been inspiring to me is actually less on the leadership level, but in the grassroots level. I’ve seen extraordinary creativity, initiative. I’ll give just one example. A faculty member, Jennifer Doudna. She’s the discoverer of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. When the pandemic struck, she pulled her lab together and she said, “We have to stand up and fight this virus.” They created a robotic testing lab that currently has the capacity to do a thousand tests a day. They just moved from nasopharyngeal swab testing to saliva testing. It’s just an extraordinary story.

There was a faculty member that she works with very closely who wrote me an email. He quoted Lord of the Rings. He said, this is Frodo, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” said Gandalf. “And so do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time has given us.” That keeps echoing in my mind. So, the examples that I see that are most inspiring are people that don’t have to do anything, just a group of graduate students that decided to mix up huge vats of hand sanitizer in their lab and distribute it to places like homeless shelters and prisons. So that is what I’ve found really to admire.

Rich Lyons: Oh, I love that example. It’s a terrific example. I think it’s also, when we think about the societal ballast, the research that these wonderful institutions do, right, I mean, we are quite dependent obviously on that very specific human capital as we search for vaccines and therapeutics and so forth. But that idea of the agility of a lab that wasn’t doing this or anything even quite like this, being able to do that. I love that example.

Let me turn to you, Bob. I’ll bring it back to this overarching theme of healthy societies. So, this is a broad question. I know it’s one that you’ve touched in various ways in your own experience and career. But when you think about the role of education in advancing healthier societies, what elements of that come to mind, and could you help us think about that connection?

Bob Jacobsen: Well, Berkeley has always thought of itself as a community and a small society of its own. It’s been interesting in the last three months to see how that plays out, to see how people pull together in this community that is now dispersed across the planet. We have students in every time zone, and I hear from them because they want their exams rescheduled into their time zone, which is an interesting challenge. But nevertheless, there’s still a community. So, this is a short-term example of how the healthiness of this community has to come from the people pulling together and reacting.

They’re developing all sorts of ways of doing, both physical ways, in terms of laboratories and hand sanitizers, but also ways of organizing themselves, coming together for office hours, coming together for clubs. Berkeley has a large number of student organizations, and they’re finding ways to function, and in most cases to thrive. So, Berkeley as innovator is important. But Berkeley as educator is also important. Students are learning how to do this, and they will carry that forward in what they do.

Carol Christ: One of the most important strengths for capacity somebody can develop is resilience. I think we’re all getting a lot of lessons and experience, but particularly our students who are having to figure things out. I think they’ve been extraordinary. The students were very disappointed that weren’t going to have a graduation. A group of students used the game Minecraft to create Blockeley University. They created a replica of extraordinary detail of the campus and stage to graduation, just incredible things.

Bob Jacobsen: This is sort of what we want. We want the people who are most effected by things to have the tools to deal with them, to improve that situation. They’re not waiting for word to come down from above, which can sometimes be a little horrifying in what direction they take. But nevertheless, they are trying to find positive ways forward throughout all of this. I think it’s going to serve them well.

Rich Lyons: Oh, I love that.

Bob Jacobsen: And I think it’s going to leave us with a changed university.

Rich Lyons: Well, I agree with that. They are not waiting, that sense of agency, right? All of us as human beings I think yearn for a sense of agency in our lives to be equipped, to leave this world better than how we found it. Yet that’s an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do, and these kinds of very challenging experiences are I think helping people to think about it that way.

One other quick comment, if I may, is that you talked about the community element of it and how central that can be to healthier societies. I think we are also seeing alumni engagement. I know both of you are seeing this, but alums are getting more involved in our accelerators, and they’re getting more… I mean, Zoom has sort of enabled a connectivity that is quite remarkable and isn’t going to go away.

One could even imagine if I couldn’t paint a picture of further in the future. We have alums, as do most universities who are serving as advisers to startup teams or whatever it is, research labs and boards. I think we’re starting to see something even wider emerge. What if each of our classes had advisers? What if our alums said, “I will be an adviser/mentor to five people in that class? That’s a very spiky way to use me.” Like, wow. Bringing alums into the classroom in that way. Anyways, as we start to get concrete about what’s getting enabled here, I think we start to see some of the exciting opportunities that are in fact revealing themselves. So thank you both for those comments.

I want to come back to the word changemaking, if I could, right? If we think about Berkeley has played a role as a bellwether institution, obviously, in the past, particularly in this public education realm. This is a hard question. But if we were going to paint a picture of what you would like higher education to look like, so let’s be optimistic. Some of the things that you would love to see. Ten years out is a long ways out. But let’s paint a big picture. What are a couple of the themes that are principle in your mind in terms of the direction not just Berkeley needs to go, but maybe higher education, more generally? Chancellor, could you start with that question?

Carol Christ: A lot of faculty that I’ve talked to about this sudden move into remote instruction talk about it as just discovering a muscle that they didn’t know they had. I think that the same thing is true institutionally. What I think is going to happen 10 years from now, probably even, what, fewer years from now is we’re really going to extend our reach in ways that we will be able to reach more people, be able to provide more access to the extraordinary instruction teaching that Berkeley has, and I think limitations of time and space are going to mean less.

So, if we do this well, we will be able to create greater equity in the sense that kinds of real obstacles or challenges for students — work schedules, inability to go full-time, commuting — we can make much less of an obstacle with the remote capabilities that we’re developing.

Rich Lyons: Oh, I love that point. I mean, it really is fundamental. Well, it’s easy for any of us to forget the many dimensions of what access means, right? It’s of course socioeconomic, but it’s also other things. Here’s my family situation. I don’t have the flexibility to attend a program that looks like that. So, how can you make this work for me? That is fundamental, and I appreciate your calling it out. Bob, anything on your mind on this front?

Bob Jacobsen: I don’t get to think largely, so let me indulge myself a little bit. Universities started as being the place you could go to get information because books were scarce. Then Gutenberg came along. But they didn’t go out of business. They became about motivation and assessment. You would go to a class to help you study, to help you learn, and finally, to get blessed and get ahead and whatever you get to go on. We’ve done that for a thousand years. Then online came along, and we thought that was about distribution. But what I think we’re learning now is that it’s not. What it’s actually about is providing a new form of motivation for studiers and almost teaching them to self-regulate. Right?

They can get information anywhere. With your favorite search engine, they can find the information. This is about teaching them to learn it themselves, to know when they’ve learned it and to start to use it to change the world. I think we’re thinking of online education differently than we did a year ago because of these changes.

Carol Christ: Yeah. If I might add to what Bob said, one of my favorite books about higher education is called the Tower and the Cloud. The title is a metaphor for how universities used to be situated around towers, like the campanile only because you had to be in the same place with the books, and you had to be in the same place with the faculty. Now, no longer. So there can be a different metaphor for the university. I think what Bob is saying is so profound because I think, originally, I would have thought, “Well, online, that means solitude. That means lack of human connection.” But what I’m seeing is that we’re creating different kinds of human connection, that in some ways are able to leap the boundaries of space and time just by the students that want to take their exam in a different time zone.

Rich Lyons: Super important points. I think maybe one model for a lot of us, including me, and years ago, whatever number N is, is that the way we’ve been teaching historically is here. It is online. We’re going to get close to that. How close could it get? I think part of what you’re saying is, “No, there are elements, dimensions of what we’re learning with online that are going to be better than the way we used to do it.” Right? Nobody’s saying it is unambiguously better in every dimension. We know that there are challenges.

Bob Jacobsen: If I may add one more thing. We’re also messing with the agency of the students. What do I mean by that? A student could always go find some professor in the hallway, right? You could always show up and knock on the door of the lab and say, “I want to know more.” When we first went to online, it was very central. Those kinds of opportunities were not available. So now, we’re in the process of figuring out how to do that, figuring out how to do things like ad hoc seminars and having lunch together with your research group and meeting other people. A lot of that is turning into the students figuring out new ways of exerting that agency, of catching somebody in the hallways. It’s going to be very interesting because it’s going to give them the opportunity to affect the world in much larger distant ways.

Rich Lyons: Well, I mean, it hammers home. I love the point that university have always been bundles of services, right? Pretty complicated and interdependent bundles. Ten years ago, when people said, “Oh, MOOCs are here, you’re done. Right? You’re going to get disrupted.” It’s like, “Boy, you’re unbundling something that has been bundled historically for a reason.” Now, we’re going to bundle it differently and sort of see parts of it that this emerging reality perhaps don’t do as well as meeting somebody in a hallway. But I love the idea that agency is both being challenged and being developed as a result of this. That does feel fundamental to me.

How about this question? I’ll direct it to you, Carol, public education generally, right? I mean, grossly oversimplifying, if there’s public education and there’s private education, do you feel like public education is becoming relatively more important or relatively less? Or how do we think about that question?

Carol Christ: I think it’s becoming relatively more important. I think people are even more sensitive to the social mobility engine that public higher education is. Higher education is about the generational transfer of knowledge. We want to extend that transfer of knowledge to more and more both young people, but young people that come from diverse backgrounds. So, there’s the instructional part of our mission that I think its evidence is even more important. This pandemic has made it so clear how important knowledge and the advancement of knowledge is. It’s our universities. They’re really leading the way in the search for cures, in the search for vaccine, in the research about public health measures and strategies. So, I think people are becoming even more aware of the role that universities in general but public universities in particular play of importance in society.

Bob Jacobsen: I think the thing about a public university like Berkeley is quality at a size. We bring in students of so many different kinds and give them the chance to move forward with their lives. That’s just different. Our ability to continue to do that for the State of California is an interesting challenge because California is getting bigger, and we still have nine campuses. But yeah. The publicness of it touches everything we do.

Rich Lyons: Yes. Yes. I think for a lot of people, including a lot of our listeners today, I mean, they value highly private education because they themselves benefited from it or their families have, and that’s, of course, a fine thing. At the same time, I think most, all of them recognize that they value public education publicly. I mean, in the sense that they realize the wheels could come off if we didn’t have that wide access to education because we could distinguish K-12 from from higher education. But one of the things that Scott Galloway, if I could flag it, he wrote an article recently about the coming disruption in higher education, New York Magazine, I believe. One of the things he said is the kind of especially exclusive private institutions are operating at a scale that is about one undergraduate scale.

It’s about one-fifth the size of the size of Berkeley. Presumably, that’s because that scale serves the problem that they’re trying to solve. But at what point does society need [inaudible] at the top end of the private provision of education? That question is on the table, it seems to me.

Carol Christ: I think that’s an extraordinarily important question is something that I think about all the time is, how can Berkeley achieve even more scale or the Berkeleys of the world achieve even more scale? There’s a statistic that’s a really interesting one that Berkeley has more students on Pell grants than the whole Ivy League, which suggests the kind of mobility engine that places like Berkeley, University of Michigan, other University of California campuses, University of Washington are for the country. I think one of the biggest questions, one of the revolutions in higher education that I think this pandemic is creating, I think it’s going to be a scale magnifier, and small institutions are really going to struggle with the issue of scale.

Rich Lyons: Interesting. So, that Galloway article I mentioned also suggested this much, that this… I’m using business jargon here, but kind of the addressable market of a lot of these remarkable higher ed institution is effectively getting larger, and they may even be partnering, some of them, with private companies to reach out and touch even more people. So it’ll be interesting to see that dynamic play out.

Bob Jacobsen: Can I touch on the quality side of this stuff?

Rich Lyons: Yes.

Bob Jacobsen: I mean, I’m willing to argue that Berkeley’s best 500 students are just as good as Harvard’s 500 students at any given year. I’ll make that argument every day. Now, let’s talk about the other 9,000. My question is, what do you want your physician to know? Right. Our graduates go out, and they become the lawyers and the managers and the doctors and all of the other things that make California run. Don’t you want them to be well-educated? Don’t you want them to be broad and deep at the same time? Don’t you want them to admit people from all over California? This is what we bring to the party.

Rich Lyons: Yep. Great. Wonderful questions. I’m going to use a few questions. Thank you for that response. Some questions are coming in through the chat, and thank you for that, for those of you that are submitting them. Let me try. So here’s one that connects to that COVID-19 topic that we started with. It would seem a healthy society needs to be educated about the basics of wearing a face mask for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Why is it so hard. Are students any better at doing this? Any thoughts there?

Carol Christ: Well, we’re going to require all our students to take what we’re calling the Berkeley pledge when they come back to campus, a pledge to all the public health measures that will be required, including mask wearing to protect the health of the community. It’s not just protecting your own health. It’s protecting other people’s health. Actually, in Berkeley, I’ve seen most people seem to be wearing masks, at least in the times when I walk around.

Rich Lyons: A related question, I’ll toss it in now, where can I find more information on how Cal is handling safety/sanitation protocols surrounding in-person labs and design spaces, particularly those with shared equipment? There’s a lot more posted now. Anything we can point them to?

Carol Christ: Oh gosh, I wish I had the web address. But there is a very detailed plan for the reopening or for search that has all of those things in it. Every lab, in order to reopen, has to submit a plan that is not only about the density with which the lab will be occupied where we’re restricting things to about 25% occupancy, but also about all of the cleaning, sanitation, social distancing procedures that’ll be used in the lab. Bob may know more about this than I because you’re a laboratory scientist.

Bob Jacobsen: There’s a lot of detailed work that’s going into that, and buildings are being reopened this week. But if someone wants to get more details, go to the main Berkeley website, I’m not good with colors, red or orange bar across the top that says how Berkeley is responding to coronavirus. That will take you to a page where you can learn more about research or education or other aspects of how this is being managed. But a lot of this is still being worked out as we go along. People are opening small buildings or individual labs, figuring out the lessons from that and then moving on to the next.

Rich Lyons: Literally, just yesterday, there’s a series that would be easy to find if you just search it on the internet, campus conversations, a set of conversations. I know both of you have been involved in this. But the one that was literally yesterday over the lunch hour, so will be available on video, was with the vice chancellor for research, Randy Katz. He was talking about how many labs of the roughly 80 labs, how many are already open? There’s of course distancing happening and all kinds of safety protocols. As Bob mentioned, another 15 or so will open within a week, but that’s still roughly only a third of the labs, and of course, there’s a lot more research going on at Berkeley than what’s in the so-called STEM labs, the science, technology, engineering, math, and so forth.

But if you’re specifically interested in research capacity opening, I would definitely see that campus conversations that will be on the campuswide website there. So historic event this last week, Proposition 209, the region’s unanimously suggesting we need to reconsider this. We just have to address that question. Carol, probably, I mean, you’re involved in this in so many ways. Help us understand how this is evolving.

Carol Christ: Well, I was delighted with the regents’ action. I was the provost at Berkeley at the point that Proposition 209 was passed. I saw our diversity really plummet as a result of that. I think people are just deeply and painfully aware of the structural racism in this country now. I think perhaps the tide is turning in regard to attitudes toward affirmative action. I wish it were a tool that we had in our portfolio of tools to broadly educate a representative population of Californians. So, I was delighted to see what the regents did. We’ll see what the electorate does in November on the ballot.

Rich Lyons: Yeah. I’m just wondering. You probably don’t know this, but I’m sure there are enough researchers on the Berkeley campus who have addressed sort of, what do the data say, and what does the research say? Obviously, when thinking about voting in an official position by Berkeley, that’s complicated territory. But what does the research say, right? That those are things that we’re in a position to do. So, anyways, that would be something we might be able to help with.

Bob Jacobsen: So, Berkeley for a long time has had an admissions process that reaches out to many different people. We turn away people with perfect test scores every year in favor of others. We have a long-term commitment to helping these students. So, whoever you are, we will take you where we get you, and we will try to bring you as far along in your education in your two or four years. California has a real challenge with the structure of its K through 12 schools. We have done a lot to help on our end of it. There’s more we can do, depending on how these electoral things turn out. But this is a challenge at every level. We have students now who we’re in the process of trying to get 3,000 laptops distributed to people who don’t have access to computers at home and are studying remotely. Figuring out how to actually bring people who have gone through very different structural experiences to the level we want to, it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for us. We’re going to work hard to step up to it. But it’s going to be a challenge.

Rich Lyons: I think sort of almost any persuasion, political or life, what have you, most people feel that a principle like equality of opportunity is a very sensible way to think about organizing a society. One of the things, I remember my eyes were open — this was by the students — I was having a discussion when I was dean, and they were saying, “But what about distance traveled? Do you see how far that person had to go to get to this spot? You’re just comparing this spot with that spot.” I thought, “Oh, that was just a very helpful comment for me.” In any event, it’s a fundamental element, as we think about healthy societies. They certainly have lots of historical precedent where things became sufficiently unequal in a society that literally wheels did come off, right? Things didn’t continue to work as they had.

Sticking with this general area — there’s a question here about AI. I think it links to… it’s on about social media and post truth and AI. So, this question: Will AI software compliment professors’ teaching or replace professors in the long run for students to have a better inactive experience? So, as we think about technology, per se, and how it’s playing a role, maybe, Carol, you could speak… People talk a lot about getting the humanities connected to this technological dynamic in a deeper way. Is that one of the things you’re supporting at Berkeley?

Carol Christ: The question of AI and the ways in which it can enhance learning is an extraordinarily interesting one. There were a set of courses that were developed at Carnegie Mellon that I remember, one was in statistics. The way AI was an important partner in that course was analyzing students’ answers and figuring out what they didn’t know so that the instructor could be more effective in the instruction that he or she was providing. I think it’s AI analytics that are going to be really important to instruction and also advising, helping students get through their four years in the best possible way, helping advisors and people in positions like Bob’s understand when students are hitting a trouble spot before the trouble gets really, really big. So, I think AI analytics can be an enormous boon to education. I don’t think they’re going to replace in-person instruction. They’re going to make it more effective.

In regard to the humanities: Humanities have been kind of late to the party. But I think that people rightly understand that reading and writing is just a fundamental tool for whatever professional world you enter. I think, increasingly, people understand that fluency in IT and data science is going to be a similar, really important capacity and that we have to make that broadly available to our student body.

Rich Lyons: Yeah. You and the campus have through this data eight class, for example, data science class, where the English major sits next to the physics major to pick your two majors, and they take the same class in introductory data literacy effectively. So that’s important. Really, I’m going to just reinforce your point about scaffolding rather than replacing, right? Because going back to something Bob said, right, it’s like, “Oh, Gutenberg Bible.” We don’t need the sage on the stage anymore. We’ve got the books. It’s sort of like, “Well, that didn’t replace faculty members.” I think this idea of from… People are using this phrase, “From sage on the stage to guide on the side,” right? That they will always, right? You can’t just unbundle this and say, “MOOCs will cover it. We don’t need it anymore.”

Any more than any of us, if you said, “Well, I want to learn how to play the piano.” And somebody says, “Well, just go look at the YouTube videos. You’ll learn in an instant.” It’s sort of like, “If it were that easy, you’d be doing it, too.” So, what is it about this sort of motivational element that Bob highlighted that is just absolutely fundamental to getting this done well?

Bob Jacobsen: So, there’s a difference between an instructor who presents knowledge and an instructor who uses empathy to diagnose what needs to be done and conveys that information to the student. To the extent that we’re trying to get these students to self-regulate, to figure out what they want to do and then go out and do it. I’m not sure they will follow machines. I think they would be much better off following people who have done that and learning from their experiences.

Rich Lyons: Yup. As we think about kind of… I think our minds want to dichotomize between machines and people. One of the ideas, I mentioned that idea earlier about, is online going to ask them tote and get close to as good as the way we’ve always done it, or are there elements that are better? But there was a company that was started at Berkeley, just very quickly, called Write Lab. The idea was that think about the feedback that any of us, the feedback loop that we got when we were learning how to write. Okay. You’re in second grade, you write a report, you submit it. Three weeks later, you get it back. It’s got a grade, maybe a comment on it. But that’s not a feedback loop, right?

So, we all use sort of grammar and spelling checks when we write online. But we are getting to an AI level where we could submit a high school students eight-paragraph essay on China, and it could start to speak to whether there’s a good solid topic sentence in that paragraph, whether the thesis… Even if you’re not a China expert, you could read that essay and realize, is this kind of a deep thesis or not a very deep thesis? Well, we can start to program that kind of thing, and we can get immediate feedback on our writing beyond just grammar and spelling. It’s like, “Wow, that would accelerate one’s ability to learn how to write not.” Not that this product in its full-blown glory fully exists yet. But parts of it exist. Anyways, I view that as something that is a little bit more in the scaffolding rather than replacing element of it.

So, there are many sort of great questions, and I’m not going to be able to get to all of them. How about this one, which is relevant to both of you: Intellectual aspects of higher ed can be adapted online. But what about access to the labs, the hands-on, the action learning? How might that be adapted on a global scale, local maker labs, things like that? How do we keep the getting-your-hands-dirty part of what we do strong?

Carol Christ: There have been some really creative things that our faculty have done in moving some laboratory courses online. In other words, in chemistry, for example, they’re using graduate students to do demonstrations that are filmed, and then the students do the calculations from the experiment. But I don’t think that there’s a substitute. Bob would know this better than I. But I don’t think that there’s the substitute for, as you put it, the getting-your-hands-dirty aspect of research, that laboratory work is, A, often going to need extraordinarily expensive and complex equipment, which you can’t duplicate in your basement and also, there’s an element you just have to work with the material world and the ways in which we do experiments with the material world in order to yield the benefits of science. But Bob does this stuff. So he would know better than I.

Bob Jacobsen: I mean, many people when they think of labs, they think of introductory labs and introductory courses, which are so cookbook. They’re miserable. I agree that there’s not a whole lot gained by those that couldn’t be done remotely or by otherwise. But if you want people to go out into the world and being able to do stuff, you have to have them be beginners at that stuff and then where to be enthusiastic about that stuff and then even maybe make a few catastrophic mistakes, clean up the scorch marks on the wall, you make sure nobody was hurt, and you move on. That kind of lab experience, that kind of research experience is what the university has always excelled in. It was mostly graduate education, and it’s moving down now into senior junior or sophomore, and in some cases, freshman.

You’re right. It requires a certain amount of physicality. One of the hardest things for physics students to learn when they’re first working with electrical circuits is that the diagram is not the same as the object. They’ll have wired it wrong, left off the battery or whatever, and they’ll spend all their time looking at the piece of paper. This paper is not going to tell what the problem is. That’s a lesson you just have to learn with your hands.

Rich Lyons: Well, that links so well. There’s a point you made earlier about agency, right? If at the end of the day we need citizens that… I love the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” right? When we’re 17, 18, 19, and we’re coming into university, there’s a lot of futures for ourselves that we can’t seek. We need them to see more of those. That’s part of what we mean by agency, is that cognitive shift from they do that, other people do that, to I do that. Actually, this is now available to me, maintaining some humility in that, but that’s fundamental. I think some of the things that you’re talking about are part of how we design even more of that into this fundamental four-year or however many year experience.

Carol Christ: Now, when you teach, you’re not just teaching content. You’re teaching a way of relating to the material. That’s, in my experience, what they aspire to is, “I want to be able to relate to this material like that person.” I was talking before about universities are about the generational transfer of knowledge. One of the things that happens in universities is you expand your adult universe, and encounter many, many more ways of connecting with material in the world that enables you to envision different possibilities for yourself.

Bob Jacobsen: Well, everybody at Berkeley has heard the phrase, “question authority.”

Rich Lyons: Yes.

Carol Christ: Yeah.

Bob Jacobsen: We don’t always think about that, right? That works best when authority answers, and you get to engage, and you get to figure out, what does this mean for me, and how do I go forward? So, there is this need to have younger learners, more basic learners, have a chance to do it themselves so that they eventually move up to having the skills to do whatever it is they want to do. They don’t necessarily want to become like me. But they want to be able to take their pieces of me and all the other people they worked with while they were here and go off and do that. That requires a kind of interaction that we’re just now learning how to do remotely.

Rich Lyons: Yes. That relating to the material more deeply and in more ways, just a quick story, if I may. It’s one of your colleagues in the humanities, Lisa Wymore, theater, dance, and performance studies. We were talking about a course that we’re designing as a kind of front-end for incoming freshmen. She was talking to me about critical thinking, which of course, we’ve all heard that phrase, and we all have some working definition in our minds. But she was emphasizing for me, and I’m an economist, I’m a social scientist. But she was emphasizing for me the notion of empathy’s role in critical thinking, that if you really want to see an issue from all sides, you have to see it from all sides. You have to take different perspectives.

Empathy is fundamental for understanding how this looks like. How do you speak, and the third person’s listening? To do that, you have to work at it. As an economist, just sort of like empathy and critical thinking, those two things just weren’t very close objects in my mind. So, anyways, just one small concrete example, the kind of thing that you’re describing, it was very helpful to me.

We may come back to that topic. There’s still some great questions. Let me come back to a topic that, Carol, you’ve thought a lot about because you’ve led through it. When we think about Berkeley’s history, free speech, making sure that students are safe for ideas and so forth, anything over the last couple of years that has informed your thinking and your commitment to free speech?

Carol Christ: Yeah. That’s a question to which I’ve given a lot of thought. Increasingly, I have a very John Stuart Mill-like posture toward free speech, I really believe, in the marketplace of ideas. But I’m increasingly aware of, particularly in the world we live in now, of social media and fake news — that just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean that it’s right to say that thing and get back to the the principle of emphasis that you talked about. I think we all are aware, need to be aware, of the impact of our words on community.

So, I’m not suggesting a kind of standard of political correctness that is stifling of really free and robust debate. But I am saying you need to understand in your speech, the impact that your speech is going to have on people who are listening to you and the impact on the communities that you value.

Rich Lyons: Yes. It does connect, as you said, to that empathy question and also, the community theme that I think, Bob, you initially raised. Thank you for that. There’s so many good questions here. Let me pull one out, because it’s just so important for both of your roles: Don’t several companies have R&D labs, perhaps that’s where alumni companies can help partner with students, so industry-sponsored research, and there are just so many connection points with companies? That was the question. Are there more partnership opportunities and maybe, how do you see some of those evolving?

Carol Christ: Rich, you could probably speak to that question better than I, but yes, indeed. There are such opportunities, and we want to make even more of them available in part through the startup and the incubator and accelerators that’s now surround campus in part through any number of programs that are industry university partnerships that have lots of opportunities for student interns.

Rich Lyons: Yeah. Thank you.

Bob Jacobsen: Now, we can do internships all over the planet. So, pretty much wherever you are, if you’re interested in offering a Cal student an internship, there’s probably one pretty close to you right now.

Rich Lyons: That’ll also be interesting, whether companies having experienced this may very well go to, at least partially, remote internships as a norm in the future when it’s no longer required, right? Because they are learning as we have from remote education.

If I could, just because I am in this chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer role, you’re right, that this question is for pretty close to what I do and think about. I think most people on this call understand that over the last 30, 40, 50 years, there’s been a sea-change. We had build labs, and we had lots of companies that were doing basic research, upstream research.

Now, there’s been, speaking generally, a kind of division of labor, where our universities are really doing the upstream or basic research in the middleware research. Then there’s a lot of partnering on the more translational research with universities and companies. So, it is evolving rapidly, and I think it’s working well on both sides, obviously, universities, and we do. We have to take conflict of interest very seriously. We have to take academic freedom very seriously, right, and we do. With those things in place though, these partnerships are, I think, advancing us as institutions and advancing advancing societies.

Let’s see. I’m going to come back to a topic that we talked a bit about before. There’s a little bit of something that I’m totally enthused about, and you both have helped me be enthused about this. But it’s really that agency question. I’m going to pose it this way to our listeners. Those of you that are listening, suppose Berkeley told you or some fine research institution told you that you get to design a 30-hour class that every incoming freshman, a freshman and transfer students would be relevant for Berkeley, everyone has to take. What would you teach? What would you teach?

That’s not effectively a question that’s been posed or an opportunity that’s been offered. But I think it’s helpful for each of us. So, if we thought about needing students that actually societal impact, they not only want to have societal impact, which all people do, and especially our young people do, but they feel like they’ve been enabled to do that. What would that class look like?

So that’s one of the things we’ve been working on at Berkeley is, what does such a 30-hour… Not as a requirement, but as a kind of demand driven thing, are students going to want to take a class like that, and what goes in it? So maybe, Bob, I’ll turn to you. As you think about… I mean, you mentioned to me that this idea of suppose we had a class called Curiosity, and we could stoke curiosity in everybody that comes to Berkeley. It’s like, “Great idea. I think we’ve tried it. It’s very, very hard.” Could you talk a little bit about what you feel like everybody maybe needs a little bit more of?

Bob Jacobsen: So, it’s hard to pick a particular single class because our students are so broad. But I think that’s the thing we need to inculcate immediately. From the first day on the campus, we need to be talking about, the world is complicated. There’s a lot of different things going on. Please don’t focus in on your future job that might not survive. Even if you want to be a physics major, there’s a whole lot more to the world from philosophy to psychology, to things that don’t even start with P. We need to generate this broad interest in being an informed citizen of the world as early as we can, particularly for students who have fought their way through a tough high school because their family wants them to get a job. That’s a great thing. Being a contributing member of society is an excellent thing, but there is so much more than a long life requires to really make the contributions these people can.

So, I want an out-of-the-box sports. The world’s a complicated place. Here’s how you’re going to start to put together your own set of skills to go out and do it.

Rich Lyons: Yup. Anything you’d like to add, Chancellor, to that?

Carol Christ: Yes. I think what’s important about such a class is less the content of the class than it is the kinds of things that you ask the students to do. The best classes embed in their pedagogy, the enhancement of agency on the part of the student, that you want to have projects that ask them to do, I mean, whatever is appropriate for the course. So, obviously, huge range of content areas. But that’s what you’re always seeking to do is get the students to own and to engage rather than just be receptacles from some knowledge that you have.

Rich Lyons: There may have been. In some people’s minds, there’s been a generational trend perhaps away from that, right? The helicopter parenting and some of the other ways that we think about some of these trends may or may not be going in that direction. Real quickly, the class that I mentioned before, some 500 people incoming to Berkeley are taking of their own free will. It’s not a requirement. We’re calling the Berkeley Changemaker and that idea of infused with Berkeley values, like question the status quo, like beyond yourself, a sense of stewardship for something larger. So, there’s a values anchor undoubtedly to it. But I think, in essence, it really goes in the direction that both of you mentioned, and that is… Look, think about ourselves: When I’m 15, 16, 17, 18, you can’t help but think of your impact on the world, on society as being that of an individual contributor. That’s just the way people are coded. But people start to realize, as they mature, that their largest impact on the world will come by working through and with other people.

That’s a fundamental psychological transition. You’re not going to affect that in a 30-hour course. But you can start people thinking about, how would I build a team? How would I motivate some people to go in this direction that I want to get, even if I don’t have any formal authority over them and unlikely to have that. Anyways, that’s some of the stuff that’s in this course. I think we all agree that however a greater sense of agency and a greater enabling of agency can be achieved by institutions like Berkeley, it feels like there’s there’s room for more. Yeah.

Carol Christ: Yeah. That’s really interesting. United States higher educational institutions are different from their European and their Asian counterparts in having lots of clubs and having sports as a central part of college life. I’ve often thought about that and thought, “That’s really interesting that this is a different model.” But when you talk to alums and you ask them the question, I often ask them, “What is the thing that most changed you in your time at Berkeley?” They often will say, “It was the student organization and the role that I played in it” or “It was playing on the football team.” I think the way you connect it, if you’re a very serious intellectual as I am, something little dismaying about this, but then I started to understand it really is the sense of agency within community that you were talking about that’s important in those experiences.

Rich Lyons: It’s a great phrase.

Bob Jacobsen: I mean, the undergraduate experience really should be halfway to the real world. There are some things that the real world should not intrude on. But we should be halfway there. We should be setting up students for their journey from being a 17-year-old high school graduate to being a 28-year-old settled into a path and starting to make a real difference. That’s a lot of different things. That’s not just classes. That’s not just everybody needs to learn math. That’s a huge broad set of attributes for the person beyond the learning out of the books, that in some sense, is the future of the university is, is the mentoring necessary to help people do that?

Rich Lyons: I love it. The bundling of opportunities and experiences and again, back to that bundling and the nuance that is the delta that someone can experience at an institution like this. Here’s one question that I’d like to get out there. Then the question of differential impact, right? Whether we’re talking about COVID-19 and different groups and also at Berkeley, you’re bringing back people to campus, and you’re trying to make sure that it works for as many people as possible. How do we think about… Maybe this is better for you, Carol. But when you’re thinking about kind of fairness, as you bring people back in the fall, what’s principle in your mind?

Carol Christ: Well, we have four principles for all the decisions that we’re making, to protect the health as a community, to sustain the continuity of instruction, to preserve as many jobs as possible, and to view everything through an equity lens. So, whenever we make a decision, we ask the equity question and say, “Does it have differential impact? Is that differential impact negative for some students? If so, are there ways we can mitigate that differential impact?” The program that Bob referred to just a moment ago, providing computers to kids who don’t have computers. We’re trying to provide hotspots for students who don’t have good internet access in their homes. So, we really are trying to look at our decisions through an equity lens.

Rich Lyons: Thanks for that. I am going to do a couple more from the list here because there are just some terrific questions. Specifically here, how do we think about… Okay, I’ll read it. After the campus opens for students to return in the classroom, will all the students still be online? What does that hybrid look like? What about students who do fall ill, and how are we kind of managing the likely testing and de-densifying actions?

Carol Christ: First of all, we’re reserving an entire dormitory complex, Foothill, for students who either have to be isolated because they’re ill or have to be quarantined because they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. That’s over 800 beds. Secondly, every student will be taking some classes remotely. The great majority of classes at Berkeley are over 25 students. So, those courses will be taught remotely. But I hope that students returning to campus will also have in-person experiences, though they probably won’t be complete classes, except if they’re taking one of these under 25 classes like laboratories or performing arts classes.

Rich Lyons: Thanks for that. Thank you. We’re getting close to the end of our time. I want to try this question. It’s in the list here. What is your view on the need for higher education to transform itself? I’ve worked across the public sector in the UK. It worked across the public sector in the UK. Seems like higher education is well behind, for example, value for the money. Some of the things we’ve talked about I think are transformative themes. But I guess this one’s getting more specifically on, how do we make sure education is affordable. So I could focus your attention on that, if I could.

Carol Christ: Well, I think that’s a very complex question, much more complex than two minutes allows. But that you have to think of it in the context of what has been a massive public disinvestment in, certainly, public higher education. The burden of paying for a public higher education has shifted in most states in the United States from the state tuition, if you look at Berkeley’s budget or the University of California’s budget, those two parts of it, the state contribution and the contribution from tuition have flipped, essentially. In private universities, the answer is more complex and has a lot to do with financial aid. If we hold the goal that we want to provide access, whether we’re a public or private institution, then there is inevitably a cross-subsidy in tuition. It’s more complicated than that. But that’s it in short.

Rich Lyons: Yeah. Thank you for that. It is a very big question. Thank you for the response. Please, Bob.

Bob Jacobsen: There’s certainly issues of how the money flows and things like that. People can have different opinions as to whether certain costs are reasonable. But I think the fundamental question is that we haven’t made clear why this is a valuable thing. I talked to a lot of students who were coming out of communities where suddenly, they said, “Well, what if I can’t get a job that pays an extra $10,000? Why would I go to Berkeley?” It’s like, “Damn, that’s not the question.” The question is, “What’s the difference it’s going to make in the next 60 years of your life and what you can do for the world.” We haven’t really figured out how to help it. A lot of people understand that. That’s a tough sell.

Rich Lyons: Yup. We can get better at that. But that is a fundamental reframe, isn’t it? The demand, of course, for high-quality higher education is still very much there. There was some early work done on, isn’t that just purely a credentialing phenomenon — that people want to credential rather than the bundle of services that you’re providing. But I think the way you’ve reframed it makes it clear just how unique and valuable that that bundle of opportunities is that makes a great research university. Yeah.

Well, we’re at the point now where, I mean, we do have a couple more minutes. Just maybe a final statement. Both of you, some quick final thoughts. I would love to hear them. We’ll start with you, Carol. Thank you.

Carol Christ: Thank you. The last literary essay I wrote was on dystopian novels. I was really interested in the fact that writers who didn’t write science fiction particularly were writing this dystopian novels in which things like a pandemic or climate change had changed the world, as we know it. In these novels, things inevitably devolved into a kind of anti-Eden in which people were constantly at war with each other. I thought often about those books, now that we’re in a real pandemic and thought, “Well, the story is so different.” The stories that I see are people coming together and dealing with an unprecedented and very challenging situation, but by trying to make the world better, trying to cope with this incredible challenge. So, that’s what I’ll leave you with.

Rich Lyons: No, I love that. Love that message of hope. Thank you for that, Carol. Bob, to you.

Bob Jacobsen: So, higher education, University of California, more broadly, Berkeley in general, really is valuable for young people when we can engage them in the full monopoly of what we do, research, service, even educating their colleagues and make them junior partners eventually become senior partners in the development of knowledge and the changing of the world. That’s been our commitment for at least the time I’ve been here. So okay. Circumstances are changing. Technology is changing. But that’s the fundamental that we’re trying to move forward in undergraduate education.

Rich Lyons: I couldn’t agree more, both of you. Thank you for the service that you’re providing. It’s a remarkable time. We all know that, and you’re helping us see things that we weren’t seeing as clearly, and you’re helping continue to expand the opportunities that these young people are getting a chance to see.

I’ll turn it back to our host here, Robbie Kilpatrick, and in this Healthy Societies program that that is seeming it is right on target in terms of all the elements of how we get better and better as a society. To you, Robbie.

Robert Kilpatrick: Well, thank you, Rich. What a remarkable discussion today. I mean, I am personally so excited to see Berkeley leading the charge in terms of reforming higher education in the United States and perhaps the world. Well, Berkeley is the leading public university. What I was pleased to see was three individuals and positions of power with powerful minds and powerful hearts. I think that combination, empathy is valuable.

So, thanks to Carol Christ, who’s the chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, Bob Jacobsen, dean of undergraduate studies, and Rich Lyons, who’s the chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer.

The motto of the University of California, Berkeley, is “Fiat Lux,” which I think in English means “Let there be light.” I think that today’s discussion definitely was Fiat Lux. You illuminated many of the most important issues, I think, and you have stimulated a broader discussion. I’d like to thank our audience. All of you who have followed this program. I want you to know that in a few days time, perhaps a week or more, this program will be available on the Commonwealth Club website, both in a video and audio format, I’d also like to thank donors who are helping the club get through these challenging financial times, including Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and many individual contributors.

Although these programs are free, I’d like to encourage all of you drive to become a member, very cost-effective, or to make a small or large donation to the club to help this kind of programming continue. The Commonwealth Club has been hosting enlightened discussions for 117 years. That’s a very long time in the history of California, and we hope that we’ll have another 117 with your help. So again, thanks to our wonderful speakers today. Please go to and see some of our new programming in the next coming weeks, and have a good day. Bye for now.