Fall updates for a semester unlike any other

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent the following message to the campus community on Wednesday:

As we begin a fall semester unlike any other, I want to provide you with updates and new information about our plans, hopes, and expectations for the months ahead.

I have nothing but profound respect and appreciation for how every single part of the Cal community has responded to the pandemic’s challenges and uncertainties. Students, by choosing to continue your education, are showing confidence in yourselves and in our ability to marshal Berkeley’s resources to support their dreams and aspirations.  Staff and faculty, many working under difficult circumstances, have devoted your time and energy to transitioning and adapting our programs and services for online delivery. And, our alumni and friends have stepped up to provide historic levels of philanthropic support that will help sustain Berkeley’s excellence for generations to come.

I must also acknowledge a fundamental truth: These are difficult times without parallel in our lives and, like you, I long for the day when our lives return to normal. The pandemic has highlighted and amplified deep racial and socioeconomic disparities among members of our campus community and far beyond. We may all be in the same storm, but we are most certainly not all in the same boat.

For this reason, we developed our plans for this semester through an equity lens to ensure we are doing everything in our power to provide equity of experience for all of our students, and to provide our staff and faculty with the support, services, and compassion they need and deserve. The world of remote learning and work, of social distancing, bears scant resemblance to our ideas of what college life is meant to be. Yet, I know Berkeley well. History has shown us to be a community that is resilient and strong. I am confident in our continued ability to rise to the occasion and find ways to foster a true sense of belonging, of connection, of mutual support.

When I talk to members of our community there is no hint of defeat or despair. Many of our scientists have redirected their research programs to vanquishing COVID-19 and its impact on our lives. Faculty and staff devoted the summer to ensuring our remote instruction embodies best practices, creating a “semester in the cloud,” and developing innovative approaches that will improve our online pedagogy. My colleagues in Student Affairs and Equity & Inclusion collaborated with students to adapt extra-curricular programs and student services for a virtual world. In all this work, everywhere I look, I see enormous creativity, dedication, and resilience.

The Budget

To support this work, and to make good on our commitment to equity, as well as the health and well-being of the campus community, the administration is investing millions of dollars in computer hardware and software for students in need, emergency funding for stepped-up financial aid, new technical infrastructure, the development of remote versions of our courses, COVID testing capabilities, increased cleaning and disinfecting, and personal protective equipment. As necessary as these expenditures are, they have added to our financial challenges.

The impact of the pandemic on campus finances amounts to $340 million, as a result of reduced revenues and increased costs. We are fortunate that we have been able to mitigate that impact to some extent, but the campus is still facing an estimated shortfall for fiscal year 2021 that could range from $65 million to $200 million, depending on our final enrollment numbers, as well as federal and state funding. We expect to have greater clarity in early October.

I want to assure you of two, key things. First, we are determined to protect our academic core and excellence. Budget cuts to academic units will average no more than 2 percent, while reductions for administrative units will average 3 percent. Second, we will turn to layoffs only as a last resort, in the event voluntary actions are not sufficient to bring our budget into balance.

Our budgetary plans and decisions are based on reasonable, scientifically supported expectations that the pandemic’s impact will be relatively short-lived phenomena that will begin to subside by mid 2021. So, in that context, we want to avoid actions and decisions that could permanently and irreversibly damage the essential parts of what makes Berkeley, Berkeley.

Primetime for a Public University

That objective is all the more important given how essential, in these challenging times, the public research university is to our country and our world.  Now more than ever, humanity needs people who believe in science….in the notion of a greater good…in justice…equity…diversity… inclusiveness…and the truth. And these, of course, are the very values that form the foundation of all that Berkeley is and stands for. It is our collective responsibility to ensure it will always be so.

We are living in a historic moment when things are shifting about us in ways that will have a profound impact upon the future.  This may be a perilous time, but so, too, is it a time of creative ferment and possibility….and that is prime time for this public university. What animates Berkeley is our belief in, and commitment to, individual and institutional agency–the notion that through the discovery, development, dissemination and discussion of knowledge we can make the world a better place. And so, we have a shared responsibility to respond to the three interlocking, complexly inter-related series of events—the pandemic, the economic disruption resulting from it, and urgent self-questioning about social justice and systemic racism.

Creating a Sense of Belonging for All

It is in this context that I have been reflecting on the steps we can take as a campus to fully embody, support, and advance—on campus and beyond– anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion in our words, deeds and academic activities.  I have spoken with many groups and received many suggestions. And we are taking action. The Independent Advisory Board on Police Accountability and Community Safety submitted its report this summer.  After receiving much public comment, we will soon respond to its findings and describe plans for the implementation of recommendations.

I will also soon send a message to the community providing detailed, updated information about all that we are doing and planning in order to increase our diversity, advance equity, and create a true sense of belonging for all. We have much to report about our ongoing efforts to expand the diversity of our student, staff and employee populations. We want to inform you about work underway to support the needs and interests of all those who have traditionally been marginalized and disadvantaged, including Native Americans, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students and colleagues who are living with disabilities. We will report on our progress toward becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). We will offer ways for everyone to engage in a grand collaboration to create a meaningful, profoundly inclusive community. Please stay tuned.

Fighting Racism and Anti-Blackness

At this moment, in this message, however, I want to focus on a related initiative: our intention to launch a campus wide, clear-eyed exploration of social justice, racism and anti-Blackness. We will, together, reckon with the lasting destruction wrought by slavery on our nation’s past, and our continued failure to fully confront and destroy the plagues of racism and anti-Blackness in the present day. We will examine our own actions and environment at this university and ask whether we truly provide the inclusiveness and social mobility we promise.

This year we will commit to the following actions:

  • We will build greater campus wide understanding of systematic racism and social justice through increased public programming on these subjects.
  • We will create a working group charged with overseeing efforts to improve the campus climate for the Black community.
  • We will work with the Black community to identify opportunities to leverage cultural symbols such as art and building names to communicate belonging for the Black community.
  • We will excavate and study the Black history of our own campus.

We will provide start-up funding for the Abolition Democracy Initiative, to build the capacity and impact of African American Studies at UC Berkeley.

We have both an obligation to respond and an opportunity to begin a process of repair and healing. I know the onus is on us, in leadership, to find the human and financial resources to implement significant, lasting change. While necessary, that will not be easy in the midst of financial challenges. That makes me all the more thankful for the extraordinary way our community of alumni and friends has risen to the occasion in support of our mission, our students, and our values.

Philanthropy of Historic Proportions

We were thrilled to receive a historic $24 million gift from Bob and Colleen Haas to support undergraduate students and light a path for underrepresented students and diversity at Berkeley. The investment includes $10 million in matching funds for the Haas Family Fiat Lux Scholarship that will challenge other donors to support individual scholarships and then match their contributions. The Haas family will also contribute $14 million to permanently endow the Haas Scholars Program, which has, for more than 20 years, cultivated cohorts of Berkeley students from diverse backgrounds to focus on a specialized, yearlong senior capstone research project. In addition, through the generosity of donors and our partnership with the San Francisco Foundation and the California Alumni Association, we are also welcoming 44 new African American Initiative scholars this fall.

Those gifts are an important part of a historic year in fundraising. For the first time ever, Berkeley’s donors gave a record $1 billion in gifts, pledges, and private grants to the campus. To date, donations have included more than $23 million from over 4,100 donors to support COVID-19 related efforts in research and testing, and to provide emergency financial support to students who are experiencing unforeseen difficulties at this time. While the vast majority of the money raised is restricted to specific uses, based on donors’ intentions, and thus not available to alleviate our short-term budgetary woes, these funds help support core programs, needs, and initiatives. Our philanthropic partners clearly understand that Berkeley matters. Their gifts validate and support our commitment to be, and forever remain, changemakers dedicated to the greater good. When the pandemic recedes it is these past, present, and future gifts that will keep our foundations strong and put our university in a robust position for generations to come.

Our Fates Are Intertwined

To date, our every action in response to the pandemic has been grounded in science, informed by the knowledge and advice of our epidemiologists, and consistent with the dictates of local and state public health officials.  The virus has intertwined our individual fates. We are at the mercy of our collective ability—locally, regionally and nationally—to abide by the demands of the moment and maintain social distancing; to wear masks as directed; to follow instructions for hygiene; to treat others as we, ourselves, wish to be treated. Yet, even with full compliance it is not possible to predict what the protection of the public’s health–and our own—might require. I am learning to expect the unexpected and can only promise that we will respond in the future as we have in the past: With your health and well-being front and center, with communications timely, transparent and accurate, and with compassion and support for all who are in need.

I believe there is no false optimism in my conviction that this virus will be vanquished, that there will be a day after. I believe that Berkeley is uniquely equipped to meet the demands and opportunities of these times. And, I know there is no place I would rather be, physically or virtually.

Fiat lux and Go Bears!