Ask Me Anything — Chancellor Carol Christ answers questions on Reddit

Chancellor Carol Christ holds a sign reading "Hello, I am UC Berkeley's Chancellor Carol Christ. Please join me for an AMA on the Berkeley SubReddit at 4pm on Tuesday, Oct. 20th!

Chancellor Carol Christ hosted a Reddit AMA on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (UC Berkeley photo by Yvonne Edwards)

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ took questions on everything from pass/no pass grade requirements, tuition refunds and spring break, to her reaction to this year’s double Nobel prize win when she sat down on Tuesday for an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

Here are a few AMA highlights (Some questions were shortened for length and clarity):

Question from bustedlame: Are there discussions or thoughts of modifying the optional P/NP strategy to something more limited like allowing (one) major requirement to be P/NP, or something similar? It seems to me that the whole P/NP strategy is highly modifiable in a way that would give students who are strongly impacted by remote learning the breathing room that is necessary, … In short, are you guys considering any limited or modified version of the P/NP policy for the semester?

Chancellor Christ: Thank you for your question. I know this is a very hot topic for our students, so I’m not surprised that this is the most popular topic of this AMA.

First off, we recognize that students are facing unprecedented challenges in this extraordinary time and want to do anything we can to help ease the burden. That said, P/NP requirements are not a straightforward issue, nor something I can regulate by fiat.

The University of California has a long-standing tradition of shared governance that many would argue has contributed to its extraordinary success. As such, the authority to make changes to P/NP requirements are delegated throughout the university and the campus. Some aspects of the P/NP policy are set by the systemwide academic senate. Others are within the scope of the Berkeley division of the Academic Senate. Others are set by the faculty of the schools and colleges.

There are four basic aspects to our P/NP policy — the limitation on the number of total units that can be taken P/NP, the restriction that major requirements cannot be taken P/NP, the restriction that prerequisites for majors cannot be taken P/NP, and the deadline by which a course can be switched from graded status to P/NP. The first of these elements of the policy is under the control of the systemwide Senate. The other three rest within the authority of the schools and colleges. L&S has already made the deadline for switching to P/NP much later — moved it till December; we’re encouraging other colleges to consider such a change.

Keep in mind that you have a wide range of ways to reduce your academic stress. You can already take up to 33% of your graduation requirements P/NP (and last semester’s courses don’t count against this total). Most UC Berkeley students are taking more units than they need to; you may want to consider reducing your course load. And your department and college advisors are there to help you: they have considerable latitude to grant exemptions to P/NP limits — for major requirements, for example.

I know this is a very stressful time; I encourage you to use the latitude you have in moving classes to P/NP or asking your advisor for an exception.


Question from bee5sea6: What is going on with spring break 2021? In the survey, it was suggested that you were considering getting rid of it almost completely. When can we expect any updates on that decision, and how seriously is that option actually being taken?

Chancellor Christ: Many universities across the country have decided to forego spring break to avoid a surge of cases due to travel. No decisions have been made yet but we are considering the possibility of restructuring spring break this year.


Question from fullfivefathoms: What is it like to be responsible for such a large, complex organization? What are the most challenging aspects of heading UCB (perhaps especially those that we may not be aware of) and what is most rewarding?

From your perspective, how are major universities across the board responding to and affected by shifts in expectations from this generation and the current COVID-19 situation we find ourselves in? 

Chancellor Christ: I feel humbled by my responsibility for such a large, complex organization. I depend a great deal on my team — my Cabinet; they are fantastic. The most challenging thing about leading UCB at the current moment is the necessity of making decisions when facts on the ground change so quickly and there are so many things we can’t foresee. What is rewarding is working with an extraordinarily talented team of people who are deeply dedicated to their work.

I think that universities are learning a great deal about how to deliver instruction remotely during the pandemic; what hasn’t worked so well from my perspective is the social, the community aspect of things that we all value so highly.


Question from neverfall4that: Do you think we will be able to return to in-person classes by Fall 2021?

Chancellor Christ: I think there’s a chance we’ll be able to return to in-person instruction by Fall 2021. I wish I had a crystal ball and could say so with more certainty.


Question from custardthebun: A few questions on a lighter note: What were your initial reactions to Cal’s Nobel prize double win this year by university faculty? Did you expect it at all? And how’s the search for more Nobel Laureate parking spaces going?

Chancellor Christ: I was really surprised — and exhilarated — by our double Nobel. Thank goodness, one of our Nobelists now lives in Germany, so we only need to find one parking space!


Question from fleurdedalloway: It is clear with the pandemic, many students are facing additional financial distress. However, it appears the university intends to keep tuition and rates the same. … Does the campus have any plans for adjusting fees, tuition, financial aid for students? Or providing any other programs or policies to help us?

Chancellor Christ: We know that the pandemic has been hugely disruptive to students and their families, and we want to accommodate students as best we can. Berkeley has refunded housing and dining fees for those who left university housing this past spring. We are working to support all students, regardless of where they choose to live, including through financial aid and student services to meet both in-person and remote learning and living needs. Emergency funding and cost of attendance adjustments (through our Financial Aid and Scholarships Office) is available to assist individual students facing financial hardship. And if a students’ families’ financial circumstances have substantially changed in the last few months, they should contact our financial aid office and we will make sure they are receiving all aid for which they are eligible.

Because each individual’s situation is unique, we encourage students who are facing significant challenges to talk to their advisor to learn more about resources and options available to them.


Question from sprucegoose11: Chancellor Christ: I’d love to hear some concrete plans for rehabilitating the admissions process so that under-qualified students can’t simply buy their way into this school. What are some tangible steps that are being taken?

Chancellor Christ: Our admissions process is based on a holistic review of every applicant, looking not only at test grades and scores, but also at students’ achievements in the context of their opportunities, challenges, and socioeconomic status. Our current admissions process is sound and reflects a number of significant improvements made in recent years. In the last admissions cycle, we admitted a much more ethnically diverse class and admitted more lower-income students. Admitting an excellent class that is also diverse, reflecting a cross-section of California’s communities, is a key aspect of our mission as a university.

After answering questions for 90 minutes, Christ left the AMA. Read more and join the conversation on Reddit.