Berkeley leaders aim to prioritize budget, rebuild community on campus

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and outgoing Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Cathy Koshland discuss major issues and events of the ending academic year, and offer a preview of plans and priorities for the fall semester. (UC Berkeley video)

While the campus has once again overcome another challenging pandemic year, UC Berkeley leaders are steadfast in progressing forward to diversify budget revenues and restore an in-person community.

Those challenges were discussed Tuesday by Chancellor Carol Christ and Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Cathy Koshland during the year-end spring Campus Conversation.

The pandemic has changed the way students learn, and how staff and faculty work. And while some of this can be done remotely and effectively, Christ said, “we are fundamentally an in-person institution.” It is important to make the commitment to be in community on campus, she added, and “that means being there when other people are there.”

“One of the things the pandemic has taught us is how important face-to-face learning is for the basis of the university,” Christ said. Yet, she added, remote learning also can give students opportunities to pursue internships and study abroad while still completing their academic courses.

When it comes to campus offices and departments, “ … I still think we’re figuring out what the post-pandemic workplace looks like,” said Christ. “We can probably have more elasticity of place in the work space to enable us to better balance our lives.”

Koshland added that every office and department is finding the “right cadence” that works for them, and that working remotely varies, depending on a person’s role on campus.

State funding for Berkeley is looking better now than in previous pandemic years, said Christ, as Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a 5% increase in state allocations to campus for the next five years. California also has a big surplus, some of which could be allocated to the campus’s capital needs — deferred maintenance, renovation and construction of new buildings.

In the coming years, the need for seismic reinforcements alone will cost Berkeley $5.4 billion, Christ added. And while Berkeley’s Light the Way fundraising campaign has already brought in nearly $5.5 billion of its $6 billion goal, the combination of all campus revenues still falls short.

“There’s a deficit of about $15,000 per student, and that has to be made up by other sources of funding,” Christ said. The need to diversify Berkeley’s revenue streams beyond tuition costs and state funding is a major priority that campus leaders are currently working on, said Koshland. Progress on that issue was derailed this academic year due to a lawsuit — which was overturned by state legislation — that required Berkeley to freeze enrollment, she added.

On the academic front, the campus has done well in retaining faculty, despite challenging budget issues, said Koshland. And Berkeley will authorize around 70 faculty searches for next year to accommodate academic departures and retirements.

“We have some spectacular new faculty joining us, just an amazing group that has joined us in the last two years,” she said. “As Carol has said, ‘History is made here every day,’ and when you talk to (our faculty), and you read their files and understand where they’re taking their work and students, I think we’re in a good place.”

Christ commended this year’s graduating class for showing “enormous resilience, strength and creativity” during the pandemic. She also publicly thanked Koshland — who is retiring from her leadership position and will transition to a Berkeley professor emerita role —  for her service and leadership on campus.

“I strongly believe there is a time, as a faculty member, to relinquish your faculty space to a new young colleague and give the next generation a start in this remarkable place,” said Koshland. “It’s been so rewarding being a faculty member, and so rewarding to have leadership roles here. … I couldn’t be more thankful and more grateful for the chance.”