Chancellor Carol Christ paused Wednesday in her twice-yearly, live-streamed conversation with the campus community to reflect on the semester at Berkeley that’s coming to a close and to look ahead to the next academic year.
There are challenges, as always: A $82 million campus budget deficit looms, there are vacancies to fill for departing deans and vice chancellors, and there’s growing distrust among the public of major universities.
And there are successes: New buildings are being constructed across the campus, the Light the Way fundraising campaign surpassed its record $6 billion goal, and groundbreaking research discoveries are regularly made in labs across the campus.
The pandemic is slowly coming to an end, too, said Christ, and Berkeley is forging forward with excitement for the future.
It’s all part of the Berkeley experience.
“I think resilience has characterized Berkeley throughout its history,” said Christ. “We’ve had many budget and political crises, but always emerged from them stronger. And I believe that’s an important quality individuals and institutions need in order to thrive.”
Over the course of the hour-long Campus Conversations event, Christ touched on many key issues facing the campus.
The $82 million budget deficit was a major point of discussion for Christ, who referred to it as another financial crisis at Berkeley. Yet, Christ said Berkeley will be able to balance this year’s coming budget with accumulated investments and added that she aims to find new revenue streams to avoid making cuts.
She was recently in Sacramento speaking to legislators about securing the 5% increase in state funds that the University of California system is set to receive.
“I got a very good response from the legislators I spoke with,” she said. “They seemed very supportive of the University of California. … So, it’s very important to hold onto that 5% in a state budget that seems to look bleaker by the day.”
Changes are afoot within campus leadership, said Christ, including several academic deanship vacancies and the departures of Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Rose Marie Rae and Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Jenn Stringer.
The administration is moving forward with hiring for those crucial roles, but in the short term the positions will be filled with interim leaders.
Looking ahead to the 2023-24 academic year, Christ said the campus is continuing to renovate and construct buildings across campus for new housing and new classroom and program spaces.
Christ called this time in history “a pivotal moment in education.”
She pointed to educators’ evolving use of digital tools and how that may permanently change the way courses are taught. Swollen student applicant pools, rising costs in college tuition, and decreases in state funding may continue to impact access to higher education, Christ said.
And then there is the country’s growing political divide. This partisanship is impacting public support for institutions of higher education and sparking debate on topics including the societal value of a college degree, the way admissions decisions are made and how free speech is handled on campuses.
“I think, calling on our principles of community, we owe each other respect, even if we profoundly disagree,” said Christ, adding that, regardless of one’s political perspective, every member belongs, and should feel a sense of belonging, at Berkeley.
Christ also acknowledged the burnout that Berkeley’s students, faculty and staff have experienced in recent years due to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. She praised the campus community for its resilience and adaptability, urging everyone to “decouple from your job” and find time this summer to relax with family and friends.
“It’s important in keeping you productive and happy in your job and studies,” Christ said. “… And I really believe as we continue to recover from the pandemic we’re going to recover some of our sense of joy. I know we’ll see lots of that at graduation.”