UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande met with reporters from The Daily Californian and other media outlets to discuss the major issues the campus will be facing this school year.
Among the issues discussed were the continually decreasing amount in state funding, the possibility of further midyear cuts to the UC, the state of fundraising and donations to support the campus and student financial aid, the continued battle to secure prestigious faculty members and Birgeneau’s opinions on differential tuition throughout the UC.
The following is an edited transcript of the press conference.
Robert Birgeneau, UC Berkeley Chancellor: We’ve had three events so far for the incoming freshman class, the first one I couldn’t make because I had knee surgery and am trying to cope with my immobility. One was up at the Greek Theater, and 3,600 showed up, a record number. Then we had receptions at the University House, one last night, and we will have another one tonight. Typically these attract about 500 students, and yesterday 1,300 students showed up, with a level of enthusiasm that was really remarkable. So this is an unusually enthusiastic group of students. As you know, these are challenging times for higher education.
Currently, before the next shoe drops — as we’re expecting in December — the money state provides us to operate is 12 percent of our total budget and likely will drop to 11 percent if there is an additional cut. The state now — in terms of our source of funding — when I started as Chancellor was the number one source and now is ranked fourth, a distant fourth. The state is a really minor partner in our budget and that is true for a number of other public universities in California. And just to quantify that, when I was recruited here, the advertising for the position was the contract with the governor that was made in 2004, and this guaranteed that we had support of higher education in California. If the contract with the governor had held, then our funding from the state would be $600 million this year. And after the shoe drops in December it’s going to be $220 million. So we’re missing $380 million from the state, which is a phenomenal cut and very challenging. We’re extremely proud, frankly, of how we’ve managed these missing $380 million.
One of the really difficult things is that we have progressively increased tuition — this year students are carrying part, but only part of the burden, about a quarter of the cut. Tuition went up a little over a thousand dollars this year, and with medical care and other things the cost is $14,000 plus room and board and other things. We remain committed to sustaining Berkeley’s excellence. On the excellence front, last week the ranking of world universities came out again, the Shanghai Jiaotong University ranking, which we consider most reliable. And in that ranking, Harvard University came out number 1 with a score of 100 — the Chinese seem to particularly like Harvard — and then four universities tied for number two with scores in the low 70s. And they are Stanford, MIT, Berkeley and Cambridge in England. Three out of the top six universities in the world are in California, which is pretty remarkable given what we’ve been through. There’s been a lot of attention paid to the makeup of our undergraduate student body.
We have begun already several years ago to increase the number of out of state and international students which was purely educational, but has taken on a financial dimension as well since out of state and international students pay the full cost of their education, but there’s been some confusion on the numbers and a suggestion that this has been at the expense of Californians. That’s actually not true. So in 2003-4, the year I came, the number of Californians was 20,500, and this year the number will be 21,500. So despite the fact that the state has stopped paying for these students, we actually have more Californians. We have not decreased the number of Californians, out of state students have been added on — a very important add-on. So this year, for our freshman class spring and fall admits, we have 5,600 students and of those just under 30 percent are out of state and international. And we have 2,700 transfer students, of whom 19 percent are out of state and international. Our goal in the next couple of years is since we have 21,500 Californian students now, the target has been 21,000 so the goal is to gradually reduce that number to 21,000 and to keep the number of Californian slots at the level it’s supposed to be at.
We work hard to make sure that our incoming freshmen get admitted to the classes that they want and from increased tuition and increased out of state and international students, we added 1,700 seats to lower division courses. We added 650 spots in reading and composition courses and in this past year there were actually empty seats in those classes. This year we are adding an additional 500 seats to introductory math and science classes, we’ve added 30 new core language classes. There was some publicity that we were dropping language classes, but we’ve actually done the opposite. We are in the process of designing two new biology teaching labs — we had one of our patents, which is a drug that is very effective in curing melanoma, we’ve just monetized that patent and generated some new revenue, and since that came from biology we’re investing some of those funds in new biology teaching labs for our freshman, so that’s coming in the next year.
We continue to have here at Berkeley as at other UC campuses an extraordinarily large amount percentage-wise of low-income students and low-income families. Thirty-six percent of undergraduate students this year are on federal Pell grants, which is 9,000 students whose families’ incomes are under $45,000. To give credit to the state, while they are disinvesting from our operating funds, they are continuing the CalGrant program, which is something we are very happy about and is absolutely critical in offering generous financial aid to our low-income students. In our undergraduate students this year we have the same number of low-income students as all eight Ivy League universities put together. The increase in tuition has created an incredible challenge for the middle class and although we continue to be very successful in providing financial aid to our low-income students, for the first time with Harry LeGrande’s leadership we have increased financial aid to middle-class families by $3,500 per student, but that falls short of the total cost of education, and I would say for the UC system and for Berkeley in particular, the challenge we face is finding adequate financial aid for middle-income families in California. We have a group that is working on that but I have to say that if we tried to provide the same financial aid packages as those at Stanford, at MIT, at Harvard, the cost would be astoundingly high.
On the equity and inclusion side, we’re continuing to work hard for underrepresented minorities, the numbers are going up slightly. I can tell you since I was one of the people in Sacramento who testified on behalf of AB 130 and 131 that AB 130 has passed, and 131 is currently sitting in senate appropriations. We hope that 131 emerges from appropriations and is signed by the governor to provide adequate financial aid to undocumented students. We already started a fundraising campaign for private support of our undocumented students — I was in New York two weeks ago meeting with a foundation, talking to them about the opportunity AB 130 provides to make a political statement about support of undocumented students and I’m optimistic about that. The Haas Diversity Research Center is going extraordinarily well. We have four different research and teaching thrusts that are largely based on race-based issues, but now we also have a diversity research program based on disabilities, another one based on gender and LGBT, and George (Breslauer) is in conversation with the Haas Foundation about having a center based on religion, which is obviously important. We have a number of cutting-edge new interdisciplinary research initiatives, the Berkeley Energy and Climate Change Institute and the Center for Jewish Law and Israeli Law.
One thing that we’re really pleased about is our private fundraising, the alumni and friends of the university have really stepped up in response to the challenge that Berkeley faces in terms of the lack of state funding. This past year, a fundraising campaign raised $315 million and this brings for our campaign, which was begun in 2007, we have now raised $2.2 billion. And so we’re extraordinarily proud. In fact, this has been partly about educating our alumni and the public about the consequences of disinvestment by the state in our great university system. Private citizens are going to have to step up. We are very proud of the fact that this is being led by Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy. If you look in the Chronicle of Higher Education under fundraising by various universities across the country, then the fundraising tends to be dominated by the universities with great medical schools, the so-called grateful patient phenomenon. If you instead look at universities that don’t have medical schools, Berkeley is number one in the country, actually ahead of MIT and Princeton, in private fundraising. This is a significant achievement, and it shows individuals in California of means are willing to step up to make sure that they do have a great university to support. Funding has been directed towards building, but a lot of it has been directed towards people, undergraduate students and graduate students. To complete the campaign we need to raise another $800 million, which we are hoping to do in the next two and a half years.
Intercollegiate athletics has used up a lot of energy and a lot of press and well. We went through a difficult period there — in order to balance the budget we announced a year ago that we planned to eliminate five varsity teams, which caused quite the uproar — but thank goodness once again, our alumni and friends stepped up and raised $21 million, which enabled us to ensure that that covers the operating costs for the next seven years approximately and we have the full complement of teams.
Another way we have been working to balance the budget is to spend less money on administration and have more in the classroom, and that’s through an effort called Operational Excellence — it’s already saved over $20 million in our operating budget. The next phase is procurement, which will be launched in January, and after that shared services, and the goal is to save $75 million per year in administrative costs.
We continue to make progress in our facilities. One of the ironies is that our facilities money is completely different that operating money — paying peoples’ salaries — and there the state has also disinvested almost completely, but private individuals and indirect costs from federal research funding, which is going very well, has enabled us to proceed on a number of important new buildings. Basically, you cannot have a 21st century university if you do not have 21st century facilities. We have a high priority for having outstanding facilities. This year, the latest building that we are going to open is the Li Ka Shingscience center, where we will be doing research on cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and neuroscience generally and stem cell research. And the lead gift for that came from Li Ka Shing from Hong Kong, a philanthropist — he is actually being honored as the philanthropist of the year by the Carnegie Foundation in New York in October, and then on his way back he’s stopping over here. And we’re also making great progress on an energy and biosciences building.
So these are all my remarks — I wanted to make them as comprehensive as possible. One thing I want to say about not just Berkeley but California is that many people seem to think that California is in a death spiral. This is not true — California is extremely resilient, the universities are very resilient, and our financial model has changed dramatically, but nevertheless we’ve managed to keep Berkeley’s very high standing. If anything we’ve managed to improve access for undergraduates in classes, which I think is pretty amazing, and we continue to be the gateway into mainstream society for Californians and people outside of California, actually. Hard work is not finished, we do not have a solid financial model, and there is no silver bullet — well, it would be for the state to give us back the $380 million we were promised, but we are not expecting that next year. At Berkeley in particular, we are committed to comprehensive excellence, everything we do we do well. And in my conversations with incoming students yesterday, it was amazing how many transfer students and incoming students said they chose Berkeley over some cases Ivy League universities or their state universities outside of California because of our comprehensive excellence because they know that if they come here, if they are majoring in English and maybe want to switch to biology, they can switch or take both courses and know that they are being taught by the best instructors anywhere in the country. So it’s interesting, that these kids coming out of high school are sufficiently sophisticated to know that the reason to come to Berkeley is that we maintain comprehensive excellence in very challenging times.
Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle: Is there a net loss of money, or have you gained money?
Birgeneau: It’s a net loss.
SF Chronicle: So can you lay that part out for us and also, last year as far as Operational Excellence there were layoffs. Is that continuing?
Birgeneau: We had approximately 150 layoffs last year. In the near term for the launching of e-procurement we do not expect a large number of layoffs. For shared services, ultimately the design is not complete so we don’t have numbers, but we’re not anticipating a large number of layoffs for shared services, and we hope most of the diminution in the phase will come from early retirement. Shared services means that instead of having someone who does some particular business in each department, you have one for the school, right, you have a central group. Most universities have done this already, so we’re behind the curve in terms of grouping people who do human resources, etc., so we’re actually playing catch-up. So the idea is to have people who are frankly more skilled and a small number of them, for example an HR specialist that really understands everything.
In terms of the budget, we have a significant challenge. And so for this year to close the budget gap, part of what we’re doing to do that is spending from reserves, so-called rainy day funds. And it’s not only raining, it’s a thunderstorm. And so we’re doing that this year, we probably will have to do that this year with the shortfall. It’s about $60 million.
Of course, we have a multidimensional strategy for addressing this, and some of which if the economy would pick up a little bit would work better. So we have an improved investment strategy for funds that are sitting in accounts, rather than letting them sit there and get interest at Bank of America at half a percent, we’re actually investing those aggressively.
And there’s a whole variety of techniques that we’re using. So there isn’t any single silver bullet.
SF Chronicle: Where has the pain been most greatly felt as a result?
Birgeneau: Well beacuse for this year we were able to cover that through reserves, it means that we’re not suffering extreme pain this year, but that’s only short term. At best, we can do that for at most two years … before we spend our reserves to the point that they’re not there anymore.
Doug Sovern, KCBS Radio: How can you say that the students coming in, do you not see any impact on them as far as the scramble you have to do in your office to cover these gaps in funding? Are they not seeing that impact, or what impact are they seeing?
Birgeneau: We made a decision … and really George played the leadership role here so maybe he can speak about it … but that also as we are increasing the number of out of state and international students, I was at an event in Massachusetts talking to some parents and prospective students and one of the parents said ‘Hey I’m paying $30,000 and my kid couldn’t get into class.’ And so we realized that as we increase the number of out of state and international, for them but also for Californians, we had to make sure that they could actually access classes. So it’s actually kind of better because we’ve put more resources into funding for the gateway courses. And as I said we added on 30 new foreign language courses. And so ironically, it’s going to be better actually for the incoming students, which might sound contradictory. The downside is for two thirds of the students, the classes have really gone up quite considerably. And so that’s not solved the total problem, but that’s been quite important and as I said I think for middle class students it’s more and more challenging. You know, for the Californians that we have — 21,500 undergraduates and about 8,000 graduate students — the state now is only paying for about half of them. Even for the current California students, half of them are unfunded. This is a disgrace. At Berkeley we’re in a fortunate situation because we have levers that we can pull that some of the other UCs and Cal States can’t pull. They don’t have the flexibility that we do. This is an extraordinarily bad judgment on the part of the people in Sacramento to disinvest in higher education at the level that they have. The young people are the future of California and the state needs to step up and we both need to re-prioritize but we also need new revenue. I don’t see any choice except to have new revenues. Some of which need to be back to education.
Judith Scherr, Berkeley Patch: Over the last few years there’s been about 3 percent of African American students and according to the statistics that we got this morning, it looks like there’s still that number. Can you speak to that?
Birgeneau: Yeah, This has been a major disappointment, frankly. I think on all of our parts that we’ve worked really hard. We actually, one of the things we did with the increase in out of state and international students was to put more money into outreach programs in challenged areas and that’s been partly successful. Harry’s very directly responsible for admission, so maybe I’ll let Harry speak to that.
Harry Le Grande, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs: Yeah I just might say that the African American students are extremely competitive for Berkeley. And so they have lots of options available to them. I think one of our challenges is the financial aid packages that we are not able to provide. Many of our private counterparts, even in California, are able to do race-based initiatives that help them fund those students. We admitted about 419 and we yielded about 153 out of that. So it’s not like we’re not admitting them but they just have so many options available to them they just don’t come. In most cases, it has to do with the financial packages that they’re able to get from our competitive campuses.
Matt Krupnick, Bay Area News Group: Chancellor, I was wondering, back to the budget real quick. You mentioned the trigger cut that’s likely to come in December and with the rainy day funds and private funding, how will that enter into it? Can we handle it?
Birgeneau: Well, basically we’re going to have to. We’re not going to have a choice, but that just means the $60 million deficit is going to be increased beyond that. And so we will be able to bridge probably until next year. But at the end we’re going to have to work hard to find new sources of income.
Bay Area News Group: What would happen if you don’t?
Birgeneau: Well we’ll have to, we don’t have a choice.
Bay Area News Group: What are the practical effects?
Birgeneau: Obviously, student tuition will go up. We don’t control that, the Regents control that. Frankly, I believe it’s time for corporate California to step up and start supporting students directly. There’s a campaign being led by the Office of the President under Mark Yudof going to various corporations saying … one of the ironies of the current situation is I was in, along with Yudof, in a meeting with some of the Silicon Valley corporate leaders and they were complaining that we’re not producing enough graduates for them. There was sort of an amusing back and forth between them. They said you’ve got to produce more high skill graduates. Well, those corporations who want our highly skilled graduates I think now ought to be stepping up and helping us address these challenges. So that’s an example of…
SF Chronicle: Do you have a goal that you’d like to get from them? Do you want to set, ask them for something?
Birgeneau: I think total annual funding on the scale of let’s say $100 million, that would be not coming to our bottom line, actually going to students. To help students through financial aid. Then of course, you know, all money is green and that would be a tremendous help.
SF Chronicle: Have you asked them?
Birgeneau: I have not been involved in this. So Mark Yudof is in this. I have not been involved directly. We put a lot of energy, Harry and I in particular, into fundraising for scholarships and with that said I just started an initiative fundraising for AB 130 for undocumented students. And we’ve been reasonably successful with that. Not as successful as we need to be.
George Breslauer, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost: I know there are a lot of questions and I don’t want to repeat anything that’s already been said, but I think a critical feature about the loss in state funds is that those state funds are unrestricted. We can use them for any of a number of purposes. Whereas when we get money for federal research, they can only be used to do that research. When we get money from donors, they are much more often than not restricted to the particular purposes that the donor specifies. The two main sources of unrestricted income that we have are the state allocation and student tuition. And so when the state allocation goes down and student tuition goes up, but not immensely, we’re left with a reduction in the total number of unrestricted dollars that we have. So we could even year to year be spending more money the next year than we did this year but still be significantly behind the eight ball depending on the composition of the funds that we get to divvy up to that total expense. And that’s what’s been really distressing about the loss of state funds, both actual and prospective. In that we’re losing the money that can be most flexibly allocated for a variety of purposes on campus.
Birgeneau: Just to add to that. The $60 million number, through Operational Excellence we’re hoping to reduce our administrative costs and be more effective in our purchasing. And there, our goal is to remain $55 million to be saved. Also, we’re reducing our shortfall in athletics by about $10 million. That’s an add-on to the budget. There’s just a whole bunch of things going on in parallel. Frank Yeary and I have … The challenges that we’re facing at Berkeley and California are not unique to California. When I meet with my fellow public university presidents whether it’s Michigan or Colorado or the state of Washington, we trade stories basically. The United States is now the only western country where the federal government does not invest directly in its flagship public universities. And so I believe and we’ve done some politicing in Washington that our great public universities, whether it’s Michigan or Berkeley or what have you, are a national resource and that their support cannot be left to the states alone, that’s been proven, and that the federal government needs to begin to address this issue.
When we talk to folks in the Department of Education, they understand the issue, they understand the importance of education, however, they look at us like with the current budget situation in Washington and the ongoing political climate there, new expenditures are not what they are looking for. In the long run, I think it will be necessary for the United States to do what Germany is doing, what China’s doing, what Canada’s doing in terms of having the government invest in public education.
Breslauer: Let me clarify something here, so that there will not be a misunderstanding. The Chancellor is talking about the operating budget for a public university. The federal government gives large amounts in research funds, gives large amounts in Pell Grants. But it’s the operating budget that he’s talking about.
Alisha Azevedo, The Daily Californian: In order to find more sources of revenue, would you ever consider going above the current number of out of state students? Is that a possibility moving forward?
Birgeneau: I think in the near term, no. I think in the long run, our target is 20 percent out of state and international students. And I think once we get there, we’ll have to find some kind of equilibrium and it’s been quite challenging. And I think at that stage I — or whoever is on the leadership team at that point — will talk again about it.
Allie Bidwell, The Daily Californian: Would you ever consider reversing the trend if state funding would increase?
Birgeneau: No, because as long as we’re meeting our obligations to Californians, I think it enriches the education environment for everyone to have a reasonable number of out of state and international students.
The Daily Californian: What would you say to critics who say that you’re abandoning the UC’s mission by increasing out of state and international students?
Birgeneau: Well, because we haven’t decreased the number of Californians, so those statements are misdirected.
Le Grande: Let me just add to that, a lot of out of state students become California residents after they come here, so it’s actually a net gain I think for California — as opposed to a “brain drain,” I think it’s a “brain gain.”
SF Chronicle: It doesn’t happen during their stay here at Berkeley, is that correct? It happens later?
Le Grande: Yes.
Birgeneau: Approximately 50 percent of out of state and international students end up staying in California, so you could call them future Californians after they graduate. So about half stay, and these are extraordinarily talented people. I’ll give a specific example of an advantage of having out of state and international students. If you’re in a public health class and you’re talking about medical care during “Obamacare,” as some people call it, and you hear quite dishonest descriptions of medical care in Canada or Scandinavia — I happen to have lived in four different countries, three of which have universal health care, which is extraordinary. One of my daughters teaches inner city health care and practices it as well and I can tell you for the 40 million Americans who are left out it’s crazy. So in a public health class, to actually have someone who has lived in a country that has universal health care changes the conversation completely, because you have someone who actually knows what health care is about. So that’s just one example and there are many others. For example talking about the Middle East and having someone who actually grew up in Pakistan. I was talking yesterday to one of our new freshmen from Pakistan and you can expect the discussion to be different when you have someone who actually grew up in a predominantly Muslim country in Pakistan, or students from Indonesia. So my view is quite strongly that especially for undergraduates, having an adequate number of out of state and international students enriches the educational experience for everyone.
Berkeley Patch: Is part of your budget saving plan to have your employees play more into their health care?
Birgeneau: I wouldn’t say that’s a plan, first of all, that’s determined by the Regents, not by us, we have no control over that. But health care costs are going up. The lowest income employees pay a relatively modest fraction of the overall cost of their health care. And I think that’s not going to change. But of course, a lot of these financial decisions get made by the Office of the President and the Regents and not by us and that’s a challenge, managing our campus, Berkeley. There are a lot of levers we can’t pull.
SF Chronicle: Can you speak to another decision by the Regents, and that is to offer raises. How do you reconcile this with everyone that you’ve been telling us about?
Birgeneau: There’s a tension here. I spent a lot of time this past year meeting with the staff trying to actually come to a personal decision what the best way was to proceed, and based on those conversations I actually endorse the Regents’ decision. Our staff work extraordinarily hard and have not had an increase now in four years. Meanwhile, we’ve instituted contributions to the pensions fund, so this year it’s 3.5 percent for faculty and 3.5 percent decrease in their take-home pay, while they’re working harder. And there’s tension because some of them are worried about their jobs and I just think it’s a matter of fairness and they deserve better — essentially a cost of living increase so that their take-home wouldn’t be lower than it has been. And we actually built that into the budget, so the $60 million shortfall I mentioned anticipates this, so this didn’t come as a shock to us and we built it into our budget plans.
SF Chronicle: And that counts for the staff that have not perhaps had a raise in four years, but what about faculty, what about that side of it?
Birgeneau: Our faculty are in the same situation in the sense that they are also making contributions to their pension plan, so they haven’t had a merit raise and their take-home pay has also gone down. So we can’t — in the end, we like to think that chancellors and provosts and vice chancellors matter, but ultimately the caliber of the university is determined by the caliber of the faculty and we can’t have a great university without great faculty. Our students come here because they would like to be taught by prospective Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Prize winners et cetera. So we have to be competitive, and among other things that means we have to pay competitive salaries.
SF Chronicle: Have you lost any faculty?
Birgeneau: Yes, we have lost some faculty due to the salaries, but we’ve worked very hard and George Breslauer is leading this effort. A very large number of our faculty currently have offers from a variety of universities around the country, including Stanford, Yale, Princeton, et cetera. And I’ve had one-on-one conversations with the presidents of those institutions, saying “Please let up.” We’re in a really challenging environment, and I just get a smile back from them. So this is a really challenging situation for us and we have to do the best that we can. Many of our faculty are here because they want to teach at a public university. We have a really dedicated faculty, but ultimately if the salary difference is too wide and also the facilities, then we won’t retain them. We’re doing fine with retaining faculty so we’ve had some losses, but to our own surprise, actually — so far at least — there hasn’t been a significant drain. And a few of the people who left have actually come back, so the grass was actually greener because people love to be here. People love teaching at Berkeley — and I’m not just saying this because two undergraduates are here — but they particularly like our undergraduate students because we have such an interesting undergraduate student body here at Berkeley.
The Daily Californian: I wanted to ask about online education and its prevalence increasing — do you see that at all compromising the quality of the undergraduate education at Berkeley, especially since we have such great professors?
Birgeneau: We have a lot of activities right now taking advantage of the online experience to enhance the experience, freshman chemistry is an example. So our approach to online education is that we are interested in it ultimately being revenue generating and in the short term enhancing the undergraduate experience.
Breslauer: About faculty retention — you start with the reality that on average, our faculty salary lags significantly behind our competitors. Whether that’s 10 percent or 20 percent depends on the band that you’re in, whether you’re an assistant professor, an associate professor or full. So we begin already at a competitive monetary disadvantage. And then when we reinstate contributions to the pension plan. We really don’t want to try the patience or the loyalty of our faculty by having them face a situation where now they’re taking home less than they did last year unless they have gotten merit increases. There is very, very rigorous merit review every three years. So having had so many years without a cost of living increase for our faculty, added on to the increase in pension contributions, added on to the fact that their salaries already lie significantly behind our competitors and added on to the fact that our competitors are just hovering at all times, each year we’re dealing with 80 to 100 faculty retention cases. We had in 2010-11 49 new cases, but then we were also dealing with the overhang from the previous year’s cases that had not been resolved. So this competitive context really shapes so much of what we have to do to keep the best faculty and try to recruit the best faculty. We depend to a certain extent on their liking being at Berkeley, their loyalty to the public mission, but we can’t take that for granted. And so that’s why we’re behind a cost of living increase for faculty.
Birgeneau: And just to quantify that for you just so you know what the number means, as George just said, approximately 100 of our faculty are being recruited and being given significant offers. So I actually asked the presidents of Princeton and Yale how many they had, just so I could know, and each one has 20. My response to that was, shows you who has the most attractive faculty. That was part of my conversation about letting up. It’s not just Berkeley – I know UCLA and UCSF are in the same situation – private universities and publics around the countries look at our outstanding faculty and they say, this is an incredible opportunity for us. And so we’re going to go after faculty at the University of California. And the numbers are huge.
SF Chronicle: So, I need to understand — these are cost of living raises?
Breslauer: Yes. For the merit increase, that’s a very rigorous review. Some of them don’t get it, most of them do, but most are very, very hard workers.
KCBS Radio: Did you ask them to stop poaching your faculty?
Birgeneau: I did, and I just got smiles back. In fact, one of them said well, maybe, but then remembered there were two additional faculty that they are about to go after, and said actually, in all honesty, they had just caught on that it was having a big impact at their university. So this is the situation we’re in, good news, bad news. The bad news is that the private universities view financial challenges in California as an opportunity for them to enhance their faculty, but the good news is that we have a phenomenal faculty here that the best universities in the country are trying to recruit away, and we’re doing pretty well at retaining them.
SF Chronicle: So you recruit as well?
Birgeneau: Yes, we take some of theirs too. So, but people who come here don’t come here because of the money. They come here because they believe in public education. So there still are many people who are idealistic and want to teach in public universities and want to teach the kind of students that we have here, who really enjoy teaching this 36 percent of our students on Federal Pell Grants compared to 6 percent of those at Harvard. So really very different kind of student body, and there are people who are idealistic and want to be in this kind of environment. There are even senior administrators who want to be here in order to serve this kind of an environment.
Breslauer: I’ve been here for 40 years, but I need to make up my mind.
Le Grande: And I’ll have been here for 30 on September 1, so I’ll have to make up my mind too.
Birgeneau: So I’m a newcomer who spent my entire career at private universities years ago, and I’m extraordinarily pleased to have the privilege to lead Berkeley during this time period. Of course, if I knew that I was missing $380 million dollars I might have thought twice. My friends in private universities on the East Coast, they ask, how can you stand it? And you know, public education matters and I think it’s very important that we see these great public institutions like Berkeley through this financial transition and retain our public character. That’s a really important part of the challenge. I can tell you, having taught at Yale and MIT for many years, that we are very different and our challenge now and going forward with a very different financial model is how do we maintain the public values of Berkeley when the public itself has disinvested in higher education?
The Daily Californian: What is your opinion on differential tuition?
Birgeneau: I think in the short term … one of the ironies is if we had tuition, our tuition at Berkeley would be slightly lower. Everyone just assumes it would run the tuition up. Actually in the near term that’s not what it would have done, I can’t tell you what it would be in the very long run. I think ultimately we’re moving towards a situation where the financial models of the different campuses are so different that having identical tuition at every campus doesn’t make sense. I think differential tuition is inevitable because of the difference in the financial models. My own view in the near term, however, is that tuition has gone up so much that I don’t think any campus would want to have tuition increases that are beyond what are already being specified by the Regents.
The Daily Californian: What about within a campus, differential tuition by major?
Birgeneau: No, I don’t like that at all. I don’t like that at all. Because I mean it would be so unfair to students that if they want to major in biology that they have to pay this amount, if they want to major in English they have to pay that amount, right? That’s completely unfair. It would contradict our philosophy of comprehensive excellence.
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the fourth question in the transcript to Matt Krupnick of the Bay Area News Group. In fact, Doug Sovern of KCBS Radio asked the question.
It also incorrectly attributed the twentieth question to Tracey Taylor of Berkeleyside.