Our campus has a commitment to both access and excellence

I want to welcome everyone back to campus and share some reflections on what I think makes this campus so special.

It is no secret that UC Berkeley is going through challenging times and that the state’s persistent disinvestment in higher education forces us to make unhappy choices, such as tuition increases.

I am often asked how we deal with these challenges. The answer is that everything we do is filtered through our commitment to access and excellence. We are committed to maintaining and enhancing UC Berkeley’s ranking as one of the top research universities in the world. Forty-six new faculty will join our ranks this year, 156 of our entering graduate students are winners of prestigious National Science Foundation multi-year fellowships, and our entering undergraduate class is the product of the most competitive admissions process in our history. We continue to launch cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research initiatives in the sciences, humanities and social sciences, such as the Berkeley Energy and Climate Change Institute; the Haas Diversity Research Center and the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society.

We are committed to maintaining broad social access to this excellence. Our financial aid policies and our private fundraising for scholarships have made it possible for us to cushion the effects of tuition increases on all students who come from households that have a total annual income of less than $80,000. These financial aid policies have allowed UC Berkeley to serve as an engine of upward mobility for huge numbers of low-income students. Now that tuition increases have raised the stakes, our challenge will be to develop strategies for better supporting students from households earning $80,000 to $120,000.

Of course, all our students deserve access to a first-rate curriculum as well. Toward that end, we have invested some of the funds from tuition increases and nonresident tuition into expanding access to required Reading and Composition courses, to large, introductory classes in physics, chemistry, mathematics and statistics and to foreign language courses.  Next on this agenda is the construction of two new biology teaching laboratories, made possible by funds from an external source, which will then make it possible for us to add sections in introductory biology classes.

Improvement of the campus’s infrastructure is always on our radar screen. One cannot deliver 21st century research and teaching in antiquated laboratories, libraries, classrooms and facilities. At least a half-dozen new buildings have been completed and opened in recent years, and another four will come on line in the next year and a half. Most of these buildings have been paid for predominantly from private fundraising and seismic funds from the state.

We also aspire to excellence in our administrative operations and services — areas in which Berkeley has historically lagged. That is one of the principal purposes of Operational Excellence.

Access and excellence are expensive to maintain, but that is our determined goal. Funds from the State of California for operating Berkeley now constitute only 11 to 12 percent of our total revenues. While we will continue to lobby vigorously for state funding, we must plan for, and are actively pursuing, alternative sources of funds. In addition to tuition increases and larger nonresident undergraduate enrollments (shifting the ratio from 90 percent Californians to 80 percent Californians), we have raised $2.2 billion in private fundraising during the past six years and anticipate completing our $3 billion campaign within 30 months. We are also exploring entrepreneurial initiatives that will provide new income streams for departments within the university.

We have a lot going for us: an all-star faculty, a global reputation, strong support from a large alumni base, the Bay Area as an attractive place to live, connections to Silicon Valley and to Asia, a committed workforce and a lock on the status of being the preeminent public university in the world. Moreover, we’ve been through very hard times before: the Great Depression; the political controversies of the 1950s and 1960s; and the slashing of our state allocations in the late 1970’s, the early 1990’s; the early 2000’s and again in the late 2000’s. Yet historically, we have always bounced back and retained our preeminence as a public university.  There is something intangible that has kept UC Berkeley resilient through all these trials. Surely, our commitment to maintaining both access and excellence — and to serving the public good — has been an inspiration to students, staff and faculty, attracting them to this remarkable institution.

We would value your thoughts on what makes UC Berkeley so special and resilient. You can post your comments on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ucberkeley.

George Breslauer is the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at UC Berkeley.

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