Birgeneau calls increasing campus autonomy appropriate evolution of UC

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In an interview Tuesday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau responded to criticism of the controversial report he and other campus officials released Monday urging for increased local governance at UC campuses.

The proposal — which recommends that campuses be given control over approval of capital projects, academic programs and salaries — was criticized by UC President Mark Yudof in a Monday statement. Members of the campus community, who do not support devolving certain financial powers to individual campuses, have also expressed disapproval of the proposal.

“I’m troubled by the possibility of campuses setting student tuition and their own scale for faculty pay,” said Jonathan Stein, the UC Student Regent-designate. “It has the potential to make … ‘flagship’ UC campuses more expensive and harder to access for middle-class students.”

In the Tuesday interview, Birgeneau said the proposal was made public to initiate a discussion on how UC governance should evolve.

“It’s a natural evolution of the UC system because the UC system has always been agile in adapting to the realities of the situation at that time,” he said.

The proposal comes at a time of transition for the campus and the university, with Birgeneau expected to step down as chancellor at the end of the calendar year and pressure by student leadership to increase student involvement in systemwide governance.

The UC Student Association has begun pushing the UC Board of Regents to add non-voting student members to most board committees, and ASUC student leaders opened an application process for UC Berkeley students to directly interact with the Yudof-convened search committee to select Birgeneau’s replacement at their first meeting on May 4.

As a response to prior complaints by students, the proposal suggests appointing two students to be voting members of the  proposed campus boards that UC regents would also sit on.

According to Birgeneau, the proposal was written after extensive discussions with Yudof, UC Academic Senate chair Robert Jacobsen, various UC chancellors, two UC regents and campus student leadership.

Yet it has been met with criticism by campus School of Information Professor Yale Braunstein, who contends that there is “considerable evidence that the quality of local decision-making is not high enough to justify devolving any additional budget or financial powers to the campuses.”

Birgeneau said the proposal will continue to change as input is received from members of the campus community.

“Let me emphasize that this is meant to be a working document, and it’s our best thoughts, but we don’t pretend that we have the final answer,” Birgeneau said. “So we expect this to evolve over time, and student input will be an important part of it.”

Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau consulted with UC Academic Senate chair Robert Anderson. In fact, he consulted with Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate chair Robert Jacobsen.