Our spirit shall not die

CAMPUS ISSUES: A report co-authored by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau that suggests an alternate governance model is not the solution.

From its founding in 1868 until 1927, the name “University of California” belonged solely to a single campus nestled against the San Francisco Bay Area’s rugged eastern foothills. There were other satellites, yes, but the aforementioned distinction and every advantage it carried were for the benefit of the campus now called UC Berkeley. Since then, that prestige has been shared and distributed to 10 campuses for the good of all Californians. Today, ideas from UC Berkeley administrators could turn back the clock on everything built since 1868.

In a Monday report published via the campus’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau outlined a plan that would give each UC campus greater control of its affairs. Administrators George Breslauer, Judson King, John Wilton and Frank Yeary co-authored the document. Under the proposal, the regents would delegate control over campus-specific administrative matters — including capital projects, academic programs and salaries — to governing boards. While the solutions presented in the document are welcome motivators for a conversation that must continue, as the report’s authors intended, the solutions do not reflect the UC’s collaborative legacy or spirit.

Streamlining the decision-making process to better serve each UC campus’s needs has definite benefits. The report is correct in stating that the UC system needs to adapt to “fundamental and ongoing changes” to remain academically excellent. But the cost at which Birgeneau and his co-authors suggest upholding the university’s position as the greatest institution of public higher education in the world may not be worth the benefits.

That this proposal came from administrators at UC Berkeley is no great wonder. Of course an idea for increased autonomy over campus decisions would come from the most renowned and one of the most financially secure institutions in the system. The report’s plan is bereft of any sort of altruism toward fellow campuses. As the UC system’s crown jewel, Berkeley stands to benefit greatly from increased autonomy — the campus is in a better position to compete for state and private funds than perhaps any of its sister schools.

But UC Berkeley is at its best when it lifts up every other campus toward excellence. The system was designed to facilitate this sort of collective brain trust. Though the plan outlined by Birgeneau and his co-authors would retain a symbolic connection between all campuses in name, the suggestion increases practical competition and erodes the inherent, intangible camaraderie among every University of California.

In the end, the report did what it aimed to — create a new branch of dialogue regarding issues assaulting the system, with figures like UC President Mark Yudof and campus professor Yale Braunstein immediately throwing their voices against the proposal. Again, though, plans to promote UC excellence must never unfairly advantage powerful campuses over less fortunate ones in achieving that goal.