When the College of Cardinals convene to select the Bishop of Rome, white smoke is sent out to signal a new pope has been chosen.
With Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s March 13 announcement that he would step down from his position at the end of the calendar year, the selection committee has a similarly momentous and challenging task. While smoke won’t envelope the campus when a new chancellor is chosen, a metaphorical haze of blue and gold has already begun to pervade UC Berkeley as the committee holds public forums.
Our next chancellor should uphold not just the spirit of the University of California system but of this flagship campus in particular. He or she should be someone who values public education and equal accessibility for all students. Especially in a time of fee hikes, the new chancellor must be a champion of UC Berkeley as a public institution.
We hope the committee does not follow UC San Diego’s lead and select a new chancellor from outside the UC. We believe our next chancellor should be from UC Berkeley — he or she must have the necessary institutional knowledge to navigate their way efficiently. The campus is extremely political, and tension exists between some of its offices and departments. Having that extra knowledge will go a long way in getting things done in an arduously bureaucratic system.
Beyond that, the next chancellor’s support of his or her students should be visible and vocal. After all, students are the reason the position exists. As such, he or she should be out on campus with the students, talking to them, listening to them, advising them and supporting them.
Birgeneau’s involvement — or lack thereof — in campus protests has been disappointing, especially this past academic year. There is no doubt the next chancellor will have to deal with the same activism in the coming years. He or she has to know how to deal with UC Berkeley protests and understand the meaning of passive, nonviolent demonstration. Protests are not something the chancellor and senior administration should fear.
Especially in regard to protests, the chancellor should not see police force as something he or she has to use as weapon against students. The police are here to protect, not harm, students — and students should feel that way.
But we are dismayed by the lack of student representation on the search committee. That there are 15 members of the committee and only two are students — Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab and incoming External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi — is simply absurd. It makes no sense that there are two faculty members from other UC campuses, but just one undergraduate UC Berkeley student. It is vital that students have a say, for what the chancellor does or does not do affects them most of all.
So students should take advantage of the opportunities they do have to make their voices heard. They should make sure to stay focused and on message at public forums by expressing their views on what qualities and experiences our next chancellor should have instead of complaining about the committee’s lack of transparency. With that said, it is critically important for the selection process to be as transparent as possible.
For starters, it keeps the committee accountable. Moreover, the chancellor will lead all of UC Berkeley, not just the committee members. While we understand the inevitable need for some closed session, there should be more open meetings for the public to sit and listen and comment. And once finalists are chosen, the public — particularly the student body — should be given ample opportunity to voice its opinions.
After all, that’s what UC Berkeley is all about.
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