Campus honors Birgeneau with farewell celebration

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Hundreds of UC Berkeley students and staff members gathered Tuesday to celebrate Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s nine years of service to the university as well as that of his wife, Mary Catherine Birgeneau.

The chancellor’s farewell party, held at the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza outside Memorial Stadium, featured a barbecue lunch with the chancellor and various campus speakers who spoke of the dedication to service the chancellor and his wife have shown over their tenure.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” said Haas School of Business professor David Vogel. “He’s steered the university through some tough times, and I’m sad to see him leave.”

Speakers included Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer, ASUC President Connor Landgraf and Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab. In addition, both Birgeneau and his wife gave speeches recounting their experiences on campus, also thanking the students and staff members.

“In academia, there’s no other organization more important than UC Berkeley,” Birgeneau said in his speech. “It has been my privilege to serve.”

Several speakers and attendees commended Birgeneau’s efforts to build an inclusive campus community.

“I will always see him as a champion of diversity,” said A. Ruben Rodriguez, the campus’s associate development director in the Division of Equity and Inclusion. “He led the fight with undocumented students, and I’ve witnessed him speaking with a passion.”

However, some campus staff members who attended the event criticized Birgeneau’s leadership, claiming that the chancellor, in focusing on improving the school’s public image, has not prioritized workers’ needs.

“Honestly, the chancellor hasn’t done much for staff,” said Theresa Hirashima, an employee at International House. “I have had four salary increases in my 13 years here … yet we’re being asked to do more and more. They say we’re all in this together, but we’re really not.”

About five members of the bp Off Campus Coalition, a subgroup of Occupy Cal, also voiced complaints about Birgeneau, protesting outside the entrance to Memorial Stadium. According to the coalition, the chancellor has played a large role in the privatization of UC Berkeley and allowed the police to use violent means to subdue nonviolent protests.

The protesters also rushed into the event toward the end, reenacting a scene of alleged police brutality from the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal Day of Action.

“It is extremely important to have a chancellor who genuinely supports free speech, sustainability, accessibility and integrity,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Ian Saxton, one of the protesters. “We’re here to remind people that Birgeneau has failed in all these aspects.”

Birgeneau has served as UC Berkeley’s chancellor since September 2004 and has also been involved in the campus department of physics. He has received several awards since the beginning of his tenure for his leadership and his work in physics.

Though Birgeneau will be replaced by Chancellor-designate Nicholas Dirks on June 1, he will be staying on campus as a physics faculty member.

“He was resolute in his belief of the right thing to do,” said Tim Ravey, a UC Berkeley alumnus and a current admissions officer for the school. “Despite shortfalls … he was able to put the campus in a more stable position for the future.”

Contact Alison Fu at [email protected].