The month of December on the Berkeley campus is always marked by a flurry of end-of-semester activities: the wrap-up of classes, a retreat to libraries and residence halls to finish projects and prepare for exams, final meetings of student clubs and choruses of heartfelt goodbyes before a well-deserved holiday break.
In attending to all of this, it’s easy to forget that the holiday season is also a time to reflect on and give thanks for the gifts we have received over the past year. This season, while there is much to be thankful for, I’d like you to join me in expressing gratitude for the work of some of the unsung heroes of our campus: UC Berkeley’s staff.
Put simply, UC Berkeley’s staff members are the engine that allows a massively complex institution with a $2.4 billion budget — encompassing hundreds of vastly disparate units spread across a campus that sees tens of thousands of people flow through it every day — to function and even to flourish.
When we think of our university’s tripartite mission of teaching, research and public service, our minds instinctively, and too often, turn only to professors and students in lecture halls and labs. Yet our corps of staff, I believe, plays an equally essential role in allowing the university to realize these three goals.
Examples abound. On the teaching side, our staff enable learning to happen by virtue of everything from managing course registration to ensuring that classrooms are clean, safe and well-maintained. In other cases, staff are themselves on the front line: Though they may not stand at a lectern, I know that many staff who interface with students consider themselves teachers — vital parts of the educational experience — in that they contribute much to the growth and edification of those who pass through UC Berkeley. A member of the residential housing staff helping freshmen adjust to life in Berkeley not only helps students take advantage of the great resources here, but also helps them to form healthy relationships, develop study and social skills and contribute to the larger environment in which our learning and striving takes place. A staffer from the Leadership, Engagement, Advising and Development Center coaching the executives of a student group on how to increase membership, might teach valuable leadership, organizational, communication and marketing skills. Such experiences are both necessary complements to classroom learning and important components of life learning, too.
In the research realm, staff professionals are crucial for navigating grant processes, complex systems of intellectual property rights, compliance and financial accounting laws and so much more. And once our researchers do turn out treatments for malaria, develop robotic prostheses for disabled veterans or publish transportation studies on traffic flows and driverless vehicles, it is Berkeley’s Office of Public Affairs & Communications that ensures such developments don’t remain in the ivory tower. That office is made up of writers and communications professionals who have relationships and experience with journalists around the world, and who relish the opportunity to spread the word about UC Berkeley’s contributions to the greater good, well beyond our walls. This, too, is an integral part of our university’s research mission.
Finally, staff members very often drive UC Berkeley’s efforts in the public interest — and, again, the examples range widely. In pursuit of our goal of providing access to excellence for less privileged Californians, staff play the essential part of reaching out to schools across the state, identifying and recruiting prospective students who may not have the experience, connections, social familiarity and family support of their peers to navigate the application and decision process. When such students enroll at UC Berkeley, staff play similar roles in helping them acclimate to a new environment.
In an entirely different vein, our public service mission is fulfilled in part by the staff who manage the programming of Cal Performances or the exhibitions in our new Berkeley Art Museum, both of which bring cultural vitality to the East Bay. Similarly, our public campus itself is a welcoming destination for residents of the city of Berkeley and for visitors from around the world — and its allure is largely thanks to the work of our excellent grounds crew.
This list is a small and necessarily piecemeal showing of how staff are indispensable to meeting our university’s aims, but I hope it illustrates the point. So even amidst the busy close of the semester, I hope you’ll join me in taking time to more intentionally acknowledge and support the work our staff professionals do. They may often be behind the scenes, but they are crucial to running the show.
Chancellor’s Corner is a monthly opinion piece by UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks.