Dirks announces major changes to cost-cutting efforts

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Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced sweeping changes to two major cost-cutting efforts at an Academic Senate meeting Tuesday.

At the meeting, Dirks announced the dissolution of the recently created Office of Strategic Initiatives and acknowledged the need for significant changes to the model of the 3-year-old Campus Shared Services. His comments received a mixed reception from the senate, with multiple faculty members taking the opportunity to voice their disapproval of his performance as chancellor later in the meeting.

According to an email from sociology department chair and professor Mara Loveman, “the extensive record of indecisiveness, unforced errors, and bad judgement by Chancellor Dirks on several critical fronts has seriously undermined confidence in his ability to provide the leadership that Berkeley needs.”

Dirks’ announcement marks a change in direction regarding the administration’s responses to financial stresses faced by the campus.

First planned in the midst of budget cuts in 2011, the Campus Shared Services, or CSS, has been providing unified administrative services such as payroll, hiring and expense reimbursement to campus departments in an attempt to increase administrative efficiency and savings.

According to a report published by the administration in April, 98 percent of the campus is now served by CSS. Earlier this month, campus Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae indicated that the latest stage of development for CSS provided the campus with an established platform to improve administrative efficiency.

At the senate meeting, however, Dirks acknowledged the need for changes to the CSS model. Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email that the chancellor believes that CSS “has not delivered on all of its promises.”

Mogulof added that CSS will be replaced with a different model and that Rae along with CSS Chief Operating Officer Peggy Huston and Vice Chancellor for University Relations Scott Biddy will “immediately begin work” to redesign how administrative services are being delivered to campus departments.

Much like CSS, which has been a constant source of worker-led agitation, the Office of Strategic Initiatives has drawn criticism since its inception in February as part of Dirks’ strategy to address a $150 million budget deficit.

The announcement of the dissolution of the Office of Strategic Initiatives in favor of what Mogulof referred to as a return to “operating within the usual management structures” was met with widespread satisfaction at the meeting.

“This was one of the first times (Dirks) made substantive changes to some existing committees, offices and policies that many people have been feeling were problematic,” said campus theater, dance and performance studies professor Peter Glazer. He added that the recognition by Dirks that CSS and the Office of Strategic Initiatives were not working ideally was “significant.”

Although the administration sent a message upon the establishment of the Office of Strategic Initiatives and has regularly followed up with updates on its progress, it has yet to send a campuswide announcement regarding the dissolution and changes to the campus’s strategic planning process.

Student representatives have been informed, however, and have voiced approval for the change.

“This speaks to a lot of the backlash that the handling of the Office of Strategic Initiatives received, as well as changing leadership within California Hall,” said incoming ASUC President Will Morrow. “There is definitely an opportunity now to move toward more productive conversations about addressing our budget deficit.”

Leadership changes within California Hall were also discussed at the meeting. Though no direct action was taken against Dirks, multiple faculty members expressed their disapproval of his handling of recent events.

Political science department chair Eric Schickler said in an email that there was no longer a bond of mutual trust between faculty and the administration. He added that there were concerns among faculty that major donors were being steered toward supporting the Berkeley Global Campus project in Richmond rather than core campus research and teaching missions.

“Shared governance requires a shared vision and shared trust between faculty and those at the top,” Schickler said. “Many of us believe that the chancellor’s poor decisions have eroded that trust to the breaking point.”

Glazer, however, expressed concerns at the meeting of the repercussions of taking any action against Dirks at this stage.

“I don’t think it would be in our best interests to start a process that would lead to a new chancellor being put in place,” Glazer said, adding that a replacement would not be better suited to serve the campus. He added that he was concerned that the regents and UC President Janet Napolitano may not be thinking of putting someone in that position who would be better suited to serve the campus.

Both Glazer and Loveman, along with many faculty members at the meeting, indicated that the appointment of Carol Christ as interim executive vice chancellor and provost was a good development for the campus.

“There was tremendous appreciation for Carol Christ’s generous decision to take the helm,” Loveman said in an email.

“At the same time, there was not a single positive argument made for the chancellor’s performance at the meeting,” Loveman added.

Ishaan Srivastava covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ishaansriv.