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.

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  • still trying

    Sorry, I was being general in my statements. If you looked at the top administrators and their job responsibilities, it becomes clear to see, pay for performance is unsustainable and mostly a waste. The top administrators have been incompetent for decades. The upper ranks are packed with pork and needs to be trimmed. My complaint about the pension fund is how it was managed for 20 years by UC idiots, and their decision to stop funding your pension. For almost 20 years UC paid nothing into retirement for its employees. Some world class University, it was unable to do simple math. That is my complaint. Why should UC students take it in the wallet because of bad management at the top, which continues today, The top should take a cut in pay, even symbolic, until the pension is whole again.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      OK, I can’t disagree with any of that. :)

  • Sticky Nicky

    It’s comical that Dirks will come out and basically call CSS a big ole whopping failure, but no one in CSS will be honest with staff that the end is near. CSS is hemorrhaging money and paying for “process improvement” or “communications” when their staff are making a mass exodus and the rest are burnt out and overworked. Trim the fat where it is needed and put the CSS staff out of their misery. Send them back to the units to continue to support the research and then go back to the drawing board and attempt to centralize again in another 5 years – just don’t pay a consultant millions of dollars this time.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Dirks is flailing. He has no idea what he’s doing.

    Also, I suspect that CSS will be “dissolved” on paper, but continue to operate as is under another name. That’s how UC rolls.

    • Sticky Nicky

      Hopefully senior leadership in CSS will finally realize that they are flailing as well. My understanding is that there is a mass exodus and for the people that are left it is unsustainable with horrible working environments. It would probably be best for it to dissolve and let someone else try and run it, because the head honchos there seem to be clueless.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Fire everybody with ‘diversity’ in their title. Replace all salaried jobs in admissions, aid, and placement with two STEM grads and a spread sheet. Save a bunch of $.

  • cut the fat of campus bureacracy! start with the unions!

    • Nunya Beeswax

      The unions aren’t the problem on the Berkeley campus. The problem is administrative bloat–and most of those people are not part of any union, because they’re classified as supervisors (i.e. management).

  • still trying

    What I find offensive is Dirks just bought a 2.7 million dollar house with property taxes and special assessments running at around 60,000.00 a year. Let’s not forget he is a public employee with the best retirement plan in the world. With UC’s tuition going up 300% this past decade, I find the purchase disgusting and a clear indication that some public employees are way over paid.

    • Alex

      $2.7 million for a house is not that much in the Bay Area these days, if he was in Palo Alto he would be paying over $3 million.

      • still trying

        I agree with you on how much homes cost in Berkeley. Presently he is provided free housing by UC, which just spent millions fixing up the Chancellor’s home . The question here is why should a professor at a public University be required to live in Berkeley. He could find much cheaper housing in Walnut Creek or Antioch. My point being, public employees should not be making this much money. He could never, with his skills,(history teacher) find a job paying the salary he receives at UC. If he worked for the private sector and my tax dollars were not supporting him, I would say more power to him. There was a time at UC when salaries were much lower because employees were promised a great retirement. Now they get obscene salaries and grossly obscene pensions, all coming from the public sector. That extra 400 million Brown gave UC to increase instate enrollment all went into UC’s pension fund. Not one cent went into helping decrease the overcrowded classrooms. Our priorities are out of whack, and we have become a nation of what’s in it for me. Instead of what Kennedy said. What can I do for my country.