I’ve had the privilege of serving students for 40-plus years, 35 of those years here at UC Berkeley in the Division of Student Affairs. My personal mission leading this division was to create a culture of care that both supports and challenges students so they can experience more and accomplish more in their university journey. After all, an education isn’t something you buy, it’s something you achieve, and this happens both inside and outside the classroom.
In all my years in academia, I’ve learned that the most effective way of making this a reality is through working hand-in-hand with students with the understanding that students are not an interruption to my day, they are the primary reason I’m here. The campus is aware that I plan on retiring at the end of this semester and, thanks to several accomplishments we’ve achieved together, I feel that I’ve reached a good “stopping point.” As I plan my departure, I am hopeful that we’ve laid a foundation of student-administration partnership to ensure continued success moving forward.
I have a philosophy that one should leave a place better then one found it. The relationship between the university administration and students historically has certainly evolved, just as the university itself has evolved from its foundations to present. If one goes back several decades, there have been times when students have felt in direct opposition to the administration. This uneasy relationship indirectly led to the birth of the Free Speech Movement on our campus and the heritage of vibrant activism that continues to define the Berkeley experience.
The evolution that I have witnessed in my time here has been one of growing collaboration between the administration and student body. I feel we’ve increasingly found a balance where we as administrators can not only listen but most importantly empower students. This approach not only benefits students in solving campus issues, but it equips them with the vital skills needed to solve the nation’s and the world’s most pressing issues.
One success of which I am proud is the opening of the new ASUC Student Union in Lower Sproul Plaza. This new facility was developed in close partnership with the ASUC, Graduate Assembly, or GA, and the student community at large to ensure spaces and services that meet contemporary student needs. It was a joy to work with students and student leaders to make this a reality, and I believe this effort showcases how students and the campus can find innovative solutions together.
A piece of advice I would leave to my successors is that administrators benefit from more student engagement. Students recounting their first-hand experiences bring to life issues that would simply be statistics or numbers on spreadsheets to staff, or go hidden. A good example of this is the issue of food insecurity. As a result of the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, or UCUES, I learned that food security is a major concern for our students and one we need to work together to find solutions for and created a task force to address this pressing issue.
Underrepresented communities as well as represented communities have felt I provided a link to the campus that in some cases was lacking. There are many tasks and community groups that I met with that campus leadership has little or no knowledge of, and I don’t want my departure to cause a gap to those communities. Inclusivity is a campus responsibility and not one that rests on one individual either by circumstance or design. All my colleagues should play a role in fully embracing our communities.
Students also help ensure we offer needed services and are proactive in advancing important work. This ranges from the Student Advisory Committee, which provides me with invaluable counsel concerning the quality of student life and the co-curricular experience, to students’ work with Cal Dining to create a more sustainable campus both in terms of the food choices offered but also our environmental sustainability to help our campus reach zero waste by 2020.
Having the right staff in this partnership equation is essential. I want to encourage our current leaders and those who come after to curate the best staff who demonstrate a keen interest in student success and who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves. These highly motivated staff members should also see themselves as keepers-of-the-flame of institutional knowledge, to ensure there’s a continuity of best practices with students. Overall, with so many developments across campus, we should expect that change will always occur, and we must be nimble enough to adapt to an ever-shifting environment. Knowledge transfer from one generation of students to the next will be key.
Much has been accomplished that both staff and students can be proud of. Yet, as I look to the future, I know there are many challenges ahead. This includes helping students who are at-risk or face housing and basic needs insecurity, developing a master housing plan, preventing sexual violence and sexual harassment while supporting survivors, and continuing to holistically serve an ever-growing number of students. I am confident that in partnership we can address these issues.
I encourage students to work more closely with the administration. Get involved in organizations such as the ASUC, GA, Residence Hall Assembly, or RHA, and Village Residents Association, or VRA; join student advisory committees; and take advantage of work study opportunities. Use these as opportunities to learn more about Berkeley and find ways you can work together with the administration to solve pressing matters across campus. I encourage administrators to continue meeting with students formally and informally. Take the time to understand their day-to-day experience and needs and enlist their help in solving some of our biggest challenges. You, too, will be able to leave the campus a better place.
The culture of care we are promoting in Student Affairs, with the support of many partners across campus, delivers all of the elements of a powerful student experience. Students’ time here shapes the future they see for themselves, the nation and the world. By working together in concert with students, I know we can create the best student experience possible.
Roll on, you Bears!
Harry Le Grande is the vice chancellor of the division of student affairs.