When the new chancellor calls their first cabinet next semester, there may be a few empty chairs at the table.
The leadership team that governs the world’s top public university could look radically different as early as next spring. In the coming months, UC Berkeley must select a new chancellor who will fill a slate of vacant positions and replace interim posts at the highest levels of campus administration.
Over half of the chancellor’s cabinet have announced their resignations in the past 19 months, including all but one of the campus’s vice chancellors and vice provosts, casting doubt on UC Berkeley’s reputation and ability to govern itself effectively.
The departure of 14 cabinet-level officials — the highest-ranking administrators at UC Berkeley — in such a short time frame is unusual, several campus administrators noted.
Several key administrative positions are being held in the interim or are currently vacant, while other administrators, including Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande, have only a few months left on campus.
“Clearly the first task of the next chancellor will be to build as quickly as possible an executive management team that is competent and inspires the confidence of the community,” said Associate Chancellor Nils Gilman, who stressed that any new chancellor will need to fill four of the top cabinet-level positions in 2017.
Some of those vacant positions’ responsibilities are held by Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy, who also announced his resignation to the chancellor earlier this year, according to an email received by The Daily Californian. Biddy’s resignation has yet to be announced to the campus at large.
While some senior administrators — such as Le Grande, who is retiring after 35 years on campus — said they are departing for personal reasons, others have resigned or announced they intend to resign amid controversy or scandal.
Dirks, former vice chancellor for administration and finance John Wilton, and a former vice provost Andrew Szeri, who led the campus’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, all announced their resignations this year amid concerns over their handling of the campus’s $150 million annual structural deficit, announced earlier this year.
Although Claude Steele, former executive vice chancellor and provost, cited his wife’s health problems as a major factor for his departure in April, his announcement arrived amid widespread condemnation of his handling of a slew of sexual misconduct cases. In the past 19 months, campus investigations have been publicized against former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry, former vice chancellor for research Graham Fleming and prize-winning former astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy, among other campus employees.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens when the dust settles. Are we going to be happier? No one knows.”
Administrators stress that the unusually high turnover does not interfere with the campus’s ability to continue its research endeavours or attract and retain high-quality faculty members to fulfill its overall academic mission.
“Even though there has been a great deal of turnover recently, we have a ‘deep bench’ of administrative talent across our various operating units,” Dirks said in an email to the Daily Cal. “We are using this year to position the campus, and my successor, in the best possible way to move forward.”
Some aspects of campus operations have continued as usual, according to an analysis of internal campus data obtained by the Daily Cal. The number of tenured and tenure-track faculty members has remained relatively constant over the past 19 months, as has the campus’s success in recruiting new faculty members.
Administrators also said only two of UC Berkeley’s 22 deans have retired or resigned in recent months, which they claimed indicates stability in the overall budgetary and academic operation of the campus.
Faculty members, however, expressed their doubt.
“We’re all waiting to see what happens when the dust settles,” said campus public policy professor Michael O’Hare. “Are we going to be happier? No one knows.”
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said he has not seen any evidence that the turnover has negatively affected the campus.
“I don’t walk around the halls of university administration buildings and see people who are morose and demoralized,” he said.
“There’s this growing sense that it’s going to be a tough path, but it’s going to be a successful effort,” he added, referring to the campus’s new plan to ensure long-term financial stability.
Efforts to address the campus’s $150 million structural deficit are not being overseen by Dirks but by interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ. She has taken on a greater role in the campus’s budget planning in recent months, according to a number of administrators, faculty members and student leaders who are familiar with the administration’s efforts.
“This is still a weird, interim bridging period right now,” said ASUC President Will Morrow. “Carol Christ’s role is to best facilitate this transition period.”
Christ said her office is leading the campus’s efforts to resolve its budgetary problems and prepare a financially stable institution for the next chancellor, including several initiatives to reduce expenditures in the short term and develop increased revenue and operating efficiency in the coming years.
The campus plans to reduce its structural deficit to $110 million by next June. Officials expect to achieve a balanced budget by 2020, regardless of future changes to the campus’s high-level leadership.
Faculty members are generally supportive of the administration’s new budget strategy, according to Academic Senate chair Robert Powell, who said faculty have been “extremely impressed” with Christ’s leadership.
But even as he expressed the faculty’s praise for Christ’s work, Powell stressed his concern that these interim administrators will not be responsible for implementing their own policy.
“That’s certainly not an ideal setting,” he said, referring to the disadvantage current administrators face in laying the groundwork for others to implement. “I think there is great concern from the faculty about the state of the campus and the need to move forward.”
Several cabinet officials said that while the high turnover among senior administrators is unusual, such activity is not reason for alarm and could present an “unprecedented opportunity” to build a new leadership team, according to Dean of the Graduate Division Fiona Doyle.
Officials emphasized that while the new chancellor will need to appoint several administrators to high-level vacancies, there has been relative stability among a select group of senior officials who generally administer and implement campus policy rather than create it.
Only three out of eight of these officials — a number of assistant chancellors, associate and assistant vice chancellors and the chief campus counsel — have resigned in the past 19 months.
“The people who are in charge of keeping the trains running, those people are still there, which is why the trains keep running,” said Gilman, who also serves as Dirks’ chief of staff. “If we, the senior bureaucrats, don’t do our job, (the policy-making administrators) are the ones that are going to be held responsible.”
“This is still a weird, interim bridging period right now.”
Despite the administration’s confidence, several faculty members and student leaders, including Powell, Morrow and Graduate Assembly President Kena Hazelwood-Carter, are hesitant to join in just yet.
“We don’t know what’s coming next, and for us, that’s really concerning,” Hazelwood-Carter said. “I’ve heard concerns that when people go home for the holidays, for instance, the conversation is less about their dissertation and more, ‘What is happening?’ And that doesn’t feel good.”
UC Berkeley’s next chancellor and their new leadership team do not not have an enviable task ahead. Any new leadership team must address a range of high-profile issues — from a strained budget and sexual misconduct adjudication to repairing the campus’s reputation. Until then, senior administrators said they will continue to develop and implement policy with the campus’s academic mission at heart.
“We have hard work ahead of us,” Mogulof said. “But there is really great people working on it.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 12 campus cabinet-level officials have announced their resignations since April 2015. In fact, 13 officials have announced their resignation; the article failed to note that Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Jeannine Raymond announced her resignation in August.