When Carol Christ stumbled into the chancellorship, UC Berkeley was in disarray.
The cash-strapped campus was reeling from a series of mishandled sexual misconduct cases and found itself the flashpoint in campus free speech wars. Right-wing provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter broadcasted their intentions to visit Berkeley, white nationalists marched through the city and black bloc protesters, who shot fireworks at campus buildings, splashed national front pages.
And yet, Christ took this “impossible” job (the first woman to do so), even though she didn’t need to — she’d served out a tenure as president at Smith College and retired in 2013. She was heralded as someone intimately familiar with the inner workings of the campus as a former administrator and faculty member with a deep respect of and loyalty to the institution.
Christ inherited a slew of problems, and she has outlined ambitious plans to solve them. Five months in, how much of her ambition has been realized?
As Yiannopoulos rallied speakers to visit campus for a “Free Speech Week” in late September, Christ unveiled plans for a “Free Speech Year,” which sought to showcase a respectable way of exchanging viewpoints. Her plans formed as a kind of PR counter to the strengthening narrative that college campuses are hotbeds of liberal thought and that students are increasingly averse to hearing ideological criticism.
The campus scrambled to arrange security for both a talk by Ben Shapiro and Yiannopoulos’ Free Speech Week and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Christ went through great lengths to ensure Shapiro would be able to speak, subsidizing costs that in normal circumstances would be the responsibility of Berkeley College Republicans. Christ previously said she did this to avoid “reputational damage” and prove the community was amenable to conservative thought.
Christ identified the campus’s then-current policy for events as a weak point that student groups such as the Berkeley Patriot were able to exploit. But when the administration issued a revised policy, other student groups faced problems meeting planning requirements for large events. A final draft is still going through an approval process.
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Christ planned to cut the campus’s $110 million deficit by about half for the fiscal year 2017-18, and she anticipates eliminating the deficit by June 30, 2020. “We’re on course for it,” Christ previously said. “I have absolutely no question that we’ll be able to get there.”
At a November meeting of the campus’s Academic Senate, Christ announced “excellent progress” toward meeting deficit reduction goals. The administration touted a model that outlined significant cuts to academic and research divisions and that relies heavily on future revenue generation.
Christ aimed to raise about $28 million in private gifts and new extension and summer session academic programs. She also identified self-supporting degree programs, contract and grant activity, entrepreneurship and real estate as other potential revenue streams.
The campus has implied it may move to cut teams and look to sell alcohol at football and basketball games. Christ has also proposed that the campus shoulder part of the debt incurred by Cal Athletics as a result of renovating California Memorial Stadium in 2012.
In return for taking on the debt, the campus hopes to demolish Edwards Stadium (and potentially turn it into housing). The stadium currently houses the soccer and track and field programs. Specific details on these plans have yet to be released by campus.
A task force convened on athletics concluded in June, however, that balancing the budget in the near future is a goal unlikely to be realized.The campus has regularly paid millions to bail out Cal Athletics in recent years, and debt service payments will continue to rise.
Transparency and accountability
Christ was praised for her commitment to open communication and transparency, a point on which faculty said Dirks’ administration flubbed repeatedly. Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof previously said Christ’s decision to publicly release long-term budget reduction proposals in August was unprecedented in terms of the level of transparency.
Upon her appointment, student leaders hoped she would pay greater attention to student concerns. Some student leaders have since said she is accessible but that on points such as heavy police presence during Free Speech Week, the administration seems unmovable.
UC Berkeley and the UC system have reiterated commitment to expanding protections for survivors of sexual violence, as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to overhaul Title IX policies as they currently stand.
UC President Janet Napolitano pointed to the handling of sexual misconduct cases as one of the biggest failings of Christ’s predecessor Dirks. Napolitano has implemented a number of reforms to UC-wide policies in recent years, in response to several cases of sexual harassment on UC Berkeley’s campus that garnered severe public criticism and Title IX complaints filed against the campus in 2014. UC Berkeley itself has beefed up staffing of and funneled resources to its Title IX office.
Christ voiced a commitment to building on these recent prevention and response efforts.
Christ, however, is also tasked with managing federal monitoring as a result of an investigation into alleged Title IX violations against the Cal women’s field hockey team. The team didn’t have a home field for two consecutive seasons, and now the campus must show that its men’s and women’s sports teams have equitable access to facilities.
Rents climb every year in Berkeley, and housing affordability is one of the biggest financial obstacles students face. Christ has said she is working toward the ambitious goal of guaranteeing two years of housing for incoming freshmen, and she committed to doubling the number of student housing units.
Campus projects underway to improve housing availability include a development at 2400 Bancroft Way, which will bring 770 new beds in fall 2018, and arrangements with privately owned buildings to house students. Christ also plans to build more housing on campus property (such as the land Edwards Stadium currently occupies, for example).