What we long knew to be inevitable has now been confirmed. In an interview with The Daily Californian’s Senior Editorial Board Friday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said that Gov. Jerry Brown personally “assured” him that the UC will be hit with up to $100 million in midyear cuts, guaranteeing that our campus will only experience greater financial struggles.
As the campus continues to jump through hoops and overcome hurdles in the form of millions of dollars of state funding reductions, those with the influence to make a difference are perpetuating the same old blame game. Administrators like Birgeneau point their fingers at state legislators, and understandably so — they are the ones who pass the state budgets. State legislators blame others as well. In a separate interview Sunday with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, she pointed to Brown, the political machine in Sacramento, the UC itself and the public for not voting for more taxes to support our state’s services.
All of these officials are not unjustified in their accusations — the state legislature, the governor and the voters are all somewhat culpable for the fiscal strain placed on our systems of higher education. These officials are also fair in their acknowledgement of their own limitations — UC officials cannot rewrite the state budget, nor do state legislators often stand a chance trying to push back against party politics when it comes down to voting for drastic cuts.
However, these officials often fail to fully leverage their own influence. Campus administrators disregard the methods of protesters on campus rather than engaging with them. Legislators cite others’ insufficient advocacy efforts rather than standing alongside them and becoming strong supporters of higher education in action more than words. Leaders like Birgeneau and Skinner operate under the mantra that they will continue their courses of action until others get their acts together. Rather than unproductively criticizing each others’ means of expression, public officials must become a rallying force.
Birgeneau, for example, said during the interview that he is “not a major fan of people standing out in (front of) Sproul Hall and yelling slogans. I prefer real activism. Real activism means that you actually go, you actively go to the legislators offices, you actively attempt in a group to meet with (them).”
While Birgeneau’s idea of real activism is effective, administrators must acknowledge that such protests are the mode of demonstration which students have latched onto and which they won’t soon abandon. To discount students’ chosen form of activism is to discount their form of expression and neglects a powerful and passionate force. Why not tap into this energy rather than writing it off?
Ultimately, if administrators do not like the form of protest taken by students, they should help better facilitate their idea of advocacy. The administration stands in an influential position to unite the community under a single message. Rather than casting themselves as a separate entity, administrators should use their leverage to muster support from every corner of the campus and work with other leaders to collect more allies in defense of higher education.
Skinner similarly criticizes Brown and the UC for not being strong enough advocates for higher education. In the interview, Skinner said “I think that UC as a whole — regents, faculty, the chancellors, the president — they have influence. They are influence-makers within the state, and if they were a stronger part of that discourse, it would help.” But she herself also stands in an influential position to rally support. As a UC Berkeley alumnus and representative of the Berkeley constituency, Skinner should seek ways to garner support across the campus and within Sacramento in order to realize the change that she seeks.
What public higher education needs are leaders who will not simply criticize others’ efforts while they continue on their own paths. We need leaders who will engage with their constituents and seek ways to join multiple parties under a common interest.
The campus administration is doing a fine job of balancing the reduced budget, but if we hope to see our state make more positive progress and not remain stagnant, our administrators must be willing to utilize the energy of campus protesters and other passionate individuals. We are, after all, working toward a common goal.
Likewise, Skinner is making strides to secure increased revenues for the state which will in turn indirectly help the cause for higher education. Still, if she is willing to call out others for their lack of support for higher education, she must be a more visible advocate herself, especially on the UC Berkeley campus where she gained her education.
It is time for our leaders to stop pointing fingers and start pointing our higher education systems in the right direction.