Birgeneau cancels appearance with Graduate Assembly

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau abruptly canceled an appearance before the campus graduate student government the day before he was scheduled to speak, confusing graduate student delegates who had hoped to question him about the administration’s handling of Occupy Cal.

On Wednesday, Birgeneau informed the campus Graduate Assembly that he would not be able to make a half-hour appearance — which had been scheduled months in advance — at the assembly’s final meeting of the semester Thursday, according to Mollie Epstein, treasurer of the assembly.

Birgeneau’s primary reason for the cancellation was the need to prepare to speak at an annual public higher education summit for the Student Advocates for Graduate Education on campus Friday afternoon, said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“He has been extremely busy after returning from Asia and in light of recent events on campus,” Mogulof said. “When he looked at the totality of his schedule and the demands on his time … he made the decision to not attend the meeting.”

Birgeneau agreed to address the summit one or two months ago, according to Epstein.

“The chancellor has been getting bad press lately, and I’d think it would be good for him to meet with graduate students in person,” said Philippe Marchand, assembly affairs vice president.

Marchand said the assembly offered to cancel a Friday morning meeting between assembly officers and the chancellor so he could speak to the group of delegates. Birgeneau declined, which Mogulof attributed to Birgeneau’s need to prepare for the summit.

Epstein said the assembly had been gathering questions for Birgeneau in advance and that the meeting was intended to be respectful. The Friday assembly meeting will still occur, Marchand said.

While some of the planned questions were regarding police response to Occupy Cal, several others covered different topics such as tuition increases and the campus administration supporting ReFund California — a group hoping to increase funding for higher education through taxes and other means — among other issues, Epstein said.

“We were hoping this would be a very productive forum … it wasn’t supposed to be graduate students sounding off their frustrations with the administration,” she said.