As protesters continue to occupy the steps of Sproul Hall and budget cuts and fee hikes remain in the public consciousness, student leaders and officials from UC Berkeley and Stanford University met Tuesday for a panel discussion on the state of public higher education and its future.
The forum was the second in a series of four organized by the Council of Deans Task Force on the Future of Public Universities to address the problems higher education faces. Despite the forum’s intended focus on long-term problems, the topics of police violence at UC Berkeley and UC Davis — which are currently under review — cropped up several times at the forum, serving as the major topic of campus performance studies professor Catherine Cole’s speech and resurfacing during the public comment portion.
“I find it very hard to talk about the future when the present has been so systematically disrupted by violence,” Cole said in her speech. “The present has been unmade.”
The forum, which was held in Wheeler Hall, also featured Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and Donald Kennedy, president emeritus of Stanford University. Student regent Alfredo Mireles, Jr. and student regent-designate Jonathan Stein were also featured.
“We need to fight to preserve UC Berkeley and the UC system – everyone in this room has benefitted from them,” Mireles said. “One in 46 jobs in California is supported directly or indirectly by the University of California.”
Though the speakers generally agreed on ideas for improving public higher education as a whole — particularly the idea of “retail politics,” in which students bring the issues home to their parents — opinions diverged on the campus administration’s handling of recent protests.
Mireles said he hopes the individuals who ordered force against protesters at the Berkeley and Davis campuses will be fired, while Brady cautioned against excessive anger toward UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and campus Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer.
“It’s important to remember who you’re protesting against,” he said. “I don’t think Bob Birgeneau and George Breslauer are Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, to state the obvious — but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.”
Brady also expanded on the economic value of the UC system, noting that the state more than recoups the money it invests in higher education by making four dollars in benefits for every one dollar invested.
During Kennedy’s speech, he noted that though a disparity between the incomes of Stanford and UC Berkeley professors has existed for years, that gap has grown recently.
“The average assistant professor at Stanford made 9 percent more in 2000 than the average professor at Cal — that disparity has grown to 17 percent,” Kennedy said. “It’s a real shame that this disparity exists, and I hope that as in years past my Stanford colleagues will stand up and rally for Cal.”
The public comment portion of the event, which lasted about an hour, saw questions and comments on issues such as other possible education models, leadership of the UC Board of Regents and other officials, as well as Proposition 13.
The third forum, which will focus on the economics of higher education, is scheduled to take place in early February.