UC Berkeley officials release controversial plan to increase campus autonomy

Yudof expresses disapproval of plan to create boards that would have more control over campus-based issues

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s career has been characterized by social activism as well as academic research.
James Besser/File
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s career has been characterized by social activism as well as academic research.

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UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and several other campus officials authored a controversial proposal released Monday that would give individual campuses more control over local issues, though their plan was criticized by UC President Mark Yudof.

The proposal, released through the campus Center for Studies in Higher Education, recommends that the UC Board of Regents delegate some of its responsibilities to proposed campus boards, which would be composed of the campus chancellor, community members, faculty, students and individual regents.

The responsibilities that the proposal recommends be given to campuses include control over approval of capital projects, academic programs and salaries. The proposal also suggests that UC regents be assigned to specific campus boards for three year terms so as to get to know the issues of individual campuses better.

But Yudof expressed disapproval of the proposal in a Monday statement, stating that he does not support it.

“Transparency, accountability and flexibility are very important in this rapidly changing environment,” Yudof said in the statement. “Chancellor Birgeneau’s proposal has not been appropriately reviewed.”

Campus boards could help both better localize the UC system’s decision-making process and allow campuses to deal with the rapid decline in state funding to the UC in unique ways, said proposal co-author and center director C. Judson King.

“(The boards) would let the campus try to adjust decisions to meet the needs of the campus,” King said. “The idea is to get away from the one-size-fits-all mentality.”

In recent years, increased campus autonomy has been at the forefront of discussions about the future of the UC system. In 2008, the UC Office of the President cut its budget by $56.7 million, over half of which was saved by transferring programs from the office to campuses. And in January, UC San Francisco outlined a proposal that would afford that campus more financial and governing autonomy from the UC system.

Historically, efforts to obtain more autonomy for UC professional schools have fallen short. The UCLA Anderson School of Management made the most headway after it developed a proposal for increased self-sufficiency. However, in part due to faculty opposition, progress has since stalled.

But the history of the devolution of power from the university to campuses stretches long before the past few years. Before 1952, the position of campus chancellor did not exist. Academic Senates were not delegated to individual campuses until 1963.

The proposal lies in tandem with a trend of administrative changes that, over the years, has allocated more responsibility in making decisions to campuses, according to King, a former UC provost who said he has been to over 100 UC Board of Regents meetings.

“It doesn’t take away the role of the regents,” he said of the proposal. “It is difficult for them to delve into understanding the more detailed issues … they would be able to use a greater percentage of their time on statewide issues.”

UC Berkeley School of Information professor Yale Braunstein was also critical of the idea. In a written response to the proposal, Braunstein said there is considerable evidence that the quality of local decision-making is not high enough to justify devolving any additional budget or financial powers to the campuses.

“There is little doubt that the Berkeley senior administration has failed to effectively tackle questions about the size and scope of the academic enterprise,” he said.

But King said changes like the one proposed by Birgeneau and other campus officials have been happening for years.

“There is a long history of devolution of decisions, and I don’t think there have been bad decisions because of it,” he said.

Read the full text of the proposal below:

Damian Ortellado is the lead higher education reporter.