With the start of the fall 2012 semester, we, the students and the campus, began a process of physically transforming the landscape of UC Berkeley. Beginning with the passing of the B.E.A.R.S initiative in spring 2010, we voted to raise our own student fees to the tune of $124 million over the course of 40 years to fund the redevelopment of Lower Sproul. Supplemented by a campus contribution of $99 million, the project totals $223 million and is governed by a complex system of committees that include student and campus representatives.
Despite the large financial contribution made by students and the efforts of past and current student leaders to ensure that the construction project remained student-centered, students still find themselves receiving the short end of the stick. The project itself was founded on a mutual need to have a student union that reflected the innovative, collaborative and brilliant nature of the student body. But since the passing of the referendum, this founding principle seems to have been lost as student leaders have transitioned on and off the project, current student representatives struggle to keep up with the technical nature the construction phase that we are entering and the complexity of student stakeholder needs are slowly realized. Unlike normal construction projects for the campus, in which there is a single stakeholder group such as an academic unit, the campus was dealing with a student body consisting of many different types of student organizations.
As student leaders know, student life especially on the UC Berkeley campus is extraordinarily complex, and campus administrators need to understand this as we continue to partner in projects like Lower Sproul. When planning for the surge over to temporary spaces in Hearst Gym as real construction began, students were treated just like any other campus unit in a construction project: asked to simply explain what type of furniture and architecture was needed, and to move when asked to move. Students don’t work like a campus unit — nothing is simple when it comes to student organizations, which can be both a beautiful and hectic quality. We are a stakeholder group consisting of 36,000 students involved in hundreds of student organizations, each with individual needs and individual goals.
When we finally moved student organizations over to Hearst Gym and Hearst Annex at the start of the academic year, the buildings were not even physically ready for any tenants, let alone students who tend to use spaces at all hours of the day and night. Furthermore, students found themselves alone in trying to develop relationships with neighboring academic units. The outcome was a needlessly messy move that resulted in many student groups losing property and gaining frustration. Clearly, the campus should have done and should do more to understand a multifaceted stakeholder group like our student body, especially at the beginning of an intricate project like Lower Sproul.
Students were once again disappointed this semester to discover that construction on Anna Head Alumnae Hall and Anthony Hall was also significantly delayed, which as the semester continues will require students to go to great lengths to find other spaces to hold their events and meetings. And all these projects are just small pieces of Lower Sproul Redevelopment: Major construction and renovation of Eshleman Hall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union haven’t even begun yet.
Needless to say, flexibility and forgiveness have been qualities exhibited by our student body this year. But these qualities won’t and shouldn’t stand forever.
The campus needs to start meeting students halfway. From the new chancellor to the contractors on the Lower Sproul Project to the faculty who have influence on this campus to the administrators who sometimes forget the importance of students to
Cal, it’s time that we usher in a new age of collaboration and support for student life in and outside of the classroom. The development of this project is a blueprint for students to engage the campus in all kinds of spaces, and everyone has a stake in its success.
As the Lower Sproul project continues, I urge students to continue to be optimistic and excited about our new student union, but I also urge all parties to expect the newest information possible, promises to be met and challenges to be confronted by not only administrators but students as well. We are told over and over that we are moving into an era of shared governance between students and the rest of the campus. But before we can truly have shared governance, both parties must recognize what it means to have shared responsibility.
ASUC President Connor Landgraf contributed to this op-ed.
Justin Sayarath is the ASUC executive vice president.