Dear Cal Students:
Convocation season is upon us, and it is once again a time of transitions — both joyous and bittersweet. Like you, I am also transitioning as I step down as your chancellor at the end of this month and return to being a Berkeley faculty member. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making my service as chancellor such a fulfilling one.
In the course of nearly nine years as chancellor, I have had the great pleasure of interacting with what are undoubtedly the most “engaged and engaging” students anywhere. Having taught at several other institutions around the globe — including Yale, MIT, Toronto and Oxford — I have come to appreciate that Berkeley students are very special. It has been a great joy to meet and connect with so many exceptionally talented students who not only have a passion to learn and a drive to excel but also the ambition to give back and change the world for the better. I have found Berkeley student energy empowering as well as inspiring.
You have made your mark on this campus, on our community, our state and indeed, the world. On campus, you have partnered with the administration to create a vibrant multicultural student center. You forged a unique partnership with the university to transform Lower Sproul Plaza, completely revitalizing student activity space. You educated me on greenness and sustainability, and your ingenuity has shown what marvelous things one can do to make our campus greener. Your passion for responsible stewardship of our planet is reflected in the many green energy projects in which the campus is engaged.
You have supported our local community in numerous ways through the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, beautifying neighborhoods through artwork, providing community health services to the needy and volunteering for thousands of hours as tutors in neighborhood schools. You have made Cal Teach a thriving program on our campus.
The passion of your convictions has had a remarkable effect. We worked together assiduously to pass the California DREAM Act and make possible scholarships and financial aid for undocumented students. You registered voters and advocated convincingly to help pass Proposition 30, thereby mitigating further state cuts to higher education in the current budget.
On a global level, many of you have traveled to far regions of the world, bringing your knowledge and creativity to help alleviate poverty. Your inventiveness has already resulted in projects that will improve life in impoverished areas of the world.
I undertook the chancellorship with a commitment to sustaining Berkeley’s unique public character and ensuring that our academic excellence would be affordable to students of exceptional talent from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Together, we have sustained and enhanced robust financial aid programs not only for students from low-income families but also for the middle class. Berkeley became the first public university in the United States to create a Middle Class Access Plan. Despite increasing tuition, we have been able to ensure that Berkeley undergraduates are graduating with the lowest student debt among all public teaching and research universities across the country.
I have enjoyed working closely with the ASUC and Graduate Assembly leadership throughout my entire tenure as chancellor. Our student leaders are deeply committed to working in the best interests of our student body and the university. Whether on issues such as student mental health, campus climate or, most recently, the Student Health Insurance Plan, their constructive collaboration made possible a myriad of accomplishments.
We have also had many good times together. Mary Catherine and I have loved greeting our new students in the fall at the outdoor receptions at University House and cheering with you at football games in the student section of Memorial Stadium. Watching student performances, whether athletic or artistic, has lifted our spirits. Celebrating your successes at scholarship receptions, at award events and at graduation has made us tremendously proud of your achievements.
You have touched us profoundly, and we have been inspired by you. We wish you all the very best for the future and will watch with great interest and pride as you go out and make an impact on the world in the powerful way that only Berkeley graduates can.
Robert Birgeneau is the chancellor of UC Berkeley