With the start of a new school year comes a fresh start. With a new chancellor and new football coach at UC Berkeley and even a new UC president, a turnover in UC leadership gives us hope during a tumultuous time for public higher education in California. The main goal for these three figures will be to guide the UC system so that it retains its position as a premier public institution. Though Nicholas Dirks, Sonny Dykes and Janet Napolitano have vastly different levels of jurisdiction, they will take on the difficult feat of bringing our school together on campus, athletic and systemwide levels, respectively, and also maintaining our academic integrity in light of state disinvestment.
Nicholas Dirks, UC Berkeley chancellor
The 10th UC Berkeley chancellor has already made a promising start to his term. There are reports he will hold informal fireside chats with the campus community and that he will teach a class on Gandhi, and his multiple meetings with the ASUC show that he wants to have better, more open communication with students. But as chancellor of a top public university that is rapidly losing state funding, he also needs to work with the state and other UC chancellors to come up with an innovative plan that will fund the university and keep tuition at an affordable level. UC Berkeley has the ability to set a precedent for other UC campuses, a fact evidenced by the white paper co-authored by former chancellor Robert Birgeneau calling for each campus to have higher autonomy than it is currently given under the UC Board of Regents and UC Office of the President. Though we cannot go back to the ideals of 1960 — the year the California Master Plan for Higher Education was created — we need to move forward with new ideas that Dirks must bring forward regarding sustainable funding models that may not involve the state. Above all, Dirks has to be transparent, open and accessible to different groups of students who might feel they have been marginalized or isolated due to issues such as divestment. UC Berkeley needs to be valued and taken seriously by the state and its peers, and Dirks’ governance will set a precedent for years to come.
Sonny Dykes, UC Berkeley football coach
As he steps into the Cal Athletics spotlight, Sonny Dykes will have an unrelenting reminder of his predecessor in the form of a $321 million stadium he and his players will have to prove themselves in during each game. One of his predecessor’s apparent achievements was the retrofitted and renovated Memorial Stadium, which has now brought with it a number of headaches, including the lacking sales of premium seats and the task of paying off the stadium’s mounting debt, which could take the next few decades. But Memorial Stadium is the least of Dykes’ worries, because the responsibility to pay off the debt does not fall solely on him. Dykes has a responsibility to his team to prove that he can put academic integrity above athletic performance. Recently, Cal football players have had among the lowest graduation rates in the entire PAC-12 — an appalling fact at an institution that prides its high scholastic performance. Dykes’ new recruits must show they have a commitment to grades first and the field second. Birgeneau and athletic director Sandy Barbour had a plan for the future of Cal football when they hired Dykes. Faith needs to be restored in the football team, both academically and athletically, and we hope Dykes is up to the task.
Janet Napolitano, UC president
There is no position with more weight in the UC system than that of the president. And it seems Napolitano has the political clout and experience to take the UC system by the horns and make some serious changes in the university’s position within the state. Still, though she stated at the regents meeting that she supports the path to citizenship and the federal DREAM Act, undocumented student groups are still concerned about Napolitano’s past role as homeland security secretary. The UC Student Association recently acknowledged a number of demands presented by these student groups regarding the nature of Napolitano’s appointment and the programs she oversaw in her former position. One such responsibility was to oversee the Secure Communities program, which allows local police to assist federal immigration agencies in deporting undocumented immigrants, often for petty crimes. But as UC spokesperson Dianne Klein reiterated, Napolitano is not coming to the university to be the president of immigration policy. There are three things for Napolitano to do right now. First, she must work with undocumented student groups who are concerned about her past with the Secure Communities program. Second, she must be a spokesperson to represent all UC students. Finally, Napolitano must work to advocate UC demands on state and federal levels, because she has potential to be a better spokesperson due to her familiarity with high-profile politics. If not, Napolitano will have to report to thousands of UC community members.