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Dirks emphasizes preserving public mission in Tuesday night webcast

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JANUARY 16, 2014

In a live webcast on Tuesday, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks assured UC Berkeley alumni and parents of his commitment to maintaining the public character of the university.

Speaking to more than 300 viewers, Dirks promised that even as UC Berkeley faces falling financial support from the state and higher private support from fundraising, he would ensure that the campus remained committed to providing an education that matches its mission of serving the public.

Dirks said he initially believed UC Berkeley would have to “become more and more private in order to survive,” but after arriving on campus, he was encouraged by the commitment of students, faculty and staff to preserving UC Berkeley’s public character.

Still, UC Berkeley will have to increasingly depend on private donations in the coming years. When Robert Birgeneau took on the position of UC Berkeley chancellor in 2004, 30 percent of the budget was from the state, Dirks noted. But when Dirks joined as chancellor in June 2013, state support had fallen to 12 percent.

“We have to find ways of reducing the cost structure,” said Gov. Jerry Brown at a press conference announcing his preliminary budget last week. “It used to be four years and free; now it’s six years and expensive.”

Dirks’ words during the webcast echoed Brown’s but emphasized the need to preserve UC Berkeley’s public character.

“We certainly have to diversify the sources of financial support,” Dirks said. “The financial model, of course, has to change. But whatever we do, we have to maintain our public ethos.”

Dirks also argued that the three pillars of his agenda as chancellor — undergraduate education, research and innovation, and the global university — could supplement the university’s public mission by extending UC Berkeley’s public outreach.

UC Berkeley has always been a global university, attracting students from overseas and facilitating the flow of global ideas, but a larger global presence will be necessary to keep UC Berkeley competitive with private universities, according to Dirks.

Part of the public mission, however, is also ensuring that low-income students will be able to afford tuition, though Dirks said merely freezing fees was not the solution to this challenge.

UC tuition has been frozen since the 2011-12 school year, and the preliminary budget introduced by Brown suggests that fees will remain constant again for the third year in a row.

Dirks called for stable changes in tuition fees, arguing that regular and predictable tuition increases of about 5 percent a year over the last 20 years could have prevented UC Berkeley’s financial stress and kept tuition fees lower than they are now.

While he aims to keep tuition low, however, Dirks also recognized that tuition fees fund many aspects of the university, including financial aid.

“The bottom line is that education is expensive,” Dirks said. “We could compromise the kind of education we provide, the kind of research we do, the kind of outreach that is part of our public service and make it cheaper. But we would be losing the essence of what we do here.”

The webcast, organized by the Cal Alumni Association, was the first of its kind at UC Berkeley and was geared toward alumni and parents, who submitted more than 1,000 questions prior to the event, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Contact Somin Park at 

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JANUARY 16, 2014


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