Dirks speaks on building public- and private- sector support for undergraduates

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SAN FRANCISCO — UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks spoke Wednesday night to an audience of alumni and other stakeholders at the Commonwealth Club of California to advocate more public and private engagement to bolster the student experience and success of the campus.

Dirks — whose three pillars have been the expansion of undergraduate academic services, global connections and research opportunities — framed his efforts to expand UC Berkeley’s programs as coming on the heels of a massive disinvestment by the state in public education over the past decade.

The chancellor compared today’s financing model to that of the 1960s and the time of then-UC president Clark Kerr, when the California Master Plan for Higher Education had more funding and support.

“I believe that we need to find new ways to define and to inhabit the meaning of the public in our current age,” Dirks said in his speech. “We still find ourselves without a sustainable financial model for the future, despite aggressive and sometimes very painful efforts to control our costs.”

Today, Dirks said, the campus receives less revenue from the state than from tuition, research funding or philanthropy. Since 2003, UC Berkeley’s annual state appropriations have dropped by 54 percent and account for just 12 percent of the campus’s budget.

Part of the solution to this, according to Dirks, involves telling the campus’ “story” to the public and private sectors to gain more intellectual, political and financial support on top of existing research partnerships.
“I will leverage the unique position of a public university at the nexus between business, government and society at large,” Dirks said.

Still, he noted that large, public research institutions can nonetheless provide high-quality experiences for students. Dirks hopes to continue that at UC Berkeley through a broad range of initiatives, including an undergraduate education task force.

The task force, which is still under development, will be led by Dirks and will comprise a variety of students, faculty and staff. The campus hopes the group will expand student research opportunities and foster connections between undergraduates and faculty, among other objectives.

Additionally, the chancellor has begun planning for an arts initiative that would expand student and faculty participation in the field and form partnerships with schools and arts-related community organizations.

“The arts not only nurture our common humanity; they also expand our imaginative relationships to each other, to our material and our spiritual world and to fundamental values,” Dirks said.

Dirks explained that the campus is also evaluating the establishment of liaison offices at international locations to advance UC Berkeley as a global institution. The offices could be used as home bases for study-abroad students and help the campus establish more of an international leadership position, said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“He’s been bringing in experts from other universities that have done this … and he’s proceeding as an anthropologist,” Mogulof said. “He’s listening; he’s learning and trying to determine a plan that makes sense for Berkeley.”

According to Mogulof, the speech was the beginning of a campaign revolving around increased public outreach.

“This is a story for a public that does not fully appreciate the enormous stakes involved in our struggle at Berkeley,” Dirks said, “not just to survive … but to continue to lead.”

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.