Students discuss Berkeley Global Campus with administration, protest over community benefits agreement

Karin Goh/Staff

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Students, campus administration and members of the Richmond community discussed the potential impact of the Berkeley Global Campus at a meeting Wednesday evening.

Held in Anna Head Alumnae Hall, the meeting represented what Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ Chief of Staff Nils Gilman said was the beginning of the UC Berkeley administration’s attempts to engage students in discussion regarding the new global campus. At the meeting, students and Richmond residents criticized the administration’s having not yet signed a legally binding community benefits agreement with Richmond. Protests and a sit-in followed Thursday.

According to administrators, though, the campus has not ruled out the signing of such an agreement, and some Richmond leaders, including the mayor, have been supportive of the campus’s efforts.

Since Dirks announced plans to build a research-focused campus in Richmond in October, members of the Richmond community have expressed concern about the impact the new campus will have on the city.

“This opportunity feels like a blessing for Richmond,” said Edith Pastrano, a Richmond resident, at the forum. “But I’m not yet sure that it will be good for people living in my community today.”

In an attempt to ensure that the new Berkeley Global Campus will positively impact Richmond, students and community activists from the Respect Richmond Coalition have demanded that the administration sign a legally binding community benefits agreement with Richmond officials.  Their draft of the agreement included provisions to institute a living wage and subsidize affordable housing units for Richmond locals.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the administration is indeed committed to signing a legally binding community benefits agreement, but only after confirming academic and financial partners for the Richmond campus.

“We cannot undermine the very process by saying ahead of time what should be in the agreement,” he said.

Mogulof said an agreement will be based on recommendations from a community working group created in September. The group consists of Richmond civic leaders and drew praise from Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

“UC Berkeley and the city of Richmond have enjoyed a great working relationship so far,” Butt said.

But the working group process has been repeatedly criticized by members of the Richmond community, who alleged that the group is not representative of Richmond.

“Every development here has disregarded Richmond residents at large,” said Richmond pastor Donnell Jones at the forum. “This working group represents Berkeley, not the community we’re fighting for.”

Mogulof said critics of the working group were themselves represented by its members, some of whom are involved in organizations that are part of the Respect Richmond Coalition.

“Some people are concerned that there won’t be any follow-through (from the campus) – that’s understandable given Richmond’s history,” he said. “All we can say to them is to continue to work with us, and you will see for yourselves.”

Following the forum, students staged a sit-in and protest outside Dirks’ office Thursday afternoon, banging on desks with spoons and chanting pro-community benefits agreement slogans.

“(I) want to advocate for what they’re trying to accomplish,” said David Surratt, associate dean of students, while speaking to students at the sit-in in California Hall. “But in circumstances where there’s clearly a desire not to communicate … our primary goal (is to) understand (the) student perspective.”

Eventually, protesters were escorted out by UC Police Department officers, some in handcuffs. Later Thursday afternoon, a group consisting of about 75 labor activists, Richmond residents and students marched from Sproul Plaza to the area in front of University House.

“The fight to turn Berkeley back into a public university starts here,” said Melvin Willis, a Richmond resident and community activist at the march.

Staff writer G. Haley Massara contributed to this report. 

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ishaansriv.