Ongoing news for incoming students

A guide to the past and upcoming academic years' biggest changes

Sureya Melkonian/File

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As often temporary Berkeleyans, students may struggle to make sense of the ongoing evolution — or devolution — of this campus and city. The consequences of whatever shifts occurred in the last year become the status quo for a new crop of freshmen; meanwhile, seniors depart while various developments in Berkeley remain unfinished. To put the current state of the city and campus into context, here is a guide to the major changes of the last academic year, and what potential changes are to come.

On campus

Tuition to stay flat — but only for some

Last November, the UC Board of Regents provoked systemwide controversy when it approved a plan that could have increased tuition by 5 percent annually for the next five years. The policy marked a standoff between the UC system and state in which the university presented tuition hikes as necessary in the absence of more state funding, while the governor made additional state funding contingent on a tuition freeze.

After months of talks between UC President Janet Napolitano and Gov. Jerry Brown, the university agreed in May to freeze undergraduate tuition for the next two years — but only for in-state residents. Tuition for out-of-state and international students could increase by up to 8 percent annually for the next five years.


Rachael Garner/File

Entering the new Eshleman

The opening of Lower Sproul Plaza this fall marks the outcome of nearly three years and a quarter-billion dollars of construction. Demolition of the old Eshleman Hall was completed in August 2013. Now, the rebuilt hall, along with the renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, is reopening.

The new Cal Student Store opened this week, and new restaurants including a pizza place, two coffee shops and a bar — are set to open within the next couple weeks, and a grand opening is set for January. Additionally, the ASUC Student Union Board of Directors is working to define working conditions for employees of the company being contracted out to manage Lower Sproul food vendors, which has been criticized for allegedly mistreating workers.

Fees passed for wellness and nontraditional students

Incoming students will pay $81.50 per semester in additional student fees after two fee referendums passed in the spring’s ASUC elections. The wellness referendum included a mandatory $8.50 fee to replace the previously voluntary $10 gym membership fee and a $54 fee to fund wellness initiatives such as extending the University Health Services’ primary care hours.

The $19 Giving Opportunities and Leadership Development Referendum fee will be put toward increasing services for first-generation and undocumented students, student-parents and other nontraditional students.


Ariel Hayat/File

Going global in Richmond

In October, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced a plan to create a satellite campus in Richmond Bay, intended to facilitate research and teaching programs with a global outlook. UC Berkeley earlier intended the Richmond campus location to become an extension of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, but those plans were put to a stop by 2013 federal budget cuts.

The global campus — a 40-year project will rely on private funds. Despite being in the early stages, the project has drawn concern from those who fear it will contribute to the gentrification of Richmond. Many have pushed UC Berkeley to sign a community benefits agreement, which campus officials are currently working on.

In the city

Protests precipitate police scrutiny

Police fired tear gas at hundreds of people, including many students, in December during Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley precipitated by a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who put Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, into a chokehold found to have caused Garner’s death. Although police said some protesters were throwing bricks and other objects at officers, the use of force drew widespread criticism.

Berkeley Police Department released a report on its December actions this summer. The city’s Police Review Commission is continuing to compile another report set to be finalized in December.


Alvin Wu/File

Minimum wage creeping up

The city minimum wage will rise to $11 per hour in October as part of an ordinance instated last fall that will bump up the minimum wage to $12.53 per hour next year. The October increase will put Berkeley’s minimum wage above the state’s by $2 and above the federal wage by close to $4.

Although some criticized the increase for hurting small businesses City Council nixed a more drastic plan local and national efforts persist to raise the wage to $15 per hour.

Funneling funds into soda tax

Berkeley became the first city in the country to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverage distributors when a soda tax passed in November 2014. The 1-cent-per-ounce tax is projected to bring in $1.2 million in its first year. Potential uses for the money, which goes into the city’s general fund, will be suggested to Berkeley City Council by a panel of experts.

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Ryan Serpa/File

Student district stand-off

In the same 2014 election, Berkeley residents also voted in favor of new district lines that turned District 7 into a district specifically designed to consist mostly of student-aged residents. City Council initially established the student district in 2013, but it was subsequently suspended by a referendum, temporarily enacted for the November election and then implemented more permanently after the November vote. Although many hoped the creation of a student district would encourage a student to run for City Council, none chose to run last year, and incumbent Kriss Worthington remained in the seat.

Melissa Wen is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.