With the ongoing specter of budgetary crisis, the University of California must take innovative yet extreme measures, such as UC Berkeley’s recent deal to make Bank of the West its “official bank.” While we recognize the necessity of private partnerships to raise money that continues to fund projects on campus which may no longer receive the same public resources, we are disheartened by the news that the bank will be housed in the student-funded Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union rather than another location on campus.
As part of a new initiative to raise revenue for the campus by creating more partnerships with private businesses, the University Partnership Program brokered a deal with Bank of the West to give it exclusive rights to the campus, including a spot for a bank branch on Lower Sproul Plaza.
The initiative reflects the unfortunate reality of the UC system: growing privatization in order to find resources that will prevent fee hikes for students and cutbacks in programs and aid. If we had to choose between raising money from outside corporations and squeezing extra tuition out of students, we would certainly endorse the former.
According to the contract, the campus will receive $1.7 million each year for the next 10 years, some of which will go to student programs and the Cal Alumni Association. With so much money on the table, which the campus will be receiving specifically because the bank has exclusive access to students, we are concerned with the lack of disclosure of fund allocation.
Additionally, we take issue with corporations leveraging their influence on campus. To override the student space with a corporate agenda feels exploitative. The reconstruction of Lower Sproul was not only marketed as a “revitalization” of student life but was also funded, in part, by students through the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative Fee. The space features other commercial enterprises such as Equator Coffee, but those companies generally complement the student experience in a way a bank cannot.
Most current UC Berkeley students never experienced Lower Sproul in all of its former glory. Instead, they’ve spent the last several years dealing with the inconvenience of noisy construction cutting through a swath of campus and the absence of a central space for students to gather. As a result, they’ve missed out on the accessible student study space, the club meeting offices and the hub of campus life. So when corporate interests encroach on space in the building, the quintessentially student nature of this new center is threatened.
UC Berkeley should have placed Bank of the West elsewhere on the campus to which the bank now has exclusive rights. Preserving the student space is more important than making money off a prime location.