Former dean of Berkeley Law School co-founds nonprofit dedicated to education equity

Audrey McNamara/Staff

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The former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law recently co-founded The Opportunity Institute — a Berkeley-based nonprofit organization devoted to advancing social mobility and education equity.

The multidisciplinary policy institute works with economists, politicians, writers and health professionals, along with other organizations, as part of its campaigns to improve public education and accessibility. The institute, co-founder and former dean of the campus law school Christopher Edley said, was formed by the merging of several pre-existing nonprofits.

“We think (education is) the most important lever available in the current political climate,” Edley said. “We’re definitely unusual in that we do both place-based demonstration projects and fancy, high-level policy and research work, whereas the vast majority just do one or the other.”

Several of Edley’s campus colleagues, including campus professor in public policy Robert Reich, professor of law emeritus and former UC President Mark Yudof and professor at the Haas School of Business Laura Tyson — who is the former dean of the Haas School of Business — are also on the nonprofit’s board.

Although it officially opened its Downtown Berkeley and Washington D.C. locations in August, Edley said, the organization had its official launch Wednesday.

“We have four different program areas … formed by bringing together a handful of strong nonprofits that were similarly committed to battling inequality,” said Rebecca Silbert, senior vice president for Opportunity and Justice Division, one of the organization’s affiliated programs.

According to Edley, the institute — budgeted with $9 million — currently has 23 staff members in Berkeley and Washington D.C., with the number expected to grow substantially over the next year.

“In the longer run, we hope to play an important role in building and supporting a national network of equity-oriented efforts to improve educational opportunities,” Edley said.

The Opportunity Institute is working on several projects in Oakland, Fresno, Tulsa and Miami. The program that Silbert manages, Renewing Communities, works to provide higher education opportunities for current and formerly incarcerated individuals in California.

Despite opening more than five months ago, with multiple events to promote the institute, many campus students are largely unaware of the nonprofit.

“It definitely sounds like it would be beneficial for other students,” said Abigail Guadarrama, a campus freshman and intended political science major. “I think that it would be great if more students … had the opportunity to know that it exists.”

Shounak Chattopadhyay, a campus junior and political science major, echoed Guadarrama’s sentiments. He noted, however, that he is skeptical of the impact of the policy institute’s efforts.

“It seems like a great concept,” Chattopadhyay said in a Facebook message. “I’m not really sure what they have done or will do, (although) there’s definitely a need.”

The Opportunity Institute is hoping to implement a new federal law — the Every Student Succeeds Act — that will govern K-12 legislation, Edley said. He hopes that the organization’s efforts will allow the law to gain traction in spite of the tumultuousness of election season.

Contact Chantelle Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee