Update to campus Academic Realignment Initiative outlines potential cost-cutting changes

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Various campus colleges will be providing cost-cutting proposal reports to the administration over the next few months, as announced in a Friday email regarding the campus’s Academic Realignment Initiative.

As part of the campus’s larger Strategic Initiatives Plan in response to its structural deficit, deans of the campus College of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science, College of Engineering and the College of Natural Resources, among other schools, will be outlining potential organizational changes that could cut costs.

“Our Academic Realignment Initiative (is) one of the areas where the campus is pursuing new strategies in order to position Berkeley for continued academic excellence in the face of our new budget realities,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in the Friday email.

According to the email, the deans of the College of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science and College of Engineering will be forming faculty working groups to evaluate how to increase collaboration between the colleges.

The update comes less than two weeks after the possible dissolution of the College of Chemistry was taken off the table after student outcry.

After the initial announcement regarding the College of Chemistry, campus senior and chemical engineering major Sonal Rangnekar said she is apprehensive about any other potential changes as a result of the campus’s initiatives and goals for improved coordination.

She expressed trust, however, in the College of Chemistry itself and how it valued student input.

“Within the college, (there is) a lot of support, and you can tell everyone’s on the same page,” Rangnekar said. Students’ voices in there matter, and you feel supported by a community.”

Rangnekar added that the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, a division of the College of Chemistry, hosts town hall meetings. The regular meetings provide students an opportunity to discuss with faculty the different changes being considered for the curriculum and what students wish to see within the college.

Campus Vice Provost-Designate Benjamin Hermalin said meetings between faculty and students embody the team effort needed for the academic realignment initiative.

This is definitely a collaborative effort,” Hermalin said. “(The first step) is to engage the deans, who have deep responsibility in this area, and they in turn work with faculty, and then we’re at the same time in the process of consulting student leaders about how to best engage the student body at large.”

G. Steven Martin, dean of the biological sciences division of the College of Letters and Science, said the department is considering a possible administrative merger with the College of Natural Resources.

“The issue is that (the) two units … have a lot of common interests in different aspects of biological and environmental science,” Martin said. “Is there some way we could be coordinating and cooperating more actively, both in research and in education, faculty recruitment and how we manage our resources?”

Reorganizing administrative structures for smaller professional schools is also being considered, according to the Friday email, as well as the future academic organization of the recently launched Data Science Planning Initiative.

The campus will also be reviewing a more integrated approach to admissions, advising and curriculum within the College of Letters and Science.

“At Berkeley, we’re never comfortable with the status quo,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “At the same time, we have both the need to think (about) what kind of university we want to be in the future and the need to line up the resources.”

Contact Lucas Lochner-Bravo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @llochner_dc