UC Berkeley faculty hold special meeting on campus deficit, academic realignment

Audrey McNamara/Staff

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The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate held a special meeting Tuesday on the campus’s financial deficit and the faculty’s role in progress with academic restructuring.

Faculty gathered in the campus’s Booth Auditorium after 40 senate members petitioned to hold an open discussion on efforts by the administration to academically realign the campus by reorganizing certain colleges and staffing structures — a decision that has elicited criticism from the campus community, including faculty and students.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks opened the meeting with a statement on the campus’s larger financial problems. The budget deficit is $150 million this year, Dirks said at the meeting, and without immediate action, the deficit could grow by another $50 million by July 2017. Present efforts will reduce the deficit by $85 million by next year, he added.

Dirks said the administration has already begun to take action — such as the recent creation of the Office of Strategic Initiatives — and is well into the process of balancing the budget within the next five years.

“We know we have to do a great deal more,” Dirks said at the meeting.

The administration came under fire in February for considering the dissolution of the College of Chemistry — a plan that has since been abandoned — as a potential strategic initiative to remedy the campus’s growing deficit. Dirks also sent a memo to campus employees Wednesday announcing that administrative restructuring may lead to cutting staff by 500 positions.  

At Wednesday’s meeting, however, Dirks brought up his proposal of a faculty-led working group that would produce reports by January regarding the future of the campus’s academic structure.

In the nearly two-hour open comment period, about 25 faculty members spoke, many of whom criticized the administration’s lack of transparency in the academic realignment process. Many said they were frustrated that their input, as faculty, had not previously been considered in the process.

“Why are these things secret in a place that has the motto ‘Fiat Lux’?” said Louise Fortmann, a campus professor of environmental science, policy and management,  at the meeting.

Campus ESPM professor Carolyn Merchant, an organizer of the petition, called for a “revolution in cost reduction” through reducing not only administrative pay but positions, among other methods. She also called on the administration to “recreate itself as a lean, efficient, moral entity devoted to the public trust.”

Allen Goldstein, professor of ESPM and civil and environmental engineering, urged the administration to stop the process of academic realignment altogether. He called the process “a destructive force within our community” and said the Academic Senate should further discuss the campus’s initiatives to alleviate its financial straits.

Some speakers also called on the administration to seek out alternative sources of funding rather than cut costs through academic realignment.

“We can’t cut our way to prosperity,” said mechanical engineering professor Panayiotis Papadopoulos at the meeting.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof emphasized that the campus cannot adjust its structures and finances without the the input of faculty, students, staff and alumni, among others.

“Meetings like this are extremely important, and perspective of faculty have to be taken into account if we’re going to succeed in our efforts,” Mogulof said.

Contact Sareen Habeshian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sareeenn.