Chancellor’s Corner: Challenges create stronger campus and community

Rachael Garner/File

We are nearing the close of a challenging but exceptionally important year in UC Berkeley’s history.

The 2015-16 academic year was one in which our campus confronted head-on the reality of an altered financial environment and began taking the steps necessary to build a new financial foundation that will secure Berkeley’s excellence and access for generations to come. In February, we announced a major strategic planning process, a collaborative effort involving faculty, staff and students that will carefully evaluate how we can best reduce costs and increase revenues while remaining true to our public character and mission. While there remains much work to be done, we have, as described in a recent message to campus, already made substantial progress toward reducing the campus deficit and bringing our books into balance.

At the same time, in close partnership with our deans and the faculty, we are studying options and ideas for how best to position Berkeley for our new funding environment, as well as for the needs of the twenty-first century. We simply need to be sure that our spending, investment and revenue-producing decisions are driven by a detailed vision of who we want and need to be as a university ten, twenty, even thirty years from now. This effort is designed to ensure that any changes made in service of saving money and generating revenue support an underlying academic framework that sustains both our commitment to excellence and the needs and interests of our students, faculty and the public we serve.

While these changes are and will continue to be difficult, we must do all that is necessary to ensure that we remain one of the most successful and most vital public institutions in California and indeed the world. We take on these challenges in defiance of the notion that the word “public” should equate with mediocrity and in defiance of the idea that Berkeley should become just another state university. Preserving both our excellence and our public character is my highest responsibility as Berkeley’s Chancellor, and the most important metric in terms of the work that lies before us.

This is not the first time that Berkeley has had to confront fundamental changes at the institutional level, and I believe in our ability to surmount the challenges we face with the strength, passion and perseverance for which we are known.  Our cause is a noble one: In planning for a sustainable future, we are fighting to guarantee that excellence does not become the sole domain of a handful of private colleges and universities. In Berkeley, we can preserve the dream of an accessible, world-class public university education serving large numbers of the best and brightest regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

Part of this change, it should be said, includes serious reform in how we address sexual misconduct. We can never truly say our doors are open to everyone unless our campus is an inclusive, welcoming community where each and every individual feels safe and respected.

As you likely know, this past academic year was marked by a troubling series of high-profile sexual harassment cases that raised concerns about the prevalence of these incidents as well as the campus response to them. I understand that we will judged by our deeds and not our words in this realm, and we are already taking urgent steps to invest in new prevention initiatives, bolster support services, provide new resources and personnel to the office that investigate allegations, augment care and support services for survivors, improve disciplinary procedures, involve the academic senate and others in the setting of standards and sanctions and establish a task force that will conduct an assessment of our culture, process and sanctions. We can, must and will do better.

I am certain that Berkeley will emerge from these challenging times a stronger university, one poised and prepared for a new era of pre-eminence in education, research and public service. My optimism here is anchored in what truly separates us from the crowd: an extraordinary community of faculty, students, staff and alumni who care deeply about the university and share an abiding commitment to sustaining our mission, our values and our excellence.

I hope that all members of our campus community recognize the significance of our current strategic work and will involve themselves in the reimagination of what it means to be a great public university at a time of significantly lessened public support.  I encourage you to discuss, debate and question and to offer suggestions and ideas as part of your engagement with and responsibility for our university. Your shared interest and commitment will be essential to Berkeley’s success in remaining the top public university in the country for years to come.

Chancellor’s Corner is a monthly opinion piece by UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.
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