UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly talks national politics at 1st meeting of semester

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At the Graduate Assembly’s first meeting of the semester, national politics dominated the conversation as members and campus administrators discussed how UC Berkeley will be affected by ongoing policy changes by the Trump administration.

As the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, approaches and hundreds of campus community members scramble to navigate uncertain immigration laws, senior administrators attempted to quell fears that UC Berkeley would be left financially or politically vulnerable in the coming months.

An update from UC Berkeley’s Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae on how UC Berkeley has met its goals to address structural deficit led to questions from assembly members about how losing federal funding might affect the campus. After protests against Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos turned chaotic Wednesday, Trump threatened to pull federal funding from the campus in a tweet Thursday.

“Our budget’s about $2.5 billion — sounds like a lot but goes real quick,” Rae said at the meeting, adding that of that $2.5 billion, about $200 million comes primarily in the form of Federal Pell Grants as well as through student loan programs. “Today I feel as if it is unlikely that that will be stripped. … The revenue sources that Berkeley now receives are far more diversified than they were 10 years ago.”

In addition to financial aid funding, UC Berkeley receives a substantial portion of its research funding from the federal government — about 55 percent during the 2016 fiscal year, amounting to about $370 million, according to the Berkeley Research Development Office.

“Is there a contingency plan for losing several hundred millions of dollars (in research funding)? I would say that the honest truth is we don’t have a contingency plan for that,” said Associate Chancellor Nils Gilman at the meeting. “If something even remotely happened like that we’ll be in a totally different world. … The existential questions that will raise about what it means to be a public institution (will) be bigger than just funding issues.”

Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell said at the meeting that while the campus believes students were not the violent agitators of the protests, he was surprised by the large crowd of students drawn toward the violent activity “wanting to take pictures (with) phones.”

“What kind of education can we do around that? Because when people are going in, (for) that masked person not from our community, it’s easier to be anonymous,” Greenwell said at the meeting.

Gilman also said at the meeting that the decision to make UC Berkeley, or any UC campus, a “sanctuary university” will be up to the University of California’s Office of the President, adding that it is unclear how the policy would take shape legally and that the policy could ultimately lead to people targeting the campus.

Active dialogue, however, has begun about how the UC system will represent itself on the topic, according to Gilman, who also serves as Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ chief of staff.

“There is going to be every effort on the part of this university to maintain our status as an increasingly international university,” Gilman said at the meeting.

The Graduate Assembly received an update on how a new findings and recommendations report from the Chancellor’s Senate/Administration Committee on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment released Jan. 31 stacks up to previous demands made by the assembly.

Recommendations included creating a confidential care advocate for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars specifically, and either eliminating or revising the “three-year rule,” which prohibits disciplinary action against faculty members after a chancellor has known or should have known of an alleged university sexual misconduct violation for more than three years.

In addition, the assembly reviewed possible locations to provide better lit pathways on campus — with a straw poll taken at the meeting indicating interest in more lights in the south area of campus — and received updates on efforts to establish a preferred airline carrier with benefits for traveling students and faculty.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.