Carol Christ became UC Berkeley’s 11th chancellor Saturday, stepping into the role at a critical juncture in the campus’s history.
Christ — who will be the campus’s first woman to serve as chancellor — follows Nicholas Dirks, who announced his resignation from the campus chancellorship last August. From Dirks, Christ inherits a campus that has been mandated to resolve a $110 million budget deficit, criticized for its previous handling of sexual misconduct cases and challenged to improve its campus climate.
Previously, Christ served as the campus’s interim executive vice chancellor and provost. She returned to UC Berkeley after serving as the president of Smith College — a women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, Massachusetts — from 2002-13 before stepping down and announcing her retirement.
“This is not the path I imagined for myself,” Christ told The Daily Californian in a sit-down interview.
Chancellor Emeritus Robert Birgeneau, who served as chancellor from 2004-13, said in an email that UC Berkeley’s chancellorship has been described as “the most challenging academic leadership position in the country,” and even called the job “impossible” in a 2016 interview with the Daily Cal.
Citing Christ’s years of experience as a campus faculty member and administrative official, Birgeneau called her “probably the best prepared Berkeley Chancellor in modern history.”
“I can think of no one better to walk in the door of the Chancellor’s office as I walk out than Carol Christ, who knows Berkeley, loves Berkeley, understands Berkeley in both its past and present, and has the leadership skills to pilot us in years ahead with a steady hand and a visionary sensibility,” Dirks added in an emailed statement.
Birgeneau and multiple campus administrators — including Vice Chancellor of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae and interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Stephen Sutton — identified the management of the campus budget deficit as a pressing issue Christ’s administration faces.
On Tuesday, Christ announced in a statement to the campus she had finalized decisions for the fiscal year 2017-18 campus budget to cut the campus deficit by $53 million. Christ intends for the budget deficit — which would stand at $57 million by the end of the next fiscal year — to be completely eliminated by 2020, a goal that she “has absolutely no question” the campus will be able to reach.
The reduction of the campus deficit, according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Rigel Robinson, will mean “cuts and difficult decisions” that will very quickly show what the new administration prioritizes.
“It seems that every Berkeley Chancellor back to the time of Chang Lin Tien has faced significant budget challenges,” Birgeneau said in an email. “There is no silver bullet to resolve the structural deficit.”
Christ will also be tasked with improving relations between the chancellor and the campus — a number of campus community members criticized Dirks for not regularly communicating with campus students, faculty or staff during his chancellorship.
Christ told the Daily Cal she plans on being a “visible” chancellor and “will create structured opportunities” for students to meet with her. Christ added that she is also looking for ways to strengthen the campus’s “sense of community” as a part of rebuilding trust and morale.
Sutton said in an email that Christ was committed to “providing students a strong voice on campus” and called Christ’s appointment of Oscar Dubón, Jr., as the next vice chancellor of equity and inclusion a “strong indication”of her commitment to student advocates on campus.
ASUC President Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris said in a Facebook message it is up to Christ to change the dynamic of students “feeling unappreciated” during their time on campus because “Universities exist for students, not the other way around.”
Christ, according to AbdulQadir-Morris, must “transform Berkeley into an tool for students to enhance their critical thinking skills and life opportunities.”
“We need a student facing chancellor, not someone who follows the faculty and the Regents … someone who cannot settle for disrupting the status quo with their identity alone,” AbdulQadir-Morris said in a Facebook message. “Those of us here during this time of great financial instability should not have to endure a poorly cultivated undergraduate experience because of this.”
Daniel Russell Cheung, the external director of the campus bridges Multicultural Resource Center, said he hopes Christ will not just be accessible to students, but also “put weight” behind her accessibility by being a personal advocate for students.
Cheung added that while he generally agrees with Christ’s intention of fostering community, he is “interested in seeing how that would play out” for students of marginalized communities who do not feel safe on campus.
“Last fall, bridges had the ‘Fight for Spaces’ campaign. We were doing this work that the campus prides itself on, and we were in the basement. That’s a contradiction,” Cheung said. “It’s one thing for (Christ) to say that she would like to foster community. For us, that means supporting us … providing resources for those who do not feel safe on campus … and advocating on behalf of us.”
As for Christ, she told the Daily Cal she “looks forward” to the responsibilities of the chancellorship.
“The chancellor is telling the story of the campus,” Christ said. “The chancellor is helping people feel this group identity that is Berkeley. You’re kind of ‘messenger-in-chief.’ And so I don’t think it’s an impossible job, with all respect to Chancellor Birgeneau. I think it’s a really interesting job.”