COVID-19 pandemic prompts UC Berkeley to make equity-minded budget cuts

Sather Gate
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
During a campus conversation, UC Berkeley officials announced budgetary changes made in response to pandemic-related costs.

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During a campus conversation Friday, UC Berkeley leaders said budget reallocations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been made through an equity lens.

According to Chancellor Carol Christ, the campus’s pandemic-related costs are estimated to reach $340 million by the end of June 2021. This deficit includes $65 million for expenses such as additional cleaning, testing and contact tracing and additional investments for remote work.

Campus officials have also been told to anticipate a $50 million reduction in state appropriations, Christ added.

“We enter the pandemic in a challenging fiscal condition,” Christ said during the online event. “It is the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced.”

Christ added that campus decision-makers are mindful that first-generation students and underrepresented students especially need support.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos said the campus will be dedicating $15 million to support remote instruction. Expenses include a technology equity fund, accommodations such as closed captioning, the Semester in the Cloud initiative and a series of “innovation fellowships” for GSIs.

Rosemarie Rae, vice chancellor of finance and chief financial officer, added that an additional $1.5 million has been set aside to address inequities and critical needs.

Campus housing will prioritize students whose home circumstances do not allow for effective remote learning, Christ added.

“The COVID crisis and the economic crisis has been an inequality amplifier,” Alivisatos said during the event. “We will do our best not to replicate that.”

While the cost of tuition remains the same for online learning, Christ said students are receiving the educational experience for which they matriculated: the credits, the prestige of a UC Berkeley degree and the “wonderfulness” of campus faculty.

UC Berkeley will offer incentives for faculty members considering retirement to “remain engaged,” including investments in retirement programs and research funds up to $10,000, according to Alivisatos.

“I haven’t been part of any conversation with anyone in leadership — government groups, student government — that haven’t expressed an explicit desire to save and preserve as many jobs as possible,” Rae said during the event.

Alivisatos added that schools and colleges will be expected to meet a budget target. Those with a resource base beyond tuition and state allocation are expected to make larger cuts.

“That will allow us to protect units which are not able to (cut costs) quite as well,” Alivisatos said at the event. “That is a more equitable way.”

As the state has pulled back its support over the past several years, private philanthropy has stepped in to close the resource gap, Aliviastos added.

Christ also said she was inspired by the “incredible support” from donors contributing to emergency financial aid.

Contact Victoria Stafford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @VictoriaStaffrd.