UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ talks online learning, racial justice initiatives

Carol Christ
Emma Drake/File
According to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, campus is developing a set of initiatives, such as expanding undergraduate research and internship opportunities for underrepresented students, to address racial injustice and systemic racism.

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As the fall semester starts online, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ outlined the beginning of the academic year, addressing racial injustice on campus and the campus’s financial situation.

After students moved into campus housing this past week, residence halls remain at less than 20% capacity, and the campus is now conducting its orientation activities online, Christ said during a press conference call. 

“We had a comedy show on Saturday night,” Christ said. “The screens are busy even if the streets are not busy.”

In speaking about the transition to online learning, Christ remarked that UC Berkeley was one of the earliest campuses to go remote.

Her decision to do so came after a lecture from Nicholas Jewell, a biostatistics professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Christ said Jewell helped her understand how “exponential” the spread of COVID-19 would be.

At present, the campus is still learning to be “agile” and “flexible” while making decisions, Christ added.

“We’re still constantly reassessing what’s the best protocol, what’s the best test, what’s the best contact tracing,” Christ said. “I’ve never had to lead through anything as complicated as this.”

Christ added that UC Berkeley is in discussions with the city to prevent parties held in congregate living not controlled by campus, such as some fraternities.

Through these discussions, campus hopes to develop a strategy to create “real” and “immediate” consequences for violating health orders.

“It’s a complicated issue because what we don’t want to do is create a system of punishments where students are so frightened of punishment that they don’t want to be tested,” Christ said. “I believe the key to controlling this pandemic is testing and contact tracing.”

Christ also noted the ongoing crisis of systemic racism in the country, adding that she plans to explore the semester through an “equity lens,” especially while distributing resources for the online semester.

To address racial injustice and systemic racism, Christ said the campus is developing a set of initiatives, including launching a Black history project and searching for opportunities to create public art as a statement, as well as expanding undergraduate research and internship opportunities for underrepresented students.

Campus officials will also be examining and responding to the report and recommendations released by the Independent Advisory Board on Police Accountability and Community Safety in the next several weeks, according to Christ.

The campus’s financial situation has also remained a problem throughout the pandemic. As of press time, campus is projecting a loss of $340 million from March 2020 to June 2021; without the football season, the loss would increase to $365 million.

Of the deficit, $200 million is in “auxiliary” costs, including athletics, housing and Cal Performances. The other $140 million, including $65 million of increased expenses related to COVID-19, affects the core campus. Despite this, Christ said she committed to campus that she would not let auxiliary debts “bleed over” into the core campus.

“There’s a lot of debate about ‘campuses should charge less because students are getting less,’ ” Christ said. “The fact of the matter is, from campus’s side, is that (the pandemic is) more expensive.”

Sebastian Cahill is a deputy news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.