UC Berkeley reverses plans to shut down Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

Photo of Anna Head Hall: Institute for the Study of Societal Issues
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UC Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Societal Issues was slated to be closed by campus due to financial burdens in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these plans have been reversed, allowing the institute to continue its social justice research.

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UC Berkeley has decided to reverse its original plans to disband the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, or ISSI, allowing the program to continue social justice research.

The program’s closure was decided by campus last fall due to financial constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic. ISSI community members alleged that the decision undermined UC Berkeley’s commitment to people of color.

After an outcry in defense of the preservation of ISSI and strong member support, campus is now reversing its original decision of shutting down the program, according to Deborah Lustig, ISSI associate director.

“I was shocked when I got the news about the planned closure; it came out of the blue and seemed out-of-step with the university’s commitments to work towards anti-racism,” Lustig said in an email. “We’re an important node on campus for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, so I assumed that the university would want to build on the work we are doing.”

Over the course of the last seven months, ISSI community members, as well as supporters of the program, have been vocal in preserving the values of ISSI to not only UC Berkeley but society in general, according to Lustig. ISSI was able to garner more than 1,300 signatures from supporters.

In support of the goals that ISSI upholds, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ plans to establish a task force focusing on social justice research, according to a message sent by Linda Rugg, campus associate vice chancellor for research, to members of the ISSI community. The task force will help make recommendations needed to support those who wish to pursue research in this particular field, whether that be faculty, students or staff.

Rugg added in the message that one of the current priorities being taken by campus is to provide ISSI with a safe and accessible space for its community in order to help maintain it.

“We are continuing our work and have some exciting events planned for this spring,” Lustig said in the email. “We’ll be continuing to support our students the best we can remotely and looking forward to resuming in-person activities when it is safe to do so.”

While there is uncertainty surrounding the future of ISSI, the program has a lot of work to do and will continue to be active well into the future, according to Lustig.

Come 2026, ISSI will be launching a fundraising campaign building in honor of its 50th anniversary, and Christ’s task force will begin to issue recommendations by the end of 2021, according to Lustig.

“Our plan’s impact on the broader campus intellectual support for social justice research was inadequately addressed,” Rugg said in the message. “We will now pause to allow for broader engagement and consultation, not just on ISSI’s future, but also about how we can, together, more fully support scholarship and research related to this critical societal challenge.”

Contact Audry Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.