As you read this, a new academic year is getting underway on the Berkeley campus. It’s a wonderful time of renewal and excitement; an excellent opportunity to reflect on the road we have recently traveled as well as the one that lies ahead.
Cal’s traditional disdain for the status quo and dedication to advancing the greater good demand that we continuously evolve to meet the needs and interests of the students and the public we serve. After extraordinary preparatory work by faculty, staff, and students who participated in numerous, forward-looking working groups, we are now able and ready to turn our attention to initiatives that will set the stage for a new era of excellence.
I’m calling this the “Year of Implementation.” Glamorous? Not at all. A reflection of the fact that we have hard, essential work to do? Yes, indeed!
On July 1, 2019, we reached a major milestone, a precursor of the transformations that lie ahead: What had been a $150 million structural deficit in our budget was no more. While painful cuts played an important, if unfortunate, role, new revenues accounted for the bulk of our budgetary improvement. This is a particularly encouraging development, as we enjoy autonomy in developing and benefiting from revenue sources such as intellectual property profit sharing, the monetization of real estate, philanthropy, and the expansion of Summer Session, Extension, and self-supporting master’s degree programs. Even as we continue to advocate for robust state support and gradual, predictable tuition increases, the University’s entrepreneurial efforts hold great promise. After two record-breaking years of fundraising that brought in a mind-boggling $1.2 billion, the stage is also set for this year’s launch of what will be one of Berkeley’s most important fundraising campaigns. Along with financial reforms designed to rationalize and simplify how funds flow across campus, we’ve formed a new, sustainable financial model that will give us the greatest possible control over our financial future.
In preparation for this return to financial health, members of the campus community came together to develop and launch Berkeley’s first comprehensive strategic plan. It rests on three aspirational pillars: 1) empowering our students and faculty to change the world, 2) discovering innovative solutions to society’s grand challenges, and 3) embracing the California spirit that is fueled by inclusion, entrepreneurial activity, and diversity of every sort. That strategic plan will improve the support and academic counseling we provide to undergraduates while putting discovery and creative expression at the very center of our students’ academic lives. The plan is also guiding the development of a new set of Signature Initiatives that will turn our research prowess to the salient challenges of our day. Our commitment to truly embody and reflect California’s spirit and population now includes initiatives to enhance the diversity of our students, staff, and faculty. I am particularly looking forward to the implementation of new policies and practices that will expand the applicant pool of qualified, under-represented undergraduates while improving their experience once they join our campus community.
The University will also move ahead with efforts to address a serious student housing crisis. I have committed to adding at least 7,500 new beds to Berkeley’s inventory in the next ten years. This will require building on every available piece of University-owned property close to campus, including People’s Park. It is clear that success will require perseverance and commitment. While the City of Berkeley has offered important support for our housing efforts, including People’s Park, we will almost certainly confront legal challenges from those who see the University as a burden, not a benefit for the city.
New housing, like our diversity initiatives, will advance one of my most important priorities: building a sense of belonging and community on a campus where everyone feels safe, respected, and welcome. That’s hard if you are an undergraduate who is forced to live far from campus. It’s all but impossible if you are a member of a vastly under-represented and isolated minority.
Cal Athletics also plays a vital role in creating and sustaining the ties that bind members of our extended community to the campus and each other. As such, the campus’s continued financial support is a worthy investment, and working in close concert with Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton, we are implementing a new budgetary agreement. It will preserve the program’s current scope, invest in the development of new revenues, and enable the campus to stabilize and reduce the financial support provided to the program.
The start of this academic year also marks the full launch of a first-of-its-kind Division of Data Science and Information. Spanning multiple schools and departments, the division is a direct response to unprecedented student interest as well as the profound and growing impact of data and computing in a rapidly evolving digital world.
There is so much more to say: I wish I had the room to describe how we will be expanding the faculty; to introduce you to the accomplished, diverse, and energetic cohort of new deans we recruited; and to share our hopes and expectations surrounding a new role for former Haas School of Business dean Rich Lyons. As the campus’s first chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, he is now tasked with building out Berkeley’s rich portfolio of innovation and entrepreneurship activities to benefit students, faculty, staff, startups, and external partners.
Taking in all that’s unfolding feels like drinking from that proverbial fire hose. It is a wonderful time of year, and a wonderful time in the life of a place unlike any other.