Berke­ley’s saviour

Carol Christ on heal­ing the cam­pus’ wounds

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

It has been a tu­mul­tuous few years for the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

Last year, the in­sti­tu­tion an­nounced that it had a bud­get deficit of $150 mil­lion (£116 mil­lion), largely the re­sult of a steady drop in state funding and a five-year un­der­grad­u­ate tu­ition fee freeze in the state of Cal­i­for­nia.

The univer­sity has been at the cen­tre of sev­eral sex­ual ha­rass­ment cases in­volv­ing high-pro­file aca­demics; in May, it fired a pro­fes­sor who had been ac­cused of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing mul­ti­ple stu­dents.

The pre­vi­ous chan­cel­lor, Ni­cholas Dirks, an­nounced his in­ten­tion to re­sign last year, af­ter just three years at the helm, in the wake of crit­i­cism of his han­dling of these cases and the in­sti­tu­tion’s bud­get.

And the univer­sity has come un­der fire from stu­dents, the pub­lic and even Don­ald Trump for the per­ceived lack of free­dom of speech on cam­pus and the can­cel­la­tion of talks by sev­eral high-pro­file con­ser­va­tive speak­ers in­clud­ing Ann Coul­ter and Ben Shapiro.

In Fe­bru­ary, the US pres­i­dent ap­peared to sug­gest that he could take away the univer­sity’s fed­eral funding, in a tweet that he sent hours af­ter the in­sti­tu­tion can­celled a speech by Milo Yiannopou­los, who was then tech­nol­ogy ed­i­tor of the right-wing news web­site Bre­it­bart. The univer­sity, it seemed to Mr Trump, “does not al­low free speech and prac­tises vi­o­lence on in­no­cent peo­ple with a dif­fer­ent point of view”.

De­spite such fierce back­lash, Berke­ley’s new chan­cel­lor, Carol Christ, who took up the post last month, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that the univer­sity would not make any ma­jor changes to its free speech poli­cies.

In­stead, she is plan­ning a “free speech year” – a se­ries of events, fo­rums and de­bates next year that will en­cour­age all staff, stu­dents and schol­ars to “think deeply” about the topic.

“One of the in­ter­est­ing things about the free speech move­ment [the protest that took place at Berke­ley in 1964-65] was that it was a coali­tion be­tween Gold­wa­ter Repub­li­cans and peo­ple who were fairly far-left in the civil rights move­ment,” Pro­fes­sor Christ said. “I be­lieve that peo­ple from all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions have a deep vested in­ter­est in free speech.”

The univer­sity has drafted a new pol­icy doc­u­ment to “clar­ify” its po­si­tion in this area, she noted.

“Some of the mix-ups last year came from stu­dent groups not re­ally un­der­stand­ing what our poli­cies are about re­serv­ing venues. It makes com­mon sense that, be­fore you in­vite some­body, you re­serve the venue; not all stu­dent groups un­der­stood that, in­clud­ing the group that in­vited Ben Shapiro in the fall,” she said.

But she un­der­lined her com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing that any in­vited speak­ers are welcome at Berke­ley.

“I think Milo has plans to come back, and he said he’s bring­ing Ann Coul­ter with him. And, of course, if they are in­vited by a le­git­i­mate stu­dent group, they have the right to speak at Berke­ley,” she said.

One of Pro­fes­sor Christ’s main goals for her ten­ure as chan­cel­lor is to cre­ate a new fi­nan­cial model for the univer­sity, with a view to re­duc­ing its bud­get deficit to $56 mil­lion by June 2018 and elim­i­nat­ing it al­to­gether by 2020.

Last Oc­to­ber, Pro­fes­sor Dirks told THE that he thought that politi­cians

Un­der­stand­ing the state bud­get in the way that I do, I don’t think it’s likely it’s go­ing to go back to its for­mer lev­els when it was much higher

would pro­vide ad­di­tional funding for US pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties once they were con­vinced that in­sti­tu­tions had done all they could to cut costs.

But Pro­fes­sor Christ, a scholar in Vic­to­rian lit­er­a­ture and the univer­sity’s first fe­male leader, was less op­ti­mistic.

“I will cer­tainly do ev­ery­thing I can to ad­vo­cate that state funding stays sta­ble. [But] un­der­stand­ing the state bud­get in the way that I do, I don’t think it’s likely it’s go­ing to go back to its for­mer lev­els when it was much higher,” she said.

Her strat­egy is for Berke­ley to “grow its way out of the prob­lem” by en­hanc­ing six rev­enue streams: non-de­gree en­rol­ment (on sum­mer cour­ses, for ex­am­ple); self-sup­port­ing mas­ter’s pro­grammes; en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity in­clud­ing start-ups and patents; re­search con­tracts and grants; mon­etis­ing real es­tate (such as in­creas­ing re­tail on cam­pus); and phi­lan­thropy.

Un­like pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in some other parts of the world, Berke­ley

can­not seek to in­crease the num­ber of out-of-state or in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to boost rev­enue. A pol­icy ap­proved by the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Sys­tem’s board in May means that Berke­ley’s out-of-state en­rol­ment will be capped at the pro­por­tion of such stu­dents that it en­rols in the 2017-18 aca­demic year.

“We can’t, nor do I think it’s right to, grow our out-of-state stu­dent en­rol­ment,” Pro­fes­sor Christ said. “Our fun­da­men­tal mis­sion is to serve the peo­ple of Cal­i­for­nia. We’ve been grow­ing en­rol­ment over the past sev­eral years; we’re grow­ing en­rol­ment again this cur­rent year, but that’s in in-state stu­dents.”

Pro­fes­sor Christ, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the lib­eral arts in­sti­tu­tion Smith Col­lege, is con­fi­dent when it comes to tack­ling Berke­ley’s op­er­at­ing bud­get is­sues, but she said that the cap­i­tal bud­get prob­lem is “much harder” to solve and has a “larger long-term risk for the univer­sity”.

The state of Cal­i­for­nia has “not is­sued a bond for cap­i­tal con­struc­tion since 2006”, she said, adding that one of her pri­or­i­ties will be to

de­ter­mine a new ded­i­cated funding stream for de­ferred main­te­nance.

Other key goals for Pro­fes­sor Christ in­clude in­creas­ing the di­ver­sity of un­der­grad­u­ates, post­grad­u­ates, fac­ulty and staff, in par­tic­u­lar the ad­min­is­tra­tive lead­er­ship team, and “build­ing com­mu­nity”.

She said that she hopes to achieve the lat­ter through “trans­par­ent, fre­quent, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion” so that the Berke­ley com­mu­nity “un­der­stand and trust what is go­ing on”; by be­ing “a very vis­i­ble and present fig­ure” on cam­pus; and by cre­at­ing a “shared mis­sion” for ev­ery­one on cam­pus.

“It’s not any se­cret that the past few years have been dif­fi­cult ones for Berke­ley. There’s a lot of repair work to be done in build­ing com­mu­nity,” she said.

“It’s im­por­tant that we have op­por­tu­ni­ties of all sorts in which we can feel to­gether that this is our Berke­ley, it’s an in­clu­sive Berke­ley, it’s a Berke­ley in which ev­ery in­di­vid­ual and ev­ery group feels wel­comed and val­ued.”

Speak up ‘peo­ple from all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions have a deep vested in­ter­est in free spee

ch’, says Carol Christ, who plans a year of events to en­gage the cam­pus on the topic

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