I welcome you heartily, if somberly, to the Spring 2011 semester at UC Berkeley.
As no doubt you’re aware from media reports, the Berkeley campus and the UC system as a whole foresee a period ahead of continued austerity. It’s realistic, if small comfort, to view our situation as part of the challenge our nation, and California, face in a time that has been labeled accurately the Great Recession.
The governor’s budget plans, with some perspective on how they will affect UC, are laid out here.
I recommend reading the response of UC President Yudof. His open letter to California places the university’s realities in the wider context of the economic crisis, and highlights what the state stands to gain by maintaining the University of California’s quality. “The university’s role as an agent of transformation in California,” he says, “has been demonstrated again and again across more than 140 years of shared history.” The stakes couldn’t be higher.
More financial belt-tightening is ahead in the next few years — in large part depending on the extent to which the wider economy rallies. But I can assure you that UC is committed to keeping higher education available to those who seek it, offsetting increases to the extent possible by providing more aid to those whose need is greatest.
And I can promise that the Graduate Division will continue to provide efficient and compassionate service to graduate students, our primary focus. Our staff in Sproul Hall (and a few other locations) are talented, diverse, and committed; along with the graduate student services professionals in your own departments, they’re terrific people to have in your corner. I have met no finer groups anywhere over the entire course of my professional career.
Understanding how the campus relies on its staff as well as faculty is key to a new role I have taken on at the request of the Chancellor and the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. In addition to being Graduate Dean, I am now serving as the faculty program head for Operational Excellence, the ongoing effort to reduce the cost and complexity of administrative operations on the Berkeley campus. (The announcement of that appointment is here.)
A key purpose of the Operational Excellence effort is to save money — and that is already happening. But the overall goal is to protect the academic core of the campus, its quality, while enabling it to be more, well, operationally excellent.
It’s gratifying to see that, in spite of the budget climate, confidence in this campus and the UC system is strong. Students are applying for admission in record numbers at all campuses and a groundswell of students are choosing to come to Berkeley with the support of prestigious external fellowships that would allow them to attend nearly any university. It’s also gratifying that Berkeley again had very high rankings in the National Research Council’s periodic assessment of American doctoral programs, released last fall. Those rankings are based on respect for Berkeley’s research and teaching and for its graduates who become part of the fabric at institutions across the nation.
And our alumni, the “finished products” of our undergraduate and graduate programs, are increasingly stepping forward to help bridge the gap caused by the decrease in state revenues. Philanthropic support exceeded funding from the state in 2009-2010, the first time that has ever happened. Contributions to endowment for graduate fellowships — as part of the campus’s larger Campaign for Berkeley — are growing and growing.
So there are specific reasons for optimism. And there is our history. Berkeley has come through rough times before, gaining strength in doing so.
Berkeley remains an unsurpassed place to gain a great education and have a good time in the process. Have a productive and enjoyable semester!
Andrew J. Szeri
Dean of the Graduate Division