136th Charter Day Farewell Remarks

April 15, 2004
Robert M. Berdahl
UC Berkeley

136th Charter Day
Farewell Remarks

On this Charter Day, the sixth anniversary of my inauguration in this hall as the eighth chancellor of the Berkeley campus, it is difficult to repress an inclination to sentimentality, to reflect on how rapidly the past seven years have passed. For my life, which has been so remarkably blessed, both personally and professionally, serving as the chancellor of this great university has been the highest honor and greatest privilege imaginable. I could not have asked for more in life, and to all of you gathered here today -- students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends -- on behalf of Peg and myself, let me say thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You have given us your support, your friendship, your affection. We are truly grateful.

Much has happened in the past seven years: Forty-two thousand students have graduated, more than graduated in the first 50 years of the history of the University. The faculty has received many honors -- two Nobel prizes in economics, 26 elected to the National Academy of Engineering, 35 elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and 65 elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have recruited 433 new members to the faculty, and seen a somewhat lesser number retire from formal faculty status, although most are still active. Some of the luminary figures in our history, notably Chang Lin Tien and Clark Kerr, have passed from us.

Last evening, as I reflected on these changes, I decided to reread my inaugural address, to revisit the agenda that I outlined in that message, and to evaluate, as honestly as I can, whether we have achieved the hopes I articulated there. So, let me reiterate the agenda from that address and offer some observations about our successes and failures.

I began by pointing out the obvious: that the quality of this University is a product of the excellence of our faculty. During the last seven years, I believe we have succeeded in recruiting and retaining a spectacular group of faculty. In some cases, we have succeeded beyond our own, and certainly beyond our competitor's expectations. Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle carried an editorial about our success in recruiting senior faculty from Harvard and Princeton.

However, as the report of a Task Force on Faculty Compensation has just reported, this has come with a significant price. Our salary system is frayed by the increasing number of decoupled and off-scale salaries that are required to remain competitive. Average faculty salaries are 29% below those at Harvard and 18% behind Stanford. Restoring competitive faculty salaries will remain the central priority for the future.

In my inaugural, I also stressed the importance of renewing the need for capital expenditures. "Renewing our research infrastructure must be our highest priority if we are to sustain our preeminence as a research university into the twenty-first century. This will require capital expenditures by the State, by the University, and by our supportive donors."

While we still have much work to be done, I believe we have made remarkable progress in renewing the physical infrastructure for the campus. We have built, broken ground, or will break ground in the next couple of months, on over a dozen new buildings, including the very large new replacement for Stanley Hall, two new libraries, and six new residence halls that will provide additional housing for 1100 students. We have completed or begun the retrofitting and renovation of Barrows, Barker, Doe, Hearst Memorial Mining, Hertz Hall, LeConte, Latimer, Hildebrand, Silver Lab, Wurster, Archeology, and built a virtually new Haas Pavilion. Perhaps most importantly, we are now completing construction on time and on budget.

The second item in my inaugural agenda was the Library. We have invested substantial new resources in the Library, and climbed back in the rankings of the Association of Research Libraries to third place, with only Harvard and Yale ahead of us. But our ability to sustain this investment, essential to our standing as a research university, is precarious. It will take the dedication of the campus and of the Library's many donors to maintain our standing.

Third, I called for investing substantially more to enable departments to meet the teaching needs of the faculty. Here, I believe, our record is mixed. The many efforts of the recently created office of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Instructional Technology have been superb and the recent campus accreditation review was filled with praise for the progress made in improving undergraduate education. But the status of many of our classrooms is inadequate to the task of teaching in a technological environment. We have not only not kept pace with the classroom needs of faculty and students, but in some instances, we have fallen behind.

Fourth, I called for the improvement of our business practices. I said, "We need to review all aspects of how we conduct our business, with the aim of streamlining decision-making and assuring that our processes are truly aimed at providing speedy, efficient, and friendly services to everyone. We must make certain that the same ethos of excellence that marks our teaching and research permeates all of our operations." Our report card on this endeavor may show improvement, but if we are honest, we must admit that there is still room for significant improvement. We have a better financial reporting system than seven years ago, and the staff have, for the most part, grown more comfortable with it; we have made substantial progress in the area of human resources and are working hard at the difficult task of restructuring staff classification and compensation. But our staff levels and compensation never completely recovered from the crisis of the early 1990s; our staff was overworked before the current budget crisis struck and the workload has increased in the last year. Moreover, large reductions in the areas of student services have made us a less user-friendly university despite the valiant efforts in student services and the Tang Center.

Fifth, I called upon the campus to find the means of becoming more interdisciplinary in its research and teaching. I said, "Our education must derive from the recognition that few problems, few issues, and few discoveries are any longer, if they ever were, the province of a single discipline. Amidst greater specialization must also come greater reintegration." In this, I believe we have made significant progress.

The Strategic Academic Plan developed jointly by the faculty senate and the administration identified new initiatives, all of them interdisciplinary, into which the campus has begun to invest new resources and new faculty. And, in addition, the campus competed for, and won, over one-third of the resources that came to the University of California for the California Institutes for Science and Innovation. Our CITRIS proposal led Governor Davis to expand from three to four the number of the Institutes. Both CITRIS, the Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society, and QB3, the institute for quantitative biology have produced new cross-disciplinary collaborations. And, with Stanley Hall, we are building a new facility designed to foster these collaborations.

At the time of my inauguration, we were at the half-way point in the capital campaign that had been so successfully launched by Chancellor Tien. As you know, our friends and alumni put us well over the top in that campaign. Our current level of fundraising averages between $70 million and $100 million more per year than before that campaign. Over the past seven years, we have raised $1.5 billion, including over 110 new endowed chairs and over $200 million for student scholarships.

In my inaugural, I acknowledged the difficulty of creating and sustaining community, and I expressed the hope that we would make strides to become a stronger community, openly communicating with one another and caring for one another. Many have taken this to heart and put much effort into the process of building community. I am most grateful to you all for these efforts.

Finally, I called attention to the need for the campus to continue its efforts to achieve a diverse student body, faculty, and staff. I asked then, "It is not our mandate to mirror precisely the population of California, but how are we to sustain public support if we do not better represent the impressive diversity that distinguishes this state? . . . We have to make certain that we are accessible to students of all ethnic backgrounds and experiences." And I went on to say, "We at Berkeley must marshal our intellectual and imaginative resources to renew and rebuild public education in California."

It pains me to admit that we have largely failed in these endeavors. We have not succeeded in achieving the degree of ethnic diversity that I had hoped for, and despite a substantial University effort at outreach, California public schools are still not preparing many disadvantaged students for admission to competitive campuses like Berkeley.

We have in place and are expanding successful programs like the Incentive Award Program and the alumni association's Achievement Award Program, both of which support disadvantaged students. But we are still able to admit and recruit too few African-American and Hispanic students to Cal. Unless we are able to succeed in changing this, we cannot claim to have fully met our obligation as a "public trust" of the State of California.

And so, as I review the scorecard for the past seven years, I am pleased with our successes, but also conscious of our failures and very aware of the work that remains to be done.

And much does remain to be done. I am not telling you anything you do not already know when I say to you that this University's greatness, built by the efforts of many over one-hundred and thirty-six years, is not entirely secure.

Our future is clouded by the state's budget crisis; it is not the first budgetary crisis in our history, but it may well be the deepest. The total cost for a student attending Berkeley today represents 27% of the annual median family income in California, up from 12% forty years ago. It is no longer possible for a student to work his or her way through Cal, as it was years ago, because the costs are too high and the jobs available pay merely minimum wage and there are too few of them. Our students now graduate with an average debt of $16,000, and the costs will certainly increase in the years ahead. While we try to meet everyone's financial needs with aid, we are often not able to match the financial aid packages of the elite private universities, giving rise to the tragic irony that it may cost a poor family less to send a son or daughter to Harvard than to Berkeley.

For the first time since the adoption of the Master Plan for Higher Education forty-four years ago, the University will not be able to guarantee admission on one of its campuses to all eligible students.

So we have our work cut out for us, in this session of the legislature and in the years to come, if we are to secure the future of this great University for future generations. And I know we are up to the task, as we have always been up to every task put to us in the past.

I closed my inaugural address by quoting a passage from Hannah Arendt that has offered one of my favorite comments on the importance of education. She reminded us of our obligation to the next generation:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token to save it from the ruin which, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing the common world.

We hold this University in trust, obligated to those who came before us and those who come after us to make certain that the trust is not diminished, but enhanced during the period of our stewardship. This great, wonderful, amazing, surprising, frustrating, and at times infuriating University is THE public university of record in the United States. We are the public flagship university of the nation. We have, thus, a special obligation to lead the way in the "task of renewing the common world." On this Charter Day, and on every day, let us rededicate ourselves to that noble task.

Fiat Lux. Thank you for seven wonderful years.