Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau (center) flanked by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande (right), and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer (left), as well as Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Claire Holmes, at a press conference today on campus

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said it’s time for corporate California to step up to the plate and help fund the university.

In light of the severe shortfall in state funding that UC Berkeley is dealing with, the Chancellor said he would like to see companies from Silicon Valley and beyond contributing $100 million to UC Berkeley — money that would be slated for students, such as for financial aid, not the university’s bottom line.

“Companies in Silicon Valley tell us we are not producing enough highly skilled graduates,” Birgeneau said, speaking at a press briefing held on campus to mark the start of fall classes this week. “So they need to help us with these challenges.” Birgeneau added that University of California President Mark Yudof is leading the effort to raise funds from the corporate world.

Describing the financial straits in which the university is operating, Birgeneau said Sacramento had displayed “extremely bad judgement” in failing to support public education. He said the university was $380 million down in state funding this year, compared to the $600 million that was anticipated based on a compact between the state and UC when he came to work at UC Berkeley seven years ago.

While the state used to be the number one funder for the university, Birgeneau said it is now a “minor partner”, contributing just 12% of the school’s total budget — and ranks a distant fourth on the list of funders.

UC Berkeley is currently operating at a $60 million annual deficit, he said, and digging into reserve funds in order to cover costs. These are not so much “rainy day” as “thunderstorm day” funds, he said.

However Birgenau stressed that efficiency initiatives such as Operational Excellence were proving successful in reducing expenditure and that private donations were burgeoning.

Operational Excellence, which was launched with the help of outside consultants Bain & Co in the Fall of 2009, is, Birgeneau said, expected to deliver savings of $75 million annually.

Private donations for this past year amount to $315 million — and a total $2.2 billion since 2007 — according to Birgeneau. The goal is to raise $3 billion this way by 2013.

“As a consequence of the [state] disinvestment, private citizens have had to step up,” he said, adding that he was “inordinately proud” of the school’s ability to attract these funds.

Despite the gloomy picture Birgeneau painted of UC Berkeley’s financial status, the Chancellor was keen to stress that there were many reasons to be cheerful as the new academic year kicked off.

Incoming UC Berkeley students attending a convocation at the Greek Theater on Monday. Photo: UC Berkeley

He said a welcoming convocation at the Greek Theater on Monday had attracted a record audience of 3,600 students, and that he had felt incoming and transfer students this year were “unusually enthusiastic”. Birgeneau has been meeting with groups of four new students at a time this week. He also cited Cal’s continued status as one of the world’s top-ranked universities and the stature of its faculty — many of whom are poaching targets from other highly regarded schools, he said.

This week and in the spring semester the university will see an influx of more than 11,000 new students — 5,600 of whom are freshmen, 2,700 transfer students, and 2,950 graduate students — bringing the total student body to about 36,000.

Just over 1,700 incoming freshmen this year are from out-of-state or overseas, a slight increase from last year. These students represent much needed tuition fees and the target is for out-of-state and international students to make up 20% of the total undergraduate student population.

About 21,500 undergraduates are Californians, which, Birgeneau said, is slightly more than in 2004 when he arrived at Cal, and the same number as in 2006-7 when the state began to withdraw funding for Californian students. He said the goal is for Californian student numbers to stabilize at 21,000 so there may be a slight reduction over the next few years.

“Despite what you read in the East Coast media, we’re not in a death spiral,” Birgeneau concluded. “California is extraordinarily resilient.”

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...