Chancellor Robert Birgeneau

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced today that he will step down from the chancellorship at the end of this calendar year. Birgeneau has been chancellor since September, 2004.

His term was dominated by both financial struggles, as state funding of the University of California system was steadily squeezed, and controversy over the handling of campus protests in recent years.

Birgeneau plans to return to his academic post in the Departments of Physics and Material Sciences and Engineering. In his message to the UC Berkeley community, he wrote that he hopes he has “at least one more truly significant physics/materials science experiment still to come in my academic career”.

The message also refers to the financial difficulties his administration has had to confront: “Because of the extraordinary circumstances facing the University of California that emerged with the financial crisis and steep loss of state funding, I have stayed on as Chancellor longer than I had originally intended. With the support of an exceptionally talented senior leadership team, we have worked very hard to navigate successfully the most extreme disinvestment by the state in UC’s history. We have greatly strengthened Berkeley’s financial management leadership, stabilized our budget in the short to medium term, and are developing a sustainable financial model for the future to support access and excellence.”

Here’s the full text of Birgeneau’s announcement:

Dear members of the Berkeley campus community:

I am writing to let you know that I have informed President Mark Yudof of my decision to step down as Chancellor of UC Berkeley on December 31, 2012.  Serving as the Ninth Chancellor of one of the world’s preeminent teaching and research universities has been an immense privilege and honor.  I am deeply grateful to have been entrusted with the profound responsibility of leading this great institution and its outstanding faculty, staff and students through one of the most challenging periods in its 144-year history.

I arrived in September, 2004 with a deep appreciation of the essential role that Berkeley plays in setting the standard nationally and internationally for public higher education.  It was my intention to serve as Chancellor for seven years to lead Berkeley in breaking new paths on the frontiers of knowledge and education, to support its noble public mission and to further its goals of access and excellence.  Because of the extraordinary circumstances facing the University of California that emerged with the financial crisis and steep loss of state funding, I have stayed on as Chancellor longer than I had originally intended.  With the support of an exceptionally talented senior leadership team, we have worked very hard to navigate successfully the most extreme disinvestment by the state in UC’s history.  We have greatly strengthened Berkeley’s financial management leadership, stabilized our budget in the short to medium term, and are developing a sustainable financial model for the future to support access and excellence.  Thanks to the efforts and contributions of everyone in our campus community – faculty, staff, students, retirees, alumni and friends – we have made great strides in maintaining and expanding Berkeley’s excellence and preserving its unique public character.  Although challenges still remain, I am confident that we have put into place a clear pathway for the years ahead and strategies that will support Berkeley’s ongoing excellence and its impact on the world.

In spite of the financially challenging times, working together as a campus community we have made tremendous progress on many fronts and have many extraordinary accomplishments of which we can be justly proud.  Berkeley faculty continue to garner awards and honors in all disciplines, including three Nobel Prizes since 2005, two in Physics and one in Economics; we and MIT lead all universities in the United States and Canada with 43 Sloan Fellowships each for our junior faculty since 2004, a strong marker for future success.  For graduate students, Berkeley also continues to share the lead with MIT as one of the two top-choice schools for winners of National Science Foundation fellowships.  In the 2010 National Research Council rankings, the first detailed survey since 1995 of the nation’s research universities, Berkeley ranked second nationally behind Harvard and well ahead of all other schools in the number of graduate programs in the very top group.  Our research funding has grown from some $500 million in 2004 to well over $700 million in recent years.  We are consistently ranked in the top tier of research and teaching universities in the world, a reflection of our comprehensive excellence across the arts and humanities, social sciences, physical and life sciences, and the professions.

We have strengthened the university through a $3 billion fundraising Campaign, the largest in Berkeley’s history.  The Campaign to-date has raised $2.4 billion during one of the most difficult financial times since the Great Depression, thanks to the support of alumni and friends who believe in our future.  At the heart of the Campaign is the Hewlett Endowed Chairs Matching Program.  This enormously successful program has raised $220 million in just four years for support of 100 faculty chairs; this includes over $2.5 million annually in graduate fellowships across all schools and colleges.  We have also generalized this model to the national level; specifically, we have proposed to the federal government that it invest $10 billion over the next ten years to create through a federal-state-private partnership program 10,000 endowed chairs in support of our country’s leading public teaching and research universities.

We are breaking the boundaries between disciplines to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems and have created unprecedented models for public universities to partner with government, industry and private philanthropy.  The multi-disciplinary research efforts of the Berkeley Energy and Climate Initiative, the Energy Biosciences Institute, the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and the Haas Diversity Research Center hold the promise of transforming our lives and our world.  In a very short time, we have become leaders in the study of alternative energy and climate change.  We are advancing human health through biosciences, bioengineering, and biomedical and stem cell research.  We are finding ways to alleviate global poverty through innovative programs, technologies, services and business practices and are bringing together world-class scholars to address disparities related to race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities in California and nationwide.

Our undergraduate student body continues to be among the very best in California and each year we have attracted more applicants, with over 60,000 freshman applications this year.  We have stabilized our enrollment at 21,000 places for Californians with a further 4,000 places for non-residents.  When I first arrived at Berkeley, I was struck by the very small number of international and out-of state students in the undergraduate student body.  I am very pleased that we have been able to increase this number substantially, with plans to grow to 20% by 2014, to benefit the student experience as well as bring additional revenue to the campus.  We are educating Berkeley students to gain multi-cultural experience that will serve them well in our increasingly globalized society.  We also have continuously invested in improving the undergraduate academic experience by updating classroom facilities with technology and adding Reading and Composition classes, gateway courses in the physical sciences, and foreign language courses.  We are currently building two new undergraduate biology laboratories that will mitigate the situation in the impacted gateway life sciences courses.  Our graduation rates have risen to over 90%.  We have raised seven endowed Chairs dedicated to teaching and are in the process of establishing an Undergraduate Teaching Collegium led by Letters & Science.  We have supported our students’ ambitions to give back and change the world for the better and are very proud that Berkeley still holds the record for the most volunteers in the history of the Peace Corps. Our students have also worked diligently to make us a leading campus for sustainability.

Although a necessary response to the loss of state funding was an increase in tuition and fees, we nevertheless have been able to sustain access and affordability for our students from low-income families through our financial aid policies.  Some 40% of our undergraduate students now pay no tuition at all, and the cost for Pell Grant recipients, whose families usually have incomes under $45,000, has dropped over the past five years. At the same time, the number of students with Pell Grants now constitutes 35% of our student body, meaning that we are educating about the same number of low-income undergraduate students as all the eight Ivy League universities combined.  We recently set a landmark by becoming the first public university to provide substantial financial aid to middle-income families through our Middle Class Access Plan (MCAP).  This program limits the parental contribution to 15% of family income for families earning between $80,000 and $140,000 annually.  Overall, Berkeley students graduate with the lowest student debt among all public teaching and research universities across the country.  I am also personally very gratified by the support we have been able to provide to our most disadvantaged students.  We have worked hard to secure a major endowment for our California Independent Scholars Program that supports former foster children.  After several years of advocacy by our students and myself, and thanks to the dedicated efforts of State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, Assembly bills 130 and 131, which allow for university and state aid for undocumented students, were signed into law by Governor Brown; we are now actively raising funds to support these students.  We can all be very proud of our success in ensuring that Berkeley remains an important engine of social mobility.

As a result of our financial challenges, our staff have experienced some very difficult changes through staff reductions and organizational change.  They have responded with great resilience, and their engagement with Operational Excellence, our comprehensive effort to reduce $75 million in permanent annual costs through improved administration, has been extraordinary.  We have already achieved over $20 million in annual savings.  We are investing in our workforce and technology and significantly improving our administrative processes and our financial management capacity.  I am confident that with the dedication and commitment of our staff, we will continue to build administrative excellence to help secure our future with a highly skilled workforce.

One area that required special attention was Intercollegiate Athletics.  We have greatly strengthened the financial management capacity of Intercollegiate Athletics and put in place a plan that will reduce the university’s annual support from over $12 million to $5 million by 2014.  Initially, we had proposed the elimination of four sports teams and the loss of Intercollegiate Athletics status for one, but, with the support of donors who raised over $20 million, we were able to maintain these teams and establish viable plans for their sustainability.  Our talented student-athletes and coaching staff have advanced Cal’s overall standing in the Director’s Cup to third place in the nation, our first time ever in the top five.

Inclusion – equal opportunity for all – is Berkeley’s ideal, and I am especially proud of the progress that we have made in this arena, although there is still much work to be done.  We were among the first universities in the country to create an Equity and Inclusion portfolio at the Vice-Chancellor level.  We are near the mid-point of a ten-year strategic plan for Equity and Inclusion that engages our entire campus community.  We have raised an astonishing $32 million to support our efforts and, as I have already mentioned, have established the Haas Diversity Research Center.  It now has twelve faculty positions dedicated to the Center with the involvement of dozens more faculty from across the campus in its six research thrusts.  In collaboration with Aspire Schools, we opened Cal Prep, our charter school for students from K-6 to K-12, which last year graduated its first cohort of students, all of whom have gone on to four-year colleges and universities.  Although underrepresented minority representation in the Cal student body has risen to about 15%, we are still suffering from the effects of Proposition 209; I strongly support our students’ efforts to ensure its repeal.

The face of our campus has continued to be transformed with new and renovated facilities to support our research, teaching, and athletic endeavors for the 21st century.  These include the splendid C.V. Starr East Asian Library, the superbly renovated Bancroft Library, and the magnificent Stanley Hall, which were begun by my predecessor and whose funding was completed at the start of my term.  We have added the impressive Sutdarja Dai Hall, which is home to CITRIS.  The old Naval Architecture Building was beautifully transformed, and a new three-story wing was attached to it, to house our new Blum Center for Developing Economies.  On the west side of campus, the modern Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences was recently opened, and the Energy Biosciences building will be completed this summer.  In the southeast quadrant, the School of Law has expanded and elegantly renovated its library and other facilities.  The state-of-the-art Simpson Student Athlete High Performance Center has opened, and the much needed Memorial Stadium seismic upgrade and refurbishment is scheduled to be completed in time for the first game of the 2012 football season, preserving this beloved facility for future generations of Cal students and alumni.  Two other important Berkeley landmarks, Sather Gate and the Campanile, have been strengthened and restored to their original state.  We have accomplished this ambitious capital renewal program primarily through donor funding and careful management of debt servicing.

Looking ahead, with the move of the College of Letters and Science administration to a renovated Durant Hall, we have secured funding for the reconstruction of Campbell Hall for expanded academic facilities for Physics and Astronomy.  A site has been chosen, plans developed, and a campaign is underway for a new Berkeley Art Museum.  A student referendum has secured funding for the revitalization of Lower Sproul Plaza, and the project is set to begin this fall.  The Richmond Field Station has been chosen as the site for a second Lawrence Berkeley National Lab campus. UC Berkeley and LBNL have long enjoyed a strong partnership. This will be a tremendous step forward, adding new synergies to an already impressive combination of scientific forces and world class research infrastructure.

I look forward to our university’s future with great optimism.  Berkeley is a place of incredible energy and creativity, and there are many other initiatives that I have not been able to mention that cumulatively make us the most exciting teaching and research university in the world.  It has truly been a wonderful privilege to work with such an accomplished and dedicated community of faculty, staff, students, retirees, alumni and friends.  I want to thank you all for what you do to support Berkeley’s mission.

Thank you for welcoming Mary Catherine and me so warmly to the Berkeley community and for your encouragement and support of my leadership.

After stepping down as Chancellor, I am planning to return to the Departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering as a regular faculty member and hope that I have at least one more truly significant physics/materials science experiment still to come in my academic career.  I intend to continue working at the state and national levels to ameliorate the deplorable funding situation of our nation’s great public teaching and research universities.  Finally, I will continue my efforts on behalf of our most disadvantaged students including, especially, advocacy for passage of the federal DREAM act.

President Yudof will be appointing a search committee as set out by university policy on the appointment of Chancellors.  I will continue to devote my full energies to leading Berkeley until my successor is appointed by the UC Regents and will work with her or him to effect a smooth transition.

Robert J. Birgeneau

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...