The 200,000 sq ft Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences is one of the major new buildings opened at UC Berkeley in the last year. Photo: The Real Michael Moore

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau lauded UC Berkeley’s continued excellence at the annual state-of-the-university press conference yesterday, citing its top five position in a leading ranking of global universities, the continued flood of applications from highly qualified students, the leading number of National Science Foundation fellows in graduate programs, and a flurry of other statistics.

But Birgeneau’s exuberance was tempered at his last start-of-term press conference (he announced he’ll step down as Chancellor at the end of December) by talk of the “unprecedented” disinvestment in higher education in California, and the threat of further dramatic cuts if Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s ballot measure to raise taxes, fails on November 6.

“The progressive disinvestment [in higher education] has not had as large an impact on Berkeley as we had feared, but it has had an enormous impact on the higher education system,” Birgeneau said. “It’s the obligation of the state and its people to support its public institutions. Education is a public good, not a private good.” 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: “It’s the obligation of the state and its people to support its public institutions”
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: “It’s the obligation of the state and its people to support its public institutions”

Birgeneau and his senior administration team detailed just how UC Berkeley had managed to shift from getting 52% of its funding from the state 30 years ago to less than 11% today. John Wilton, Vice Chancellor for Administration & Finance, described how of the four sources of revenue — state appropriations, research grants, philanthropy and tuition and fees — the state contribution is now fourth. Eight years ago, when Birgeneau became chancellor, it was first.

“We’ve done a remarkable job,” Wilton said. “Berkeley has been incredibly successful at expanding the other three revenue sources.”

Associate Vice Chancellor David Blinder said that in the last fiscal year, new gifts and pledges to UC Berkeley amounted to $395 million, the second highest amount ever. The fundraising Campaign for Berkeley was on course to reach its $3 billion goal by the end of 2013, Blinder said. He pointed out that the campaign had been launched in September 2008, perhaps the worst possible timing for a philanthropic effort.

The effects of the fundraising and growing revenues in other areas could be seen in the university’s efforts to improve access to education and to provide the right facilities and opportunities for students once they come to Berkeley, according to the administrators. About 70% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.

New plan helps 445 undergraduates

The university’s new Middle Class Access Plan (MCap), aimed at families earning between $80,000 and $140,000 a year, is helping 445 new undergraduates this year, according to Anne De Luca, Associate Vice Chancellor for Admissions and Enrollment. The number of under-represented minorities is up from 810 last year to 894 this year (14% of the entering students). One-quarter of the new students are first generation college goers. De Luca also said that the number of Pell Grant recipients at UC Berkeley equals the number at all the Ivy League universities combined.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer said the university was using some of the extra tuition paid by non-resident students (16% of the entering freshmen are out-of-state or international) to increase introductory course availability in the sciences and math, increase sections in reading and composition courses, and increase foreign language courses. The time to degree for single majors is just under eight semesters now.

$1 billion in capital projects

The press conference also highlighted over $1 billion in capital projects that were opened this year, including the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, the Energy Biosciences Building, a fill-in project for Berkeley Law, Martinez Commons, a seismic retrofit for the Greek Theatre, a new electrical switching station, the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center, and the renovated Memorial Stadium.

But both Birgeneau and Wilton talked about the uncertainty caused by the state budget pressures.

“It’s unlikely to change dramatically in the near term,” Wilton said. “It’s simply bad public policy, but we have to deal in the real world and play with the cards we’ve been given.”

Birgeneau said the administration had made contingency plans for a failure of Proposition 30. “We’ve been looking at using reserves and carry forwards,” he said. “In the long run, we’ll have to find new sources of revenue.”

“We are very aware of the uncertainty we face,” Wilton said. “We have been incredibly realistic in our planning. We have to be adaptable and innovative.”

UC Berkeley’s Helios Building set to open in August [07.17.12]
Room with a view: Designer charts new Berkeley buildings [04.03.12]
Chancellor Birgeneau announces return to academic career [03.13.12]
Berkeley students march to protest public education cuts [03.01.12]
Chancellor apologizes for Occupy Cal Police response [11.22.11]
Shooting at Cal School of Business [11.15.11]
Chancellor calls on Silicon Valley to help with funding [08.24.11]

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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...