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Chancellor: UC Berkeley morphing into federal university

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As it gets more funding from the federal government, and less from Sacramento, UC Berkeley is effectively morphing from a state university into a federal university, according to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. 

In an interview yesterday, Birgeneau said the transformation will "require us to think through what our role is both in the state and nationally."

He first made the compelling case for applying the "federal" label to California's most famous public university at a conference organized by the Travers Program in Ethics and Accountability [PDF] on the Berkeley campus earlier this month.

When he became chancellor more than six years ago, he explained, the largest chunk of funding – about $450 million – came from the state. Federal research funding totaled about $300 million. Student fees brought in about $150 million, with philanthropy providing slightly less. The campus' endowment generated about $100 million to $120 million. 

By this year, the funding breakdown for Berkeley had changed completely. Federal research funds bring in $500 million. Student fees yield $315 million (and will increase to $340 million next year). Private philanthropy yields about the same amount

And lastly comes state support – down to $300 million this year and about $225 million during the coming academic year, after the cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown have been made. That would be half of what the university received from the state when Birgeneau came to Berkeley in 2004, and could go even lower if the special election Brown wants to call doesn't make it on to the ballot or is rejected by voters. 

"We have gone from a state-supported university to a state-located university in a remarkably short period of time, and we are trying madly to adjust," Birgeneau said at the conference. 

Berkeley's biggest revenue increase has come in the two-thirds jump in federal research funds over the last half dozen years. "Because of that, our research enterprise is flourishing," he said. He said said the role of these funds in contributing to the university's teaching mission is "under-appreciated." 

Federal research funds often pay professors' salaries over the summer, and also provide essential financial support to undergraduates and graduate students, Birgeneau noted. One example: undergraduates are paid to work in his campus laboratory, using research funds from the Department of Energy.

Birgeneau said Berkeley finds itself in the position of many other state universities that also have seen dramatic declines in state support. When he talked recently with University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman about UC's predicament, she told him, "Welcome to the club." 

Among the questions raised by the shift in funding, said Birgeneau, is "how much autonomy should individual campuses have" if the state only provides a small portion of its income. 

Another question is "What should the balance be of in-state and out-of-state students?"   Berkeley has substantially boosted the number of non-Californians it admits, benefiting from the higher tuition they pay. As a result, nearly 20 percent of undergraduates admitted to UC Berkeley this year were either out-of-state or international students. 

The biggest challenge, Birgeneau said, is how the university can maintain its "public character."

By that, he meant the ability of the campus to continue to admit low-income students, and to have a student body and faculty "strongly oriented to public service," he explained yesterday. 

"As long as I am chancellor, we will be committed to being an accessible university, and to keep net costs low enough so that students don't leave with incredibly burdensome debt," he said.

He pointed out that Berkeley actually has more students receiving financial aid than it did before the financial crisis began. Last year alone, 900 students sought out, and received, extra support mainly because their parents lost their jobs during the year. 

Birgeneau said he had not fully fleshed out his concept of what it means to be an increasingly federally supported university. But, he said, "the reality is that with the progressive disinvestment in higher education by the state, the state is becoming a tertiary player."


Filed under: Higher Ed, Daily Report


Comments are closed for this story.
TonyDaysog's picture
The article presents interesting and important observations (i.e. federalization) but whether this is a lasting, permanent phenomenon remains to be seen, so perhaps more information and time is needed before fashioning definitive policies and actions.
cheyenneades's picture
Estimated expenditures & worth is worth over a billion dollars. Yet someone is complaining about where parts of that billion dollars came from. I wonder if they would complain if they needed a nickel to get started & there was someone willing to give it to them but nobody else. If you can be happy with what you got from one place but not another, but would have exactly the same thing either way. Whats to complain about, other than you might be stupid, greedy or unthankful.
dobson's picture
Great, now just send a check to the California taxpayers for the value of the land and all the building. Don't forget all the intellectual properties, patents, copyrights, etc. Just asking fair market value.
Moravecglobal's picture
Uproar over questionable conduct by Chancellor Birgeneau to reduce admission of Californians to UC Berkeley. Just another example of inept leadership by UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau. Want more examples, read on. Just how widespread is the budget crisis at University of California Berkeley? University of California Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau’s ($500,000 salary) eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means. A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left. It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization. In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. Merely cutting out inefficiencies will not have the effect desired. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC President, Board of Regents, and California Legislators to jolt UC Berkeley back to life, applying some simple oversight check-and-balance management principles. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donors, benefactors await the transformation of senior management. The author, who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way senior management work. (Cal. (UC Berkeley) ranking tumbles from 2nd best. The reality of UC Berkeley relative decline is clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place. By 2011 the ranking had not returned to 2nd best) University of California, Berkeley in the news
TonyDaysog's picture
Blah, blah, blah, blah. Look at me -- I can refer to all these numbers to conclude that Cal is the pits. Oh mularkey -- Cal is still a great school. Period.

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