Opinion: Carol Christ

The title of a children's story, "It Could Always Be Worse," is an apt description of the budget situation this year.

We are looking forward to a modest increase that will fund merits and a cost-of-living adjustments.

This upturn in our budget picture assumes no mid-year state budget reduction--the so-called "trigger" cuts--that could be mandated by the Legislature this fall if state revenues fall short of expectations. At this point, no one expects that the "trigger" will be pulled. In this fiscal respite, we have time to think and plan deliberately for the future.

The series of budget cuts we have suffered in the past three years and the uncertain financial prospects ahead are among several factors that create a newly difficult environment for Berkeley.

Other factors include a decline in research funding, the increasing scrutiny of overhead, and the prospect of an increase toward the end of the century in the student population eligible to attend the University of California.

Together, these factors shape the challenges I believe will motivate our planning for the next five years.

Looking for Funding

Our first challenge is to find effective alternatives to lost state support. Increased fees and the upcoming capital campaign provide two additional sources of income. We have to search out other sources.

Other public universities have found their own ways to work with reduced public revenue. The University of Michigan, for example, has "privatized" itself through fees that are much steeper than those at UC. We need to assess the impact such privatization has on student access before we decide whether to follow this model.

Access is at the heart of another major issue we face. Demographers predict explosive growth in the UC-eligible student population.

Certainly increased use of Summer Session, University Extension, and creative use of distance learning programs will help increase our undergraduate capacity, although only with fundamental policy changes.

Should we seek to expand access in these ways, or are there better alternatives for addressing this rise in demand for our services?

Academic Future

The future of our academic programs given the reduced size our faculty also has to be resolved. Given the 10 percent cut in the pre-VERIP size of the ladder-rank faculty, should we continue to strive to be a comprehensive university?

We might choose to focus more fully on areas of strength and reduce or eliminate areas of weakness.

Last, the budget cuts force us to reassess our administrative system. We currently employ a system that maximizes both bureaucratic oversight and local decision making.

This system allows individual departments a great deal of power. Yet even the smallest of academic personnel decisions has to be reviewed through what at times seems like an unwieldy process.

Solutions to these challenges will require everyone's efforts, with the Academic Planning Board playing a central role.

Seven Issues to Face

I see the board's work this year centering on seven issues, a number of which grow out of the board's discussions last year.

First is resolving the distribution of the 10 percent cut in faculty. We have to decide whether the reduction should be distributed evenly, or whether some areas should be sliced more deeply so that others are spared.

Second, the board must find new ways to fund faculty positions. Faculty positions have historically been funded exclusively by the state.

We need to develop other sources of revenue for faculty salaries. Greater use of non-ladder faculty positions such as adjuncts and professors in residence is one possible way of expanding faculty resources while reducing dependence on state funds.

Third, the board must reassess our system of academic compensation. We might consider a change in salary scales or in the distribution of salary increase between merit and cost-of-living raises.

More effective coordination and more efficient use of resources across department boundaries is at the heart of the fourth major issue.

Dealing With Inequities

The connection between teaching responsibility and department affiliation also needs to reassessed. Typically, department membership structures faculty teaching assignments. This arrangement results in some workload inequities and leaves interdepartmental programs inadequately staffed.

We need to look at a number of proposals, including the Holub committee report and the DeVries proposal for a teaching bank, that have come forward to make it easier to teach outside one's department and to encourage departments to teach to broader constituencies.

The link between academic and administrative structure is the sixth major issue to address. In our current mode of operation, each academic unit, no matter how small, has its own administrative structure.

Is this an efficient way of running ourselves? Can we maintain the integrity of academic units while pooling administrative support?

Finally, we have the question of the distribution of students among undergraduate majors.

Some have suggested that we should change our admissions policies to encourage the growth of some majors and the reduction of others. This proposal merits consideration.

These are difficult questions which will demand our collective intelligence. I welcome the thoughts of all in the University community about these issues.

Carol Christ is the vice chancellor and provost.


Copyright 1994, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail berkeleyan@pa.urel.berkeley.edu.