Academic Senate chair lays out agenda for academic year
Planner-economist highlights strategic planning, resources, education and campus quality of life

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs


David Dowall

Academic Senate Chair David Dowall
Noah Berger photo

29 August 2001 | With no physical space to spare, no new land to claim, rapidly expanding research initiatives and more students expected as part of the Tidal Wave II enrollment surge, Berkeley is seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place.

Not so, says David Dowall, the new chair of the Academic Senate. A professor of city and regional planning, Dowall is excited about working with the faculty, administration and staff to face these challenges. “Enrollment growth offers challenges but also opportunities. Yes, enrollment will increase by 4,000 students, but it also means that our budget base will increase.”

For the past three years the Senate has been working with the administration to develop a planning process for meeting these challenges. “Our work really started,” says Dowall, “with the formulation of the New Century Plan, a new campus facilities plan to guide capital improvements and facilities renewal, back in 1999. At the outset, the Senate took the position that Berkeley’s future development should be driven by our academic mission, and that proposals for future physical development should be clearly based on instructional and research needs.” He was surprised to discover that Berkeley’s last academic plan was written more than 20 years ago.

During the past year, the Senate and administration have worked closely to launch both a short-term and long-term planning process. The Near Term Planning Committee is tackling how to best accommodate growth over the next two to three years. The Strategic Planning Committee is developing a long-term academic plan for the campus.

“Obviously, our problems are not just ‘bricks and mortar’ ones — we also need to carefully assess how best to allocate resources for faculty and staff recruitment,” he says. “In the near term, this means working to quickly ease overcrowded classes and impacted majors. In the long term, we need to think about how additional resources can be used to expand existing programs and to create new initiatives.”

This fall, the Strategic Planning Committee will begin reviewing proposals for new initiatives. One of Dowall’s main tasks will be to ensure that the Senate and other campus stakeholders are actively involved in this dialogue.

“This year we will hold a series of forums for faculty, staff and students,” he says. This process and the work of the Strategic Planning Committee will be the basis for drafting Berkeley’s Academic Plan. “I presume that the plan will be used by the Administration and the Senate to help set priorities, to decide which academic programs to grow and where we should launch new academic initiatives.”

Dowall also wants to launch an initiative to secure increased funding for faculty and staff salaries. “Like everyone, I was very disappointed with the 2001-2002 (state) budget. I hope to persuade my systemwide Senate colleagues to press for additional resources. We simply cannot expect to maintain our excellence as a preeminent research university if we do not have the resources. Private universities are out-spending us by two to three times, in terms of expenditures per full-time-equivalent student. How can we except to stay at the forefront if we don’t have the resources?”

However, the problem is not just a lack of resources. Dowall says that Berkeley needs to move aggressively to enhance the quality of its undergraduate and graduate teaching programs. “We need more resources for advising, student infrastructure and financial aid.” The current process for reviewing undergraduate and graduate programs needs to be refreshed — reviews now take too much time and they often don’t offer clear advice, he said.

Campus quality-of-life issues are another critical challenge, Dowall believes. “Last spring, I had the opportunity to meet with about 60 undergraduates to discuss the challenges they face at Berkeley. The number one issue was quality of life — expensive or distant housing, crowded classes, poor student support services, and a generally unsupportive environment. Talk to staff and you hear similar things, inadequate salaries, expensive housing, lack of civility in the workplace and the relentless pressure to deliver services despite staff shortages.”

For faculty, the main issue is housing affordability, accessibility to campus and lack of diversity in the faculty and the administration, he said. “Far too long, many of us have labored under the assumption that the unique qualities of Berkeley are so compelling that they trump the downsides about studying or working here. The more I talk to people the more I am beginning to doubt this.”

Asked if he thought five years ago that he would one day be chair of the Senate, Dowall said he never imagined it. However, his expertise in strategic planning, project development and policy analysis, and his concern about the course of campus planning just got the better of him. “I saw myself facing Hirshman’s classic ‘exit, voice or loyalty’ dilemma,” he said. “I chose voice. I expect to work hard this year to try to help the campus meet the many challenges it now faces. However, come next summer I plan on returning to the best job in the world— a professor at Berkeley.”


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