Agenda Ranges From Ever-Present Budget Woes to Affirmative Action
Issues to Dilapidated Buildings
by Fernando Quintero
For new Academic Senate chair Oliver Williamson, heading up the Berkeley division is more than just a job--it's fodder for future research.
Williamson, a noted scholar with the distinction of holding professorships in business administration, economics and law, said he has a strong interest in the economics of organizations.
"I see definite professional benefits to being a participant in the governing of a legislative body such as the Berkeley Academic Senate," said Williamson from his Stephens Hall office with its enviable view of the lush north campus grounds.
Tossing out phrases such as "additional response mechanism" and "mixed modes of organization," Williamson said his experiences as senate chair could very well serve as a basis for future study.
There is currently no research at Berkeley that looks at organizational economic issues for colleges and universities, he said.
"One of the great things about Berkeley is that you can cross disciplinary boundaries and work with other faculty and students to study new ideas," said Williamson.
"One of my primary objectives is to continue to foster the kind of interdisciplinary exchange that sets Berkeley apart from other institutions."
With more pressing issues such as an improved but still tenuous economic climate and the current debate over affirmative action policies, Williamson said his job will be an especially challenging one.
At the top of Williamson's list is the continuing budget problem. "We're fortunate to have genuine shared governance here," he said.
"Our budget problems will continue to be addressed by a joint faculty committee created especially for this unique challenge.
"A long range fiscal planning working group met for first time (Aug. 30). Based on their initial work, I'm confident that substantial progress will be made."
Williamson said affirmative action issues will get concerted attention from the divisional council as well as specific committees. "We expect to feature affirmative action issues early in our agenda.
"I firmly believe we can respond to the need for diversity on our campus in a principled way, in a way that is workable. Universities are a place where reason and dialogue should prevail."
Another important issue that was a top priority of Williamson's predecessor, law professor Harry Scheiber, is the deteriorated appearance of some campus buildings.
"This is an issue that goes right to the heart of the quality of our campus environment," Williamson said. "One of the joys of being at Berkeley is the physical beauty of the place. Many of our faculty members are seriously concerned with the less than optimal condition of some of our buildings."
Williamson said a task force will be formed to review the student code of conduct on vandalism. "We must remain vigilant in protecting our campus environment," he said.
Williamson added that work will continue on rebuilding faculty ranks in the wake of early retirements. "We have some strategic opportunities to look at various programs, and find out where we need to shore up certain departments," he said.
All in all, Williamson said he is confident about the campus's immediate and long-term future. "Every conversation at Berkeley seems to be about how unusual a place this is, how committed everyone is to academic excellence," Williamson said. "With our exceptional faculty, students, administration and staff, I think we're up to the task of carrying on Berkeley's reputation."
In addition to being the Edgar F. Kaiser Professor of Business Administration, professor of economics and law, Williamson has been awarded numerous honors including membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1977 and was named fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983.
Williamson has published several books on economics, and has been named to a number of special visiting appointments, editorial boards, and advisory committees. He taught at Berkeley as assistant professor of economics from 1963 to 1965, and returned to campus to teach in 1988.
In his spare time, the Berkeley resident and father of five plays tennis "with limited talent but serious interest." Williamson also dabbles in sculpture.