As the semester draws to a close and Cal students prepare to graduate, we ask them to reflect on the four or five years they've spent here. As a campus, we should take this opportunity to do the same. This spring marks a major turning point in the lives of our graduates. I believe it also marks a turning point for the university.
When I became chancellor on July 1, 1990, I set out four major goals: to enhance our academic excellence, to improve our campus climate and rededicate ourselves to campus diversity, to advance undergraduate education, and to build stronger ties to the outside world. You embraced these goals, and it is remarkable to consider what we have accomplished together, despite weathering the greatest budgetary challenges in our history.
We have been able to strategically replenish our faculty, recruiting 80 percent of our top choices for vacancies, and retain faculty who were being heavily recruited by competitors like Harvard and Princeton. At the same time, our students keep getting better. We have established an Academic Planning Board to increase work across the disciplines, help create new programs that bring more synergy to areas like the arts and open up new fields of study as is reflected by the new School of Information Management and Systems. The recent NRC study, ranking 35 of the 36 Berkeley programs among the top 10 in the nation, is evidence of our continued academic excellence, as is the fact that extramural research support increased by 38 percent during the past six years despite federal budget cuts.
The campus climate and appearance today is altogether different than it was six years ago. Soda Hall, Tang Health Center, the Haas School of Business, the new underground library stacks and the Valley Life Sciences Building all were completed during this period. We have torn down the temporary buildings and created a beautiful new Memorial Glade. And new facilities are on the way. including Tan Hall and a revamped Dwinelle Hall.
But the changes to the campus are more than cosmetic. We are now online--with computer labs for students in our libraries, classroom buildings and residence halls; with Telebears; and with a wealth of campus information-- including the timetable and catalog--now available over the Internet. In just a few years, we have gone from 3,000 to 30,000 node points on campus.
We are a more diverse campus than we were four years ago. Programs like the Berkeley Pledge and the Incentive Award Scholarship Program, coupled with our continued commitment to diversify our faculty and staff, promise to keep us diverse.
Undergraduate education has gotten a big lift in recent years. We have launched a very successful smooth transition program, freshman seminars, research and employment opportunities for undergraduates to gain real-world experience, new support programs and more distance learning opportunities. As one measure of the success of these initiatives, undergraduate retention rates continue to rise. As another, I find most students really enjoy their undergraduate experiences here. They are noticing and appreciating a much more friendly and welcoming campus environment and Cal spirit is running high.
One sign of Cal's attractiveness is that student applications reached an all-time high of 25,000 this year.
Together, we also have greatly enhanced our connections to the outside world and to critical constituencies. Our most visible successes have been in alumni and donor relations. We are on the verge of publicly launching the largest fund-raising campaign in our history and, as a prelude, we are on track to shatter annual campus fund-raising totals for the second year in a row.
But, as important, we have made new friends--with alumni abroad, especially in the Pacific Rim; with parents of our students; with business leaders in our area; and with those in our own community. Our joint initiatives to improve Southside have led to a drop in crime; a cleaner, more inviting environment; and a major breakthrough with the city in the management and use of People's Park. We have seen a return of a sense of campus community. We have re-emphasized important traditions like Charter Day and Staff Appreciation Day, while inventing new ones like Cal Day to bring our campus and its supporters closer together.
As we press on with these important initiatives, we will continue to face some daunting obstacles in the coming few years. Even though state support is stabilizing, some departments face their most painful cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. This is because we used reserve funds during several years to cushion the impact of state budget cuts and to avoid a sudden, devastating blow. We are now catching up and taking what we hope will be the final round of across-the-board cuts on the campus.
At the same time, we are restructuring and computerizing to make our operations far more efficient, and we are raising private money and investing it in faculty research, library acquisitions, facilities needs and graduate and undergraduate student support --the underpinnings of an outstanding university.
We are at a turning point financially, as our state budget stabilizes and we expand private support. Though federal research cutbacks loom on the horizon, we will be competitive for the dollars that are available so long as our faculty and staff excellence is undiminished. We will work to encourage more interdisciplinary academic initiatives, to continue our restructuring, to better utilize our residence halls in undergraduate education, to increase even more our use of technology for libraries, instruction and distance learning, and to strengthen our ties with industry to enrich research and graduate training. In support of these initiatives, we will continue to focus on our relationships to important constituents, including alumni abroad, the Berkeley community, and the students themselves.
Berkeley is a special place. It is resilient and creative because of its students, faculty and staff. I am more confident than ever that we will continue as the standard of excellence in higher education.
I want to thank you for dealing so masterfully with the challenges we faced and turning them into opportunities as we prepare the university for the next century.