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 Stories for April 8, 1998

Carol Christ: Using Change to Advantage

In anticipation of the upcoming inauguration April 24 of Robert M. Berdahl as the eighth chancellor at Berkeley, this is the first in a series of conversations on the topic “Higher Education in the 21st Century,” the inaugural theme.

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 8, 1998

Carol Christ, the vice chancellor and provost since 1994, recently received the new title of executive vice chancellor and provost. She joined Berkeley in 1970 as an assistant professor of English. After chairing the English Department for three years, she was appointed dean of humanities in 1988 and provost and dean, College of Letters and Science, in 1990.

Q: In what directions is the campus moving?

A: First, let me describe the major changes I’ve seen at Berkeley in just the past decade.

  • State support of the university has dropped from 48 to 34 percent.

  • Student fees and financial aid have both shot up. Undergraduate resident fees have increased from $1,347 in 1986-87 to $4,354 in 1996-97. Professional school fees have risen even more. Undergraduate financial aid has gone from $35 million to $127 million.

  • Fundraising has assumed central importance: In 1989, Berkeley concluded its first capital campaign, with a goal of $330 million. We’re now in the midst of a $1.1 billion campaign.

  • Cost recovery has become much more important.

We entered the 1990s as a public institution. We will enter the 21st century as a new kind of public/private hybrid. There will be an increasing similarity between public and private universities. How do we sustain our identity as a public institution in this environment?

Other changes in the past decade:

  • Computers and information technology have transformed teaching, learning, research and administration.

  • The three VERIPs (Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program) led to the retirement of 28 percent of the faculty and a 10 percent net reduction in faculty and staff.

  • The boom in campus construction – to the tune of $1 billion – is the greatest since the 1950s.

  • Freshman applications have increased 40 percent, from about 21,000 in 1988 to almost 30,000 this year. For fall 1998, we have 13,680 freshman applicants with GPAs of 4.0 and above – 45 percent of the applicant pool. We’ve become a highly competitive institution.

  • Affirmative action has been eliminated by regental action and voter approval of Prop. 209.

Q: What are the most important issues facing higher education in the next decade?


  • Making sure it is affordable and accessible;

  • Facilitating cross-disciplinary research;

  • Continuing professional education and distance learning for a population that increasingly changes jobs and careers;

  • Fulfilling the university’s social service mission in order to maintain public support of the university;

  • Building UC’s connection with K-12 schools and other segments of higher education;

  • Developing new relationships with industry;

  • Adapting to the globalization of education. The United States is currently the most important provider of higher education. At the same time, other countries are seeking to imitate the unique synergy we’ve developed between business, industry and the university. So there will be more global competition;

  • Reversing the library crisis, caused by an explosion in printed materials and their cost (12 percent inflation/year), as well as the advent of digital materials.

Q: How is the library changing?

A: The libraries of the future will be very different from the libraries of the present. Even with substantial budget increases, no library can keep pace with its increasing costs. Access will replace possession. We will have to develop cooperative collection agreements with other libraries and work hard on delivery systems so that whatever information resources a faculty member wants are not more than 24 hours away. There will be revolutionary changes in forms of scholarly communication.

Q: What is the most unexpected change you have seen since 1970?

A: The explosion and miniaturization of information technology. When I taught my first freshman composition class in 1970, I had a student write a paper saying that portable calculators, which had just come on the market and were very big and expensive, would soon cost $5-$10 and be very small. I thought this was ridiculous!

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