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 Stories for April 15, 1998

Eugene Garcia: A Rationale for Diversity

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. 15, 1998

Eugene Garcia, dean of the Graduate School of Education, came to Berkeley in 1996 after teaching at the University of Utah, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State, and UC Santa Cruz. From 1993 to 1995 he directed the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

Q: In the short time you’ve been at Berkeley, you’ve become one of the main spokespeople for campus diversity. How large an issue will that be in the next century?

A: I’m deeply concerned that UC, and specifically Berkeley, will not be diverse in the next century. It’s likely to be white and Asian, or mostly Asian. That should bother all Californians. UC is a public institution subsidized by the taxpayers. It should look like California.

And there’s an intellectual rationale for diversity. I fear that if UC becomes homogeneous, that will cut against the grain of a university, where everything should be discussed. UC is at risk intellectually.

This is a problem particularly for Berkeley, where we nurture debate about different perspectives. That’s what makes us so great. There’s more diversity here, in every way, than any other place I’ve been. That’s why it is the most intellectually exciting place to be.

Q: What do you foresee changing in higher education?

A. I don’t see huge changes in university structure, despite the advent of information technology.

What will change is that undergraduate education will become more like graduate education. That’s happening already, with freshman seminars and undergraduate research opportunities. Faculty will become more like mentors and guides, less like lecturers and transmitters of facts.

The K-12 schools are already producing students who expect this type of education – students who have done independent projects, interdisciplinary work, new math. When they hit UC in large numbers, they will demand a different type of education.

We’ll have instruction in different languages – physics taught in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, for example. This is already happening in California’s K-12 schools. The global marketplace is putting these demands on us.

There will be increasing links between UC and the community – in K-12 education, the environment, agriculture. This is a two-way street; faculty work is being defined by these forces. Our graduates will have to work in the community. They can no longer go straight from graduate school to a faculty post.

Q: How do you think the public views higher education?

A: Higher education has a much better reputation in this country than K-12 education. Everyone wants a son or daughter to go to college, but how many parents are excited about sending their children to the local public school?

Incidentally, higher education is no longer confined to universities and colleges. While I was at the U.S. Department of Education, one of our surveys showed that about 60 percent of all educational activities in the country take place outside schools and universities. The business community, for example, is taking matters into its own hands.

Q: How do you think the rest of the faculty regard the changes you predict?

A: Most of us embrace the changes happening in higher education. Getting there is another thing. The danger is in becoming too complacent.

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