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Ethnic Studies: An Open Letter From Chancellor Berdahl

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Ethnic Studies: An Open Letter From Chancellor Berdahl

Posted May 12, 1999

Photo: Chancellor Berdahl

To the Campus Community:

I am able to report that the protest over Ethnic Studies has been concluded with an agreement between the Department and the Administration, brokered by the Academic Senate, regarding the future of the program. Because of the confusion and incomplete and often inaccurate information about the current state of the Department, I believe it is important for me to clarify the plans for the future as defined by the agreement.

I strenuously object to the tactics employed by the students, with the support of many faculty in the Department, to raise their concerns about the status of Ethnic Studies at Berkeley. I have, however, developed a fuller understanding of the concerns that they have raised.

During the past decade, the permanent faculty budget of the Department has not been cut; the temporary academic staff budget has fluctuated slightly, depending on needs and resources, but it has been consistently one of the largest in the Division of Social Sciences. Nevertheless, the Department has currently three faculty vacancies as a result of assistant professor separations that it has not been allowed to fill because of administrative and Senate concern about the adequacy of the Department's planning. In addition, two faculty members have announced their intention of retiring after next year, and several other retirements are likely. Over a period of six years, therefore, the Department, with a permanent budget of 18 FTE, faces the prospect of as many as 10 vacant positions. Furthermore, the field of Ethnic Studies has, within its relatively short history, been undergoing substantial change. Perspectives on ethnicity have broadened beyond the national focus that characterized its early years to issues of migration and transnational encounters. In the face of these impending changes both in the composition of the Department and the intellectual focus of the field, it is imperative that the Department develop a plan that will secure a strong program in the future.

The agreement we have reached is designed to construct such a plan for the Department's future. Within the framework of University processes overseen by the Department, the Dean, the Budget Committee of the Academic Senate, the Provost, and the Chancellor, I have agreed to support eight searches over the next five years, three to fill the current vacant positions and five to replace retirements anticipated over that period. To develop a five-year plan, I will appoint a committee, which Senate Chair Brentano has agreed to chair, which will be composed of Department faculty, other faculty with expertise in the field from this campus and others, and students.

I have also invited a proposal for the formation of a center, focusing on race and gender studies, for which I will provide seed money. Drawing upon the research on issues of race and gender currently done by faculty in many disciplines across this campus, we hope this center will achieve benefits of synergy and community for participating faculty and graduate students similar to those brought by the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities. I have asked Professor Charles Henry, the Faculty Equity Associate and Professor in African American Studies, to chair the planning group for the center.

The agreement further addresses requests of students: a review of space allocated to the Department; assistance in recruiting admitted transfer students interested in Ethnic Studies; the replacement of the multi-cultural student center, which was lost when the building in which it was located was condemned; and the permission, subject to the normal review of campus art, for a mural to be located in space occupied by Ethnic Studies in Barrows Hall.

Finally, the agreement addresses the student violations of the Code of Conduct. Students who were not arrested but were cited and released no more than two times, and have no prior Student Conduct violations, will receive letters of admonishment. The remaining students will be subject to the normal Student Conduct process. In cases where criminal charges have been filed, we will follow our normal practice of reporting the outcome of the Student Conduct process to the District Attorney's office.

I deeply regret the lack of trust, cooperation, and confidence in reasoned discussion that have made the controversy of the past weeks so disruptive. It will take time and effort to rebuild that trust and confidence, not only of the Department and its students in the campus, but also of the campus in the Department. But I am confident that we have a basis upon which to build a planning process that will provide the Department with a strong and secure future.


Robert M. Berdahl


May 12 - June 8, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 34)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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