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Berkeley Launches New Plan for Responding to Campus Deaths

By Gretchen Kell, Public Affairs
Posted August 18, 1999

To help enhance a sense of community on campus, Berkeley is launching a broad-based plan for responding to faculty, staff and student deaths.

The newly developed program, requested by Chancellor Berdahl, includes a proposed expansion of catastrophic leave-sharing to include bereavement; guidance on condolence letters, flag lowering and emergency loans for travel; and an email notification system when deaths occur.

"We want our campus to be a caring, human place," said Berdahl. "That means we not only celebrate each other's accomplishments, but that we are also compassionate and supportive in difficult times."

"How we handle death in our community reflects how we value the people in our community," added Carol Hoffman, manager of campus work/life program development at University Health Services.

The cornerstone of the campus's new plan will be a brochure and web site giving departments and units step-by-step guidance in handling every aspect of a campus member's death.

A 24-member campus "deaths workgroup," co-chaired by Hoffman and Assistant Chancellor John Cummins, was organized last year to identify issues that arise when a student or a faculty or staff member dies. The team also looked at existing campus protocol and procedures for dealing with a death, which can involve up to 30 different departments or units.

"We discovered that supervisors and managers here at Berkeley were unprepared for handling such an event," said Hoffman, "and that there were great inconsistencies in campus response to deaths, depending on who was involved in responding and how the death occurred.

"This often caused increased pain to the survivors and affected productivity and commitment to the workplace over the long run," she noted. "One of the goals of pulling this all together is to prevent unnecessary pain.

"The new process," Hoffman said, "should lend some guidance on the handling of the response to achieve a more consistent approach."

Berkeley's new response to a death in the community arrives at a time when baby boomers are "beginning to open the closet door on death," said Guy Micco, clinical professor in the Health and Medical Sciences program and a member of the deaths workgroup.

"This is the kind of thing that a large institution can bury or put off onto small departments without any kind of overarching campus plan," he added. "The downside is that dealing with death becomes hit-or-miss and depends on the effectiveness of a department leader, or on how much money or time a department has to give.

"When you have a unified way of dealing with death," Micco noted, "it feels better for the community, knowing that we take care of our own in a way that's important."

Berkeley's new response to death includes:

An email notification system when a death occurs so that information is conveyed in a timely way to the dozens of departments and units required to respond.

A chancellor's memo alerting the campus to the new guidelines and supporting use of university time and money, as permitted by law and contracts, to provide a compassionate response to survivors.

A web site with separate instructions on how to respond to the death of an undergraduate student, graduate student, visiting scholar or postdoctoral appointee, staff member or person in an academic position.

A plaque, installed on the campus flagpole, bearing a certificate in honor of the deceased. The flag is flown at half-mast. After that day, the certificate is given to the family.

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August 18 - 24, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 2)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail berkeleyan@pa.urel.berkeley.edu.