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A cohort to envy
Berkeley’s new faculty arrivals hear about the campus’s traditions and opportunities from those who know them best

| 02 September 2004

The newest crop of Berkeley faculty got a whiff last week of what one campus veteran called “the Berkeley tradition of growing our own,” as a parade of experienced Cal hands welcomed them to the quirky land of blue and gold.

“Quirky” was a word used by several speakers, and a concept acknowledged by most, as they outlined the pitfalls and promise of the academic life at UC Berkeley.

Chancellor Berdahl, who on Sept. 22 will hand over the keys to his office to Robert Birgeneau, sought to reassure some 60 newly arrived teachers and researchers that, budget crunch notwithstanding, “We have better support than any other public university in America.… We are very determined to remain competitive.”

Jan de Vries, vice provost for academic affairs, told the group they were joining Berkeley at “the nadir of budget stringencies,” a reference to UC’s compact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which aims to reverse the trend of annual funding cuts starting in fall 2005.

Representing the future

For the most part, though, the daylong orientation session, in the Lipman Room of Barrows Hall, steered clear of present financial straits, focusing instead on Berkeley’s singular history — from its humble beginnings in 1868 through Rube Goldberg, Mario Savio, 18 Nobel laureates, and the enduring Cal-Stanford rivalry — and the bright future facing the latest additions to the Berkeley faculty, including another 20 new hires not in attendance.

“As I look around, my strongest emotion is envy,” said Paul Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost, who came to Berkeley three decades ago. “You represent the future.”

Christina Maslach, vice provost for undergraduate education, arrived on campus in 1971; such longevity, she said, was evidence of Berkeley’s tradition of cultivating homegrown talent. By way of launching the newcomers on successful careers of their own, she explained the difference between TAs (teaching assistants) and GSIs (graduate student instructors) — that is, none whatsoever — and pointed them to the
online “Faculty Guide to Campus Life” (facultyguide.berkeley.edu). She also advised the new cohort to get involved in freshman seminars, “a great way to get to know students” and an environment in which “you can be a little more creative” than in standard courses.

The incoming chair of the Academic Senate, Classics Professor Robert Knapp, said Berkeley’s longtime “passionate commitment to continuing the efficacy of shared governance” means that faculty here are “essentially in charge of our own future.” Faculty’s views on such issues as hiring and promotions, as expressed through the senate, are “taken very seriously” by the university’s administrators, he said.

Berdahl, noting the new crop of faculty had “very good opportunities to go elsewhere or to stay somewhere else,” said Berkeley “is very supportive of your scholarship, and we want to make sure it stays that way. If it doesn’t,” he joked, “let us know — or at least let the chancellor know.”

Clearly in a jovial mood, and perhaps looking forward to the arrival of his successor, Berdahl continued that he’s been promising alumni that Cal will go to the Rose Bowl this year. “Of course,” he added, “I won’t be around to be blamed if we don’t.”

On a more serious note, the outgoing chancellor, a professor of history and public policy, told his listeners he hoped to encounter them “as colleagues” in the coming months, “as I try to transition to faculty.”

As for Berdahl’s soon-to-be colleagues — who also heard about mid-semester teaching evaluation forms, compliance with sexual-harassment guidelines, and the “wild ride” they can expect from Berkeley’s top-flight grad students — their concerns seemed modest. In an informal, table-by-table poll conducted by Angelica Stacy, associate vice provost for faculty equity assistance, they voiced near-universal praise for the quality of departmental staff and senior faculty. Their complaints centered on issues such as the high cost of living in the Bay Area, the long waits for larger classrooms, and the lack of a centralized information resource to help them navigate the sprawling, quirky, and still unfamiliar waters of UC Berkeley.