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‘Hot button’ issues dominate Birgeneau’s first Cabinet meeting
Faculty and staff compensation, classrooms and support for students are among challenges posed by campus leaders

| 23 September 2004

The first Cabinet meeting of Robert Birgeneau’s chancellorship, which convened on Tuesday, Sept. 21, a day before his official start, focused on ways to maintain Berkeley’s character and preeminence in the midst of unprecedented challenges.

Flanked by outgoing Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl, and surrounded by 16 members of the 18-member Cabinet, Birgeneau asked each of the vice chancellors, associate vice chancellors, provosts, and vice provosts in attendance to discuss the issue of greatest importance in his or her sphere of responsibility.

For Jan DeVries, vice provost for academic affairs and faculty welfare, the hot-button issue is the growing faculty-compensation gap. Berkeley faculty typically earn from 15 to 25 percent less than their counterparts at the six leading private universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Cal Tech). Steve Lustig, acting vice chancellor for business and administrative services, spoke for staff and their concerns, which include salary but also career growth issues and a desire for better engagement with the university’s mission. Lustig and DeVries worried that Berkeley’s ability to recruit and retain the best staff and faculty is at risk.

Recruiting and retaining the best students were the hot buttons for the acting dean of the graduate division and the vice provost for undergraduate education. Joe Duggan and Christina Maslach argued for better learning spaces and teaching tools for all students, as well as more resources for those studying for advanced degrees.

Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations Scott Biddy provided the broad outlines of a new capital campaign that would address many of these funding issues. He underscored the observations of many that Berkeley and its nine sibling campuses can no longer count on the state and its political leaders to fully fund the University of California.

Several cabinet members focused on what Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Genaro Padilla called “an attack on the very character of Berkeley.” Compliance issues involving the Patriot Act, and new security-driven federal restrictions on research, represent what Birgeneau called “challenges to the ideals of academic freedom and equal access.”

Associate Provost for Faculty Equity Angelica Stacy, noting a sharp decline in the number of underrepresented minority students on campus, proposed creating an interdisciplinary research initiative to design strategies that would ensure Berkeley’s leadership in the statewide effort to assure equal access to quality education.

“None of this is new to me,” said Birgeneau, who added: “The Berkeley community should understand that our problems as a public university are not unique. What is unique is that we compete not with other publics like the University of Michigan but with elite and well-heeled privates like Stanford.”

The clear message was that the issues confronting Berkeley offer an opportunity for leadership. “We should not be cowed by these issues,” insisted Berdahl. After listening to the discussion, a confident Birgeneau — the grateful recipient of “welcome” gifts from the Cabinet ranging from books on UC Berkeley history to a flak jacket — said that his experiences at the University of Toronto and MIT have prepared him for the challenges laid out before him.

In response, campus counsel Mike Smith chimed in playfully, “This is your first day ... we’ll save the tough issues for later.”