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Chancellor Birgeneau brings upbeat message to Academic Senate

| 27 October 2004

In his debut appearance before the Berkeley Division of the UC Academic Senate, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau offered a cautiously optimistic prognosis on future state funding for UC and an emphatic endorsement of the public nature of the university.

“I’m a deep believer in the public-service aspect that our university offers,” Birgeneau told the Senate’s fall 2004 meeting on Oct. 21. He has already heard, he said, from a number of people, including donors, who believe that the only strategy for the future “is one that takes us in the direction of privatizing the university. I want to state unambiguously and unequivocally that if Berkeley wants a chancellor who will lead in the privatization direction, it should find someone else and I’ll go back to the lab,” he said to much applause. “I came here explicitly because of the public nature of Berkeley, and the leadership role that it has played as a public institution. My response to some of these people has been that a privatized Berkeley is just another private university, but with a rather small endowment.”

Despite three consecutive years of budget cuts, Birgeneau expressed the belief that the bloodletting would be stanched relatively soon. Among Democrats in Sacramento in particular, he said, “There is no ambiguity of commitment … to strengthen the financial base of the UC system. We have every reason to expect our budget situation will improve over the next few years.”

The new chancellor also offered words of praise for Berkeley’s across-the-board excellence. In the future, he said, the Big Questions “will no longer be solved by an Einsteinian figure alone in his or her office at 2 a.m.” Instead, he asserted, they are “going to require exactly the kind of breadth and depth we have at Berkeley.”

Following his brief remarks, Birgeneau fielded questions from faculty that collectively expressed, as one Senate member put it, “a grab-bag of things that people are nervous about.” These included management-heavy campus hiring, a bifurcated salary system (based on merit from some, market rates for others), the health of the Library, and the state of academic freedom post-9/11.