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Chancellor birgeneau at press briefing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau briefs the press Wednesday on campus issues, including new initiatives to foster diversity and inclusion. (Steve McConnell photos)

Vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, a new post, to join campus leadership team
Chancellor Birgeneau, in meeting with local press, also announces selection of three diversity-research initiatives to receive new FTEs

| 23 August 2006

A new cabinet-level position, a record-breaking fundraising year, and a trio of new diversity-related research projects were announced by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau at a press briefing Wednesday in California Hall.

The Berkeley campus will add to its top leadership team a vice chancellor for equity and inclusion - one of the first such cabinet-level positions in the nation and the first in the UC system - to "enhance significantly" a key goal of his administration, Birgeneau told members of the media. While a number of colleges and universities have a high-level adviser on equity issues, he said, these administrators often have neither staff nor authority. Berkeley's new vice chancellor will have both at his or her disposal as tools to enhance access, climate, and inclusion - not only for underrepresented minorities, but for people with disabilities and the LGBT community, and not only among students and faculty but among staff as well.

Chancellor Birgeneau
'We need to prize our diversity and learn from it and to appreciate people for being part of the whole but also for what they as individuals bring to Berkeley.'
-Chancellor Robert Birgeneau

Read more excerpts of the chancellor's remarks on Berkeley's efforts to foster diversity and inclusion.

A national search to fill the vice-chancellorial position will begin soon after Labor Day.

Marking the culmination of a two-year effort, Birgeneau also announced the selection of three projects, from among a wide field of finalists, for funding under the new Berkeley Diversity Research Initiative (BDRI). The selected projects focus on racial inequities in urban public schools, the root causes of health disparities among diverse populations, and diversity and democracy.

"Just as in my field of physics we expect to play a leadership role in revealing the fundamental constituents of the universe," he said of the new research initiatives, "we need to lay bare the fundamental aspects of multicultural societies. In the same way the California has led in technology, it also leads as a living laboratory" for such societies.

Birgeneau said that six FTEs have been assigned initially for the new interdisciplinary research clusters, "and we expect that [number] to grow."

Under the BDRI, new faculty hires will collaborate with existing faculty across a wide range of disciplines on diversity-related research themes and, eventually, instructional programs. (The precise allocation of FTEs to the three selected initiatives has yet to be announced; once that occurs, full coverage of the initiatives will appear in these pages. See previous Berkeleyan coverage of the BDRI. )

Record fundraising year
Citing a recent accomplishment he described as "frankly extraordinary," Birgeneau announced that the campus raised just under $348 million in gifts and pledges in the past year - "by far the largest amount ever raised at Berkeley" and "at or very near the top" among public universities (excluding medical-school contributions). (More details on the fundraising milestone.)

On the parallel effort to garner state support, he said that UC fared well in the budget signed by the governor over the summer. One caveat, he added, is the increasing burden that financially disadvantaged students are being asked to bear - typically more than $30,000 that they must supply through work and loans by the time they earn their bachelor's degree. He expressed hope that the state will create a new financial-aid program involving a mix of private and public funds - a proposal he has been discussing with interested parties in Sacramento, he said.

Birgeneau noted that the goal of private fundraising is to "ensure that we can continue to excel as a public institution. Our public character reflects itself in many ways, most dramatically by the fact that more than 30 percent of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds" - an accomplishment he characterized "as one of the signatures of public universities, as distinguished from private universities."

Describing the incoming undergraduate class, he cited a "slow but sure" rise in underrepresented minorities, "creeping up" over the past several years from 12 to 16 percent of the incoming class. (More details on the incoming freshman class.)

Research collaboration with LBNL
Looking to the future, the chancellor announced a major new research effort aimed at addressing climate change and making California and the nation energy independent. Led by Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the research will seek ways to convert plant material to energy - by such means, conceivably, as converting corn stalks to sugar, then ethanol, or designing crops that would be optimal for biomass conversion. He said Berkeley will collaborate with LBNL, UC Davis, Stanford, and possibly other institutions to seek U.S. Department of Energy funding. (The Department of Energy recently announced $250 million in funding for two new Bioenergy Research Centers that will, the agency says, "accelerate basic research on the development of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels.")

"We intend to compete aggressively to bring these funds from Washington to California and have California play a leadership role in climate issues for a world threatened by global warming," said Birgeneau. But the campus intends "to go forward with this whether we are successful with DoE or not," he added. "This is going to be a really important role that we as a public university in California" can play.