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Despite dark financial clouds, 2003-04 school year "off to a great start," says Berdahl

- With an entering class as strong as any in campus history, the 2003-04 school year is off to a good start, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said during his annual start of the school year press conference on Wednesday, August 20.

"We're off to a great start, despite those dark clouds that hover on the horizon and the uncertainty that we face in terms of the direction the state will be taking in the years ahead," said Berdahl.

The Chancellor said that while the state financial crisis has hit home, the campus has made a disciplined and thus far successful effort to protect instructional programs. Almost all classes will continue to be offered, the ratio of teachers to students will remain the same, and students should be able to progress toward their degrees without disruption.

"I don't think that students are going to feel a profoundly adverse impact upon their experiences here," he said. "The very essential functions won't be substantially reduced in any important way."

For the first time in many years, UC Berkeley students are seeing an increase in UC registration and education fees. Earlier this month, when the California Legislature adopted a 2003-2004 budget that presented the UC system with deep cuts, the UC Regents approved a 30-percent student fee increase.

Berdahl said the economic blow to students and their families is being softened in many cases by increased financial aid. "We've made a strenuous effort to recycle funds into financial aid to offset costs. Still, we recognize that (the increase in fees) is a burden."

While the state budget's impact on UC Berkeley means dozens of layoffs and unfilled positions, cutbacks in outreach and student services, reduced library hours, and less state money for research, Berdhal said the campus successfully is protecting "the core mission, the educational mission."

The following are excerpts from the Chancellor's remarks:

  • On the California Master Plan for higher education commitment that all students in the top one-eighth of the statewide high school graduating class be offered a place somewhere in the UC system: "In regards to whether or not we are going to be able to meet the expectations and the mandates of the master plan by guaranteeing access to all qualified students ... I think that remains to be seen. I think it would be tragic for the state of California and for the young people if the promise that's been part of California higher education for nearly a half century were to be broken because it is a promise that has built the great strength of this state ... We have developed a workforce that is as well-educated as any and developed an industry that's based upon that. I hope it doesn't happen. But at this point, I don't know that we can possibly tell what whoever is governor will have as their priorities and how the legislature will react to that set of priorities."
  • On faculty retention and recruitment: "It's clear we're in a very competitive situation. We usually, if there are faculty being heavily recruited, make every effort to match those salary offers and have not seen any really significant changes in the pattern of losses. We win about 80-90 percent of those recruitment retention struggles."
  • "We have in place budget strategy groups that will be thinking about what we will have to do if we face deeper cuts next year. We hope that doesn't happen because we really feel this has been as tough a year as we care to have."
  • On preserving the stature of the library despite cuts that will affect library hours and staffing: "I have given a very high priority to the library during my tenure ... It had been allowed to deteriorate in the early '90s. We've recaptured our position among research libraries, and we intend to keep that. Obviously, there will be some reduction in the materials budget, but we've reached a new, substantially increased base for library materials, so I don't see that we'll have a repeat of what happened in the early '90s."
  • On the budget cuts affecting student services: "We have tried to protect particularly the financial aid office, the admissions office and the registrar's office so that essential functions won't be substantially reduced."
  • "The budget will have an impact on the outreach efforts of the university and that will probably have a longer term effect on those inner city schools where we've had close relationships. Certainly federal funds may be made more available with the (Bush Administration) promise of no child being left behind, and if they're forthcoming with help, it will ease some of the impact of state cuts."
  • On Proposition 54 on the October ballot: "Our outreach efforts are not racially directed, they're directed at underperforming schools. So, Prop 54 will not have a direct effect on our outreach efforts at all. I've been on record as opposing Proposition 54 and, indeed, the Regents themselves have gone on record. I don't think it's a good idea. But we will as a university continue to do whatever we possibly can to deal with the fact that we have a number of underperforming schools and students in many inner city schools that need assistance in preparing for higher education."
  • On the 2,900 new graduate students he met with this morning: "They come from 48 states ... and 68 different countries. We have an enormous array of students from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries who really enrich enormously this campus."
  • On file sharing: "It is an illegal act, and we don't condone it, and we do not find it acceptable. And whenever it's called to our attention, we'll do whatever we can to stop it. I think that there is growing recognition among students that this is not the right thing to do. And I do think there is something of a beginning of a change in attitude and culture and recognition that this can put students in some serious jeopardy. And so, between the message from industry and the message the universities are putting out, I think we're beginning to see a change in behavior, but even still, it's still a serious problem at universities, not just at Berkeley. And we're doing everything we can to address it."