Challenges — present and projected
Berkeley’s faculty leader shares further thoughts on collaboration, equity, and — of course — budgets

29 January 2003 |

This is the second half of an interview the Berkeleyan recently conducted with Catherine Koshland, the current chair of the campus Academic Senate. In last week’s exchange, she described the job of the chair (“demanding and multitasking”); discussed the development of new academic initiatives on campus — one outcome of the Strategic Academic Plan she helped nurture; and spoke of the importance of collaboration between faculty and administrators in developing campus policies and priorities.

Two primary responsibilities of your office are maintaining academic excellence and conducting program reviews. Do these two charges overlap?
Absolutely. Though review of departments and programs is administered in part through the Graduate Division, the responsibility for them belongs to the Senate. An outgrowth of the strategic planning process is the sense that our program reviews could be much more effectivethan they currently are. To maintain the excellence we desire, to remain competitive in a very competitive arenas, we needed to rethink our review process.

These reviews are conducted on rotation?
Yes, but it’s a rotation that isn’t really defined. It’s been more like, “Department A has a problem, and it’s been eight years since they were reviewed, so we’ll review them.” Or “Department B has a problem, and while they were reviewed five years ago, we’ll go ahead and review them again.” So it’s been kind of quixotic, and to some degree reactive, often related to a particular issue. I’d like us to move toward a regular cycle of reviews, so a department will know what cycle they’re on, and when their review is coming up — that it’s not being done just because somebody perceives that there’s a problem.

It also occurred to some of us that we need to rethink the structure of the reviews, the kinds of questions we ask, the kinds of data we collect. If we collect certain data annually from every department, for example, you won’t have departments scrambling to pull in all of the information we ask for at the time of the review; it will be available in a regular way. Then the faculty can focus their attention on identifying, say, three to five key questions that they (or the provost or dean) would like to explore.

And would that give you the ability to adapt the review process to a variety of external changes?
Yes, it would. For example, the environment for research is changing. There is an increased emphasis on collaborative research, on team projects, on larger groups of faculty interacting in interdisciplinary areas.

While this campus is stellar at individual, investigator-focused work, we are less successful at institutionally supported, large-scale, collaborative efforts. Part of the strategic initiative process was to begin to develop mechanisms that would allow us to be more responsive … by creating linkages among faculty, where faculty could begin talking about things ahead of time, providing some support for interdisciplinary work, asking them to think through what it would take for them to be successful in these enterprises. And then, we hope, the collateral benefit would be that when NEH, or NSF, or NIH has a call for proposals, we would be in a better position to respond.

What toll do you think the ongoing budget crisis will take on the campus?
So far, all the indications from the Regents and the governor are that they want to protect the university’s instructional core, and they want to maintain access and not limit enrollment. But you only have to look at the governor’s budget proposal for 2003-04 to realize that there are going to be huge impacts on non-instructional areas that are absolutely scary. How we will maintain instructional and research programs without the support structure around them is anybody’s guess. I think that over the decade or more that the Strategic Academic Plan envisioned, and over which we are expected to absorb these 4,000 more students, we will be able to do most or all of the things we want. Will there be a delay? Possibly. The second round of strategic initiatives might be delayed: We’d rather it wouldn’t, but that could happen. Right now all indications are that the resources will be there. But of course it’s not clear where we’re going to put new faculty. Some of the capital budgets are protected because the money that funds them comes from bond measures. But there are a lot of unknowns; we’ll know a lot more as the budget process evolves.

If things worsen, and it becomes likely that programs may be cut, what role will the Senate have in making those tough choices?
Ultimately, the choices are made by the deans and department chairs and their faculty, but there are a number of bodies that have a role. The Senate chair and vice chair sit on the chancellor’s budget steering committee, which sets out the principles on which decisions will be made. Another key body is CAPRA, the Committee on Academic Planning and Resource Allocation. That’s the Senate committee that we’ve asked to take charge in working with the administration on implementing the strategic plan — scrutinizing proposals, reacting to and being proactive about the choices that can be made.

The governor’s budget proposal allocates no dollars at all next year for faculty salaries. For a while there Berkeley was way behind its comparison universities in that area; then we caught up, and now we’re behind again. Does that make it harder to attract top faculty candidates?
We’re not quite as attractive as we might be, certainly not as attractive as we’d like to be. The real estate market has not softened much, and combined with absolutely flat salaries … well, that’s another area where the Regents have said that they’re very concerned, as is the Senate.

It’s been suggested that some thought might be given to simply eliminating programs that are judged not to be world-class. Is that a live option?
It’s always a live option, but, in reality, executing that is very difficult. We disestablished the school of criminology in the early ’70s, and we eliminated the naval architecture department in the last difficult budget go-round. It’s a bullet that very few people are willing to bite.

What’s your assessment of Berkeley’s progress in hiring women and underrepresented minorities to the faculty?
Frankly, I think we dropped the ball for a period of time on this, and we still haven’t completely thought through all of the dimensions of it. I think a lot of faculty struggle with notions of excellence, and of wanting to be color-blind and gender-blind with respect to excellence, without fully realizing that the very way they define excellence may preclude them from seeing the virtues offered by certain groups or individuals.

In what way?
Because they define “excellence” as someone being in their shoes or being similar to them in many respects. And they may not even understand the choices that a candidate might make — of research topics to pursue, let’s say — because they don’t correspond to what the faculty member making the judgment might think is the most important area to be working in.

It can be very subtle. There are issues of collegiality, of comfort, that come into the picture — such that when you bring someone different into the existing mix, you are perturbing the system in ways that aren’t always comfortable for the people who are there already.

Now, there are faculty on this campus who are utterly committed to having a diverse faculty, student body, and staff, who are working very hard in that direction, and who understand that doing so enhances our excellence, doesn’t dilute it. But we have a ways to go in terms of education and in terms of equity. It’s not easy to get out there and make sure that your hiring pool is diverse, and that you’ve made your environment attractive — so that the people you most want to attract will choose to go with you and not with one of our competitors. But we’ve had some great successes, and there’s no reason to think that we won’t have more.

You’re very committed to Berkeley. What’s the source of that commitment?There’s a special energy here, one you can feel when you walk across the campus. Even in the most exasperating situations, Cal is a deeply rewarding institution in which to work. With its rich history, its great scholarly and athletic traditions, its engaging, independent, and creative students and faculty and dedicated staff, it’s hard not to be committed to its present and its future. That may sound corny, but for me it’s true.


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail