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Letter from Chancellor Berdahl to the UC Berkeley community: On the heels of a very good year, worry about the fragile future of public higher education

Dear Friend,

 Chancellor Berdahl
Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl

When you are new to the Berkeley campus, you first experience the Campanile as a majestic landmark. Later, you find that you hear it as much as see it, subconsciously tallying the strike of the bells or delighting in an unexpected, but sublime concert as you hurry across campus. Finally, after a time here, you simply feel its presence and you know, then, that Cal has become a permanent part of your life.

I realized this the other day when I looked up and the hands were missing from the west face of the tower. One takes for granted that the clock will be there. The hands had been removed because we are fixing the Campanile's clocks, and new parts were being hand-forged. All four clocks will soon be back in operation, ready for decades of service.

Still, the Campanile reminded me that the things — and the ideas and the promises — that we prize so dearly, could be forever lost if we fail to attend to them. I do worry about the fragile future of public higher education. The once-inspired vision of public higher education as a vital public good appears lost, buried in budget wrangling and politics. In California, where the Master Plan guarantees a college education to any student who is prepared and a UC education to all who excel, the stakes are so much higher because what we have to lose is so much greater. California's great promise to succeeding generations — the envy of every state in this nation and of countries around the world — faces its most serious test ever as state funding deficits drive fees higher and jeopardize enrollment growth. This is one test, I believe, we can not afford to fail; a promise we should not allow to be broken.

In good times, or in challenging ones, the University must move forward. In this summer letter, I hope you will see how our unequalled faculty, our impressive students, and our talented and dedicated staff are working harder and more diligently than ever to sustain the promise and the excellence that distinguish this great university.

Engaging new areas of inquiry

This spring we took an important and ultimately far-reaching step by setting the course for the campus's academic future. Building upon the foundation established by the UC Berkeley Strategic Academic Plan, we challenged our faculty to define the most critical new areas of teaching and inquiry to undertake as we move into the 21st century.

Five "New Idea Initiatives" were selected as the most important new areas of inquiry to pursue. They are Computational Biology, Nanosciences and Nanoengineering, Regional and Metropolitan Studies, New Media (exploring technology to communicate truth and beauty and how to best incorporate new media into modern life), and The Future of the Planet (studying the Earth's environment, the changes wrought by human intervention, and how we can manage or mitigate those changes). These initiatives are compelling on their own, but what makes them especially exciting is that they are all interdisciplinary, involving a large number of departments and disciplines across campus. They are the first to come from what we hope will be an ongoing process of bringing new ideas forward.

Milestones reached and projects completed

As we embark on developing these academic themes, we continue to make major progress on completing our ongoing initiatives, including the Health Sciences Initiative (HSI) and the renewal of the campus infrastructure. HSI reached a milestone in May when, with Governor Gray Davis and UC President Richard Atkinson on hand to distinguish the occasion, we broke ground for the Stanley Biosciences and Bioengineering Facility. When the $162-million building is completed on the site of old Stanley Hall in 2006, the work done in the new facility will lead to major new advances in life-saving medicines and cutting-edge technology. New generations of students will be trained and inspired by their experiences there.

The new Stanley Hall will be impressive for its size and its design and engineering. It will be eight stories above ground and three levels below ground. And even though it will be but a few yards from the Hayward Fault, it is being built to absorb even the most minute vibrations, an essential requirement for the sophisticated research that will take place. Our new California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, known as QB3, will be housed there, as will parts of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

We have completed the award-winning restoration of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building and reopened the historical gem this year for teaching and research. Across campus, the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library is well underway and is due to open late this fall. And I am especially pleased to report that, with the reopening of Wurster Hall, we have now completed the most critical aspect of our monumental seismic retrofitting program. All of the large classroom buildings that six years ago were rated very poor – those that posed the greatest threat to life safety – have been strengthened and upgraded.

Advancing knowledge on all fronts

Up-to-date facilities are essential, but the creativity, inspiration, and excellence of our faculty are vitally important to the advances in knowledge we celebrate. This spring, a team of Berkeley chemical engineers delivered a great ray of hope when they announced they had developed a less expensive way to make an anti-malaria "miracle" drug that is urgently needed in Third World countries. The breakthrough combined genes from three separate organisms into a single bacterial factory.

Berkeley research, information, and public policy expertise are being brought to bear in many ways to assist our nation's homeland defense and cyber-security efforts. The UC Berkeley Project on Information Technology and Homeland Security, housed in the Goldman School of Public Policy, is drawing expertise from across campus to address vulnerabilities in U.S. information technology, be they in financial markets or in port administration. And several research efforts by CITRIS faculty are drawing interest at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security. Professor Edward Lee, for example, has shown how a combination of global positioning system software and modifications to avionics could make it impossible for airliners to breech no-fly zones.

Making headlines around the world, Professor Tim White announced the discovery of the oldest known fossils of modern humans. The skulls of two adults and a child found in eastern Ethiopia fill a major gap in the human fossil record. Professor Randy Schekman received the prestigious Lasker Award for breakthrough work in cell biology. Three faculty members, including the campus's most recent Nobel Laureate, George Akerlof, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, bringing to 128 the number of UC Berkeley faculty elected to the academy. In addition, 13 Berkeley scholars were elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, joining 216 Berkeley faculty who have received that honor over the years.

The world comes to Berkeley

Once again, this was a year when we engaged with the world. And while we did not always reach answers, understanding blossomed and revealed the unique value of a public research university. We worked hard with enormously committed faculty in international studies, journalism, law, and public policy and with student leaders and community organizations to provide opportunities to share expertise, feed curiosity, and display passions. This engagement produced an amazingly fruitful energy.

In the fall, Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, spoke on the prospects for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Later, Edward Said, the well-known scholar and political activist, offered a different view on securing peace in the Middle East. Both spoke to capacity audiences at Zellerbach Hall. In April, a panel of Berkeley faculty convened to discuss the economic, political, and regional implications of the U.S.-led war on Iraq. The enlightened discussion was broadcast nationally over C-SPAN. In a decidedly less public gathering, but one of potentially huge international importance, the Berkeley campus played host to an unofficial visit by representatives from North Korea, including its UN ambassador. The officials, along with representatives from the United States and several Asian countries came to campus to open a dialog on threats to regional security and tense global relations at an international conference hosted by the Institute of East Asian Studies.

Delivering the campus to you, everyday

If we've made progress in bringing the world to the Berkeley campus, we've worked equally hard to bring the Berkeley campus to you through greatly enhanced use of the Internet. All of the events I noted above and many more have been covered on our new NewsCenter on the Internet; many are webcast with sound and video. The debut of the NewsCenter and the @cal alumni portal put the heart of the campus just a click away from anywhere in the world.

Among the many features on NewsCenter is my new web-based radio-style talk show called Bear in Mind. We tape it monthly during the school year, giving me a chance to explore in-depth the richness of our campus community. My student guests have ranged from Ankur Luthra, our University Medalist and Berkeley's first Rhodes Scholar in 14 years, to two new freshmen learning the ropes in their very first week at Cal. And, I still can not shake the grim picture of human rights violations painted by Professor Eric Stover shortly after his return from the Iraqi war zone. The Bear in Mind website (you can find it by following the multimedia link on the NewsCenter site) has each show archived. The new season begins in September; I hope you'll listen in and let me know what you think.

Improving the student experience

This summer one Berkeley undergraduate is learning foreign affairs firsthand, interning at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Across the globe, a team of four Haas School MBA students are in Borneo trying to help a farmers' consortium turn rattan cultivation into a profitable and sustainable business. Because we know experiences like these are what make a Berkeley education so special, we are constantly working to improve research opportunities for graduate and undergraduates alike. Soon, we will be expanding upon our hugely popular freshman seminars, offering undergraduates an opportunity to work closely with senior faculty in their sophomore year as well.

When I first arrived here six years ago, students complained loudest about a shortage of housing. I don't hear that concern anymore. The rental market softened, certainly, but we also greatly accelerated construction of new student housing, employing a variety of approaches — from apartment-style residence halls to in-fill housing at the high-rise units and a mixed-use project partnering with a private developer in Albany for retail and family housing. In all, by 2005, we will have added more than 1,200 beds to the campus's student housing stock. We're also doing our best to make sure students eat better. I understand the Fire and Ice Mongolian Grill is a big hit at the new Crossroads dining facility.

A very good year for Cal fans

With women's tennis capturing the NCAA doubles title to close out the year, Cal Athletics enjoyed perhaps its greatest overall season in school history — fielding 12 teams that finished among the nation's top 10. The football team, inspired by incoming coach Jeff Tedford, completed the most notable single-season turnaround in the country, posting a winning 7–5 record and bringing the Axe home where it belongs. Men's basketball, led by coach Ben Braun, ranked as high as 18th during the season and advanced to post-season play for the fifth consecutive year. Women's softball forced extra innings in the NCAA championship game, but fell one run short of repeating as national champs. And women's golf won the Pac-10 and NCAA regional competitions this spring, earning coach Nancy McDaniel national coach-of-the-year honors.

Investing in the future

Given the downturn in the economy, it is not surprising that Berkeley's overall fundraising totals were not on par with our recent string of record-breaking years. And yet, in raising $164 million, we received more gifts from individuals this last year than ever before. In all, 75,406 gifts were made to the campus, a seven-percent increase, showing that our alumni, parents, and friends continue to support the campus, even in difficult financial times.

Clearly, this is a time when we, and all of public higher education, need support — financial and political support. As you certainly know, the state's budget crisis is hitting higher education hard. At Berkeley, we are taking a number of steps to cope with budget cuts, working to avoid eliminating classes or delaying in any way our students' progress toward graduation. All non-instructional programs are taking significant cuts; employee layoffs are expected; and faculty and staff will see no across-the-board salary increases. And still, students will face substantial fee increases. For many families — those who meet federal guidelines for need — the fee increase will be covered entirely or in part through financial aid. Yet, with the cost of a year at Berkeley, including campus housing, books, and living expenses, exceeding $20,000, investing in a student's education is more difficult than ever. For those who are scrimping and borrowing to meet this challenge, I assure you there is no greater investment in your children's future, or in our own, than a university education.

No one felt this more deeply or invested more of himself in Cal's future than Chang-Lin Tien, one of the most beloved members of the Berkeley family. When Chang-Lin passed away in October at the age of 67, this campus and all of higher education mourned. We lost a great teacher, a remarkable scholar, and an unforgettable chancellor. We bid him farewell at a memorial service in Zellerbach Hall, but just like the Campanile itself, his presence on this campus will always be felt.

A final word

There is no way around it, the coming year is going to be difficult for everyone on the Berkeley campus. But as I hope this letter underscores, there is so much excellence, so much accomplishment, and so much love and support to celebrate here, I am certain that, working together, we are up to the challenge.


Robert M. Berdahl