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Chancellor Birgeneau's address to staff

This is a transcript of the speech by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, delivered April 26, 2006, to an all-staff meeting sponsored by the Berkeley Staff Assembly.

5 May 2006

Watch a video of the chancellor's address

So as we were coming up, I was saying to myself, gee, I wonder if anyone will turn up, so that’s great. So first of all, obviously thank you for inviting me to the Berkeley staff assembly.  I believe I came last year right, and it was quite helpful to me in my first year, just listening, even listening to some of the complaints, which by the way I don’t mind. And I’m quite pleased to participate in the tradition of an annual BSA sponsored address to staff. Is there water?

(We can get you some.)

Yeah, if you don’t mind. I was commenting as we were walking up the hill, one of my pleasures in coming to Berkeley, which is probably obvious to you, but its always refreshing for a new chancellor, is how much pride the staff take in Berkeley and in Berkeley’s role in the state, nationally and internationally as a premier university.  And I think this is really important  since chancellors are usually faculty members; sometimes they’re excessively focused on faculty issues, which I’d like to assure you I am focused on faculty issues, but also student issues and staff issues.  And it’s really a pleasure here at Berkeley, as I said, how much pride that staff take in the University—in Berkeley. And let me again thank all of you for all the hard work that you do. Berkeley is obviously a great university not just because of its faculty or staff—faculty and students—because of the excellence and dedication of its staff. I’ll just set it down there. [Drinks water]

Staff is being too helpful [Laughter]. Thank you. People have probably heard me say this before, that if the faculty announced that they were not going to turn up for a day, then the students would all go off and cheer. If the staff announced they were not going to turn up for a day, the University would just stop, and nothing would work, and so I think that measures the relative importance. Clearly at Berkeley, we have in the past, we do now and in the future, we continue to face a lot of challenges. But again, if we don’t have a first rate staff, first of all, buildings won’t get built and looked after; research grants won’t be funded; students won’t be admitted, enrolled, advised and graduated, as well as fed and housed to name just a few things that our staff do.  And obviously the excellence of Berkeley can’t happen without excellence staff work at every single level. Whether you’re a long serving staff member or one who has recently joined our ranks, you’re part of a great tradition building and supporting this remarkable university and helping it achieve the place it has in the state of California and the nation, and in the world.

What I’d like to do, and probably I’ll just try and answer questions, is review a few of the things we’ve been doing, and which we’re currently engaged in to keep advancing Berkeley’s leadership excellence. First of all at the senior leadership level, I made a commitment right in the beginning—that we needed to have leadership of the administration that would be absolutely of the highest caliber. That is you needed a person who was overall in charge of the administration, who would—it turns out to be literally true—who would stand tall and be able to give the staff a voice at the table that would be able to command respect of every single person. And in order to accomplish that we created the position of vice chancellor of administration, with the sort of basic idea being that we would—Berkeley’s a democracy so I can’t say that we have a triumvirate, but there’d be three key people—the chancellor, the provost and the vice chancellor of administration who would work intimately together on overseeing the enterprise. And it ended up some of you got very impatient because the search ended up taking longer than we hoped, but that’s not because of a shortage of good candidates.  It was actually a surplus of good candidates for the position and we were extraordinarily pleased to be able to recruit to our campus from JP Morgan, Nathan Brostrom, who’s now the vice chancellor of administration. [Applause]

And I can tell you since we literally just came from two budget meetings in a row, where different unions were presenting their budgets, that Nathan’s depth of understanding of finance in administration and his insights are already having a big impact. Second major of these three people that has come along is the provost position.  And the provost—I was very lucky when I arrived here, actually—that first of all , that Bob Berdhal had just put together a terrific leadership team which I inherited, and essentially all of them had stayed in place I would have been happy with that especially in the academic side.  

But natural turnover is happening now and will continue to happen, but specifically provost Paul Gray decided that he’d served with me for two years, he’s been absolutely terrific, but he decided that six years of service as provost was—probably had used up 18 years of his life, on a 3:1 ratio.  And when he projected forward he decided that he didn’t want to gamble with anymore sets of three, so he has decided to step down, and I’m extremely grateful that we’ve been able to convince George Breslauer, whose currently the executive dean of Letters and Science, to take over as the executive vice chancellor and provost and he will take over July 1st.  And he’s been meeting regularly with Paul Gray to make a smooth transition and he’s—particularly today he participated in the budget meetings. While I’m sitting here let me also say that in this period before Nathan came, both Bill Webster and Steve Lussig, in their interim roles, just did fantastic jobs and I can assure you, you are extremely well represented professionally and I’m really grateful to both of them. Steve is back, hard at work in his new position. Bill Webster has been since then has—how many countries has he been in?


Yeah, he’s had 80k miles of travel since he stepped down from his administrative position.  And so I’m very excited about the current leadership team we have with George and with Nathan. Let me talk about a couple of staff issues.  As I meet with staff across campus, one of the things I hear most consistently is the need for staff development.  Staff tell me that they want better training and opportunities for meaningful career development and mobility, and concerns are also raised about leadership development of younger staff as our longer staff—longer serving staff get closer to retirement. 

You may know we had a retreat actually down in Irvine to talk about transition issues and succession issues and staff training was really important part of that retreat. So were taking all these issues extremely seriously. As part of the vice chancellor administration portfolio, restructuring health and human services have been consolidated under Associate Vice Chancellor Steve Lussig, and the staff training is one of the issues I’ve asked Steve to really look extremely closely at and make sure that we make progress on, so his new health and human services cluster in administration offers us a chance to look carefully at the training offered across the university to eliminate confusion and duplication, and to ensure that we have strong and coordinated programs. And in particular, Steve and his staff are taking the lead to ensure that we have effective staff development programs.  And a number of these, such as the new career place website in the Cal’s program which support basic skills and writing are already in place. And of course I’m already getting very good advice on this front and continue to work with him and the chancellor’s advisory committee and staff. We are forming under Steve’s direction, a new office which will be called the Office of Workforce Development, which will examine the current and future needs of the campus and set priorities for staff development programs. And by looking at all these programs holistically, we can ensure consistency across crew development, recognition, and performance management programs to move staff forward in their careers and meet the needs of the campus. This of course will cost some money and we’re also prepared to invest resources in it.  These new staff recognition and development programs will be implemented over the summer and fall. And these programs will both reward employees for demonstrating the skills valued by our campus and support employees who want to further develop these skills.

Steve is also leading our efforts for ensuring an effective performance management program—in this case, performance management has literally begun at the top.  I actually have to do a detailed managed report to the Office of the President, but I’ve similarly, the day I turned up, partly through a system of retreats asked each of the vice chancellors reporting to directly to me at the beginning of the year to state what their programs are going to be and what their programs are going to be, to be accomplished that year.  And at the end of the year—they have last year already, and each year provide me with a written report of exactly of what they did get accomplished, and what they didn’t get accomplished.  And these will actually not just be yearly reports, but I want reports that are actually two components, as there are—as all of you know—things that can be accomplished in a calendar year, or twelve month period, and there are other things that are really five year goals, and so we tend to have these subdivided.  I ask people for both short-ranged things that they can get done in a limited amount of time, and the long range things—each year—to make progress reports, how we’re actually doing.  So this has already been implemented at the senior level. 

We’ve communicated to managers and supervisors that an effective performance management system requires attention to the employees, development needs, and not just any valuation at the end of the year.  And the resources that human resources have provided to supervisors this year include guidance on how to help employee plans for career development. 

Another issue I’d like to talk about briefly is staff diversity.  In particular, I want to talk about how staff development relates to diversity.  As I have met with underrepresented minority groups, staff development is clearly an issue.  Our underrepresented minority staff tend to find themselves clustered in the lower-pay staff positions, and less represented in the middle and higher end positions.  So this year, the Academic Senate and the Chancellor are sponsoring a workshop on May 9th which is titled, “Diversity in Action: Strengthening Excellence in our Workplace.”  And this forum will launch a new project on equity and diversity which will be focused on UC Berkeley staff.  We had one last year which was student and faculty oriented, and this forum this year will explicitly focus on staff issues.  And I must say at the forum last year, one of the things I found quite uplifting was that a significant number of the attendees were actually staff, even though it wasn’t particularly staff focused last year, and afterwards I had a lot of conversations with people, and I think I got the most interesting and insightful questions, and comments from the staff people in the audience—who came up afterwards, so it was really tremendously exciting.  I also should mention that we’ve been talking through and I’ve had meetings with representative groups of staff, with student groups, and with faculty groups to create a new senior executive position which will lead the diversity efforts for the campus as a whole and ensure a holistic approach to creating a welcoming environment at Cal.  One that includes is faculty, students, and staff—and you’ll hear more about that at the diversity forum on May 9th.  We’re far along in that, actually.  I’m a deep believer for issues like campus climate; you can’t just address campus climate for students, or for faculty, or staff separately—they all interact strongly, and if we’re going to make improvements in campus climate and have this be an institution where people who belong to underrepresented groups, whether that be ethnic, or physically challenged of what have you, feeling isolated as if there not as much a part of the university as everyone else is, and so we need to approach that holistically.

Let me now turn to some current issues that were not facing. I think everyone understands that one of our fundamental challenges is that we are a publicly funded university, whereas overwhelmingly the institutions that we compete with are the private elite universities. I actually spent the last two days in Washington DC with the so called AAU—which I’m proud to say Bob Berdhal is the president of and these are the top 60 research universities in the country; all the presidents meet twice a year. And again I had northwestern on one side of me and Columbia on the other—it goes by alphabetical order of the names, not of the institutions but the presidents, and small talk with them showed what a different situation the elite privates are in right now compared with us at Berkeley. Then I got a phone call from my assistant saying ‘guess what the chronicle did today’, and I actually didn’t feel so badly about it because two seats away from me was Dick Broadhead, the current president of Duke. That’s literally true, I got up this morning, turned on the television and there was Dick, so anyway, clearly to remain competitive we must offer competitive salaries.  And we see this particularly with the privates, the competition is salaries for faculty, although it also affects the rest of the university. Private universities are now outbidding us for the top graduate students by many thousands of dollars and so clearly we have to make progress on the financial front and all fronts—obviously I understand that’s staff fronts as well. As you know, my joke about the Chronicle, salaries have become the focus of much attention in recent months and a lot has been said about transparency and about reporting to the regents, and I just couldn’t agree more in terms of the need for transparency. However in all of this, we must not lose the central message which is that we must have compensation policies and practices that allow us to continue to advance our edge as one the nation’s leading research universities.  So no matter what happens out of all of this, we have to emerge competitive with the very best institutions.

This also means we must have equipment to improving compensation for our staff. I know that the regents, the president and the chancellors recognize the staff demoralization that came from several years of low salary increases, I know I talked to lots of you in my first year here and you gave me an earful, which I absorbed, and as you know we’ve begun to address the issue with an increase of 3.5% which I know is just the beginning. We’ve also implemented equity increases for over 600 UC Berkeley non-represented employees who were deemed to have the largest market lags with high turnover rates. And if there are questions about that maybe Steve can answer some of the specifics. If you look on the website or if you read the Berkeleyan, I guess it’s tomorrows’ issue, you’ll actually you’ll see that were the first UC campus to raise our baseline wage above the living wage level, and so as of April 1st, it’s retroactive, the baseline wage at UC Berkeley is now $11.25/ hr. This affects about 180 employees and represents salary increases by as much as 20% for some people. [Applause] Thank you.

And I can say honestly because, I know some people think we should have done better, and I wish we had the resources to do a lot better, but I think it is important to at least get up to a living wage level as a first step and as a symbol for the system, and we’ll see what’s possible as we go forward.

As you know, one of our important challenges is that the state budget in the 70’s, the state provided more than 50% of our budget. And now in terms of our operating budget, the budget that pays salaries, it’s now only 30%. And so the financial model of the university has really evolved. Let me give you an aside to this, on the state part, one of the things I’ve been doing a lot of and I’m about to do it again at 2 o’clock, albeit locally this time. Frankly, my biggest fear about all of the newspaper articles certainly isn’t personal fear, you know if I had to become a professor again I’d become a professor again, it’s that there will be sort of random arrows shot from Sacramento, and we’ll end up with a reduced UC budget.

And the irony is the people that will hurts us, all of us including, but the staff, frankly I really hate to say that but its true,  if there’s an overall reduction in the budget because of this, because of less than ideal handling of executive compensation, so I’ve literally been going up to Sacramento essentially every week. This has not been part of the pattern of Berkeley chancellors to go up to Sacramento, it was just not part of the tradition, but I just looked at the situation a number of months ago and sort of said I just can’t sit here basically, and not let the people of Sacramento, including those who are most angry at us at least talk to people who represent individual campuses as opposed to the central administration. So I’ve been going up there quite regularly. I know I’ve established very good personal relationships with Nunez, with Perata, with Torlakson, with Carol Liu—with a whole series of our assembly people and important senators in Sacramento. When they come on campus I meet with them as often as I can, and with a basic message of just trying to tell them what Berkeley really is about.  And educating them on what were trying to accomplish here, who our people are, how dedicated our staff are and just trying to make sure that their ultimate focus is on what we do as a university and how important it is to the state, including—you’ve probably heard this statistic from me if you’ve heard me give speeches, but its amazing how poorly understood the social role of the University of California plays in California is by people up in Sacramento.  And so the number I’d like to quote all the time is that if you look at the number of undergraduate students we have at Berkeley, you come from family who’s family income is $35,000 per year or less.  And it turns out that fully one third—I just looked at the data, the newest data—35% of our students are in that category, I mean that’s astounding.  I used to be at MIT, and at MIT it was like 8%.  And so if you say, how many students do we actually have who come from poor family backgrounds, it turns out that we have more students—more undergraduate students on the Berkeley campus who come from working class families—families who’s incomes are $35,000 and less—than all of the Ivy League universities put together. [Applause]

And it turns out that two thirds of our African American undergraduates are in this category—are from very poor backgrounds; almost two thirds of our Chicano Latino students are in this category, coming from very poor backgrounds, etc.  Actually we have so few Native American students—I don’t think we even have enough data on them.  That’s also an issue that we’re trying to challenge.  So, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is to find new sources of financial aid for people from poor backgrounds.  And we have some ideas which I believe Nunez and Perata are going to take forward, which will be an add-on.  I can tell you that on these kinds of issues, Berkeley absolutely plays a leadership role in the system in terms of a commitment to…[Applause]…thank you.

The other thing—another major area that we’re putting an awful lot of energy is private fundraising.  I’m a strong believer in a principle I learned in my provost at the University of Toronto—which is a simple statement.  Money is money.  And so the more money you can get into the system the better off you are.  Even if the money appears to be dedicated to one particular purpose, it may then free money for other purposes.  And I’ll tell you that we’re working hard with the legislature—I’ve also, by the way, been interacting continuously with Schwarzenegger’s staff people as well.  He’s a little more difficult to access, but his staff are fairly, readily available actually, so I see them almost every time I’m up in Sacramento.  And although the compact promises some increased funding, over the next four years, which will enable us to keep salary increases for everyone—I don’t want to give exact numbers, but let’s say three, four percent range and equity increases.  In the long run, every one of us knows that’s not good enough, and that we need to find new sources of income.  And an important part of that—and here my experience at MIT and actually even at the University of Toronto helps—which is that we really need is to increase the amount of funding we have from private sources significantly.  That does not mean we’re going privatize the university.  We are not going to privatize the university, this is a public institution.  But we need to, as a public institution, to function at the highest level that we can.  So we’re in what’s called the quiet phase of a fundraising campaign which will go public in about a year, and the purpose is to raise a very large amount of money privately, and last year we raised—in one year we raised $318 million, and this year, we’re actually ahead of the curve of last year.  So we’re really quite hopeful.  And so this philanthropy is really extremely important and some of it will go build buildings, but—I won’t give you the whole story—but I am personally extremely proud of the money we just raised from Dick—the gift we got from Dick Blum, to establish an initiative here at Berkeley for us to use the strength that Berkeley, including our students, to address issues of global poverty. [Applause]

And this will actively involve students and staff, and will have a public service component associated with it, in which our students will actually go off to developing countries and find out what it’s actually like.  And Dick put up $10 million.  I had one of these experiences that is great as a chancellor—I was down in Los Angeles, actually just about to meet with the donor, who by the way, based on the sort of visit we just made, gave money for various things.  About a half a million dollars for our charter school down in Oakland, which is a great success, cause he was so moved by what we’re doing there.  And the phone rings and it’s Dick Blum, and he said he was thinking about his ten million more, and said we really need more money for this.  And said, suppose I put up another five as matching money, how much should we be asking from other people?  So we’ve been five minutes negotiating human psychology strategy of what kind of match you need to give to donate to something worthwhile.  So we decided on two to one.  So the aim actually—so he put up another five million with the idea that that would be matched by ten million from other donors.  So we may, in the time scale of another year, have the astounding amount of $25 million, which will be focused on programs that—educational and service programs that are addressing poverty at an international levels.  And I think that’s just—obviously it’s a tribute to Dick Blum.  I’ll give you on anecdote which is how we got to ten million in the first place, which was that I got interviewed about this sometime ago by a L.A. newspaper, and they asked me how it would take.  So I said ten to twenty million, and it turned out that I had forgotten that Dick Blum, who I first discussed this with, I had said five to ten million, so it was literally at the big game, and Dick was there, and we were sitting in the President of Stanford’s box—and there was Dick Blum with Diane Feinstein, his spouse, and he said, ‘Where did this ten to twenty come from?  I told you five to ten.’  [Laughter]

So I said, Dick, let’s compromise at ten, it’s fine.  And then—this literally happened—Diane Feinstein turned to me and said, ‘No, no, don’t give up so easily.  He can afford twenty.” [Laughter]  So even though I wished that Diane Feinstein’s approach on the immigration was a little bit different, it was really great for this.  So, let me just say this, that’s an example I could tell you about stem cells, or I could talk about the charter school in Oakland.  There are a lot of interesting and exciting things going on here at Berkeley.  We have a lot of challenges every one of you knows.  We can’t—we’re not going to achieve what we need to without excellent faculty and outstanding students, but most especially a superb staff.  And without all these three components we cannot have a great university.  So thanks for inviting me, and I’m happy to answer your questions. [Applause]

Question: there is a new housing loan – something like the California FHA that could assist UC Berkeley staff to buy houses in the Bay Area.  Could you please look into that?

Answer: Nathan, this is your job, did you know about this? [laughter] We got the best person possible for this –so yes is the answer.  Nathan will.

Question: Although there are a lot of classes for leadership and management, is there any sort of accountability for management and staff?

Answer (by Steve Lustig): I think that’s kind of a multifaceted question and it’s a really important question cause one of the issues we’re trying to address in any sort of training is what impact did it have both on the individual’s job satisfaction and career growth and on the institution that it was designed to address.  And we’ve tended to evaluate programs on whether people enjoy the workshop and not “did it accomplish what we wanted it to do?”  One of the goals of the performance management effort is to address that very issue: what’s its accountability, what needs to be changed at the end of the year, and how to we follow through on things, including how do we adjust our programs so that they really do address the needs that people are both expressing and that get assessed in management.  I that addressed slightly the question.

Question: what are the top strategic priorities that we as staff at any and all levels should be focusing on?

Answer: First of all, and Nathan will be working with all of you , which is that the whole range of ways we think we can be more efficient and cost effective in running the University and we’ve been going through those and information systems, student information systems, is one of them today.  I think accessing the entire talent pool through acuity and inclusion is an important one.  I’m told that there are some departments where underrepresented minorities feel that they’re explicitly not welcome and other departments where they’re very welcome, and I think we have to – well, that’s just not acceptable.  We have to make major progress on that arena.  On the capital construction side and facilities, we have huge challenges in order to figure out how to contain costs so that we can be able to ensure that we have facilities that are at the cutting edge for the 21st century.  Those are just a few.

Question: By my clock we have just five more minutes, so we’re going to roll right along….what are your plans to change the impact of 209 on staff hiring and retention.  You can elaborate further.  And the related questions – cause staff is concerned about this at all levels – what is the campus strategy to increase the student body diversity, particularly African American and Latino?

Answer: So, thank you for both of those questions, and they’re related.  And I find now when – this is really directed at students not at staff cause you all have more than full time jobs, in fact one of the things I thought you were going to ask me was workload, maybe that’s the next question [laughter], which I know is a concern for all however, since I’m probably the senior staff person and I probably work 80 hours a week, my wife is saying, what are you doing about the workload problem [laughter] for me. 

Student come to me regularly and say, you know, sometimes in an aggressive and not always in a totally friendly tone, you know, what are you – why don’t we have more underrepresented minority students and what are you doing.  Then I sort of reflectively in my first year here tell them about programs that we have.  Now I don’t do that anymore and I respond immediately that you asked the wrong question.  And the right question is, what are you doing? Now, I control myself not to talk about being a child of the 60s, and time in spend in the south as a civil rights worker and all that.  I grew up in an era where it never occurred to me when I was young to ask the senior administration what they’re doing cause I thought they were irrelevant [laughter]; I hate to say it…it’s true.  I even got fired from my job at Bell Laboratories for 24 hours but got rehired because of opposing some of the military weapons work that they were doing – anyway, that’s all a separate thing.  So, but you know, life changes, that’s what happens to former activists, if you’re successful, you end up in a leadership role. 

But anyway, frankly, that does affect how I think about things and I have lived in California for less than two years and so maybe there are other solutions, but led by Chris Edly, who I’ve become very close to, and a lot of other people here, I have frankly come to the conclusion that to make the kind of progress we need, we actually need to reverse 209 [Applause].  That’s one of the subjects that I’ve been discussing actually with Chicano-Latino legislators up in Sacramento, which is what is our possible strategies.  So to give you a specific number, and we’re going to run out of time, I want to say this very quickly cause I am now saying it at every opportunity I get. 

If you actually look at the data, the voting patterns 10 years ago when 209 was voted on, then 209 actually failed in the Bay Area and Greater LA area, but failed by small amounts, and there were huge majorities the other way outside of those two metropolitan areas.  But if 400,000 people out of our population, which is approaching 40 million, 209 would not have passed.  And that’s actually a pretty small number.  Now currently in California there are 4 million unregistered voters in the Chicano-Latino community alone.  And so, my view is that a massive voter registration, plus voter education, plus getting out the vote – all 3 of those are equally important – that if it’s what the people of California want, it is possible to reverse 209.  I believe it’s what people want, but I also have discovered in lots of conversations with lots of people, people have very complicated responses.  It turns out, it’s fine when it’s third party, but when it’s there kids, etc, it’s a complicated issue, and that’s why I think voter education is at least as an important part of the challenge as the other two parts.  People have to understand the effects that it’s having on California.  The other thing is, the people who are not convinced by fairness arguments, I just say the practical thing, that you look at the demography of California and what it’s going to look like 20 years from now, we’re educating too few of the leaders of the communities that are going to be in the majority 20 years from now. [Applause]

Moderator: I think that was a very impressive answer.  It’s clear you’re informed and care deeply.  I’m going to acknowledge some of the other question that have come up and assure you that that the Chancellor will be responding because we are running out of time.  But I think that these are also important themes.  As you can imagine they revolve around pay, pay equity, the proposals that we start contributing to the pension system, and that would undercut any pay increases that we might have.  What are you plans to raise clerical administrative staff salaries that lag behind CSU and other public institutions – so things along those lines.  So keep keeping up with inflation.  You already heard about being able to afford housing.  Some concerns about President Dynes’ leadership regarding pay increases.  And this is a concern that I share, the change in the office of the UC treasurer, which we know has nothing to do with our level, but nonetheless was a change that didn’t seem to have to do with performance evaluation where the treasurer of 25 years was asked to leave and then replaced by someone who was a friend of someone high up in the administration.  And that made us more concerned for our pensions, pay increases, and benefits.  So just to acknowledge that’s in the room and that we will be addressing those concerns.  Thank you all so much and thank you Chancellor Birgeneau. [Applause]