Advocating for Support of Access and Excellence

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Correction Appended

Yesterday's rally and meetings in Sacramento sponsored by the University of California Students Association were the start of a sustained advocacy effort by students to focus attention in the state capital for the reinstatement of funding to the University of California. Many of you travelled to Sacramento and others participated in a "Virtual Rally for Higher Education" by sending e-mails to legislators. As you know from messages that you have received from me, I have endorsed these initiatives and believe that they can be highly effective lobbying efforts.

The Day of Action to Defend Public Education planned for March 4 is expanding these efforts through a much broader agenda, one whose overwhelming message we hope will be unified support for state investment in its educational system, spanning from K-12 through colleges and universities. California, once the nation's leader in public education, has over the last two decades disinvested dramatically in its educational systems. We encourage you to join your voices in advocacy for public education but hope that you will roundly reject those who want to subvert your actions for their own violent means. Occupations, vandalism and violence will alienate rather than win supporters for the noble cause of public education.

As chancellor of UC Berkeley, my goal is to assure for you and future generations of students, the access and excellence that defines our university at its best and maintains our unique public character. Like you, I care deeply and passionately about this institution and its unique place as the nation's leading public teaching and research universities.

UC Berkeley offers California students from all socio-economic backgrounds an outstanding education that competes with the best in the country and in the world. I am committed to protecting your right for access to this caliber of public education.

We must fight together to preserve the education that you have come to Berkeley to receive. Last May we lost $120 million dollars of state funds out of our operating budget, reducing the support from the State of California for your education to 22 percent of our overall budget. Unfortunately some of this loss has to be made up through an increase in fees. Your fees contribute to the cost of your education and to financial aid.

Our universities must be representative of the people of California. Our neediest students are held harmless from fee increases. For those qualified students whose family income is $70,000 or less, the fee increases are covered by Cal Grants and the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan.

Additionally, without fee increases these students would be worse off, because a portion of the fees that everyone pays goes back to helping those in most need to reduce their living costs. However, we realize that the large fee increases that have been required are a tremendous challenge for students from middle-class families. We are aggressively looking for solutions, including increased philanthropy for student scholarships.

I know that many of you are frustrated by class sizes and the inability to register in courses that you need for your major in a timely way, especially gateway courses. We intend to reinvest some of the money that we receive from your fee increases into alleviating these problems; your fees will also help ensure that we continue to attract and retain the world-class faculty that make your Berkeley degree so valuable.

We have engaged in Operational Excellence, an effort to ensure that we function as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The financial crisis that began in the fall of 2008 has touched many of you. Parents have lost jobs or had their salaries reduced, families have lost homes, brothers and sisters may not be able to follow you to college. You are right in these circumstances to want to fight to preserve the things that you cherish, including your right to an excellent public higher education. As your chancellor, I continue to work with our legislators, both in Sacramento and in Washington, to advocate that our State and our nation not lose one of the greatest achievements that has made America a world-leader: its outstanding system of public higher education. Your student leaders are joining me in these efforts.

Finally, during these difficult times, I urge you all to remember our principles of community, not just in how we advocate for public higher education, but how we treat each other. Deplorable hate incidents which have occurred recently on several UC campuses have served as a painful reminder that we must continue to work hard as a campus community to ensure equity and inclusion.

Our fight for reinvestment in public higher education will be hollow if in the end we are not a campus community that fully reflects and embraces the people and spirit of California.

Let us all work together in the coming days and months for public support that will assure that we can maintain a truly public character-the access and excellence that defines our university at its best.


Correction: Tuesday, March 2, 2010
An earlier version of this op-ed was incorrectly attributed to Dorothy Dugger. In fact, it was written by Robert Birgeneau.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Robert J. Birgeneau is the chancellor of UC Berkeley. Reply to [email protected]

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