Students, union worker meet with administration to discuss OE

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Correction Appended

A total of about 50 UC Berkeley students gathered with food and a football on the lawn outside of California Hall and waited as four of their peers and one union worker met with campus administrators Friday afternoon to discuss their concerns surrounding Operational Excellence.

The two-hour meeting, a result of negotiations between campus officials and nine protesters who sat on Wheeler Hall's ledge on March 3, involved the discussion of issues such as increasing oversight and student involvement in Operational Excellence, a cost-cutting project aiming to save the campus $75 million annually that has drawn criticism from students, faculty and staff who said they feel that there have been communication and transparency issues throughout the program's planning process.

"I'll start with the positives, I guess," said sophomore Marco Amaral, who addressed the crowd first about the discussion of consolidation issues with the Cesar Chavez Student Learning Center. "But it is clear that two hours was not enough time to discuss everything."

Despite contention before the meeting over which four students would attend the meeting - four students representing those who sat on the ledge or the ledge-sitters themselves - junior transfer student Zachary Aslanian-Williams, senior Taylor Kohles, junior Anna Jaffray and Amaral attended, in addition to Abel Salas, a groundskeeper at UC Berkeley and member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. ASUC President Noah Stern and Graduate Assembly President Miguel Daal also attended the meeting.

The students - who met with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer, faculty program head for Operational Excellence Andrew Szeri, Chief of Staff for the Office of Student Affairs Felicia Lee, Associate Chancellor for Government, Community and Campus Liaison Linda Williams and Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs and University Communications Claire Holmes - said another meeting would be required to fully discuss all of their demands.

Before the meeting, the students compiled a list of five primary demands, as well as eight "Band-Aid issues" presented in writing at the meeting. Demands included canceling benefits decentralization and forming an oversight team made up of union representatives, graduate student instructors, lecturers, faculty, staff, students and former campus employees who have lost their positions as a result of the cuts to supervise the initiative's implementation process.

Holmes said in an email that a number of issues were discussed in addition to Operational Excellence, and that Birgeneau strongly urged the meeting attendees to be proactive in lobbying for more state funding in Sacramento.

"Although no commitments were made, the administration felt that some interesting ideas were suggested, mostly having to do with continuing the work of engaging students in Operational Excellence and communicating through a variety of avenues to reach more students," she said in the email.

As the meeting went on, the crowd outside California Hall heard from speakers including UC Berkeley School of Law lecturer Stephen Rosenbaum, professor emeritus of physics Charles Schwartz, ASUC Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein and Badr Albanna, the ASUC student liaison to Operational Excellence.

"So far, we can look at blueprints of this machine, and we can watch it work," Albanna said. "One thing that we can't ask is why ... this isn't the only machine we can use to deal with this budget crisis."

UCPD Lt. Andrew Tucker said he could not give exact numbers on the number of extra police officers standing around California Hall, but said the group was very cooperative and communicated well with the officers.

"We hope that there is a successful exchange of ideas and we are happy to facilitate free speech on campus," he said. "Hopefully everyone goes home safely."

After listening to the speakers, the group broke up for teach-outs on direct action, budget cuts facing the university, the basic structure of Operational Excellence and the university's relationship to nuclear development.

Pouneh Almasi, a UC Berkeley senior who stopped by the crowd to talk with Goldstein about the structure of Operational Excellence while walking back from class, said she would "definitely" be willing to participate in an initiative team in order to make the initiative more understandable for students.

"I really never understood how the decisions were being made until now," she said.


Correction: Thursday, April 14, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that graduate student Eli Friedman was part of the group of students who met with the administration Friday. In fact, junior transfer student Zachary Aslanian-Williams took his place.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Katie Nelson and Alisha Azevedo at [email protected]

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