Berdahl Seeks Expanded Guarantees for Student Housing





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In a sweeping change in university housing policy, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said he plans to extend the guarantee of university housing to undergraduate students for two years and initially offer housing to entering graduate students also.

Student leaders have long criticized the university administration for lacking a plan to dramatically expand campus housing. But during an interview with The Daily Californian, Berdahl outlined new goals to develop housing around campus.

"There will have to be more (housing), and we will be looking at additional sites. ...We've got to provide housing as well for first year graduate students," Berdahl said. "Our goal should be to provide two years of housing for everyone (incoming undergraduate students) who wants it."

Berdahl said the university is looking to build housing on sites independently or with developers.

The chancellor's remarks were the first to reveal the change in how the university will approach the chronic housing shortage.

Currently, UC Berkeley only guarantees housing to undergraduate students during their first year here. But even with the university's guarantee, students are sometimes left in the lurch, awaiting their promised housing even after school has begun.

University housing is already as scarce as it has ever been-more rooms built for two are being filled with a third person. And those who want to spend a second year in the dorms often wait in vain for a spot, and others are left to compete for high-priced apartments.

And until this year, university officials had consistently down-played the housing crunch, saying it was easing up. In August, Berdahl assured reporters at a press conference that the housing situation was becoming less critical because of the slumping economy.

Achieving Berdahl's goal for guaranteed housing is certain to take years, as well as millions of dollars.

The university is already constructing rooms for an additional 1,200 to 1,400 students in the area around Units 1 and 2 as part of the Underhill project.

But finding sites for new housing developments will not prove easy, particularly with city leadership opposed to campus expansion.

Berdahl pointed to "underutilized land on south Shattuck" that the university doesn't own as possible locations for more housing.

"There are other sites around Berkeley, perhaps, not just on the Southside, where we will be looking and talking to private developers about the possibility of developing, or looking at how we might be able to do that ourselves," Berdahl said.

Asked if the university was considering developing on People's Park, Berdahl said, "I don't think People's Park is on the table for discussion at the moment."

The new shift in policy has been in the works since early fall, when the campus Strategic Planning Committee formulated a plan for campus development, including the addition of housing. Berdahl said he has seen drafts of the plan, headed by committee co-chairs Bill Webster and David Dowall, who is also chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. A finalized recommendation to Berdahl is expected to be ready by summer.

The new mission to eventually guarantee housing to first-year graduate students also represents a major shift in how the university recruits them. Dean of the Graduate Division Mary Ann Mason called for graduate student housing to be a priority last fall, saying there is anecdotal evidence the tight housing market can scare prospective graduate students away from UC Berkeley.

Keeping top-notch graduate students coming to UC Berkeley is critical for the campus to remain the nation's No. 1 public university, say UC analysts, and Berdahl agrees. In addition to eventually securing housing for first year fellowship students, Berdahl said one of his major ambitions is to provide "adequate" fellowship support to graduate students.

"We're not as competitive as we need to be," Berdahl said.

UC analysts and graduate students are warning UC c

ampuses to make more competitive offers to top graduate students in order to keep recruiting them. Graduate students say they are able to receive more lucrative offers from other universities.

Adding more pressure to the strained resources of UC Berkeley are the 4,000 additional students the university must absorb by the end of the decade to accommodate Tidal Wave II.

But Berdahl is confident in confronting the student influx with "creative" solutions.

With more funding from the state, he said expanding the summer school program in an important response. Some administrators have suggested making the summer session a full-fledged semester, offering the same courses as in the fall and spring.

Some have criticized the proposal, fearing popular professors who usually teach during the regular academic year will not opt to lecture during the summer.

"Expansion of summer school ... has given us the opportunity to increase the number of students who attend Berkeley without necessarily increasing the number of students who are on campus at a given moment," Berdahl said.

Other ideas include moving programs for students to locations off campus, he said.

Berdahl played down fears that the state's current budget shortfall paints a bleak forecast for UC. Berdahl pointed out that UC received more funding for the 2001-2002 fiscal year than the previous year, though the state budget was reduced.

"I don't see this budget downturn as catastrophic, at least certainly not at the present time. ... I think the economy is turning around ... and we'll see, I hope, continued support from the state for the kind of growth the university has to undergo," Berdahl said.

But worried officials speaking at UC Board of Regents meetings consistently warn of a 10 percent fee hike for in-state students and caps on enrollment. Berdahl ordered a hiring freeze for some employees on campus during the fall to comply with a request from Gov. Gray Davis, because of budget difficulties.

With all of these challenges confronting UC Berkeley, Berdahl says his main ambition for the next few years is fundraising. He wants to fund the Health Science Initiative, an effort to expand teaching and research in the health sciences, increase fellowship funding for graduate students and finish raising money for the East Asian Library.

Another priority is raising $10-12 million for undergraduate education programs that would allow students to use the university's research facilities and "provide an active learning experience for students."

Berdahl is nearing the five year mark in his career as chancellor-what has been the halfway point for his recent predecessors. But he said he has no plans of leaving his post.

"I'll be done when I feel as though I have achieved something that will be enduring," Berdahl said. "I certainly don't see that happening in the short, near term. I got a lot here going on that I want to see completed."

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