Student Forum: Chance to Have a Say in Policy

Reema Dodín is the ASUC representative to the Academic Senate. Respond at [email protected]

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Being a number is understandable; I think that every UC Berkeley student understands coming in that they have traded quaint classes and personal attention for access to a great university with renowned faculty, at a decent price.

What is not generally understood are the causes and implications of this. At present the university is suffering from an obvious lack of facilities, faculty and staff, as evidenced by the daily life of a Berkeley student. Classes are huge, yet not enough for all whom need them. Advising is tragically impersonal and inefficient. Departments are forced to cut corners in undergraduate education just to stay afloat. Graduate programs are losing their competitive edge due to nonacademic factors such as housing.

How did this happen? As students it is important to understand the complexities of the system in which we exist, for we can affect it. The university spends thousands of dollars trying to research why undergraduates are taking more than four years to graduate when they could probably get the answer from the average student on the street. Housing, classes, advising, financial aid-these are symptoms of the larger problem: The pressure under which the UC system is suffering as a public institution with political obligations.

As a system, UC schools are experiencing the end of a program called Tidal Wave II, which mandated an increase in student enrollment. The pressures of running a public institution of higher education are numerous, especially in a state as large and diverse as California.

The first pressure is budget cuts. The UC system is experiencing budget cuts from the state-so while they have more people to deal with, they have less money to do it with. The second is the pressure to increase enrollment and to guarantee that all who are eligible have a spot in the system. The third is the pressure to achieve excellence in both teaching and research. A competitive edge in research is not necessarily compatible with teaching, and it is certainly not compatible with budget cuts.

For a school like UC Berkeley, the key competitors for good faculty and prestige are universities such as Yale, Harvard, and, of course, Stanford. So the pressure, perpetuated by competition, is palatable.

One may ponder the futility of discussions concerning resource allocation because, as is usual with resources, they are scarce. But the discussion itself yields many valuable points in the dispersion of these scarce, and waning, resources. Which schools, programs, groups and research projects should get what?

These are the brutal decisions that have to be made, and the student voice is fundamental in making them. Also, the discussion reveals valuable questions, such as: Why does UC have such difficulty with its resource allocation, while other systems, such as the University of Texas or the University of Michigan, are not experiencing such problems? And how much will the completion of UC Merced assist in alleviating these pressures? How does affirmative action or the contemplated removal of the SATs play into the great debates of allocation? How are UC Berkeley and UCLA specifically affected by these conflicting pressures, as top-tier public universities?

Every student should be aware of what happens behind the scenes of academic planning, as we live the practical applications of the politics, pressures, and interests of the great resource battles.

To accommodate a start to this, ASUC representatives to the Academic Senate are hosting an open forum today at 5 p.m. in the Tan Oak room on the fourth floor of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union. We hope many students will attend and contribute their ideas and questions, to a healthy and lively discussion of resource allocation in UC.


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