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Implementing change in Berkeley

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics | February 14, 2017

Some of the readers of my blog post on reenergizing Berkeley asked me: How do you suggest to implement all these changes, and this is my perspective[1].

First I believe that we have been operating without a long-term plan for some time now and our decisions have become piecemeal. We need to establish a coherent vision with a planning process. Also, since interaction between the Academic Senate and administration has become increasingly cumbersome, the long-term planning needs to be managed by a joint faculty Senate committee. It needs to identify directions for change that lead to growth, academic excellence and a sound financial situation taking into account changing realities of technology, science, politics and finance.  The joint committee will be in charge of the initial proposal including the design of the planning process with mechanisms for adaptation and self-correction. The way to grow out of our deficit is through smart growth and working together through an effective plan can lead to it.

At the start of the process we need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our campus—which existing efforts should be expanded, which should be reduced and what are the areas which require further investment to enable further growth, and take advantage of emerging opportunities. This planning project will require that units on campus present their self-assessments to the committee including suggestions for improvement. It sounds very bureaucratic, but my experience in the budget committee suggests that departments have the capacity to develop these evaluations in a timely manner.

The challenge of the committee will be to interpret assessments, obtain additional input, and produce an initial plan that will go then to a vote of the Senate. It may be rejected initially, but then it can be adapted based on input. My experience tells me that with the right mixture of people, we can expect sound recommendations rather soon. I know that this type of reflection is difficult, and may encounter resistance as we all are vulnerable and are worried about change. But, our current situation requires this difficult adjustment. The long-term plan should be about reorganization, allocation of resources, and plans for growth and cost-savings. It would also have a crucial element of budgetary planning, including a long-term strategy for fundraising. We need to identify our priorities, to share it with potential donors and work out a creative vision and an effective plan to achieve it.

Now who will be on the committee? I suggest to have a committee of 9 to 11 individuals, including, say, 3 administrators (perhaps a past provost or senior vice chancellor for research), 4 members of the Academic Senate, and 4 leading alumni and friends of Berkeley. The committee should be balanced by discipline, age, gender, etc. It may be worthwhile to consider an internal committee with an advisory board.

I expect that the committee will result in some reorganization that will make the campus much more effective and appealing to outside donors. One of the big challenges is to think about a coherent design of the colleges. Personally, I would like to see few, larger colleges, each engaged in undergraduate, professional, and PhD programs with strong research and outreach. These colleges can work more closely through integrated programs. We need colleges that are sufficiently large to take advantage of economies of scale, but small enough to allow students and faculty to have a family feeling. I believe a strong school of media that incorporates information, journalism, aspects of computer science, and elements of the humanities will be very appealing, while opening new avenues of research and sources of funding. A strong school of international or sustainable development that integrates aspects of natural resources, city and regional planning, innovation, and many of the international programs, can provide creative educational programs, open new avenues of research, and build new alliances and resources. A large school of health, education, welfare and perhaps policy can enhance the synergy between the different schools, be efficient with resources, and produce a new and dynamic image. Our prominent position in both molecular and ecological aspects of biology could be emphasized in a school of biology, that may also have strong connections to schools of engineering and chemistry. These are only some examples that reflect my bias, but they suggest the changes we need to go through.

One outcome of the self-assessment is identifying our deficiencies, and the planning committee will provide suggestions on how to address them. We can do so, for example, through alliances with other universities, both at the UC level and around the globe. We can develop a new policy that will allow us to utilize adjunct professors and other partners for research, teaching and outreach. We should also consider expanding and diversifying our academic offerings to include more short courses, certification programs, and clever use of the internet. We have several challenges: to develop programs that allow students to use their time more efficiently as well as develop mechanisms for life-long learning and joint education with strategic partners in industry and government.

As I see it, we need to increase the number of students we have. We can utilize resources on campus, and I believe that we have a great asset in Richmond, which can be used for student housing and partnership with other universities and industry. For example, part of academic planning thus needs to be thinking of efficient mechanisms for resource, and especially real estate management. This can serve to help us grow and build strong relationships in the municipalities and communities we reside. A related issue is more efficient use of space on campus. We need to recognize the reality that people work at home and many need less office space. We can replace quantity of space with quality, and get much more from the facilities we have.

Obviously, one of the main challenges any reform faces is that it may change the workload or type of work of faculty. Today, I perceived that faculty members are mostly concerned about seeking out resources for their own research program, and leave most of the development effort to administrators and professionals. But we have to become an important part of the development office – think of creative educational programs and initiatives and work to expand the resource base of campus. Our external resources are limited. We, alumni and our supporters need to share more of the bottle to allow us to grow and further excel. The political reality today gives an opportunity to shape a strategy that allows us to present and provide hope, and we will get support from sources that have not supported us as much before. I’m afraid that we are facing a period of political dark ages, and Berkeley should present an enlightened alternative that hopefully will lead to a renaissance. To do it, we need to work more as a team, dare to change, and realize that together we can be more resilient and sustainable.


[1] Like everyone else, I hope that the new chancellor will provide new direction and leadership, but some observations and proposals may make our jobs easier.

Comments to “Implementing change in Berkeley

  1. Hello, I agree with Anne Pardee and would hope to not be too presumptuous in including graduate and undergraduate student representatives (who may have a more realistic understanding of the current state of affairs than alumni or friends of Berkeley)

  2. David, great piece of mind boggling work. Also, I think, you need to reflect more on the challenge of governance as “inherent in institutional and administrative constraints” As you innovate and creatively enhance quality against quantity to efficiently and effectively optimize use of scarce resource, cutting back on fiscal transfers has limitations for long term institutional sustainability. Best wishes. Patrick

  3. Adding to the basic set up as mentioned above I suggest to develop a “Change Roadmap” that shows what you want to achieve and at the same time illustrates the barriers that have to be overcome along the way. It creates a common idea and helps to focus the energy on the milestones ahead. This makes things easier to execute, since the “Mountain of Work” suddenly becomes a step by step plan that can be handled. And each milestone deserves a party.
    I hope your initiative will motivate many Berkeley members to actively engage in the framing and shaping of the future of this world renowned institution.

  4. Dear David,
    Thank you for these clear and thoughtful insights which provide a much needed path to re-energizing Berkeley. I especially liked the suggestion that a joint committee include a representatives from the “leading alumni and friends of Berkeley”. I would strongly suggest that “friends” (as well as Alumni) also include representatives from the City of Berkeley – the town of the “Town and Gown”. I believe it’s mandatory and healthy to acknowledge and respect this synergistic relationship – neither can exist without the other.
    Respectfully yours,
    Anne Pardee
    Berkeley Rotary Club

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