A balanced budget, but chancellor’s fall backpack is heavy

September 10, 2019

Fall semester has set sail at UC Berkeley with a balanced budget, new hires to improve campus diversity and a start on growing the faculty. The waters aren’t calm, though. Buildings need seismic repair, low numbers of underrepresented minority students persist, and there’s insufficient student housing. But it’s full speed ahead for Carol Christ, in her third school year at Berkeley as chancellor. Energetic, optimistic, determined and a role model for wellness, she recently talked with Berkeley News about how she’ll navigate the new school year.

Comprehensive efforts also are underway at Berkeley to address our low numbers of underrepresented minorities and to improve the campus climate for these groups. The percentage of undergraduate African American and Native American students, for example, has been in the single digits for decades. Are there signs the situation is turning around?

It’s going to take much more investment in recruitment and yield activities. We’re the UC campus that’s made least progress on diversity; we have the lowest proportion of underrepresented students. We used to be the most diverse campus in the system, and now we’re the least diverse. What happened was Prop. 209. We bent over backward to meet the requirements, but I think we now understand what we can do without violating 209 to increase our applications and yield. There are no restrictions on outreach and yield.

We need to have more robust relationships with feeder high schools that have diverse populations, bring more underrepresented students to campus for summer programs, and try to pursue the students we admit. The new director of admissions, Femi Ogundele, is fabulous, and he’s brought passion and determination and new energy and a lot of new ideas to campus.

For too long, the story has been that Berkeley really cares about diversity, but that we’re not Southern California, which is a more diverse area, or that we’re laboring under Prop. 209. Those are excuses. I believe we can change it. For example, we currently are interviewing candidates for a new job in admissions — an assistant director who will focus on recruitment of students from Native American populations.

Oscar Dubón, our vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, is chairing a task force this semester about our efforts to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution in the next decade. As an HSI, a minimum of 25 percent of our full-time undergraduates must be Hispanic, and the federal designation can bring additional grant funding. Two-thirds of the babies born this year in California were Hispanic, and we need to be more representative of the population.

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Berkeley News