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UC Extension Kills English Program, Teachers Angry

Friday January 30, 2004

Instructors at UC Berkeley Extension’s English Language Program believe politics played a role in the university’s decision Monday to terminate the 31-year-old program. 

Faculty members had filed two unfair labor practice charges before the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) in December, claiming Extension officials failed to alert faculty members of changes in teacher qualification and layoff policies. 

“Considering the administrative mess they’re in, they couldn’t have picked a more convenient time to close the program,” said Kimberly Green, one of the instructors. 

Margot Rosenberg, the teacher’s attorney, termed the closure “suspicious,” adding the teachers had been a thorn in the side of Extension by challenging layoffs and might next file charges of retaliation. 

The program has offered English instruction to students from all over the world since 1973. Twenty-six teachers are expected to lose their job when the program shuts its doors to its roughly 2,700 students May 7.  

Jim Sherwood, dean of University Extension, refused comment on the pending complaints, but insisted the decision to terminate the program stemmed from the recommendations of a new strategic plan.  

Using the buzzwords “Berkeley Quality/Berkeley Appropriate,” Sherwood said Extension wanted to shift priorities to programs that better meshed with the university’s mission and resources—which precludes ELP since new language schools have sprouted across the Bay Area, he said. 

But the program has always had a banner reputation, using the Berkeley name to attract an elite group of students. “I know a number of the teachers and I respect them greatly,” said Linguistics Professor Robin Lakoff. 

Dave Winet, an instructor since 1978, said “People send their kids here because it’s Berkeley. Our students are going to be influential in their country some day. I don’t see why Berkeley would want to lose that good will.” 

Especially confusing to the teachers are data supplied to them from the Extension accounting office showing the program remains profitable, netting $2.5 million last year. 

Sherwood insisted the program actually turned a loss, but refused to provide evidence, and said finances weren’t a factor in his decision. “We’re not in the business to make money,” he said. “Finances are a consideration, but we need to focus on meeting our mission.” 

He said the strategic plan, produced by the consulting firm of Moore, Iacofano and Goltsman, identified 15 percent of the school’s 2100 course offerings that didn’t meet program requirements, though so far ELP is the only program to be terminated. 

ELP teachers are not unionized, but say they are the only extension teachers to work full-time and receive health benefits. Their relationship with the administration had grown rocky in recent years, especially after UC Berkeley shut down the San Francisco ELP last year. 

At first only the three least-experienced of the 12 teachers were given transfers to Berkeley, said Bonu Ghosh one of those who was laid-off. She and her colleagues filed a grievance hearing with the university and won their jobs back. 

Confusion from the consolidation has bred more animosity. 

Rosenberg said the university, without consulting the staff, changed rules by giving preference for English-business classes to teachers that met new qualifications including past business experience, a business degree or sufficient business courses. 

Teachers suspected the policy was a ploy to lay-off more experienced, higher-paid teachers, but Sherwood insisted the policy was in line with improving academic rigor in the class.