Budget Woes May Force Faculty Cuts, Says Chancellor

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 28, 2008 - 09:17:00 AM

At his annual back-to-school press briefing Monday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau said the university, in response to ongoing budget woes, would cut back on hiring new faculty and not replace retiring faculty, which would gradually increase the current 18:1 student-to-teacher ratio on campus. 

However, UC officials were quick to point out that the university has not witnessed an increase in students requesting financial aid or students facing delays in receiving funds through federal loans. 

“One thing we need to protect here is education for students,” Birgeneau told reporters. “We need to ensure that we can maintain stability in our teaching programs ... We are less concerned about maintaining programs that are running now and more concerned about funding exciting new programs people come forward with.” 

Fall classes are scheduled to begin Wednesday for more than 35,000 students. New programs and services include a first-ever class for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, a linguistics course on Nzadi—a language spoken by fishermen along Congo’s Kasai River—and a new warning service created to provide emergency alerts and instructions to students through cell phone, text messages and e-mail. 

About 77 new students have enrolled in the Veterans in Higher Education undergraduate program, according to Ron Williams, the university’s coordinator of student reentry and veteran programs and services. 

The passage of a new federal GI bill, which will cover full tuition and living expenses for veterans, is expected to draw more student veterans to colleges, Williams said. 

Undergraduate fees for California residents total $8,932 for two semesters, a 7.38 percent increase from last year. 

Nonresident tuition and fees—$29,535—is also up from last year. 

More than 9,000 new students, including 4,300 freshmen, 2,000 community college transfer students and 2,800 graduate students, are expected to register for the new school year. 

About three-fourths of the incoming freshmen are graduates of the California public school system and 7.8 percent are from other countries. 

Birgeneau said that a couple of programs might have to wait a year or two before starting again and added that the university would increase efforts to ask alumni and friends to donate to the university. 

“Even if we are a public university, we need the philanthropic support that private institutions get,” he said. 

Birgeneau stressed on-campus safety—touching upon the stabbing of UC Berkeley nuclear engineering senior Chris Wootton in front of a campus sorority last spring and the recent string of robberies in the East Bay—and spoke about the new warning system. 

Called “WarnMe,” the service will provide immediate notification to students, faculty and staff about possible threats on campus when they sign up for it. Campus spokesperson Marie Felde said 11,000 students had signed up for the service so far. 

“Part of my speech to students this year will emphasize their personal responsibility toward alcohol and drugs and ask them to be street smart,” Birgeneau said. “Many students come from a rural area and often face challenges in a city.” 

He said that he was against a recent proposal to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. 

“That will push it down to the high schools, and that’s not good,” he said. 

In response to a reporter’s question about the ongoing UC Memorial Stadium court case—on which Judge Barbara Miller ruled Tuesday—Birgeneau said the safety of the university’s student athletes comes first. 

“The sooner we can get them to a safe athletic facility the better,” he said. “The legal issues have delayed that for one and a half years and the people responsible for that should be ashamed of themselves. We are extremely proud of our current and former student athletes, many of whom have made us proud in the Beijing Olympics.”