UC Starts Year With 8 Percent Course Cut, Layoffs

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 27, 2009 - 12:53:00 PM

Budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs and course reductions dominated the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Back-to-School briefing Wednesday, as students trooped back to school for the first day of fall classes. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced during a press conference that despite all the bad news, the university was determined to soldier on to maintain its reputation as a world-class public university. 

Birgeneau said the university learned in late May that there would be an additional $80 million shortfall for the year starting July 1, bringing the total budget deficit to $150 million and sending campus officials scrambling to find new ways to address the cuts. 

“We had a budget plan we thought would work,” Birgeneau said, “but the news from Sacramento changed that.” Birgeneau said the cuts meant that the state was essentially providing zero dollars for 9,000 students. 

UC Berkeley’s budget cuts are its share of an $813 million reduction in state funding to the 10-campus UC system, which the Berkeley campus is hoping to overcome with a hike in student fees and tuition, layoffs, service reductions, and faculty and staff furloughs. 

A 9.3 percent hike in UC fees for undergraduate tuition and other expenses—including health insurance—means that California residents will now have to pay $9,748 for two semesters at the Berkeley campus. Tuition and all fees for non-residents, including health insurance, will be $32,417. 

The university has also cut administrative and service units by more than 20 percent while academic courses took an 8 percent cut. 

UC Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor Susanna A. Castillo-Robson told the Daily Planet that campus officials would have a better idea about the course reductions in the next couple of weeks. 

Castillo-Robson said that, although cuts were primarily made in upper-division electives, some lower-division and service-type courses were eliminated as well, particularly secondary and lab sections. 

For example, the Physics Department eliminated smaller optional classes and combined two sections of the same course into one. 

The Earth and Planetary Science Department is teaching about half of the field trip–based classes that they have offered in the past and cut about 100 students each in courses such as “The Water Planet,” “Earthquakes in Your Backyard” and “Introduction to Oceans.” 

“I think given our situation we are doing very well,” Birgeneau said. “Our hope is to sustain the academic enterprises in the long run. We’ve had very few complaints from students so far, but it’s just the first day of classes. This is really a decision by the people of California. Do they want to see outstanding education or not?” 

Birgeneau said the furlough program would cut pay by 4 percent for lower-paid employees and 10 percent for those in the higher-pay bracket. 

“Unfortunately there will be some layoffs—we feel really bad about it,” Birgeneau said, adding that pink slips will be given “across the spectrum,” affecting everyone from senior to service employees. 

Faculty will not be laid off, but the university has instituted a hiring freeze, limiting the number of new hires to 10 new searches over the next two years. The overall size of UC Berkeley’s faculty will decrease by 100 over the next couple of years, Birgeneau said. 

Birgeneau said there was also some good news amid all the gloom and doom. The university saw only 35 students who have not yet registered for any course due to various delays. This compares with about 400 last year. 

“We have done our best to make cuts in line with our priorities, and protecting academic programs was our top priority,” said Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom. “Even where cuts to student services are unavoidable, we have worked hard to take them in a way that has the least impact on teaching and learning.” 

The university saw a staggering demand for financial aid from the current economic climate and fee increase, with more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students receiving $141 million in financial aid, an $11 million increase from last year. Students were able to take advantage of the state-funded Cal Grants, which survived the budget cuts, and the federal Pell Grants, which are meant to help applicants from low-income families. 

However, as more people continue to lose their jobs, the number of appeals filed by parents for financial aid has more than doubled. The campus is also making short-term emergency loans available so that students can buy books and take care of immediate needs. 

University officials estimate that more than 9,400 new students, including 4,300 freshmen, 2,250 transfer students and 2,900 graduate students, will register this fall, with another 1,150 freshmen and transfer students due in spring. 

Of the new students this fall 76 percent attended California public schools, while 7 percent are international students and 100 students are Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. 

The new freshman class is 42 percent Asian-American and Filipino, 31 percent Caucasian, 11 percent Latino, 2.5 percent African-American and .4 percent Native American. Thirty-one percent come from Bay Area counties, while 21 percent come from Los Angeles County, followed by 18 percent from other parts of Southern California, 11 percent from the rest of Northern California, 8 percent from the Central Valley and Inland Empire and 5 percent from out of state. 

Underrepresented minorities make up 15.2 percent. Women make up 55 percent of the freshman class and 27 percent of new students are the first generation in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree. The average GPA of the incoming class is 4.25. 

A silver lining has appeared in the form of fundraising and fellowships, with the campus raising $306 million in donations from alumni, parents and friends last year which will go toward research and scholarships, faculty chairs and funds, libraries, athletics, facilities and program support. 

UC Berkeley’s business and law schools have come with new initiatives to help needy students. The Haas School of Business launched a temporary MBA loan program that will provide up to $20,000 in loans to U.S. and international students ineligible for federal student loans. The UC Berkeley School of Law forgave an unlimited amount of law school debt and some undergraduate debt for alumni working for nonprofit interest groups or government agencies who earn less than $65,000. Earlier, the amount of debt to be excused was capped at $100,000 for alumni earning less than $58,000. 

The business school is also reimbursing loan payments for recent graduates who earn less than $80,000 a year and work in nonprofit and public service sectors.