Public Comment

The Bad News for UC Berkeley Students

Harry Brill
Thursday July 13, 2017 - 04:40:00 PM

UC Berkeley students are experiencing two serious problems -- larger classes and unaffordable housing, As we'll see both of these issues are intertwined. UC Berkeley recently announced that it has offered freshmen admission to more than 15,500 high school students for the upcoming academic year. This represents a 7.6 percent increase from last year. Among the students who were offered admission, at least 17 percent will actually accept the invitation. That comes close to 3,000 students, not including those transferring from a community college.

Unfortunately, the University made no real effort to obtain sufficient funds to hire more faculty to adequately accommodate the incoming students. Without a comparable increase in faculty, many students will be taught in overcrowded classrooms. Large classes tend to lower the educational value and experience of students, as these classes appreciably reduce the opportunity for student participation and to interact with each other.

UC Berkeley's decision to increase admission is quite different than what the other nine UC campuses decided. Responding to limited budgets, their administrators instead reduced by 1.7 percent the number of students who will be accepted for the coming academic year.

At UC Berkeley, The Berkeley Faculty Association (BFA)would be the most likely organization to engage the Administration on class size because working conditions are among the BFA's major concerns. The Board of Regents, whose pro-business members serve 12 year terms, select two faculty members, but only for a two year term, and without the right to vote. Moreover, neither BFA or any other labor organizations are involved in making the selection. As a result, some important issues are swept aside. So compliance rather than advocacy shape how the Board of Regents conducts its business.  

Also very problematic is the lack of adequate, affordable housing for incoming students. University housing can only accommodate 22 percent of the undergraduates. So almost 80 percent of the undergraduate students are on their own. By comparison the other UC colleges provide 38 percent of their undergraduates with housing.  

How do we explain UC Berkeley's neglect? Doesn't the University care about where and how the students live? I am sorry to say that it doesn't. In fact the Administration has even been frank about its disinterest in accommodating students. Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof remarked last year that "UC Berkeley has no plans to build student housing". He explained that the University's main objective is to provide a quality education, not housing. Isn't it astonishing that a high level administrator doesn't see the connection? Stanford University's Administrators understand that relationship, which is why 97 percent of the school's undergraduates live in on-campus housing.  

In truth, however, the Assistant Vice Chancellor offered not an explanation but an excuse. UC Berkeley's main concern is not offending private developers by competing with them. Recently, with the election of a progressive city council and mayor Jesse Arreguin, the political climate has changed somewhat. The new chancellor, Carol Christ, claims she wants to work with the new mayor on the affordable housing issue. But what the UC Berkeley administrators have in mind is partnering with the private sector on favorable terms for developers. The University would provide the property and a private developer would pay for and build housing. In return, the builder would be collecting the rent. This model is quite different from a public entity funding, operating, and collecting rent that is almost always more reasonable than what a private developer charges.  

So it is worrisome that the University, rather than offering students its own, affordable housing, is providing the private market with thousands of students to serve as tenants in the very expensive high rises that developers are building. In fact, flooding the market with students, whose options are very limited, is among the reasons that Berkeley rents are so high.  

To pay for rent as well as other expenses, many of these students will undoubtedly incur substantial debts that could also financially impact their families. For some students, the expensive living costs will take them on the highway to poverty. In contrast, the developers who are benefiting from the support of UC Berkeley's pro-business housing policy will be enjoying a very favorable financial outcome. They owe UC Berkeley's regents and administrators a sincere and hearty thanks . 






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