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As it gets more funding from the federal government, and less from Sacramento, UC Berkeley is effectively morphing from a state university into a federal university, according to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
In an interview yesterday, Birgeneau said the transformation will "require us to think through what our role is both in the state and nationally."
He first made the compelling case for applying the "federal" label to California's most famous public university at a conference organized by the Travers Program in Ethics and Accountability on the Berkeley campus earlier this month.
When he became chancellor more than six years ago, he explained, the largest chunk of funding – about $450 million – came from the state. Federal research funding totaled about $300 million. Student fees brought in about $150 million, with philanthropy providing slightly less. The campus' endowment generated about $100 million to $120 million.
By this year, the funding breakdown for Berkeley had changed completely. Federal research funds bring in $500 million. Student fees yield $315 million (and will increase to $340 million next year). Private philanthropy yields about the same amount.
And lastly comes state support – down to $300 million this year and about $225 million during the coming academic year, after the cuts proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown have been made. That would be half of what the university received from the state when Birgeneau came to Berkeley in 2004, and could go even lower if the special election Brown wants to call doesn't make it on to the ballot or is rejected by voters.
"We have gone from a state-supported university to a state-located university in a remarkably short period of time, and we are trying madly to adjust," Birgeneau said at the conference.
Berkeley's biggest revenue increase has come in the two-thirds jump in federal research funds over the last half dozen years. "Because of that, our research enterprise is flourishing," he said. He said said the role of these funds in contributing to the university's teaching mission is "under-appreciated."
Federal research funds often pay professors' salaries over the summer, and also provide essential financial support to undergraduates and graduate students, Birgeneau noted. One example: undergraduates are paid to work in his campus laboratory, using research funds from the Department of Energy.
Birgeneau said Berkeley finds itself in the position of many other state universities that also have seen dramatic declines in state support. When he talked recently with University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman about UC's predicament, she told him, "Welcome to the club."
Among the questions raised by the shift in funding, said Birgeneau, is "how much autonomy should individual campuses have" if the state only provides a small portion of its income.
Another question is "What should the balance be of in-state and out-of-state students?" Berkeley has substantially boosted the number of non-Californians it admits, benefiting from the higher tuition they pay. As a result, nearly 20 percent of undergraduates admitted to UC Berkeley this year were either out-of-state or international students.
The biggest challenge, Birgeneau said, is how the university can maintain its "public character."
By that, he meant the ability of the campus to continue to admit low-income students, and to have a student body and faculty "strongly oriented to public service," he explained yesterday.
"As long as I am chancellor, we will be committed to being an accessible university, and to keep net costs low enough so that students don't leave with incredibly burdensome debt," he said.
He pointed out that Berkeley actually has more students receiving financial aid than it did before the financial crisis began. Last year alone, 900 students sought out, and received, extra support mainly because their parents lost their jobs during the year.
Birgeneau said he had not fully fleshed out his concept of what it means to be an increasingly federally supported university. But, he said, "the reality is that with the progressive disinvestment in higher education by the state, the state is becoming a tertiary player."