Our campus is at a definitional moment in its history. In the past few years, Berkeley, the University of California, and public universities nation-wide have experienced a massive disinvestment in public higher education that calls into question the very notion of these universities as public institutions. By 2012 state funding for UC Berkeley will constitute a mere 12% of our operating budget. At the same time, an increasing body of scholarship and public conversation has also challenged the economic and civic value of higher education itself, even as a source of economic and social opportunity for private individuals. In what sense, then, can this institution still be understood as a “public” institution and a “public good”? The Deans of Berkeley’s Colleges and Professional Schools believe it is imperative for academic leaders and public intellectuals to join together to meet the challenge: to define our character, our mission and our contributions to public life.
As the premier public university in the world, UC Berkeley has a special responsibility and we are uniquely qualified to lead the way. We must respond by doing what Berkeley does best: mobilize research expertise, invite informed debate and facilitate the exchange of knowledge about the constraints and opportunities ahead for the University of California and public universities nationwide. To this end, the Deans of Berkeley’s Colleges and Professional Schools are organizing a series of public conversations on the four core challenges we face as a campus and as a community. On multiple fronts and through a variety of media sources, these conversations will bring together scholars, community organizers, business leaders and politicians to engage in a dialogue with students, faculty, staff and the campus community at large about the issues most urgently relevant to the future of our university. Through this initiative we hope not only to understand the extent of our challenges but also to discover the best means to chart our path forward. We invite you to join us in defining our future.