Is Berkeley Still a Public University?


In the last month of 2013 we were treated to two celebrations of the enduring public character of UC Berkeley. Not surprisingly Frederick Wiseman’s documentary ‘At Berkeley’, with its portrayal of Cal’s senior managers battling against the twin forces of a dis-investing state and a student movement resisting tuition hikes, got all the attention. Yet of arguably greater significance was an article by UC Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, George Breslauer, that outlined the new common sense and guiding philosophy of Berkeley’s senior management at that time and perhaps still now.
Wiseman and Breslauer are fiercely critical of a political culture that has enabled the state to disinvest from higher education. According to Breslauer, even after the passage of Proposition 30 state funds now account for just 14% of Berkeley’s total budget, down from 30% in 1999 and 70% in 1971. Although, if one includes ‘restricted’ monies from federal and local government about 40% of Berkeley’s revenue comes from public sources, the withdrawal of state funding has indeed been calamitous. Despite this Breslauer’s polemic is that Berkeley is now more of a public university than it used to be in the fabled Master Plan era.
Breslauer’s contention is that UC Berkeley serves California more effectively now: our student population is more representative of its population, while our graduates contribute more to public service and the state’s economic growth than ever before. He lacks historical data to substantiate any of these claims. It is not even clear what metrics could be used to establish that Cal graduates, or the research conducted at Berkeley, contribute more to the state’s economy and public service than Stanford.