Reorganizing Berkeley (with emphasis on CNR)

Rumors have been circling for some time about an imminent reorganization of the Berkeley campus structure. Our tenuous financial situation coupled with the widely held perception that our current state is constraining us from reaching our full potential, suggest that this may be an opportune time for change. In the last 30+ years I have been on campus, I have heard numerous proposals for such organizational changes but now, it looks as though they might happen. Yet change is a double-edged sword that has to be introduced thoughtfully, especially in a complex and volatile place like Berkeley, where there is much to lose.

If we consider a major change, everything needs to be on the table. The design of the process must require careful planning and even more careful execution. Even though time might be of the essence, the process should not be rushed and the design must be flexible and adaptive. The administration and the Senate surely will utilize all of the formal procedures for change, but they will need to develop mechanisms that will assure transparency and inclusiveness in the decision-making process. The Berkeley Blog provides a forum for the campus to express opinions and to start a dialogue, and I believe that the discussion on reorganization should be open, hence this post.

The objective of the reorganization is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the campus so we can get more out of the resources we have, and increase our resource base so that Berkeley can enhance its education, research and outreach programs on solid financial footing. The design of the reorganization is very challenging, as it needs to be accepted by a diverse array of stakeholders and respect the rights of myriad groups. I present below some ideas that may be useful in the discussion of the structural redesign.

Because of the scale of the campus, much of the management has to be done in smaller units, which are the colleges and the schools. Every faculty member is expected to engage in research, teaching and public service, and the teaching should include both undergraduate and graduate courses. To me, the Berkeley structure is asymmetric. We have the mammoth College of Letters and Sciences, and several mid-sized colleges (Engineering, Business, CNR) all having their own undergraduate, masters, and PhD programs. Then there are many smaller professional schools that mostly emphasize a professional masters degree. It seems to me that colleges that offer undergraduates, masters and PhD programs with ~200 faculty members can be large enough to take advantage of economics of scale in administration, development and infrastructure, but small enough to retain a distinct identity that may appeal to students and donors. Each of these colleges should have their own undergraduate (at least upper division courses), masters and PhD programs[1]. A key part of this initiative is to include the professional schools as de facto departments within a few colleges (so they can keep their distinction of the ‘School of XYZ’). Here are of my proposals:

The first is an obvious one, at least to me. Berkeley should have a College of Media and Information that includes the Schools of Information, Journalism, and a new department of New Media that will address the content and art of cinematography, TV, games and social media. Berkeley already has an undergraduate major in New Media, with very few permanent faculty assigned, but rather faculty that study issues related to media. I think that there are incredible opportunities for collaboration between the new department of New Media, and the Department of Information and Journalism. I am sure that some faculty from the Colleges of Letters and Science, Engineering and Business would be interested in a joint appointment. I believe that with the right leadership, Berkeley, with our proximity to Pixar and Silicon Valley, will be able to attract the right external support, as this can be an area of growth for the campus that will be more than able to pay for itself.

Second, a College of Health, Education and Policy (CHEP). This college may include the Schools of Public Health, Social Welfare, Education, Optometry, and perhaps even Public Policy. These are all professional schools in related areas; together they can produce a much stronger undergraduate program, and in the long run, strengthen their PhD programs. Since the School of Public Policy has strong emphases on issues on health and educational welfare, its collaboration with the other schools within this college can be very fruitful. But obviously, the School of Public Policy must continue to address other issues like environment and national security, so the new colleges must not be closed silos, but rather, open structures that interact with other units on campus.

Now I come to my college: the College of Natural Resources. It originated from the schools of agriculture and forestry, and includes biologists, agriculturalists, economists, and ecologists. One way forward is to form a new School of life sciences and the environment – uniting CNR with the biology units in the College of Letters and Science. Despite not having a hospital, Berkeley is a powerhouse in the life sciences and its prestige is growing, especially with the discovery of gene editing by Jennifer Doudna, the recent Nobel Prize awarded to Randy Schechtman and centers such as the Energy Biosciences Institute. There are economics of scale and opportunities to provide better integrated education and research by bringing all of the biological departments under one roof. Or perhaps it is even better to establish a College of Biology (CB), which includes the biologists in L&S and CNR, and a separate college, which I would call the College of Sustainable Development (CSD)[2]. This college would include all of the non-biology CNR faculty, for example soil scientists, foresters, social scientists, and some ecologists in ESPM as well as the Department of Agricultural Economics and Management, the Energy and Resources Group, the School of Environmental Design (SED)[3], and other units interested in environment and international development. The CSD would bring together all the units working on land issues in agriculture, forestry and the urban sector – scholars who work on parks, sustainable cities and agriculture in both developed and developing countries. It would serve as a center for research on climate change, biodiversity, food systems, alternative energy, land use, and urban design. It will combine both conceptual and data-driven modeling with behavioral sciences. Having a college like this one would be appealing to many donors and we could expand significantly many professional masters’ programs, such as the Master of Development Practice.

CNR is the link to Berkeley’s history and mission as a land grant university especially with its commitment to address issues of agriculture, natural resources, and the environment and extend knowledge to practitioners. Whatever the new configuration of CNR, Berkeley should not only maintain, but also expand its cooperative extension program. Berkeley is a state university with a global reach. Berkeley should aim to establish a global extension program to complement its research and education in the many areas of sustainable development. Such an expansion shouldn’t draw on existing resources, but can attract new sources of funds.

I don’t cover the rest of campus, but I’d like to emphasize that a key point in this design is that different colleges would have significant collaboration between them. For example, CSD would work very closely with CB and CHEP as well as with its counterparts in the departments of Chemistry, Geography, Economics, Political Science, etc.

Each college will have its own educational and research programs but there will be significant cross-campus collaboration. I see colleges, and especially its departments, as the home base to faculty and alumni, but recognize that much of the action will be across college boundaries. Such a framework will demand an administrative structure able to support movement and communication between units and allow for the creation of partnerships to emerge. In this light, common facilities and programs include the new campus in Richmond and an integrated lower division program will allow the colleges to specialize in their strengths while collaborating with other units to produce valuable joint research, teaching, and outreach.

It is clear that the reorganization of UC Berkeley is forthcoming. Our financial crisis presents us with the opportunity to grow and position ourselves for the 21st century – and in turn make larger contributions to California, the US, and the rest of the world.

 

[1] It is worthwhile to consider the idea to have one major undergraduate college that will be responsible for the education of freshmen and sophomore students with multiple tracks (Engineering, Life Sciences, Humanities, etc.) and the individual colleges would manage the upper division undergraduate teaching, and their faculty will serve the undergraduate division. I am unsure of the feasibility and viability of this plan, as it depends on the design and execution, but it is worthwhile to consider.

[2] Another possibility is to name it the College of Natural Resources and the Environment (and perhaps Development) to maintain the CNR connection. I believe that sustainable development is preferable because it can integrate both the environment and development programs together and it will project a new beginning and integration between programs that study the urban, rural, and wilderness settings.

[3] The SED includes the departments of city and regional planning, architecture and landscape architecture.

My Annual Review 2015

This year was a bittersweet year for us. The health of my mother-in-law, Hannah, hasn’t improved and Leorah is dedicated to helping her be as peaceful and pleasant as possible. I admire Leorah’s strength and love for her mother. We all remember her dynamic and creative personality while facing the current reality of old age and realize that this is the cycle of life.

At the same time, we enjoy seeing our grandchildren bloom into little people with personalities and opinions (in their own right)! We enjoy playing with Arlo (son of Eyal and Beth), Adelaide (daughter of Aytan and Davina), and Geo (son of Shie and Leigh) and appreciate the smile and laughter of baby Nava, Geo’s sister. There is nothing more gratifying than having successful, and self-reliant, adult children with wonderful families of their own. Another gratifying event was that the Warriors won the championship after 30 years of waiting.

safta adisafta nava

Both the Beahrs ELP and the MDP while going through transitional phases continue to grow and prosper. Anita Ponce, the former anchor of the Beahrs ELP, decided to pursue new opportunities leaving it in the good hands of Mio Owens. Mio is also in charge of the Berkeley International & Executive Program, and this coming year, we will host a major executive training workshop on supply chain and innovation, which will be a first for Berkeley. Eunice Kim, who brought energy, elegance and wisdom to the MDP from its inception, also left to take on new challenges. We are really excited about her new family, congratulations Eunice and David! Fortunately, George continues to be the pillar of strength and innovation for our program and we were fortunate enough to hire Lauren Krupa as our career and admissions sage. Both programs are in good hands and deserve your support!

MDP Class of 2015

Research-wise, this year was very productive. I continued my work showing the more enlightened policies on both biofuels and biotech and towards an economy transitioning from one relying on non-renewable resources to a more sustainable one relying on renewable resources.

This coming year we are looking forward to another bioeconomy conference at Berkeley and the 20th anniversary of the ICABR at Ravello. I have new studies on the economics of water conservation and water and climate change. I coauthored a study surveying alternative perspectives to food and agriculture by non-economists. After many decades, I was able to publish the final chapter of my dissertation.

My newest initiative is to understand how new innovations create supply chains. I have always been fortunate to work with wonderful collaborators and students along with excellent support (thanks Angie, Scott, Hillary, and Ben!). This year I also started an exciting collaboration with Tom Reardon, who will also teach at the MDP.

ELP graduation

As usual, this year was one of travel. I was fortunate to visit my family in Israel and to have my sister, Dina, and her family visit us in Berkeley. My travels brought me to Slovakia, three times to Italy, to Germany and to Nepal. All rewarding experiences that showed me that while people may look and behave differently, we are all quite similar.

Happy 2016, a year of happiness and peace.

all grandchildren

Training Environmental Leaders in Nepal, Sandee Style

I had always wanted to visit Nepal and between the 9th and 14th of December I finally made the voyage. I participated in a seminar of Sandee (the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economists) and spent some time with my colleague and friend Biswo Poudel.


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The flight to Kathmandu is among the longest as it one of the farthest locations from San Francisco. I selected the shortest flights and after 24 hours in transit I was in Kathmandu – unfortunately my luggage could not keep up with the pace of flying and arrived the next day, after enjoying an overnight stay in Bangkok.

Life in Nepal is affected by two recent setbacks: First, the major earthquake that shook Nepal in April 2015. On the surface there were not many obvious signs that this had happened. A few houses in the downtown area were crumbled – but many more are not habitable. In the older part of town and in the villages the damage was much more substantial – many old houses and some temples collapsed.

The Nepalese have also faced a de facto blockade of goods shipped through India. The blockade is apparent everywhere: queues of cars waiting for gas at official government facilities, many flights have been canceled and planes that serve Nepal bring their fuel with them. Tourist resorts are deserted and there are few choices of food at restaurants and even a shortage of medicine in hospitals. The pain of the blockade was reduced by the smuggling of fuel – and more than doubling the price of gasoline in the black market. I could not figure out the cause of the blockade, but I suspect that whatever were the sins of Nepal, the blockade was an excessive response.

I figured out that while Nepal is part of the Indian civilization, it hates to be treated like a little brother. The Nepalese are also stuck between India and China. They have been independent for millennia and want to keep good relations with the giants at its borders, and want to do so without taking sides.

I also realized that religion plays a major role in Nepal — there are 4000 temples in Kathmandu — and the music and chanting from temples are pervasive. Many of the Nepalese are both Hindi and Buddhist and I learned to appreciate their religious perspective. While the monotheistic religions believe that the world is ruled by one deity, my Nepalese friends assume that the world is ruled by a cabinet with many rulers through a hierarchical system. In Nepalese schools there are temples to the education gods and in hospitals, to the medicine gods. This approach may be quite inclusive – if you believe in many gods, the odds of accepting another one seems to be quite high.

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Despite the Modi blockade (named after the Indian prime minster, who the Nepalese viewed until recently as a reformer and good neighbor, and now see him as a capricious bully), my trip was wonderful. The limited food choices were still very tasty, a combination of interesting Indians dishes with fresh salads and soups. The weather was spectacular: I enjoyed watching snowy mountaintops when the temperature below in the valley is around 60F. Biswo and his wife, Pratibha, showed me fascinating parts of their country and the Sandee workshop was wonderful.

As I understand it, Sandee is part of a program initiated by Karl Goran Maeler and Sir Partha Dasgupta and by the Swedish Beijer Institute, which was aimed to create leaders of environmental economics research in developing countries.

The program established four regional networks for Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and Sandee for South Asia. Each program has its unique features and flavors. Sandee is 15 years old, and offers education and training activities, including a summer school of three weeks in environmental economics, a shorter winter program and other educational and policy programs.

The most advanced program is a research-training program for economists with a PhD or masters degree who work as assistant professors as well as in government. Each year, the program selects 5 to 15 participants from a pool of applicants. Participants receive around $10,000 annually to conduct supervised research for 2-3 years.

Each participant is assigned an advisor, and the participants meet their advisors at the biannual workshops. The advisors – the “faculty” of the program – are leading environmental and resource economists from prominent universities.[1] The advising process is very detailed and deep: the participants and their advisors interact constantly and during the biannual meeting each candidate makes a presentation and receives feedback from the advisors, other assigned reviewers, and other participants. The reviewing and feedback processes assist the candidate in designing a conceptual framework and data collection plan, and help to improve the analysis and writing of a research publication.

Some of the time of the biannual meetings is allocated to learning and exposure to new research. I was invited to the 31st biannual workshop to speak about my work on Biotechnology and Sustainable Development. Another guest speaker was Professor Mushfiq Mobarak from Yale, who provided an excellent review on the use of impact assessment studies as tools for increase adoption improved practices and for introducing change.

Both of us also served as commenters on the participants’ presentations. I was very impressed with the depth and quality of these the research efforts, which covered major issues of development and the environment. Particular emphasis was given to (1) understanding and designing strategies for adaption to climate change, (2) analysis of the factors that influence adoption of new technologies and estimating the impacts of these technologies, and (3) estimating the cost and benefits to economic agents in developing countries from environmental conservation activities that provide global benefits. Such activities may include conservation of biodiversity and sequestration of greenhouse gases.

The perception is that the toughest challenge of an academic career is to get a degree and then a job. I think that actually working on your own after graduation is even more challenging. This is especially so in a developing-country environment, in which young scholars are frequently not surrounded by experienced faculty members who provide support and can teach the tricks of the trade.

The biannual research and writing workshop train the participants to withstand the rigorous critical review that academic researchers face and help them to respond to feedback rather than give up. They provide the exposure and skills that will make researchers much more effective teachers, advisors, and colleagues in their own right. I admire the commitment of the advisors, who have been coming to South Asia twice a year to supervise their students for minimum or no compensation. Their dedication is a testimony to the value of the program – as economists who value their time dearly they would not make this effort unless the benefits are immense and justify the cost.

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I learned from this program what the term “capacity building” means, both in concept and practice. The program creates research leaders, and some of the participants go on to become policy analysts, advisors, and scholars.

The program also improves their skills as teachers and in turn, will cultivate the skills of their students. Finally it brings together economists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, and Nepal. I saw emerging friendships and collaborations that may forge better understanding between future leaders of nations, many of which have a history of conflicts and misunderstandings.

My 15 years of experience as co-director of the Beahrs ELP allows me to appreciate Sandee even more. Beahrs ELP participants are from many disciplines and the program emphasizes broadening of horizons and multidisciplinary cooperation. Sandee’s emphasis is to strengthen the capacity of economists in their chosen disciplines.

Both of the programs work to build an international network of collaboration. We invest immense amounts in educating our youth, but education does not need to end with graduation. With the fast accumulation of new knowledge and technological change, some forms of knowledge and skills become obsolete. Both programs are forums for lifelong learning that is especially important in the context of development work. I believe that these types of investments in our future deserve support and nurturing.

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After the workshops, Biswo and Pratibha took me on a tour of Chitwan (their hometown) and the region’s national park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While we didn’t see the emblematic Mount Everest, we were nestled in a valley surrounded by towering mountains and wide rivers running through it.

One attraction of the region is its jungle safari, where you may encounter rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, and, if you are lucky, tigers. This region also taught me about environmental leadership in action. During the civil war in Nepal (1996-2006), environmentalists in the region risked their lives to save its animals and were successful in establishing an active ecotourism industry.

Absent are the Holiday Inns and Hiltons, and instead there are homegrown and charming resorts that attract people from all over the world. Some tourists may climb the Himalayas and then relax at these charming resorts. My time in Nepal showed me that environmental leadership is about learning and practice. It requires support from the outside but it must also build commitment from the inside.

[1] The advisors this year were Jeff Vincent and Subarbau Patanayak from Duke University; Celine Nauges from the University of Tolouse; Jean Marie Baland from University of Namur Belgium; the founding director of the program, Priya Shyamsundar, and its current director, E. Somanathan from the Indian Statistical Institute; and Enamul Haque from Asian Center for Development.