Join us for learning, networking and fun – and sustain the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program

The Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program is a three-week summer program that has trained more than 600 professionals, leaders and concerned citizens interested in issues of sustainable development, the environment and natural resources. It provides policy, conflict resolution, climate change, supply chain management, and marketing through interactive learning, group interaction, field trips, and projects. It helps to improve skills, become part of a global network, and it is a lot of fun. Our instructors are leading Berkeley faculty, practitioners and industry and community leaders from the Bay Area, and visiting scholars, that have included Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, Douglas Brinkley (noted historian), Pedro Sanchez (World Food Prize winner), and many more.

Every year, we have about 150 applicants, of whom we accept around 60, with 40 participating. This year, we had the usual number of candidates and 40 students ready to come. But due to tougher immigration policy, many of them are not able to get their visa, so we have 10 open spots. This is an opportunity for Berkeley alumni and others to join the program and become part of this unique network. It is also your way of helping us survive during this tough stretch. I believe that every crisis brings an opportunity, and by expanding our reach to CNR and Berkeley alumni we strengthen the link between the Berkeley community and our global network.

Let me tell you about our network. Our more than 600 alumni are from over 100 countries, with 35 percent living in Asia and 25 percent in Africa. As you can see, the Beahrs ELP can contribute and support the success of emerging leaders, such as Binta Iliyasu from Nigeria.

Many of our alumni have gone on to contribute significantly in their field, having won two Goldman Awards, given eight TED Talks, and awarded over 60 Kingman awards, which are joint projects of Berkeley faculty and alumni. For example, Prigi Arisandi is 2008 alumnus from Indonesia who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011. In response to deteriorating river water quality, he established a mass movement of students and teachers to monitor and maintain water quality for 3000 km of riverbanks. Another Goldman recipient and ELP alumnus is Rizwana Hasan from Bangladesh who used her experience as an environmental lawyer to achieve big gains for worker protection and environmental quality by after leading a long legal battle against ship industry. Giselle Weybrecht, a 2004 alumnus, responded to the lack of books on sustainable business practices by publishing 100 examples of sustainable practices and giving a TED talk.

It is very frustrating that immigration regulations are preventing friends of the U.S. from gaining expertise and building partnerships and gaining friends. The program makes a big difference. Several years ago, one of our participants told me, “The biggest thing I learned here is that I must send my daughter to school.” Our participants from Israel, Jordan, and Palestine continued to collaborate long after leaving Berkeley. A participant from Pakistan and another from Tajikistan coordinated a joint program on migrating birds while at Berkeley. We have our share of American and European participants too, including program leaders from U.S. EPA, the European Environmental Agency, USAID, FAO, forest services and others. We have program directors of Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, and many small NGOs. We have participants from Chevron, Shell, real estate developers, and traders in environmental services. We also have several professors and extension specialists, as well as interested citizens, even in retirement seeking to augment knowledge and make new connections.

The program runs June 4-23, 2017, and some of the details are here. Because of the unexpected vacancies, we have extended the deadline for applications until the start date. I’m sure you’ll have questions, so you can call Mio Owens at 510-295-8641. We hope you join us, or send this to friends and colleagues who you think will be interested, as we continue to extend Berkeley’s reach.

Implementing change in Berkeley

Some of the readers of my blog post on reenergizing Berkeley asked me: How do you suggest to implement all these changes, and this is my perspective[1].

First I believe that we have been operating without a long-term plan for some time now and our decisions have become piecemeal. We need to establish a coherent vision with a planning process. Also, since interaction between the Academic Senate and administration has become increasingly cumbersome, the long-term planning needs to be managed by a joint faculty Senate committee. It needs to identify directions for change that lead to growth, academic excellence and a sound financial situation taking into account changing realities of technology, science, politics and finance.  The joint committee will be in charge of the initial proposal including the design of the planning process with mechanisms for adaptation and self-correction. The way to grow out of our deficit is through smart growth and working together through an effective plan can lead to it.

At the start of the process we need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our campus—which existing efforts should be expanded, which should be reduced and what are the areas which require further investment to enable further growth, and take advantage of emerging opportunities. This planning project will require that units on campus present their self-assessments to the committee including suggestions for improvement. It sounds very bureaucratic, but my experience in the budget committee suggests that departments have the capacity to develop these evaluations in a timely manner.

The challenge of the committee will be to interpret assessments, obtain additional input, and produce an initial plan that will go then to a vote of the Senate. It may be rejected initially, but then it can be adapted based on input. My experience tells me that with the right mixture of people, we can expect sound recommendations rather soon. I know that this type of reflection is difficult, and may encounter resistance as we all are vulnerable and are worried about change. But, our current situation requires this difficult adjustment. The long-term plan should be about reorganization, allocation of resources, and plans for growth and cost-savings. It would also have a crucial element of budgetary planning, including a long-term strategy for fundraising. We need to identify our priorities, to share it with potential donors and work out a creative vision and an effective plan to achieve it.

Now who will be on the committee? I suggest to have a committee of 9 to 11 individuals, including, say, 3 administrators (perhaps a past provost or senior vice chancellor for research), 4 members of the Academic Senate, and 4 leading alumni and friends of Berkeley. The committee should be balanced by discipline, age, gender, etc. It may be worthwhile to consider an internal committee with an advisory board.

I expect that the committee will result in some reorganization that will make the campus much more effective and appealing to outside donors. One of the big challenges is to think about a coherent design of the colleges. Personally, I would like to see few, larger colleges, each engaged in undergraduate, professional, and PhD programs with strong research and outreach. These colleges can work more closely through integrated programs. We need colleges that are sufficiently large to take advantage of economies of scale, but small enough to allow students and faculty to have a family feeling. I believe a strong school of media that incorporates information, journalism, aspects of computer science, and elements of the humanities will be very appealing, while opening new avenues of research and sources of funding. A strong school of international or sustainable development that integrates aspects of natural resources, city and regional planning, innovation, and many of the international programs, can provide creative educational programs, open new avenues of research, and build new alliances and resources. A large school of health, education, welfare and perhaps policy can enhance the synergy between the different schools, be efficient with resources, and produce a new and dynamic image. Our prominent position in both molecular and ecological aspects of biology could be emphasized in a school of biology, that may also have strong connections to schools of engineering and chemistry. These are only some examples that reflect my bias, but they suggest the changes we need to go through.

One outcome of the self-assessment is identifying our deficiencies, and the planning committee will provide suggestions on how to address them. We can do so, for example, through alliances with other universities, both at the UC level and around the globe. We can develop a new policy that will allow us to utilize adjunct professors and other partners for research, teaching and outreach. We should also consider expanding and diversifying our academic offerings to include more short courses, certification programs, and clever use of the internet. We have several challenges: to develop programs that allow students to use their time more efficiently as well as develop mechanisms for life-long learning and joint education with strategic partners in industry and government.

As I see it, we need to increase the number of students we have. We can utilize resources on campus, and I believe that we have a great asset in Richmond, which can be used for student housing and partnership with other universities and industry. For example, part of academic planning thus needs to be thinking of efficient mechanisms for resource, and especially real estate management. This can serve to help us grow and build strong relationships in the municipalities and communities we reside. A related issue is more efficient use of space on campus. We need to recognize the reality that people work at home and many need less office space. We can replace quantity of space with quality, and get much more from the facilities we have.

Obviously, one of the main challenges any reform faces is that it may change the workload or type of work of faculty. Today, I perceived that faculty members are mostly concerned about seeking out resources for their own research program, and leave most of the development effort to administrators and professionals. But we have to become an important part of the development office – think of creative educational programs and initiatives and work to expand the resource base of campus. Our external resources are limited. We, alumni and our supporters need to share more of the bottle to allow us to grow and further excel. The political reality today gives an opportunity to shape a strategy that allows us to present and provide hope, and we will get support from sources that have not supported us as much before. I’m afraid that we are facing a period of political dark ages, and Berkeley should present an enlightened alternative that hopefully will lead to a renaissance. To do it, we need to work more as a team, dare to change, and realize that together we can be more resilient and sustainable.


[1] Like everyone else, I hope that the new chancellor will provide new direction and leadership, but some observations and proposals may make our jobs easier.

Re-energizing UC Berkeley

For years, Berkeley has been ranked by the National Research Council number 1 in terms of elite graduate programs, but over the last few years, I feel that Berkeley is in malaise. Berkeley possesses a unique combination of breadth, depth, beauty and charm. Berkeley is a hub of nuclear power and the peace movement, biotechnology and agroecology, industry leaders and activists, scientists and poets. Unlike its competitors, it is much more accessible to the masses. Yet, all this is at risk.

We accumulated a chronic deficit due to California state politics and our own choices. We have four sources of income — support from the state, tuitions, public and private research grants and donations. Support to the system and in particular Berkeley has declined — and is not likely to come back. We are constrained by the number of students we can enroll — and in particular foreign students. I worry about public sector support for research — so the future looks bleak. In addition, we are going through a leadership crisis — and seem to be waiting for a new chancellor and the administration that he/she will assemble.

So today the immediate instinct is to cut and restructure. I am aware that there may be a lot of efficiencies that can be gained. But our objectives must be to reverse the crisis by finding a way to grow out of it. We cannot lose our stars and stop hiring and building towards the future. The Academic Senate, the administration, the faculty and alumni need to recognize that this is an emergency that requires daring and extra effort. All of us need to think how we can help campus ride these rough waters.

We have to recognize our assets and build from our strengths. In these days, where people who deny climate change may run our government, Berkeley can be a center for scientific and policy research and policy design that will acknowledges the reality of climate change. We need to develop specific, targeted initiatives to raise funds for such efforts and enact them. Berkeley is an international university like no other and can serve as a linkage between the US and the developing world. We should make the effort to obtain resources needed to be a center of global efforts, both training and research, in sustainable development. We must capitalize on some of the excitement from our new technologies, like gene editing, and our unique strengths in natural science, engineering, and the humanities. We can develop collaborative relationships with public and private groups that both will lead to new innovations and technologies and will create social and political thinking that allows for beneficial use of technologies. This is a time for decentralized initiatives (bottom up) that will spark movement forward in many areas. Each of us needs to think, what can I do to help? And I hope that the bureaucracy will allow us to move forward.

We should also emphasize smart, targeted growth. Continue to build muscle while we eliminate fat. In my view, the heart of the university is in top notch faculty and students. I cringe when I hear about a hiring freeze. Not many universities have the quality and number of alumni we do — and they can be our best allies. These allies can help us raise money for endowed chairs that will allow us to grow into new, exciting areas, as well as sponsorship of students. We may encourage alumni to “adopt a chair” or a group of students. I believe that it crucial to invest in people and to be more selective in investing in infrastructure. It is tempting to invest in new buildings, but we can more creatively utilize our existing space. In this computer age, faculty offices don’t need to accommodate large libraries and when people work at home, maybe shared space is the way to go. New equipment should be linked to new capacities— and when appropriate may be obtained with partners who share the cost.

One type of infrastructure that is probably needed is student housing. We need to think creatively how we can expand our educational offering with our constraints. In this regard, the Richmond campus could be a good initiative because if we can get students from all over the world, they will cover its costs. The big challenge is how to teach more students with more or less the same resources. This is a new area for creativity. In my master’s of development practice, I realize that there are many options. For example, more use of practitioners and adjuncts, as well as more utilization of GSIs and introducing intensive classes that are two or three weekends that expose students to new ideas and techniques. Bringing visitors to campus to conduct research and be paid through teaching is another approach. Actually, the Richmond campus, in addition to housing students, can serve as a knowledge center for the Pacific Rim where Berkeley partners with other universities and companies to conduct activities of mutual benefits (that will be self-financing). Furthermore, with expanded capacity, we can enrich our educational activities by adopting the idea of lifelong learning. We can offer to alumni and others who qualify and can pay training on different areas throughout their life. Extension shouldn’t be an appendix, but rather part of our mainstream. People may have several careers, and there is no reason that Berkeley cannot help them with updated training and learning they need to succeed.

The final thing we need to start thinking about is reorganization. Everyone that I know recognizes that our existing structure is inefficient and that we can be organized better, but we are afraid to do it because of self-interest. This moment of crisis is a time for change. Some of the professional schools can be combined. We can have new schools on media and schools on sustainable development and the environment. The challenge is to maintain the excellence of the past and steer our existing structures to new directions.

The status quo of waiting for a new chancellor is quite frustrating — we need to provide input and direction to the president’s office and take more charge on our direction. We need to think and discuss what kind of university we want, what types of changes we can tolerate, and admit how the existing structures that serve us now may not be in the public good in the long run. We should communicate on what we want to change.