Tuesday, December 17, 2013

UC Berkeley prof says its future is as a 'finishing school for the superrich of Asia'

The headline for this posting is a direct quote from a headline to an article in the San Francisco Business Times which you can find at

The (economics) professor in question is Brad DeLong.  For your information, below is the portion of his post on the Berkeley Blog that deals with the subject of that headline:

...(Partially) a Finishing School for the Superrich of Asia
The first priority of the chancellor is to successfully execute a strategy to keep Berkeley great–to reinforce the reasons that it is worthwhile keeping a university like Berkeley around at all.
The days of Clark Kerr are over. The belief that the taxpayers of California should pay for the young citizens of California to get as much education as they want for free is no longer politically popular. Would that it were still. The old social democratic belief that America should have the best universal free public education system in the world was a principal source of America’s relative prosperity and economic leadership for a century. Now that the political coalition that supported that belief is gone, America will be a much less exceptional place.
But those days are gone. Chancellors can no longer rely on the legislature of California to fund Berkeley at the level needed to keep it an exceptional university. Berkeley needs another and a different strategy.

The strategy that Berkeley has settled on is to seek to produce the funding stream necessary to maintain a great University by becoming a finishing school for the superrich of Asia. This may be the wrong strategy–I sometimes think so, many others think so, and you can certainly argue so. But it is the strategy that we have. And the worst strategy of all is to have no strategy.
A bad strategy is vastly preferable to no strategy, or to an unimplemented strategy. So the chancellor needs to implement the strategy that we have, and that requires throwing money at three areas:
  1. Student Life: You can take the kids who have grown up in Orange County and throw them unsupervised and unsupported into Berkeley and they will do fine. You cannot do that with kids from Bangalore or Kuala Lumpur or Chungking. Dormitories, advisors, student life support–all dimensions of administrative activities that Berkeley has historically skimped on need to be beefed-up, and beefed up substantially. Every dollar of available money should, for the next five years at least, be devoted to this task.
  2. Presentation-of-Self in English: The English-speaking and oral comprehension skills of the future students who will rebalance Berkeley’s finances are first-rate or they would not be seeking admission. Their English-language prose-writing skills are not. If Berkeley is to provide value, the money must flow like water to writing teachers and writing coaches. And also drama teachers. The principal thing Berkeley can teach the smart and well-prepared children of the superrich of Asia that they will find useful and worthwhile is presentation-of-self in global English-speaking culture. To do that requires: (a) convincing the out-of-state students that they need to learn how to write and also how to act, (b) beefing up the English department to teach them how to write, and (c) beefing up the drama department to teach them how to act. We have already devoted every dollar of available money to our first task, but the second task needs to be funded and funded amply as well. So the rest of the university needs to be squeezed to produce the money to do this.
  3. Key Subject Areas: High-fee-paying out-of-state students will come and pay high fees only if they can reliably get the courses and majors that they want, and have them taught well. This means that money has to flow like water to engineering (especially computer science) and biological sciences (especially pre-medical) and economic sciences (especially finance) and international studies (especially economics). These particular customers are kings. And the money that flows has to flow to effective teaching–and not to raising the living standards and laboratory setups of senior faculty. God knows how the chancellor will persuade departments that they have the budget so that everyone who wants to major in computer science, biological sciences, economics, business, etc. can and will do so — as we have already spent every dime and more on student life, English, and Drama — but the chancellor will have to do so. Throwing money like water at key areas that require expansion and emphasis in a time of general budgetary retrenchment is the hardest thing an academic administrator can ever do. Yet the chancellor has to do it, lest Berkeley become just another urban state university campus, rather than something exceptional and valuable...
The full post - which deals also with tuition and online ed - is at

PS: Whatever your opinions on the excerpt reprinted above, it is interesting that UC-Berkeley has an official blogsite on which faculty can express controversial views about the university itself.  Would UCLA sponsor such a blogsite?  Would other UC campuses?

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