January 14, 2013
Aaron Swartz’s suicide over the weekend is a tragedy. His death has affected many people very deeply, including many of my friends who were very close with Aaron.
Personally, I did not know Aaron well, but I regard him as an inspiration – as much for his quiet thoughtfulness and kindness as for his amazing achievements, intellect, projects, and democratic (small “d”) ideals.
I don’t have much to add to some of the heartfelt responses many people (including Cory Doctorow, Larry Lessig, and Matt Stoller) have posted elsewhere; however, as I have thought and read about Aaron over the past couple of days, I have decided that I want to commemorate his life and work through some concrete actions. Specifically, I have made some vows to myself about how I want to live, work, and relate to people in the future. Most of these vows are fundamentally democratic in spirit, which was part of what I find so inspiring about so much Aaron’s work. Not all of my commitments are coherent enough or sensible enough to list here, but I will put one out there as a public tribute to Aaron:
I will promote access to knowledge by ensuring that as much of my work as possible is always available at no cost and under minimally restrictive licenses that ensure ongoing access for as many people in as many forms as possible. I will also work to convince my colleagues, students, publishers, and elected or appointed representatives that they should embrace and promote a similar position.
This is a very small and inadequate act given the circumstances.
July 9, 2012
Following up on my last post on the tie between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the qualifiers for the U.S. women’s 100 meter team, I thought I would briefly revisit the subject and, in the process, respond to Hal’s comment.
The reason I thought this story merited a second post is that, amazingly, Tarmoh withdrew from the run off, thereby conceding her spot on the Olympic team to Felix!
You can watch Tarmoh explain her decision in this highly unusual SportsCenter clip.
The video is pretty interesting – as is Tarmoh’s choice to make the statement at all! She reveals a number of additional details about her experience as well as her interactions with Felix after the race. After watching it, I came away thinking that her overall manner had suggested that she felt conflicted about her decision.
While I don’t think it makes sense to draw too many conclusions about what happened from Tarmoh’s statement, the events that have transpired since the original race suggest that it may make more sense to approach the whole situation from a game theoretic perspective (like Daniel Lametti started to do) rather than from the sort of statistical vs. moral fairness point of view I tried to articulate in my post.
That brings me to my response to Hal’s suggestion that a run off would (assuming it was announced ahead of time) represent the most “morally fair” way to settle a tie (at least more morally fair than a coin flip).
I think I actually agree with most of Hal’s points – especially, insofar as moral fairness does seem to be more important than statistical fairness when it comes to how most people view athletic contests. I should have clarified that the kind of fairness I had in mind was more statistical than moral. Given the rise of statistical tools in sports and the fact that it is possible to think of athletic contests in terms of the probabilities of particular outcomes, I think my argument is more focused on the fact that the probabilities of victory are never equal and that (at least in the case of many sports) that doesn’t seem to bother many fans.
In any event, I love Hal’s idea for a world-wide coin flip tournament! We should make sure to incorporate the descendants of Paul the Octopus somehow.
June 25, 2012
Yesterday at the women’s 100 meter finals of U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh did something that was apparently unprecedented: they finished tied for third place.
Usually, third place doesn’t mean much, but in this case it determines who gets to join the first and second place runners representing the U.S. in the 100 meter races during the London Olympics later this Summer.
Beyond the fact that it’s pretty amazing that cameras shooting 3000 frames per second (!) could not determine a winner, the craziest part of the story is that neither U.S.A. Track & Field (USATF) nor the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) – the two organizations in charge of managing the Olympic team selection process – had a plan in place for determining what happens next.
As a result, the USATF issued a statement yesterday evening revealing a remarkable decision: either the runners will race again in a literal run-off or there will be a coin toss.
The details of the procedure are somewhat complicated, leaving the runners with some say in the choice of which process will be used to break the tie. Basically, if neither one concedes the spot on the team outright, they can pick with method they prefer. If they both choose the same method, either procedure can be used, but if they choose different methods, there will be a run-off. If they both refuse to declare a preference, then the coin toss will determine who goes to London.
I’m entranced by all this because it’s such a classic example of how tie-breaking procedures often involve the explicit introduction of randomness into athletic competition and how that randomness contradicts many competitors’ and fans’ sense of fairness.
As anyone who has seen or read Moneyball can hopefully tell you by now, games are, by their nature, unfair and true randomness is a myth. However, part of the reason sports make such wonderful and compelling entertainment is that they involve a delicate counterpoint of meritocratic competition and stochastic noise. The distribution of resources among athletes and teams – such as money, skill, training, or equipment – determine the most likely winner in any contest, but so long as these variables are held relatively constant, upsets happen often enough and unpredictably enough that it’s still worth playing and watching the game.
Tie-break procedures can be controversial and unsatisfying because they change the rules in the interest of achieving something like a timely and fair resolution (case in point: the completely bizarro “Kansas Playoff” method the NCAA has used to settle ties in college football games since 1996). Often, this is done by introducing additional randomness through procedures like coin tosses. While this makes sense from a fairness perspective (given that the competitors have demonstrated that they are evenly matched by the time a tie-break is required) the use of coins or other transparently random methods to facilitate tie-breaking contradicts a widely held gut feeling that the outcome should be determined on the field of competition.
Ato Boldon, a former Olympic sprinter and now television commentator, captured this sentiment in his response (quoted in the NY Times story) to the Felix-Tamroh tie, “It’s like a penalty shootout in soccer: nobody wants it to be that way, but at least it’s still soccer.”
The obvious flaw in this reasoning is that coin flips and other truly random processes are far and away the most fair way to determine a winner when a race or a game ends in a tie! Penalty kicks, swim-offs, run-offs, Kansas playoffs, and whatever other overtime processes athletic administrators can dream up are, like all the games humans play, unfair at many levels.
Nevertheless, a coin flip at the end of a race or a game feels like a cheap deus ex machina. The fact that most of us instinctively dislike the idea of using stochastic processes alone to settle a tie illustrates one of the ways in which we prefer athletic contests to be more like good theatre than anything else.
So, despite the fact that it probably isn’t really fair to either runner (and that their decisions may hinge on whether either or both of them manage to qualify in the 200 meters later this week), I hope Felix and Tamroh race again.
April 29, 2012
For this edition of my occasional “five things” series, I’m trying out a twist on the usual theme (ideas, places, people, or things that I’ve run across in the preceding week) by discussing five things I’ll learn about next week. So, without further ado, here are five things I am excited to encounter in the coming days…
- CHI and CrowdCamp – I’m headed to Austin, Texas at the end of the week to present at CHI and participate in the CrowdCamp workshop. The lineup and agenda for CrowdCamp look incredibly exciting – the plan is to rapidly brainstorm, design, and (if possible) implement crowdsourcing projects. Given the past accomplishments of many of the other people who will be in the room, I’m excited!
- New Zion Missionary Church (no website) – As part of my Austin trip, I hope to make a pilgrimage or two to as many of the regional holy sites of barbecue as I possibly can. In the case of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church (link points to a 2010 review on the Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog), I have heard that the slow smoked brisket can sometimes resemble a religious experience.
- May Day Occupy actions in New York – Tuesday marks the first of May and, so it seems, a day of rebirth for the Occupy Movement. A few friends will be attending the New York actions and I’ll try to remember to link to anything they write or photograph.
- The Onyx Boox M92 – Perhaps as a result of the extra attention that went to Mako’s setup a couple of weeks ago, I’ve succumbed and ordered my own e-book reader. I chose the Onyx Boox M92 because it checked all the boxes that mattered to me (linux based, large E-ink screen, file format agnostic, vendor agnostic, and not reinforcing the Amazon empire) and because it seems to compare well against similar devices.
- Calibre – Mako and Alan Toner kindly introduced me to Calibre – a very widely adopted and popular piece of free software to manage e-reader libraries - this afternoon, but I won’t really start playing with it until my reader arrives next week.
April 13, 2012
Zombie trade agreements: According to some documents acquired by the organization European Digital Rights (EDRi), it appears the G8 has decided to do a Dr. Frankenstein impression and reanimate some of the most thoughtless portions of ACTA’s Internet provisions. This latest instantiation of the ACTA agreement wants control over intellectual property, technology devices, network infrastructure, and YOUR BRAINS.
An awesome experiment on awards (published in PLoS ONE) by Michael Restivo and Arnout van de Rijt – both in the Sociology department at SUNY Stony Brook – shows that receiving an informal award (a barnstar) from a peer may have a positive effect on highly active Wikipedians’ contributions. The paper is only three pages long, but if you want to you can also read the Science Daily coverage of it.
Mako’s extensive account of his workflow tools is finally up on Uses This. The post is remarkable for many reasons. First of all, Mako puts more care and thought into his technology than anybody I know, so it’s great to see the logic behind his setup explained more or less in full. Secondly, I found it extra remarkable because I have been collaborating (and even living!) closely with Mako for a while now and I still learned a ton from reading the post. My favorite detail is unquestionably the bit about his typing eliciting a noise complaint while he was in college. As a rather loud typist myself, I have been subject to snark and snubbery from various quarters over the years, but I’ve never had anybody call the cops on me!
The Soviet Union lives on! But maybe not quite where you’d expect it. My friends and former Oakland neighbors Daniel Gallegos and Zhanara Nauruzbayeva have recently moved themselves and their incredible Artpologist project to New York. Upon arrival, they found themselves surrounded by a post soviet reality that most New Yorkers or Americans simply do not know exists at all, much less in the epicenter of finance capital. Their latest project, My American New York, chronicles this “post soviet America” through photos, stories, Daniel’s beautiful sketches, drawings, and paintings (e.g. the image at the top of this post), all wrapped up in a series of urban travelogues.
Philosophy Quantified: Kieran Healy has done a series of elegant and thoughtful guest posts on Leiter Reports in which he explores data from the 2004 and 2006 Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) surveys in an effort to generate some preliminary insights about the relationships between department status and areas of specialization.
March 18, 2012
As the Republican presidential candidates continue to duke it out in contentious primary elections around the country, I’ve started to notice the increasingly public signs that the Obama campaign is gearing up for battle. Not surprisingly, I tend to focus on the Obama re-election team’s uses of digital technologies, where a number of shifts may result in important changes for both the voter-facing and internal components of the Obama For America’s (OFA) digital operations. I started writing this post with the intent of reviewing some of the recent news coverage of the campaign, but it turned into a bit more of a long-form reflection about the relationship between the campaign’s approach to digital tools might mean for democracy.
OFA 2.0: Bigger, Faster, & Stronger (Data)
A fair amount of media coverage has suggested that the major technology-driven innovations within OFA and the Democratic party this election cycle are likely to consist of refined collection and analysis collection of vast troves of voter data as opposed to highly visible social media tools (such as My.BarackObama.com) that made headlines in 2008.
As Daniel Kreiss & Phil Howard elaborated a few years ago, database centralization and integration became core strategic initiatives for the Democratic National Committee after the 2000 election and the Obama campaign in 2008. These efforts have been expanded in big ways during the build-up to the current campaign cycle.
According to the bulk of the (often quite breathless) reporting on the semi-secretive activities of the 2012 Obama campaign, the biggest and newest initiatives represent novel applications of the big data repositories gathered by the campaign and its allies in previous years. These include the imaginatively named “Project Narwhal” aimed at correlating diverse dimensions of citizens’ behavior with their voting, donation, and volunteering records. There is also “Project Dreamcatcher,” an attempt to harness large-scale text analytics to facilitate micro-targeted voter outreach and engagement.
For a vivid example of what these projects mean (especially if you’re on any of the Obama campaign email lists), check out ProPublica’s recent coverage comparing the text of different versions of the same fundraising email distributed by the campaign two weeks ago (the narrative is here and the actual data and analysis are here).
(Side note: in general, Sasha Issenberg’s coverage of these and related aspects of the campaigns for Slate is great.)
What’s Next: “Gamified” and Quasi-open Campaign App Development
As the Republicans sort out who will face Obama in November, OFA will, of course, roll-out more social media content and tools. In this regard, last week’s release of heavily hyped “The Road We’ve Traveled” on YouTube was only the beginning of the campaign’s more public-facing phase.
The polished, professional video suggests that OFA will build on all of the social media presence and experience they built during and the last cycle as well as over the intervening years of Obama’s administration.
Less visible and less certain are whether any truly new social media tools or techniques will emerge from the campaign or its allies. Here, there are two recent initiatives that I think we might be talking about more over the course of the next six months.
The first of these started late last year, when OFA experimented with a relatively unpublicized initiative called “G.O.P. Debate Watch.” Aptly characterized by Jonathan Easley in The Hill as a “drinking game style fundraiser” the idea was that donors committed to give money for every time that a Republican candidate uttered particular, politicized keywords identified ahead of time (e.g. “Obamacare” or “Socialist”).
In its attempt to combine entertainment and a little bit of humor with small-scale fundraising, G.O.P. Debate Watch fits with a number of OFA’s other techniques aimed at using digital initiatives to lower the barriers to participation and engagement. At the same time, it incorporates much more explicit game-dynamics, setting it apart from earlier efforts and exemplifying the wider trend towards commercial gamification.
The second initiative, which only recently became public knowledge, has just begun with OFA opening a Technology Field Office in San Francisco last week.
The really unusual thing about the SF office is that it appears as though the campaign will use it primarily to try to organize and harness the efforts of volunteers who possess computer programming skills. This sort of coordinated, quasi-open tool-building effort is completely unprecedented, especially within OFA, which has historically pursued a secretive and closed model of innovation and internal technology development.
If the S.F. technology field office results in even one or two moderately successful projects – I imagine there will be a variety of mobile apps, games, and related tools that it will release between now and November – it may give rise to a wave of similar semi-open innovation efforts and facilitate an even closer set of connections between Silicon Valley firms and OFA.
Is This What Digital Democracy Looks Like?
I believe that the applications of commercial data-mining tools and gamification techniques to political campaigns have contradictory implications for democracy.
On the one hand, big data and social games represent the latest and greatest tools available for campaigns to use to try to engage citizens and get them actively involved in elections. Given the generally inattentive and fragmented state of the American electorate, part of me therefore believes that these efforts ultimately serve a valuable civic purpose and may, over the long haul, help to create a vital and digitally-enhanced civic sphere in this country.
At the same time, it is difficult to see how the OFA initiatives I have discussed here (and others occurring elsewhere across the U.S. political spectrum) advance equally important goals such as promoting cross-ideological dialogue, deliberative democracy, voter privacy, political accountability, or electoral transparency. (Along related lines, Dan Kreiss has blogged his thoughts about the 2012 Obama campaign and its embodiment of a certain vision of “the technological sublime.”)
All the database centralization, data mining, and gamified platforms for citizen engagement in the world will neither make a dysfunctional democratic government any more accountable to its citizens; erase broken aspects of the electoral system; nor generate a more deeply democratic and representative networked public sphere. Indeed, these techniques have generally been used to grow the bottom line of private companies with little or no concern for whether or not any broader public goods are created or distributed. Voters, pundits, President Obama, and the members of his campaign staff would all do well to keep that in mind no matter what happens this Fall.
March 11, 2012
It’s been a busy week. I spent two days of it attending the Truthiness and Digital Media symposium co-hosted by the Berkman Center and the MIT Center for Civic Media. As evidenced by the heart-warming picture above, the event featured an all-star crowd of folks engaged in media policy, research, and advocacy. Day 1 was a pretty straight-ahead conference format in a large classroom at Harvard Law School, followed on day 2 by a Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. To learn more about the event, check out the event website, read the twitter hashtag archive, and follow the blog posts (which, I believe, will continue to be published over the next week or so).
In the course of the festivities, I re-learned an important, personal truth about conferences: I like them more when they involve a concrete task or goal. In this sense, I found the hackathon day much more satisfying than the straight-ahead conference day. It was great to break into a small team with a bunch of smart people and work on achieving something together – in the case of the group I worked with, we wanted to design an experiment to test the effects of digital (mis)information campaigns on advocacy organizations’ abilities to mobilize their membership. I don’t think we’ll ever pursue the project we designed, but it was a fantastic opportunity to tackle a problem I actually want to study and to learn from the experiences and questions of my group-mates (one of whom already had a lot of experience with this kind of research design).
The moral of the story for me is that I want to use more hackathons, sprints, and the like in the context of my future research. It is also an excellent reminder that I want to do some reading about programmers’ workflow strategies more generally. I already use a few programmer tools and tactics in my research workflow (emacs, org-mode, git, gobby, R), but the workflow itself remains a kludge of terrible habits, half-fixes, and half-baked suppositions about the conditions that optimize my putative productivity.
November 20, 2011
The past two weeks’ protests and police-led violence at UC Berkeley and UC Davis signal both the expansion of the occupy movement as well as the extent of the leadership vacuum at the country’s most prestigious public university. Participants and observers much more eloquent than I have offered thoughtful responses to the situation. However, after reading about the events and media reactions to them, I thought that some recent history behind these campus movements could clarify how things got so bad in California and what they might mean in the coming months.
Most news reports have depicted the protests and confrontations as an outgrowth of the occupy Wall Street and Oakland protests, but in fact, the campus movements has much deeper roots. Four years ago, UC President Mark Yudof and co. responded to the financial shortfall brought on by the California budget crisis with a series of highly unpopular initiatives designed to centralize administrative authority, slash funding for a variety of programs, and avoid any sort of public accountability or debate over these actions. The following year, the union of graduate students and academic staff faced a lengthy, contentious budget negotiation in which the university negotiating team repeatedly undermined the collective bargaining process. Around the same time, a series of unilateral tuition increases provoked rage across many of the campuses and, at Berkeley, culminated in a violent showdown between police and student protesters seeking to occupy a classroom building.
The resulting climate around the campuses has become tense and polarized as the mutual distrust between the administrations on one hand, and an alliance of highly mobilized students, faculty, and staff on the other, has escalated.
The student organizers at Berkeley made a smart tactical decision to harness the momentum of the occupy movements and, in particular, the widespread resentment against the violent police response to the occupation of Frank Ogawa plaza in Oakland. With the November 9 protests, they sought to keep the pressure on their campus administrators as the UC regents planned to approve a new round of tuition increases last week (the meeting, planned to take place in San Francisco, was canceled in the wake of the Berkeley violence).
Chancellor Birgeneau (Berkeley) and his staff, in contrast, failed to learn anything from either their own past mistakes with the budget crisis protests or the errors of mayors across the country in responding to the recent occupations. Faced with a group of students opposed to further university budget cuts, tuition increases, and the widening inequality gap in California and across the country, the administration deployed the UC and Alameda County police departments. In doing so, they chose to enforce the letter of campus rules at the cost of student and faculty safety. The resulting violence was predictable, avoidable, and (from the point of view of building a climate of constructive public debate on campus) counterproductive. Birgeneau’s subsequent defense of the brutality was inexcusable.
The Davis protesters looked to build on the momentum of their Berkeley peers, joining in non-violent solidarity against budget cuts, police brutality, and inequality. Somehow, Chancellor Katehi managed to respond in an even more ham-handed manner than Birgeneau. Not only did she deploy the police – who, along with their pepper spray, proceeded to make national headlines – but she didn’t even plan on facing protesters when she called a press conference later that evening. Not surprisingly, her actions provoked righteous anger (and a poignant, silent confrontation as she left her office) on the part of students and faculty alike.
Today, UC President Mark Yudof entered the fray, delivering slaps on the wrist to his colleagues along with some bland comments condemning the excessive use of force against students and professors. Announcing that he will hold meetings and convene committees to review the events, Yudof delivered what many have come to expect from him in times of systemic crisis: bureaucracy.
In this sense, Yudof’s response is not only inadequate to the situation, but fails to address the complete breakdown of trust that has now occurred between the UC administrators and their respective constituents. On both campuses, the interests of the administrative elite have become so far removed from those of the students and faculty that the two groups are, perhaps a little too literally, at war. As a result, both Birgeneau and Katehi should go. They should be replaced with leaders who understand how to adopt creative responses that defend free speech and student safety at the cost of bending a few campus restrictions. These new leaders should also undertake an immediate overhaul of UC police crowd management techniques.
To close with a speculative prediction: I suspect that the intensity and extent of the violence on two UC campuses this past week will galvanize support for the students and, by proxy, the occupy movement with which they have aligned themselves. As James Fallows notes, the images coming out of New York, Portland, Oakland, Berkeley and Davis have much in common with those from Selma and Birmingham half a century ago. For many Americans, this sort of violent repression of protest speech will not resonate as either a legitimate or democratic use of state power.
June 16, 2009
A public relations bomb just landed in my inbox: an email fromUC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Provost George Breslauer announcing the impending reality of horrific budget cuts across the Berkeley campus and the rest of the UC system as the state slowly faces up to fiscal reality. Instead of the 8% cuts (approximately $67.2 million) that the campus had originally projected during their budgeting process, they now anticipate that the cuts likely to be approved by the legislature will force a 20% (or $145 million) cut. As you can imagine, the letter doesn’t get better after that.
I just read this a few seconds ago, so I don’t have anything thoughtful to say about it yet, but I felt compelled to reprint it here in full in order to publicize the situation. As I was looking at it, I couldn’t help but wonder at the extent to which these circumstances are likely to bring about radical changes for all of us affiliated with the country’s most renowned public institution of higher education. The inherent volatility of financial markets aside, the situation is a tragedy which could have been at least partially prevented through more effective action by California’s political elites.
Dear Campus Colleagues:
As you are undoubtedly aware, California’s financial crisis has worsened severely in recent weeks; this means that the likelihood of unprecedented cuts in State funding of the University has risen dramatically. UC Berkeley is facing the most difficult financial situation that we have ever encountered in our university careers.
We know that you have been hearing rumors about a number of potential actions designed to reduce costs not only at Berkeley but across the system. We want to lay out the financial context for you, tell you what we think may happen, and let you know our leadership strategy for the Berkeley campus as we manage through these difficult times.
Today, we find ourselves facing stark new realities.
Six weeks ago, UC Berkeley faced a $67.2 million budget gap for 2009-10. That anticipated shortfall has now grown to $145 million. Here is how we have been working to address the anticipated shortfall.
* The recently-enacted 9.3% student fee increases and other revenue-enhancement measures that become effective July 1, have reduced the $145 million gap by $30 million.
* In addition, through the work of many of you, our cost-saving measures introduced in 2008-2009 have further reduced the gap by another $15 million.
* That leaves us, at present, with a $100 million remaining gap for the academic year 2009-2010. We are hopeful that this gap will not grow further as the State finalizes its budget, but we must assume that this is our working target as we plan for the coming year.
* The possible loss of the Cal Grants program, as proposed by the Governor, is not included in the above totals. These grants total $47 million annually to the UC Berkeley campus. They cover fees for a large number of our undergraduates. The loss of Cal Grants would not only disadvantage those students; it would fundamentally subvert our social imperative to provide broad social access to the excellence at UC Berkeley. The Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee has proposed protecting student awards for 2009-2010 grants, but that is not 100 percent certain.
* Federal stimulus funds are beginning to trickle in, but are not designed to cover existing core operations.
UC Berkeley, of course, is not alone in facing these challenges. Private universities have suffered major declines in their endowments while public universities nationwide have experienced severe cuts in State support.
This basically means that we are now facing a reduction of our baseline budget that will likely continue, and may even deepen, over multiple years. These unprecedented developments require us to examine the underlying assumptions that guide us in delivering and supporting the University’s mission of teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and public service.
For UC Berkeley, this much is certain: all of us—students, faculty, staff, and senior administrators—will be required to sacrifice as we navigate our way through this crisis. At the same time, it is essential that we work together to address the formidable challenges ahead of us.
Our budget planning scenarios, which had earlier anticipated an average of 8% permanent budget cuts to all campus units for the coming fiscal year, will now likely be at a campus-wide average of 20%. While some units will need to spread the cuts over two years, the campus average cut must be at least 12% in 2009-2010. The remainder must be taken by 2010-2011.
These cuts will not be uniform “across-the-board”; units that are core to the teaching and research missions will be given somewhat lesser cuts than the others, and, within the teaching-and-research realms, units with higher capacity will be asked to take larger cuts than those with lower capacity. This is the only rational approach in a campus like ours if we are to preserve our depth and breadth of academic excellence—our principal competitive advantage.
Clearly cuts of this magnitude will require all areas of our campus to sacrifice considerably, and to make changes in their core operations. We will need to reduce our workforce significantly and this will be painful and difficult. To accomplish this, we will also need to make changes to our core operations and the way we do our work. All of these efforts will take time to achieve.
Over the summer, managers will work with their units to make difficult but necessary decisions about reductions in our workforce, while determining which services we can eliminate or curtail. Naturally, all policies and procedures will be followed, and we will work to treat our people with the respect and dignity they deserve under these very difficult circumstances. We are sensitive to the impact of staffing reductions on the workload of remaining staff and are seeking ways to streamline our business processes.
As each unit or department works to meet our new budget number, many specifics remain unclear, requiring approval by the Office of the President and the Regents for system-wide implementation. We would like to inform you of those things that are likely or certain to occur in 2009-2010.
What We Know for Sure
* It is, unfortunately, certain that, during 2009-2010, efforts to implement permanent budget cuts at all UC campuses will result in the elimination of many staff positions.
* It is certain that, during 2009-2010, there will be a near-total freeze in new faculty hiring at UC Berkeley.
* It is certain that, during 2009-2010, a staff hiring freeze at UC Berkeley will remain in effect.
* It is also certain that there will be no faculty or staff early-retirement programs at UC campuses on the order of the VERIP of the 1990s.
What is Likely to Happen
* It is highly likely that, through temporary furloughs and/or pay cuts, faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will see their wages reduced by about 8 percent (with potentially a lower rate for our lowest paid workers); it remains uncertain whether pension calculations will be affected by this reduction.
* It is highly likely that, at some point during the 2009-2010 academic year, faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will begin contributing to the UC pension fund.
* It is quite possible that the health-care premiums paid by faculty, staff, and senior administrators at all UC campuses will increase significantly.
Our first and foremost goal is to preserve the academic excellence of Berkeley. To that end, let us be clear as to what we will not entertain during this crisis.
* We are not discussing or considering layoffs of Senate faculty members, tenured or untenured.
* We are not discussing or considering making Senate faculty promotion decisions contingent on available funding.
* We will not sacrifice Berkeley’s commitment to breadth and depth of academic excellence.
* We will not allow the budgetary crisis to subvert either the delivery of our teaching mission or the support infrastructure for research.
* We will not sacrifice our commitment to social access: low-income students who have earned a place at Berkeley must be capable of affording a UC Berkeley education.
* We will not flag in our commitment to recruit to Berkeley the best graduate students in all fields.
* We will not abandon our efforts to train and promote a highly skilled and diverse workforce.
These are the guiding principles that will be in the forefront of our activities as we entertain difficult choices.
As we progress through this budgetary crisis, we are also looking forward to the longer term prospects and we are taking measures to reduce the size and cost of our enterprise by streamlining work. For example, we have begun implementing a multi-year plan to streamline administrative processes in IT, Human Resources, procurement, business services, student advising, research administration, and other areas. Many of these improvements will involve centralized and automated systems that will reduce our dependence on a patchwork of decentralized, labor-intensive operations.
Over time, a combination of layoffs, retirements and normal attrition will result in a smaller workforce that will bring our staff and faculty payroll closer to alignment with State funding, while maintaining high-quality services. Toward these ends, we have already made substantial investments in systems such as the Human Capital Management (HCM) systems, the Berkeley Financial System (BFS), and an upgrade to ePro, our procurement system.
We are also working with the Office of the President on ways to cut costs by adopting system-wide (UC) administrative systems and reducing prices through system-wide procurement of some goods and services. Locally, we are consolidating the administration of contracts and grants and are merging back-office functions of both academic and non-academic units.
We are actively engaged and working closely with the Academic Senate and a faculty subgroup that has been formed specifically to examine budget reduction measures. We anticipate evaluating all options around hiring, retention practices, and strategies to defend the breadth and depth of academic excellence for which UC Berkeley is renowned.
We are implementing an entire suite of revenue-enhancement measures: full recovery of the central administrative costs associated with our self-sufficient auxiliary enterprises; negotiation of a higher federal overhead rate for campus research; expansion of the reach and earnings potential of University Extension and Summer Sessions; and, of course, intensified private fund-raising. We are also restructuring campus debt to reduce those costs over the near term.
In the external realm, University leaders are advocating aggressively, making sure that legislators, the public, and UC’s closest constituents understand the value of our mission, employees, and students.
We pledge to redouble our efforts to strengthen UC Berkeley’s long and rich tradition of combining access and excellence. Throughout the State, country, and even the world, Berkeley remains the standard by which all other universities are judged when it comes to the combination of comprehensive academic excellence and deep commitment to a public mission. We will not shy away from our commitment to either of these lofty goals.
Through shared sacrifice by students, staff, faculty, and senior administrators, and through renewed efforts to reduce over time the cost of delivering instruction, research, and administrative services on campus, we will emerge from this crisis more focused and more efficient, but equally excellent and accessible. UC Berkeley has been an outstanding institution for 141 years and it will still be outstanding 141 years from now. We look forward to working with you toward these ends.
What happens next?
We are acutely aware that the economic situation makes this a difficult time, professionally and personally, for many of you. Change of this magnitude will be difficult. We have asked our Human Resources area to assist in a number of ways, specifically by supporting managers and employees as we work through this difficult time. We understand that clear information on campus actions and resources to help you is essential. We ask that managers and supervisors please take time to go though this message with your employees. We renew our commitment to bring you that information as we learn it, via e-mails and on our Budget Central website: newscenter.berkeley.edu/budgetWe hope that you will watch the site for budget news as it develops, and we thank you for your continued commitment and dedication to this unique institution.
Robert J. Birgeneau
George W. Breslauer
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost