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Monday, August 02, 2004
Birgeneau: In Need of Canuck Luck
(Note: Sorry for the delay in the publishing of this post. I was out of town on family business sans laptop or Internet connection. I am currently rehabilitating from this traumatizing set of events, and will be back to full capacity soon.)
Well, the new chancellor was finally announced, and the initial media probable for the job actually turned out to be the leading candidate. Robert Birgeneau, of the University of Toronto, will be Berkeley’s 9th chancellor. With just a few weeks until the fall semester begins, it seems like the process has come to a successful end, right?
Wrong. Birgeneau, in accepting the chancellor position at Berkeley, immediately enters a situation where the odds are stacked highly against any substantial success during his term. Here are the three main reasons why:
1) Birgen-who? After the months of delays and secrecy in the chancellor selection process, anticipation for the new chancellor inevitably led to higher expectations for Berdahl’s replacement. A big name from a big school was needed to make people forget that they had to wait so long for it. But Birgeneau is not a big name in any circle. The University of Toronto is generally not a well known school to the American public, and Birgeneau’s administrative career has been less than stellar, as the Canadian media has characterized him as often being more concentrated on his own research than his administrative duties. On top of that, Birgeneau is not a woman or a minority. Why are all these points relevant? Bottom line: Birgeneau is not news worthy. Compared to other chancellor searches, this one is an overwhelming bust. Birgeneau is immediately at a disadvantage, because pressure to prove himself as a strong and effective administrator independent of President Dynes immediately may conflict with a desire to form an effective agenda and long-term plan as Chancellor.
2) It’s the economy, stupid. The UC budget is in the worst state it has been in for years. There has not been a successful $1b + fundraising campaign completed at Berkeley for several years. And, this financial situation has arguably led to a significant deterioration in the quality of education at Berkeley, as well as all public schools. Of no fault of his own, Birgeneau is handicapped as to his resources to make progress at Berkeley. Not helping the situation is the fact that Birgeneau has never been known as a very successful fundraiser at the University of Toronto. Birgeneau will have to be conservative with his financial resources, but will this lead to a lack of activity or progress.
3) Berkeley First-Year. No matter how you look at it, Birgeneau has no experience at Berkeley, or even in a similar scenario. Heck, he has never even held a post west of the Rockies. He is unfamiliar with California politics, local politics, or campus politics. His connections to prominent community leaders, politicians, and faculty are extremely limited, if even existent. Yet, he is expected to take the reins of the university and lead it to success? Seems like a bit of a long shot to me.
Now, it is way too early to declare that Robby B., Part Deux will fail miserably, or fail at all, for that matter. I definitely hope for all the success possible for Birgeneau. But, the stage is set for public embarrassment, and ultimately Birgeneau and UC President Dynes may be the people who end up needing the most cover if/when the shit hits the fan. But, on the plus side, Birgeneau probably won’t be leaving Berkeley with any more hate-sites. (Berkeley students prefer vocal, more in-person protests.)
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