by Carol Denney September 2020
UC Berkeley's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Carol Denney 9/13/2020
First there was the little neighborhood group that could. Then there was the pants on fire report. And then, of course, there was deflated football cherry on top of the heap of stink that has become the college experience on campus. What's even worse, discerning alumni and observers know that the University of California at Berkeley bears full responsibility for it all.
It was simply a bad bet that nobody in the Bay Area would notice an extra 8,000 to 10,000 students UC Berkeley Chancellor Christ and previous chancellors thought they could hide under their skirts while people in Berkeley noticed people living five to a bedroom and vying for space under the overpass. UC Berkeley tried to argue that overshooting their own enrollment projections in its contract with the City of Berkeley wasn't a "project", an argument rejected by San Francisco's First District Court of Appeal which noted that environmental review can be required if the impacts of a rising student population are significant.
Then came the one-two cross, a $2.35 million dollar fine when a federal Department of Education's three year review affirmed that UC Berkeley had improperly reported more than 1,100 crimes on and around campus between 2009 and 2016, repeatedly misstating the time and place such that the federally required information was "of little or no value." In one case a student accused of and who had indirectly confessed to multiple sexual offenses was allowed to participate in an internship in Washington, D.C. Or perhaps the chancellor thought that might be a good fit.
It was all reported on the same day that most of Oregon went up in flames, the state where the scrambling UC Berkeley athletic department had planned to have at least some semblance of a football game despite the PAC-12's season's cancellation. The $50 million loss estimated by Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton to his department’s budget for the coming fiscal year came before breathing the air resembled trying to drink toxic sludge. Thousands are evacuated throughout the west watching their communities torched. Even though many sports events are taking place in front of cardboard cutouts, continuing to play at all has unsettling optics even before Oregon registered between 400 and 500 on the air quality index.
UC Berkeley can bulldoze our landmarks, our parks, our community's cultural shrines and traditions almost without obstruction given its well-worn exemptions and its facade as a school, the most convenient cover for one of the largest nuclear weapons contractors in the world. But as the school facade literally crumbles under the crush of long-deferred building maintenance issues, UC might consider that the hundreds of millions of debt it is now saddled with on behalf of a football stadium it can't use might indicate that it's time to re-think endless expansion in favor of a modest amount of common sense and responsible stewardship.
Those of us who are alumni struggle to take pride in a school both so badly mismanaged and so deliberately aimed at the destruction of the values we thought we shared. UC San Diego booted football entirely in favor of an academic focus years ago for good reasons besides their 0-7 record, according to the Triton News, February 1, 2019: "... NCAA Division I college football is multimillion dollar boondoggle the university has a responsibility to avoid. In the NCAA’s most recent publication of national athletic department finances, UCLA ranked 29th, breaking exactly even in revenue and expenses. Berkeley ranked 42nd, reporting a net loss of almost $16 million. The highest ranked public university was the University of Oregon, but approximately $95 million of their reported revenues came from in-kind gifts, like the Hatfield-Dowlin football complex. This does not appear to take into account millions siphoned from the University of Oregon’s general fund into the supposedly self-sufficient athletic department."
UC Berkeley, which uses similarly creative bookkeeping, could certainly have seen years ago that football posed a health risk because of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and even mild concussion research well-known in medical and academic circles long before public awareness of its potential for long-term damage to the brain. These revelations were breathtaking as a stand-alone issue which preceded the Covid-19 pandemic's effect on the impossible equation for paying off UC Berkeley's stadium debt, a debt which made the campus a laughing stock by offering itself as a wedding venue. The Covid-19 pandemic is predicted to last at the very least well into next year - and UC Berkeley is pumped and ready to play.
UC Berkeley's penchant for self-inflicted wounds is not unstoppable. But our somnambulant city council needs to wake up and say something. The current council majority has not reflected community values plainly stated in our Public Parks and Open Space Protection Act and in multiple city plans going back decades, opting instead to favor tinkering with the wording of various plans to include corporate interests. The mayor is famous for insisting on even bigger canisters of chemical irritants for the police.
The dominant council faction's preference is for shoveling largesse into wealthy developers' pockets for cramped high-end housing in a pandemic while turning a blind eye toward a serious approach to the pandemic's requirements to reduce contagion, the community ravages of the attendant recession (beyond the heartbreaking inconvenience to wealthy diners), an unaccountable police department disproportionately stopping Black people, a pepper-spray-equipped army of "ambassadors" trained to automatically combat the presence of the homeless and poor, and the crying need for honestly affordable housing for displaced families while enthusiastically embracing the re-purposing and destruction of local parks for commercial use.
Pick up the phone and talk to them about it before yet another election passes where, with the clear exception of a couple of councilmembers, they are entitled to assume anything they please from the deafening silence.
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