The signs of UC Berkeley’s relative decline are clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place.
When UC Berkeley announced its elimination of baseball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse teams and its defunding of the national-champion men’s rugby team, the chancellor sighed, “Sorry, but this was necessary!”
But was it? Yes, the university is in dire financial straits. Yet $3 million was somehow found to pay the Bain consulting firm to uncover waste and inefficiencies in UC Berkeley, despite the fact that a prominent East Coast university was doing the same thing without consultants.
Essentially, the process requires collecting and analyzing information from faculty and staff. Apparently, senior administrators at UC Berkeley believe that the faculty and staff of their world-class university lack the cognitive ability, integrity, and motivation to identify millions in savings. If consultants are necessary, the reason is clear: the chancellor, provost, and president have lost credibility with the people who provided the information to the consultants. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau has reigned for eight years, during which time the inefficiencies proliferated. Even as Bain’s recommendations are implemented (“They told me to do it”, Birgeneau), credibility and trust problems remain.
Bain is interviewing faculty, staff, senior management and the academic senate leaders for $150 million in inefficiencies, most of which could have been found internally. One easy-to-identify problem, for example, was wasteful procurement practices such as failing to secure bulk discounts on printers. But Birgeneau apparently has no concept of savings: even in procuring a consulting firm, he failed to receive proposals from other firms.
Students, staff, faculty, and California legislators are the victims of his incompetence. Now that sports teams are feeling the pinch, perhaps the California Alumni Association, benefactors and donators, and the UC Board of Regents will demand to know why Birgeneau is raking in $500,000 a year despite the abdication of his responsibilities.
The author, who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way the senior management operates.
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