UC-Berkeley fights to retain professors

Raises $1.1b to compete with Ivy posts

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brian K. Sullivan and Matthew Keenan
Bloomberg News / March 15, 2008

The University of California, Berkeley, the highest-ranked state college in the United States, has raised $1.1 billion toward a war chest to fight raids on its faculty by wealthier Harvard and Yale.

The money will endow chairs for 100 professors. Berkeley's teachers now often earn less than counterparts at Harvard and are vulnerable to higher offers, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said. The school will also overhaul management of its $2.9 billion endowment to match the 23 percent return at Harvard's $34.9 billion fund, Birgeneau said.

"These institutions are competing for exactly the same faculty that we are trying to hire and so an important question is whether the public universities are going to be able to compete," Birgeneau, 65, said in an interview.

Berkeley has been hit by increased competition for students as Harvard and other elite schools step up financial aid, becoming cheaper than Berkeley for some families. Berkeley has lost at least 30 faculty members since 2003 to its eight primary competitors, led by Harvard. The California school also faces a 10 percent cut in state subsidies under the budget proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Berkeley, which counts 44 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni and past and present faculty, is the highest-ranked publicly supported university in US News & World Report magazine's 2008 list, and places 21st overall.

The school argues that it deserves support because, unlike elite private universities, Berkeley has a mission of educating a broad cross-section of students, Birgeneau said. Thirty-one percent of Berkeley's undergraduates, most of whom are from California, are eligible for federal Pell grants for students whose family income is less than $45,000.

There are about 7,500 Pell-eligible students at Berkeley, more "than are present on the campuses of all the Ivy League universities put together," Birgeneau said. Twelve percent of Harvard's students qualified for Pell grants, as did 9.4 percent of Yale University's in 2006, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Berkeley's fees, housing, books, and other expenses bring the typical annual cost for California residents to $25,300, compared with $45,620 at Harvard.

Competition for low- and middle-income students is intensifying, as Harvard, Yale, and other schools have sweetened aid plans. Harvard waives all costs for students from households earning less than $60,000 annually. Grants from Berkeley lower its costs to $8,000 for families making less than $40,000, Birgeneau said.

Harvard is also instituting a sliding scale, with contributions from households earning up to $180,000 a year capped at 10 percent of income. Families earning $90,000 pay the full price at Berkeley, Birgeneau said.

The average annual salary for a full professor at Berkeley in fiscal 2006 was $134,672, or 15 percent less than the average earned by counterparts at private institutions, according to the university. Associate professors made $88,576, or 14 percent less than peers at private schools.

Econometrician Guido Imbens left Berkeley for Harvard in 2006; chemical engineering professor Arup Chakraborty went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005; and law professor Robert Post joined Yale in 2003.

Chakraborty, 46, worked at Berkeley for more than 16 years. When he was considering leaving for MIT, Berkeley offered to establish an endowed chair for him, narrowing the financial differences between the schools.

"It is true that over the long term, private schools do offer endowed chairs that are more sustainable," he said. "In general, for Berkeley, it is a bit of a problem."

The state of California is projecting an $8 billion budget deficit by June 30, 2009. Schwarzenegger has proposed a 10 percent spending cut, while Democrats in the Legislature want to raise taxes.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said Berkeley's professors often earn less than counterparts at Harvard and are vulnerable to higher offers.


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