by Rachel Swan
Higher education watchdogs were all a-Twitter today about UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's surprising announcement that he plans to abscond his post at the end of the calendar year and return to academia. Apparently, he'd wanted to do so all along, and had only sustained an 8 year tenure as chancellor to help mend the university's financial struggles. A vehement critic of cuts to education funding and fervent advocate for accessibility, Birgeneau became a target of recent protest movements at the university, owing to his symbolic association with the police crackdown at Occupy Cal. Students called for the chancellor's resignation when he appeared at an Associated Students of the University of California meeting in December.
But many in Berkeley still regard the chancellor as a local folk hero, particularly in light of his speeches on inclusivity and the importance of financial prudence. In a letter addressed to the campus community at large, Birgeneau wrote that fund-raising campaigns and a shrewd financial management team have helped him weather "one of the most challenging periods in [UC Berkeley's] 144-year history." He also praised alumni and friends for helping raise $2.4 billion of a $3 billion goal, sustaining intercollegiate athletics, and creating a viable budgetary model even in the face of precipitous cuts and rising tuition. Birgeneau will return to the Departments of Physics and Material Sciences and Engineering next year; you can read the full text of his letter at Berkeleyside.