Fall welcome message from Dean Ackerly

August 23, 2018

Dean Ackerly welcomes the CNR community back to campus in his fall welcome message

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all back to campus for the start of a new academic year. As most of you know by now, I took the reins as Dean of CNR on July 1. I spent the summer immersing myself in the College, from walking tours of our buildings to meetings with donors. CNR is a diverse, accomplished, and vibrant community, and I continue to learn new things and meet new people every day. I am excited by this opportunity to lead CNR in the coming years.

I want to take this opportunity to share my thoughts about priorities for the upcoming year, and how our activities will connect with campus initiatives. I hope you all had a chance to read Chancellor Christ’s welcome message and a recent discussion by campus leaders.

Welcome to the incoming class
I want to extend a special welcome to the 586 new undergraduates (first year and transfer students), 62 Master’s students, and 67 PhD students arriving to begin their Berkeley careers. You join more than 2,000 CNR undergraduate and graduate students who call this college ‘home.’ We’re excited to get to know you and look forward to the infusion of new energy you bring to CNR. Please take advantage of our ‘small college in a big university’ to reach out, talk to your advisors, peers, and faculty, and make the most of what CNR and Berkeley have to offer in the years ahead.

Arrivals and departures
I would also like to welcome new faculty and cooperative extension specialists who arrived in the past year or over the summer: Joseph Shapiro and Ellen Bruno (ARE); Trevor Keenan, Albert Ruhi, Daniel Sanchez, and Seth Holmes (ESPM); Anders Naar (NST); Ksenia Krasileva and Sabeeha Merchant (PMB). Four faculty retired last year, and we’re deeply grateful for their many contributions to our community: John Taylor (PMB), Carolyn Merchant and Wayne Getz (ESPM), and Barry Shane (NST). With sadness, we also mourn the passing of John Casida (Emeritus, ESPM/NST), George Oster (Emeritus, ESPM) and Peter Berck (ARE).

Changes in the dean’s office
We are saddened to say good-bye to OISA Assistant Dean Rebecca Sablo, who is moving on to a new position as Associate Registrar. Congratulations Rebecca, and we’ll miss you! Stay tuned for an announcement of a new hire to this important position. Executive Associate Dean Steven Lindow has also announced he will step down later this fall, and faculty will be contacted soon to solicit nominations for candidates to fill this critical role.

Listening sessions
As the fall semester progresses, I will be holding a series of ‘town hall’ meetings, with undergraduates, graduate students, and staff, and also visiting department faculty meetings. I look forward to these opportunities to meet more of you and engage your questions, visions, and ideas for CNR. Watch for announcements through your respective communities. And please feel free to contact me directly any time, especially if you are not able to attend these meetings.

Campus strategic plan
My top academic priority for the coming year is CNR’s engagement with the campus strategic plan and the accompanying development of the capital campaign. While still in draft form, the signature initiatives in Environment, Sustainability, and Justice and Charting a New Course to Health and Wellbeing are integral to CNR’s core mission. CNR faculty and the Dean’s Office will play a key role as these initiatives take shape and are translated into a concrete vision for the future of teaching, research, and service at Berkeley. For faculty and graduate students, I urge you to read the draft plans and think about how your research and teaching connects with these broader initiatives that may shape the future direction of campus. For all students, consider how these initiatives can help us better educate and prepare you for your future careers and your ability to address the many pressing environmental and social problems of our day.

Within CNR, we will use the strategic plan to: inform faculty hiring plans and future research directions; conduct an evaluation of possible new master’s degree programs and other curricular innovations; and prioritize our fund-raising efforts, including graduate student support, endowed faculty chairs, and investments in new and renovated facilities. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to participate in these discussions.

Equity, inclusion and diversity
We are in the midst of a critical moment in our nation’s history, reckoning with legacies of past inequity and the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing population, especially in California. I am committed to leading CNR in a process of self-reflection and action, building on our strengths and identifying weaknesses in equity, inclusion, and diversity, including issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment. In the next two months, I will be establishing a college-wide committee composed of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and external advisors. The committee will be charged to: 1) survey existing programs and initiatives in the college, 2) identify areas of greatest concern to our community, and 3) make specific recommendations to departmental and Dean’s Office leadership. I look forward to working closely with this committee, and the opportunity to act on recommendations that reflect the collective concerns and priorities of the entire community. Watch for more information soon.

Building updates
Two large projects will impact our community this year. Sometime this fall, demolition will begin on Tolman Hall, behind Koshland. It will be noisy and dusty, but it will also make way for a new building in the future. CNR is participating in discussions about this project, but nothing to announce yet. In addition, the occupants of Giannini Hall will be moving en masse to University Hall on Oxford St, while Giannini undergoes a 24-month seismic retrofit and renovation. Be sure to visit – we won’t be too far away! And last, campus is proceeding with ambitious plans to expand student housing, including consideration of a dorm on a portion of the Oxford Tract. While this will not be the first housing project the campus undertakes, it is very much a part of the housing master plan. Many of you were involved in these discussions last year, and hopefully have seen the Oxford Tract report. Later in the year, I will reach out to the faculty and students involved in research at the Oxford Tract, as well as the student organic garden, when this topic rises back on the agenda.

Budget update
Thanks to hard work by campus leadership, budget cuts implemented by campus units, new revenue generation, and unexpected support from the legislature, the University expects to meet its target of a balanced budget by June 2019, a year ahead of schedule. CNR has played its part in this process, and I know the cuts have been painful and impacted activities across the College. I am deeply grateful to CNR’s dedicated staff, who shoulder heavy workloads and are called on to serve with grace under pressure. Our faculty and graduate student instructors step up to deliver excellent instruction with limited support, and everyone faces the pressures of the rising cost of living in the Bay Area. In the coming year, we will have to make a final round of adjustments via budget reductions or revenue generation. We will continue to work to minimize impact on staffing and core programs. As we move to a sustainable financial model, Berkeley is increasingly dependent on philanthropic support and tuition revenue, coupled with a continued commitment to need-based student aid. These changes will continue, well beyond this year’s budget process.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message. I am grateful to all who have helped me in the transition to my new role, and look forward to meeting more of you and working with you in the months and years ahead.

David Ackerly
Dean, CNR