Aug '08 - Jun '10
I interrupt this flow of dreamy travelogues to report on something I feel is incredibly important. I got back to Berkeley a few days ago for a pit-stop en route to my final destination of the Branner fellowship, the Philippines and Guam. My inbox has been inundated with messages bouncing around from students and administrators alike about a new fee that is slated to begin starting next fall. It's called a Professional Degree Fee or PDF. Already the graduate schools of Law, Business, Public Health and Public Policy have this fee, ranging from about $5000 a year for the two latter and over $25000 per year for the two former. The PDF has been under review for a few years now here at the College of Environmental Design.
Our new dean, Jennifer Wolch, probably feeling like Barack Obama, is stepping on to a sinking ship. We all know how screwed California is. (A flyer in Wurster Hall reads: California is Broken. Let's fix it.) On October 9th, students received the following memo from Dean Wolch:
As many of you know, over the past 3 years, the College has been considering the adoption of a Professional Differential Fee (PDF) for professional graduate students. This is something that is being implemented in many professional degree programs across campus, to sustain and enhance the quality of the professional schools' academic programs and services. Our deliberations have included extensive student surveys, discussions with staff, and faculty meetings both within individual departments and college-wide. Because of our collective desire to not only maintain the excellence of our programs and infrastructure, but to enhance the CED educational experience and placement opportunities for professional graduate students, the College has proposed a $6,000 per year PDF to the University of California Office of the President (UCOP). If approved by UCOP, this proposal will come before the UC Regents for their approval, sometime this fall.
It is important to understand several points related to the PDF. If approved:
1. The PDF would be assessed for all professional graduate students (MArch; MCP; MLA; MLA-EP; and MUD).
2. The fee would be imposed beginning in academic year 2010.
3. Continuing students, who entered prior to Fall 2010, would have their PDF returned to them in the form of student financial aid (but they would continue to pay the equivalent of the Miscellaneous Student Fees as appropriate for use of computer labs, CAD/CAM lab, shop, etc.).
4. For incoming (new) students, the PDF would replace Miscellaneous Student Fees.
5. At least 33% of the PDF would be returned to students in the form of financial aid.
6. Some share of PDF funds would likely be deployed to improve information technology infrastructure and services, provide other instructional support, enhance student career services, and increase participation of students from under-represented groups.
7. Students would be directly involved in developing plans for the allocation of PDF revenue.
I am currently meeting with graduate student association leaders to understand their range of concerns, and have scheduled a Town Hall meeting with all CED graduate students. You will receive a notice of this meeting soon. I encourage you all to attend and participate. In turn, I will be happy to share with you more details regarding the PDF, as well as answer your questions on a broad range of additional issues of concern.
Dean, College of Environmental Design
Various letters expressing the students' concern have been circulated from all departments within the College. The concerns in the Architecture letter can be summarized: 1. Please bring the proposal for the PDF back to our campus and reopen a comment period 2. In order to protect our own and future students’ interests, we want transparency and student governance in every step of instituting the PDF 3. We want to ensure that continuing students are not charged this new fee. And 4. We want the support of the administration in securing new sources of funding.
There was a Town Hall meeting two days ago which I sat in on. Dean Wolch addressed a few hundred bristled graduate students from architecture, planning, and landscape. She looked a little uneasy up there, and I think that came from having some sympathy ("no one wants to do this") but at the same time knowing that it doesn't matter what we say, the PDF is going to happen. The atmosphere became ludicrous at times, with students announcing things like a survey taken where 90% of students say they don't want to spend $6,000 more per year etc etc. (duh..) And at the end saying "The question is, Dean Wolch, does student opinion matter at all?" At one point Dean Wolch lost her patience as students demanded to see the CED's budget. She basically laughed it off, "It's too complicated." It was a dumb request by the student, but that didn't look so good on Dean Wolch's part. It reveals, though, just how much pressure she is under.
The biggest fear is lack of student input in future decisions about the PDF--since everyone sitting in that room is promised to be exempt from the PDF, we are actually standing up for students who haven't yet come to the CED. You guys out there who might be reading this, wondering whether or not you should apply to Berkeley--there's a fight under way on your behalf. We don't want fees that can be hiked up on a regular basis (every three years the PDF is under review: it can be taken away, though that has never happened, or increased up to 7%, which you can bet on).
Recent protests at Sproul Plaza
Folks, Berkeley is about to get more expensive. A LOT more expensive. One of the greatest selling points of the architecture program has been the "bargain" of an education, which it truly has been. When I began in 2007, tuition for in-state residents was just $4,789 per semester. The fees for next semester, however are rising to $5,616. The spur for the recent campus-wide protests and walk-outs is the fear that the fees will just continue to rise to the point where those who need access to public education might not get it. That's likely to affect students from middle class families the most. What's more important, to maintain access or to maintain the quality of the infrastructure and education? These are really tough decisions to make.
Add the $6000 PDF and I'm not so sure Berkeley is a bargain anymore. I've always thought "Okay, it's been one hell of a struggle to get the CNC router up and running, but man what a bargain this place is" or "Why can't we get more faculty, or more staff? How about an advisor?… but man, what a bargain my education is." Hell, I won this huge fellowship (that comes from a private endowment). I have absolutely no right to complain. But this isn't about feeling stingy or bitter that a cheap education is about to get more expensive. It's about students lacking control of the cost of our education and decisions happening at the top of the system.
Hello UCLA? You're facing the same deal. In fact, Dean Wolch said UCLA is looking at an $8,000 PDF. Public education in California is under some severe stress. So don't think you're escaping the blighted economy by coming to school. Shit rolls downhill, and as a student, well, you're pretty much at the bottom. Never mind though, we're still sticking up for you and fighting for some control over just how much shit, and how fast it will roll.