CHANCELLOR ROBERT J. BIRGENEAU VISITS IRLE
Berkeley’s newly appointed Chancellor, Robert J. Birgeneau, spoke at IRLE on March 30, 2005, at a welcoming reception in his honor. Art Pulaski, Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO spoke as well. The event was attended by many of IRLE’s affiliated faculty members, staff and students, together with many community friends and leaders from the labor movement.
In introducing the Chancellor and Mr. Pulaski, IRLE Director Michael Reich commented on the resurgent interest in labor and employment among newly recruited faculty members. “We have seen a growing interest in labor issues among our new colleagues, and the trend spans many disciplines. New recruitments in public policy, sociology and environmental resources have brought new vitality to Berkeley’s already-strong focus on industrial relations issues.”
Chancellor Birgeneau spoke about his overall career, during which he worked closely with labor groups in many settings. While at MIT, he was instrumental in advancing faculty equity and recruiting women to MIT. At the University of Toronto, he inherited a fragmented labor relations environment that was marked by tense relations. “If you looked at the bigger picture, everybody, including the faculty, was upset about compensation issues. The big difference was that the faculty was treated with more respect than the labor unions that were represented on campus. When I started according the labor unions the same respect as everyone else expected, the result was four years of labor ‘peace’ at the University of Toronto.”
Art Pulaski, Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, expressed his strong interest in working closely with Chancellor Birgeneau. “Throughout California’s history, the Labor Movement has always supported the University—indeed, the movement was instrumental in its formation and development. The California Labor Federation is looking forward to working with Chancellor Birgeneau and his administration to advance Berkeley, which is a great public institution and resource for the people of California.” Pulaski also highlighted the influential role of IRLE and CLRE on public policy, citing recent studies on such topics as paid family leave, minimum wage impacts and the hidden public costs of low-wage employment.
Chancellor Birgeneau also addressed the points in his March 27, 2005 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. In that opinion piece, the Chancellor reaffirmed the University’s historic role as one of the most important gateways to education and career success for California’s multicultural population. He cited the fact that many business leaders agree that it is crucial for the University to train a student body that reflects every ethnic and cultural group within the state, because Berkeley graduate will be leaders in the future. “The system is broken,” the Chancellor said, “and it is up to us to fix it.”
The Chancellor’s enthusiasm was infectious, and the event was reminiscent of the reception that was held in honor of Dolores Huerta, when she was appointed as a Regent. “It was opportune for the Chancellor to visit IRLE just now,” Michael Reich said. “The University of California at Berkeley is strongly positioned at the ‘crossroads’ where labor and employment issues intersect, with clear benefits not only for policy makers and academics, but also for the working people of California. IRLE is very pleased to welcome the Chancellor to Berkeley, and we’re expecting great things in the coming years.”