Welcome to John Wilton's Blog. On this page, VC Wilton shares his thoughts on current issues in Administration & Finance and other topics.

If you have thoughts or comments in response to these messages, please send them to vcaf@berkeley.edu.

Wanted: An Affordability Debate Anchored in Reality

December 5, 2014

Since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Andrew Rossi’s documentary, The Ivory Tower, has fueled a debate about the rising cost and value of higher education.

The film focuses on examples that highlight the increasing costs of higher education and asks how this is compatible with the goal of providing access to as many students as possible - a good question. But the film stops short of tackling the more difficult next step - how do we create a financially sustainable framework that enables us to achieve this aspirational goal?

A constructive, solution-oriented debate must be anchored in reality. One aspect of this reality is the enormous variance amongst institutions of higher education. Some are for profit, others are not. Some only have undergraduates, while others strive for excellence in both teaching and research. Some have medical schools, and others have institutes focused on nanotechnology or pressing social issues. These differences matter, not least because the underlying financial dynamics for both students and the institutions vary enormously. For example, with respect to the affordability question, Suzanne Mettler points out in her book Degrees of Inequality, that students who attended for-profit colleges account for nearly half of all student-loan defaults, even though only one in 10 of all college or university students attend them.

Contrast that with Berkeley. Not only do our students graduate with low levels of debt compared to the national average, but the level of debt has not increased in real terms over the past decade. Furthermore, Berkeley provides a level of excellence at a far lower cost than its peers. In-state tuition at Berkeley is about $12,834 compared to about $40,000 or more at similarly ranked private institutions. With 37 percent of undergraduates coming from families earning less than $45,000 a year and over 30 percent being transfer students, Berkeley is one of the most successful engines of social mobility in America. It educates nearly as many students that receive Pell grants as all of the Ivy League schools combined. This is a very different narrative than the one that dominates the national debate.

However, we confront serious challenges. Despite Berkeley’s performance, state funding has been cut by over 50 percent in real terms over the past decade. As a result, “public” funding now only accounts for about 13 percent of our total operating budget. Consequently, like the majority of US public colleges, we are not on a financially sustainable path. While this year’s state budget reflects a 5 percent increase, this results in an increase of 0.6 percent in Berkeley’s total revenue. At this pace, it will take Berkeley until 2026 to reach the same level of state funding, in nominal dollars, it received in 2003.

To truly address these financial challenges, the debate needs to fundamentally change. Simply saying we want something to be free or accessible does not make it so. Particularly in the context of the current, and understandable, reluctance to increase taxes. But when one considers the far-reaching social and economic impacts of public universities, like Berkeley, it’s clear that finding a new, sustainable financial solution is something we should all be concerned with. It is not an exaggeration to say that the character of our society, not to mention our capacity to compete globally, depends on answering the “how do we pay for what we want” question. It’s time to recognize that we all have skin in the game. Yes, Berkeley delivers world-class teaching and research, but how can we ensure this is sustainable if we step aside from the simple “someone else should pay” solution or, just as bad, hang our hat on the belief that on-line courses will collapse costs.

The case for confronting these difficult issues is not limited to the objective of helping individual’s realize their potential. We are well aware of the argument that those who benefit should bear the costs. But one would have to be a complete isolationist to ignore the social and economic externalities. The system of higher education embodied in the “The Master Plan” that Clark Kerr laid out in 1960 has played a pivotal role in providing the intellectual resources and trained manpower that has made California such a dynamic economic powerhouse. Institutions like Berkley give birth to new firms and create solutions for pressing problems like climate change, human health, and transportation. Given the corporate focus on the next quarter’s financial results, universities are increasingly the only source of the type of fundamental research that has proven to be indispensable to innovation over the longer term.

The University of California system provides the state with unique, critical, and far-reaching benefits by attracting huge amounts of federal and private research dollars. These dollars create jobs, start businesses, and provide an educated workforce for the growth sectors of the state’s economy. A recent Bay Area Council Economic Institute report estimates that firms started by Berkeley founders have created a minimum of 1,247,490 jobs and $238 billion in total economic output. While 55 percent of companies started by Berkeley founders are located in the Bay Area, our economic contributions extend across the nation and globe. Federal, state and local tax revenues from these firms and their broader ripple effect totaled $27.3 billion in 2012.

Critics suggest we simply need to cut costs. We accept part of the criticism and are in the midst of implementing one of the most far-reaching efficiency programs of any university in the nation. In addition, we’ve launched an ambitious revenue generation program. We also have a comprehensive and adaptive program for reaping the benefits of the on-going revolution in digital education. But only those not actually engaged in this field believe it’s a panacea.

It is simply not feasible to achieve financial equilibrium by acting on the cost side alone without a massive decline in quality, time to degree and student services. With respect to the later, I am not referring to building climbing walls, as the film suggests, but basic student needs – career advice, course selection, and mental and physical health. Finally there are the ever-increasing compliance costs embedded in new and more complex legislation or societal demands that are never accompanied by additional revenue.

Public universities, like Berkeley, can’t do it alone. While we believe the case for a significant increase in state support is overwhelming, we recognize it’s unrealistic to expect this to happen to the extent required. We are willing to adapt, but there is a limit to our capacity to adjust, especially when the inadequate level of state funding is combined with constraints on our ability to make decisions. We estimate that more than 70 percent of our revenue opportunities are constrained by decisions makers who do not work on campus. As a consequence, we are asked to respond to California’s new fiscal reality without the decision rights to do so. We are more than ready to be measured against well-defined performance metrics, but we desperately need the capacity to make the decisions required to respond.

Affordable and high quality public higher education impacts all of us. It creates businesses and jobs, and strengthens our workforce. It’s our nation’s most successful engine of social mobility; more important than ever in the current environment of increasing wealth and income disparities. The UC system is a tremendous accomplishment that other states and countries envy and try to emulate. History will judge us poorly if our collective failure to act results in its decline. We are all in this together, but time is not on our side.

An abridged version of this article appeared in The Sacramento Bee. You can read it at: http://web.archive.org/web/20140717181907/http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/... 

Understanding campus finances

March 31, 2014

Over the summer, I decided to put pen to paper and document why our current financial path is not sustainable. I also wanted to offer solutions to secure the future of this great university. It has taken several months and numerous iterations but, finally, I am ready to share these thoughts with our public in the hope that we will work together. Part One is a sober summary of our current state; Part Two offers up some concrete solutions. Enjoy!

Proving Berkeley is serious about results and accountability

July 11, 2013

This month, as we focus on our Operating Principle “We are accountable to each other,” I am reminded of the importance of looking for opportunities to give and receive feedback – at the individual, team, unit, and campus levels.

This new video highlights two bright spots on campus where our staff effectively elicit, analyze, and act upon feedback to improve performance.

The Strategic Management and Metrics project is a key way that Berkeley is emerging as a leader in accountability in higher education. This Operational Excellence project is developing an integrated framework that will enable the campus to make meaningful choices about how our resources are allocated, measure how well we are doing in achieving our strategic goals – and, importantly, illuminate areas where we can improve. The development of a common metrics framework enables Berkeley to be more accountable to students and their families, faculty, staff and other stakeholders. By being transparent about our goals and strategies, and sharing a set of metrics and our progress toward achieving them, we are better able to communicate our achievements and opportunities to internal and external audiences.

I recognize that this approach may sometimes highlight our “trouble spots” – but my goal is to reward a willingness to be open and transparent at all levels and to initiate a process of continuous improvement. While we have weathered the storms of reduced state funding and a tough economy, the current overall budget plan, to the extent there is one, will continue to present serious financial challenges for our campus. Consequently we will need to continue to focus on accountability and measuring where we are, where we’re going, how we’re doing along the way. Although we have achieved a great deal already, we need to continue to push the boundaries of excellence in our administrative operations.

To learn more about what you can do in line with the principle, “We are accountable to each other,” please visit the Operating Principles website.

We include and excel, together

March 23, 2013

When I reflect on our first operating principle, “We include and excel, together,” I feel pride in being part of the community that developed, believes in, and lives by this principle. In fact, the way we arrived at our operating principles is a great example of this. The team created an environment that invited contributions from all over campus and thousands of you participated in the process.

One way we can all live this principle is by working together to break down siloes. We can achieve this both in terms of how we look at revenue sources but also in terms of how we approach campus projects.

As we move forward, our operating principles will help us guide our work. What goals do you have for yourself or your team? How can leveraging our operating principles help you deliver on those goals?

Visit WeAre.Berkeley.edu to find toolkits, videos, posters and other useful information. Every month between now and August, the Operating Principles team will be hosting theme months to highlight and unpack the meaning of each principle.

We can only succeed by working together.


The New Opportunities at Work (NOW) Conference

March 5, 2013

Last Friday, I was invited to give the welcoming remarks at UC Berkeley's first campus-wide career development conference for staff: the NOW Conference. I was impressed to hear that the event had completely filled up within the first 24 hours of opening registration. I also learned that we have made hundreds of new hires since July 2012. The number of people taking courses and pursuing training opportunities is also astounding.

Clearly, staff at Berkeley understand the importance of acquiring new skills and seeking new job opportunities, especially as we continue to move toward a more professionalized future where positions will be more interesting, analytical, and specialized. If you missed the conference, there is still a lot you can do to grow your career. Take a look at the Center for Organizational and Workforce Develop Office (COrWE) site for the vast number of offerings: http://hrweb.berkeley.edu/learning/career-development

For more information on the conference, please visit: http://diversity.berkeley.edu/staff/now-staff-career-development-conference

I want to congratulate Equity and Inclusion Vice Chancellor Gibor Basri and the NOW Committee for putting this important event together. I hope we can repeat it again year after year.


Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2012

Dear members of the VCAF community,

There is no question that we have had a terrific year in terms of accomplishments. We were able to undertake several campus-wide system implementations and start a whole new area of work around revenue generation. We plan to continue to challenge the status quo and take risks for the benefit of Berkeley in the new year – plus have some fun. We cannot do any of this without the care, commitment, and hard work of everyone in our organization.

As we wrap up this year, I want to encourage you all to take a break, relax as much as possible and take care of yourselves. We need to recharge our batteries and renew our spirits before we begin again in 2013. That said, I recognize that some of you will be working through curtailment and have limited opportunities for an uninterrupted break. Even so I hope you will all have a moment to step back and think about how much each of you contributes to the greatness of this institution.

Happy Holidays!

Where there's a will...

December 14, 2012

Last week, we had another great win on the Procurement side that will benefit many of our academic units directly. UCSF and UC Berkeley identified 44% savings ($200,000) by competitively bidding a portfolio of chemicals in a reverse auction. Over the course of the 90-minute bidding event, the team collected approximately 50 bids from 4 different suppliers. The new pricing is expected to be implemented at UCSF and UC Berkeley in the January Quarter and could benefit other campuses across the UC system as well.

Congratulations to the project team: Ramsey Hanna, Ross Bausone and Susan Riddle! And to the leaders in this effort: Justin Sullivan and Jim Hine. This is another great example of how our teams are looking for new and creative ways to support our mission. This is what happens when we have people with the right skill set running up-to-date administrative systems under professional management.

A new day...

November 30, 2012

We had the Second Annual Finance Summit this week with over 100 participants from all parts of campus (see the presentations and posters). It demonstrated the great progress we have made in moving towards a very different world in terms of how we think about strategy, finance, and the links to unit budgets. Given the overall tight resource situation that we will continue to face –let’s not forget Prop 30 avoided further cuts but it did not restore past cuts–  it is imperative that we align our resources with our overarching strategic objectives; that is, access and excellence. This can only be achieved if we have accurate data, transparency, and clear incentives that align with our mission. It also requires that units flesh out their business strategies, look at all sources of revenue and expenses, and engage in a process of prioritization. We need to work together to break down the historical silos that have trapped resources into accounts, undermining our effectiveness. The finance team is leading this change process, taking many risks along the way, but showing terrific results. They are doing so in partnership with the leaders and staff across campus and thereby learning from the people they serve. One thing is clear, an open and positive process of collaboration will get us to where we need to go.  And it energizes everyone involved!  It’s a new day….

A Message of Thanks

November 19, 2012

As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, I feel very fortunate that we have so much to be thankful for in VCAF. Everyone in our organization continues to show an incredible amount of talent and motivation, despite the many challenges we face. The elections are behind us and the outcomes look promising for California and higher education. The passage of Prop 30 sends an important message: clearly, voters think that spending on education is the right decision. However, we need to constantly remind ourselves that Berkeley has continued to grow and maintain its standards of access and excellence during the recent past, despite bad public policy decisions. We are committed to staying on that path.

It is not an exaggeration to say that our accomplishments this year have been absolutely phenomenal. In addition to the important behind-the-scenes work required to keep this huge enterprise running, we have pushed ahead on many fronts, taking risks at the institutional and personal level. We are moving Berkeley towards providing “best of class” services to campus. Of course, we have a long way to go. Many of the current systems and practices are dated, opaque, and complex. It will take time to unwind this. But we have set ourselves the goal of creating a finance and administration world that is shaped by a few key principles: transparency, simplicity and, where possible, automation. We will need clear incentives to promote the kind of work and decisions that help us achieve our core academic mission.

As I reflect on all this, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all of your hard work and dedication, and a renewed sense of hope and aspiration for what lies ahead.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving,

John Wilton
Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance

The Future of Student Systems

November 15, 2012

The VCAF Student Advisory Group met on November 14th to speak with the teams from the Office of Planning and Analysis (OPA) and Student Systems Technology Initiative (SSTI). The OPA presentation about the CalAnswers initiative focused on the plans for developing timely reports for students to track their financials and curricula. The SSTI presentation focused on laying out the current student systems architecture (pictured here). Both initiatives will have tremendous impact on the experience of students on campus. Our Advisory Group is committed to working closely with the teams to ensure student participation.

This was another great meeting of students and staff coming together to work on common goals.
Let’s keep it up!

Daily Cal Op-Ed: Impact of Election

November 6, 2012

With state funding accounting for only about 11 percent of UC Berkeley’s operating budget in the 2011-12 academic year, a question arises as to what, exactly, defines a public university. We believe that while sources of revenue are an element of the equation, there are other important attributes that must be taken into consideration. For example, the mission, values and purpose of a university are critical, as is the socioeconomic composition of its community. Despite the significant and, in our opinion, deeply misguided and damaging cuts in state funding, we are educating more low income students than we ever have, while adhering to the same set of fundamental values that have served Berkeley so well over the years.

But we are not an island.Today’s ballot measures are a case in point. While the fate of Proposition 30 is unknown as we write this piece, there can be no doubt that it will have an impact on this campus and the UC system as a whole. Like it or not, as a public institution our fortunes are influenced by the public’s expressed desires and the manner in which they are interpreted and implemented by our elected representatives.

While we can’t determine the outcome of the vote, we can plan and prepare for different scenarios. We believe it is our responsibility to both inform and engage the campus on what the future may hold, and to explain the steps we are taking to ensure that we protect, as best we can, our public character and our standards of access and excellence. That is why we are trying to reach out to as many students, faculty and staff as we can to discuss important issues, answer questions and address concerns. Every member of our senior management team has been reaching out to groups that they serve to engage in a dialogue. For example, our colleagues in Student Affairs are helping to organize forums around important issues.

On Oct. 30 there was a forum focused on Prop. 30 and on Nov. 7, the two of us will be participating in another forum sponsored by the ASUC, Graduate Assembly and Academic Senate that will focus on the university’s budget. We hope you will join us at 6:30 p.m. in West Pauley Ballroom. On the afternoon of Nov. 7 we will also be attending a meeting with our faculty for a discussion about our post-election fiscal situation. The point is that there are multiple ways and venues for us to meet, discuss, listen to one another and, hopefully, peacefully generate ideas that will enable Berkeley to thrive.

In this regard, one of the important messages that we hope to convey is that Berkeley is a remarkably resilient institution that, despite the aforementioned cuts in state funding, has continued to grow and excel. We have been able to do so in part because we have striven to become more efficient in areas where we can, particularly the administration, in order to redirect resources toward our core academic programs. Looking ahead, we know we must continue to search for efficiencies, but we also know we have to look to the other side of the ledger to aggressively identify and develop both new and existing sources of revenue. In this regard we recently held the first “Revenue Generating Symposium” on Oct. 15 on campus where three deans and Intercollegiate Athletics presented projects they wish to pursue to generate revenue. It was heartening to see an audience there that was drawn from every part of the university.

To date, our efforts have enabled Berkeley to do more than survive the financial storms. We have grown and, at the same time, have maintained our standards of access and excellence. The cynics will say that this is just happy talk, but the hard evidence says otherwise. Look at our continued success with recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty, the enduring quality and number of undergraduate and graduate applicants, the growth of our research endeavors, the expansion of course offerings and sections, our ability to build new residential, athletics, research and other academic facilities, the remarkable growth in philanthropy and the expansion of our financial aid programs that now provide assistance to families with annual incomes up to $140,000.

We are not pretending this has been easy. The cuts in state funding have imposed very real costs on everyone on this campus and have been damaging to our colleagues in other institutions, particularly in community colleges. The financial and social return on public investment in education is well documented but the empirical evidence has not prevented the state from adopting bad public policies. And even as we begin to realize significant savings from our focus on efficiency, we know that we cannot cut our way to growth and sustained excellence. We know we need to be innovative and aggressive to defend our character and quality. We need just the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that is allowing the Lower Sproul renovation project to proceed on the basis of an unprecedented partnership between students and the administration. We need and want your ideas and involvement.

As we said in the beginning, all of us who believe deeply in the need to preserve our public character and preeminent status have a shared interest in the success of these efforts.

From: http://www.dailycal.org/2012/11/06/election-will-have-powerful-impact-on...

Let's talk revenue

October 16, 2012

Yesterday, we held the first Revenue Generation Symposium on campus. It was an excellent start and I hope you will take the time to look at the presentations made by intrepid deans and leaders in the administration who are thinking of creative ways to pursue revenue generating ideas.

The “case studies” covered a wide range of activities, from an academic related service, through a more imaginative use of restaurant space, to how we sell tickets to athletics events. This diversity was not an accident – the examples were chosen to illustrate the need for all us to think about what we can do. One of the key takeaways was the enormous benefits that could be derived from people stepping out of their organizational silos and working together to share best practices. As Jennifer Wolch said, “I can’t do this alone”.

Why is it important that we start a serious discussion about revenue?
Berkeley, along with numerous other educational institutions, has been subject to large, sudden, and -- in my opinion -- deeply misguided cuts in state funding. While we must continue to argue against such a short-sighted and self-defeating example of public policy, we must also do all we can to protect and grow Berkeley. Berkeley is one of the preeminent public universities in the world and I believe its survival matters a great deal. Berkeley is a symbol of what a public university can do and what it stands for. This means we cannot be passive. We have to do all that is within our control to generate the resources to sustain Berkeley’s level of access and excellence. While it is crucial that we demonstrate that we are efficient (hence the importance of Operational Excellence), I do not believe we can cut our way to financial sustainability without sacrificing what Berkeley is. Thus, the emphasis on growing net revenue.

One of the ideas that we will act on is to change the remit of the existing Operational Excellence program office to include providing technical help and financing to units on campus that have well formulated revenue generating projects – not just efficiency enhancing projects. It must be the case that a dollar of net revenue generated is worth as much as a dollar of expenses saved.

I invite you to learn more about our efforts in this area. Check out our Change Agenda page regularly and come to the next Symposium in the spring.

Students are Key

September 13, 2012

Last night we kicked off our first meeting of the year with the VCAF Student Advisory Group. I feel it's imperative that I continue to actively engage with as many students, in as many ways, as I can. We have a tough set of challenges ahead of us: if Berkeley is to continue to grow and excel, as it has despite the massive disinvestment by the state, then we must use our local intelligence to increase efficiency and expand revenue. Last year, this group inspired the creation of informational videos on our budget. This project was a success and a first step towards keeping students and the broader community informed about the university finances and our plans for the future. This year, the conversation will focus on how to broaden the reach and there were some exciting and interesting proposals on the table that we will be develping as the semester unfolds.

Our students are an incredible resource that I hope I can work alongside to help solve the very real problems we face. We started that work last night and I look forward to continuing the process throughout the year.

Stay tuned!

And if you are a student and want more information on how to get involved, please contact our New Initiatives Director, Moira Perez at moirap@berkeley.edu.

Saturdays on Campus

September 6, 2012

It was exciting to be on campus last Saturday to attend the first football game of the season and visit the new stadium. The occasion made me realize that we should be drawing more attention to the Cal Athletics Plan. Take a look in our news section for the most recent updates.

The blog and the website

August 23, 2012

First, welcome to the new VCAF website! I hope it is useful and informative.

Second, why a blog? I think it would be a useful way for me to communicate what I am focused on to a broader audience than I can normally reach in a more informal way. It may not work, but seems worth a try.

Third, why this website? Shortly after I arrived on campus, I asked my staff to update our website and make some minor architectural changes to it. I soon found out that this was easier said than done because of the outdated static platform it was built on. Apparently, most of our campus websites have this problem. So, instead of hiring a firm to build a new website, I was persuaded by the VCAF Communications Group that we should build an easy-to-deploy content management system (CMS) for our organization. This would not only solve my problem, it would allow me to bring all of VCAF under one web system, and provide a solution for anyone on campus who needed to rebuild their sites.

This decision meant that I had to be patient (believe me, not easy!) and wait a little longer to get what I wanted. But here we are! I am very pleased with the results and most of all with the fact that units on campus will no longer have to build their own systems from scratch because now the campus has something great to offer them. In the coming months, the team will be sprucing up the site, adding functionality to the CMS, and piloting with other VCAF units.

Take a look and let us know what you think.

More info on the project can be found on our Open Berkeley project page.

Thoughts on Year One

August 9, 2012

March 2012: This has been a year of significant campus wide reforms designed to increase efficiency and raise revenue. The ultimate goal is simple: free up more of our limited resources to spend on teaching and research, and place Berkeley on a sustainable long term financial footing.

I have spent much of my first year listening and learning about Berkeley's culture and about how things are really done. But it has also been a year where we have begun to implement a number of important initiatives. With Operational Excellence, we moved ahead with several large-scale projects (including BearBuy, CalPlanning, Energy Management, and Shared Services) that touch every corner of campus. We also made great strides in fundamentally changing the way we think about budgets and financial planning. We are moving away from an incremental approach based on permanent/temporary budgets towards a more comprehensive approach that allows us to measure ourselves on a quarterly basis relative to an all-funds budget within a multi-year framework. We also began to shift our strategic thinking away from an exclusive focus on cost cutting and towards an equal emphasis on growing revenue. I believe that investing in Berkeley to enable it to grow is key if we are to maintain access and excellence. In this regard, we have identified several opportunities that we will pursue in close collaboration with other campus leaders. More on that as we develop strong and specific business cases.

Outreach has also been a priority for me. The need to do this originates from the simple observation that there is a lot of misinformation out there and we have traditionally been in reactive mode. I have spoken at conferences and to alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, etc. My intention is to provide a candid assessment of where we are and outline where we are heading. I hope that I have managed to reach many of you; either personally or through the videos we made for the new Sproul Plaza app on Berkeley's Facebook page. Both the original Budget Primer video and the consequent response videos can be seen on the UC Berkeley NewsCenter. This was an experiment that we undertook as a response to suggestions that came from my newly formed Student Advisory Group. If you haven't already, please take a look and post your comments or questions. I want to hear from everyone.

Lastly, while we have had some early successes, the one thing I am sure about is that we will make mistakes and encounter some failures. This is inevitable, given the change agenda we have set ourselves. But we have to be able to acknowledge these mistakes, learn from them and adapt. The bigger failure would be not trying – we should not rest on our Laureates.