New debt threatens old establishments, as painful measures are underway at the University of California at Berkeley to resolve its massive budget deficit. One route the school could take to rectify its $150 million deficit: dissolving its nearly 150-year-old College of Chemistry.
“Chemists from around the world apply to Berkeley because our college is first class – it’s the best in the world. It doesn’t make any sense to me why they would want to get rid of the history behind that,” senior Jonathan Melville said.
Despite graduating this year, the chemistry major says he cares about giving other chemistry students the same quality of education he received. He says folding the department into the College of Letters and Science and the College of Engineering will make chemistry students feel like just another number on a big campus.
“The College of Chemistry is really unique at Berkeley. It’s this small environment, almost like being at a private college in the middle of UC Berkeley, so we have our own advising. We have our own faculty and course progressions,” Melville said.
Melville started an online petition, which at press time has more than 4,000 signatures, and is working with the College of Chemistry’s Dean to convince the Chancellor to no longer consider it for cuts.
Seven of Cal’s 22 Nobel Prizes are in Chemistry.
The University is evaluating a number of ways to cut costs, and disbanding the College of Chemistry is one of many strategies being considered. However, it’s not clear during these early planning stages how many of the cuts will actually be implemented, according to College of Chemistry Chair David Wemmer.
Wemmer wrote in an email to NBC Bay Area that he’s the feedback from alumni about the possible change has been negative; however, he admits this is not a “rigorous sample.”
“We’re not getting out of the business of conducting world class research of chemistry or providing world class education in chemistry. We’re not looking at what we do, we’re looking at how we do it,” UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said.
The school understands the dissent, but Mogulof explains combining colleges could save the university millions in administrative costs.
The university says it has the only College of Chemistry in the country, but with a budget deficit this big it has to look at every option.
“Nobody’s been given a specific heads up. Right now we’re entering a whole phase of this planning process to work with our students, faculty and staff to look at options before us,” Mogulof said. “I would expect we’d begin to implement some of these measures starting at the end of this academic year.”