Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An open letter to the Berkeley Law community

An Open Letter from the Berkeley Law Organizing Committee:

Our school stands at a pivotal moment: the cost of attending Berkeley Law is separating this institution from its past as a model of affordable yet outstanding legal education.

We write both to respond to Dean Edley’s email to the student body on November 16, 2009 and to draw a line in the sand. We write in support of students who intend to serve the public interest. We write, as friends and colleagues, in support of University of California (UC) workers. And we write in support of low income students of all backgrounds who once and might once again find an education at Boalt Hall accessible and available.

Dean Edley’s assertions regarding the fee increases in his email yesterday obscured the facts and gave a misleading impression about the proposal expected to be approved by the Regents of the University of California this week. It also created confusion around the strike and minimized the significance of the ongoing labor dispute. Both the fee increases and the labor dispute are fundamentally and inextricably linked to the destructive policy priorities of the UC administration. We appreciate that there will be a town hall next week, but that discussion will be meaningless if students are uninformed about the issues at stake. While we reject the way in which Dean Edley’s email addressed the impending strike and our fee increases as two separate issues, for clarity’s sake, we address them below in turn.

The “Strike” is Not Ironic

The November 16, 2009 letter referred to several groups calling for a UC-wide “strike” on Wednesday and Thursday (taking pains to place the word “strike” in quotation marks). Since this left the matter extremely vague, we would like to offer some background details. The people planning to strike are professional and technical workers at UC Berkeley, represented by the Union of Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), Local 9119. Clerical workers also plan to honor the UPTE strike. These workers literally make Boalt Hall and the entire UC run. They work in communications, technology, academic services, administrative services, and many other areas. They staff the library, process our grades, provide health care, maintain research facilities, and keep our information technology system afloat.

UPTE called a strike because the UC implemented layoffs without consulting the union, despite the University’s legal obligation to negotiate with workers. In doing so, UC prevented its workers from exercising their legally protected right to engage with the University on these issues. Clerical, professional, and technical workers have critical expertise in the internal workings of their departments, and could provide valuable input on how UC can weather the budget crisis with as little damage to core functions as possible. UC’s actions were unethical and against the best interests of workers and students alike. UPTE also claims that the UC deliberately targeted members of the union’s bargaining team for layoffs. These unfair labor practices prompted the strike, and the position we now find ourselves in requires a context sorely missing from the Dean’s letter.

The November 16, 2009 letter implied that because not every strike organizer displayed concern about “precisely the same issues,” the strike and its underlying dispute are somehow less legitimate. Using quotation marks to describe the strike, a difficult sacrifice made by respected members of our community, only strengthens the implication of these workers’ illegitimacy.

Perhaps the letter sought to indicate that student fee hikes and unfair labor practices are separate or mutually exclusive concerns. Here, the concerns of students and workers are concurrent. Neither group feels compelled to run separate campaigns in order to remain sufficiently legitimate to the Dean or the community. Students and the community are capable of understanding the interests of each group, seeing their mutuality, and choosing a position. Regardless, the fee increases and labor dispute are intertwined issues, arising from the same misplaced UC policy priorities. For that reason, UC workers and students choose to support each other through solidarity and coordination, as demonstrated by this week’s planned events.

Striking is a painful sacrifice that workers undertake only where, as here, all other options have been exhausted. The concerns voiced by the workers and their allies are not vague, and neither is the proposed remedy: for UC to bargain lawfully and in good faith. While the Dean of the Law School is, like the rest of us, undoubtedly entitled to voice an opinion, denigrating workers’ efforts to protect their jobs and families (without even taking the care to explain the issues behind the dispute) is inappropriate and unbefitting an administrator in Dean Edley’s position.

Students and Faculty Honoring the Picket Line

Berkeley Law’s administration is also asking faculty to “bear in mind that there will certainly be students who want and expect their classes to meet as scheduled.” Faculty do not need this reminder to preserve the status quo. The administration ignores the fact that some students and faculty might not want to cross the picket line. Many of us feel that crossing the line is unethical and disrespectful to those with whom we share this academic community.

Students should not have to choose between the education we’ve paid for and the rights and dignity of the people who make our education possible.

Dean Edley erects a distracting straw man by rushing to disclaim any responsibility on the part of the law school to accommodate students who choose to honor the strike. But no one – not the workers, the faculty, or the student body – is asking Berkeley Law to intervene in this dispute. Instead, the decision whether to cross the picket line remains, properly, in the hands of individual faculty members and students. Some faculty members cancelled classes. Others postponed them, moved them off-campus, or found ways to ensure that students can completely fulfill their academic obligations while honoring the strike. As of Tuesday morning, at least 21 law school classes and numerous community events made some accommodation.

Dean Edley’s letter directly and unnecessarily discourages these practices. It gives the strong impression that accommodating students will result in disfavor, and also suggests a threat to the accreditation of our law school. First, the “reminder” to faculty reads more like a directive to prioritize “teaching responsibilities” over the possibility that students (not to mention the faculty themselves) may morally object to crossing a picket line because to do so undermines the struggle and sacrifice of their friends and colleagues. Second, given the generally unusual circumstances and the strike’s limited duration, it is hard to imagine how even two days of fully cancelled classes would threaten the accreditation of a school as prestigious as Berkeley Law. If we survived an entire year of construction noise, class disruptions, fire alarms, and threats of pest infestation, we are more than able to make it through a two-day strike with our accreditation intact. Moreover, professors who move or reschedule classes will have no significant effect on the quality or quantity of our education, and thus pose no threat whatsoever.

Receiving the Dean’s letter was discouraging for us. It could have simply informed the Berkeley Law community about the strike and reminded students and faculty that we have a continuing responsibility to meet all academic requirements. Instead, it minimized the gravity of the issues at stake, encouraging students and faculty to ignore a dispute with direct and serious implications for our school, and implicated students' and workers' right to participate in political action.

Many of us chose Berkeley Law because of its lauded commitment to protecting and advancing the interests of the most vulnerable people in our society. Dean Edley’s letter was a disappointing reminder that when it comes to the people whose hard work makes our University run, those ideals disappear.

On Proposed Fee Increases

Dean Edley also wrote to assure Boalt students that the only increase on the Regents’ plate this week at UCLA was a “$579 increase in tuition for the spring semester,” and to clarify the “mistaken impression that far larger increases are at issue.” We respectfully disagree.

Here are the numbers, drawn from UC documents, put honestly and clearly. Our annual in-state tuition was $35,907 in Fall 2009,[1] and this week the Regents will be voting to make it $44,220 in Fall 2010 (a 23.1% increase).[2] Then, their plan takes us from $44,220 in Fall 2010 to $49,347 in Fall 2011 (an 11.6% increase).[3] Yet in April 2009, the Admissions Office wrote that the total value of tuition from 2009-2012 was “about $104, 955”[4] – premised on the assumption of tuition remaining constant around the 2009 level – or about $25,000 beneath the tuition levels Dean Edley claims the Regents previously approved. It is true that the Regents did vote on major hikes to the professional degree fee in May 2009, but the increases proposed this week are even steeper than those previously approved.[5]

UC President Mark Yudof, and Dean Edley – acting as a “special advisor”[6] – provided no advance notice or transparency regarding these increases, with the result that they only emerged after they were all but accomplished. We understand that the Chronicle might not be the best source of information about the UC’s proposed tuition increases, but until students can have a clear, open, and honest dialogue with Dean Edley and the UC administration, we are unwilling to foreclose any potential avenues for frank discourse and information.

Fee Increases – Boalt and Peer Public Institutions

We are also concerned that the Regents appear to be misinformed about tuition at our “peer public institutions.” In 2007, the Regents approved a policy that “total in-state fees charged will be at or below the total tuition and/or fees charged by comparable degree programs at other comparable public institutions.”[7] According to the Regents’ proposal, the average tuition and fees at “comparable public institutions” to Berkeley Law is $47,932; therefore, their proposed tuition hikes satisfy the 2007 guidelines.

This description of tuition levels at comparable law schools is grossly misleading.   Of the other public law schools ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of top law schools, none cost over $43,900. Most cost significantly less, and if the proposed fee increase comes to pass, Berkeley Law would become more expensive than any other public law school in the country today.  (No. 10-ranked UVA has the highest annual in-state tuition, at $43,900; [8] other highly regarded schools, such as the No. 9-ranked University of Michigan Law School and the No. 15-ranked University of Texas-Austin’s Law School charge $43,010 and $27,840 respectively.)[9] In fact, only one law school in the country (Yale University) has tuition above the “comparable public institution average,” which begs the obvious question of how this figure was calculated. Dean Hirshen’s memorandum this morning helps to clarify the issue, in conspicuously omitting any public institutions from its “Just the Facts” comparisons.[10] We note that the Regents are not bound by what comparable private institutions charge, but rather by what comparable public law schools cost.

Dean Hirshen’s memo does point towards a question regarding how we, as a community, should measure ourselves.  It also speaks to a conversation that should be taking place in the sunlight, rather than remaining the unspoken but omnipresent message undergirding the Administration’s response to student interest and action.  It appears that Boalt’s administration wishes to remake Berkeley Law in the image of an elite private law school.  But this sort of fundamental and philosophical shift should not be undertaken lightly, nor should it be forced upon students through tuition increases.  It is not only possible, but also in fact probable, that this student body would rather attend the #1 public law school in America than the #6 private law school. Perhaps our choice to come here was not merely premised on Berkeley Law’s ranking in a national magazine, but rather on our university’s historic and capacious commitment to issues of social justice, engagement with the local and global community, and willingness to encourage students to question and challenge the status quo.

This is a debate worth having, a debate that must occur.  But in order to begin such a dialogue, we must at least start from a place where all parties are being honest with one another about the facts. Even BHSA, a representative body that meets with the Boalt Administration on a regular basis, was blindsided by the scope of the proposed fee increases. We urge President Yudof, the Regents, and the Berkeley Law Administration to stop hiding behind disabling rhetoric and start speaking to every UC student and worker in the candid, mutually cooperative, and respectful manner that we deserve.

Berkeley Law Organizing Committee (BLOC)

[1] U.C. Berkeley Law Admissions, FAQs, available at:

[2] UC Office of the President (UCOP), Proposal to the Regents for Approval of 2010-11 Professional School Degree Fees [Proposed Professional Fee Increases],

available at;

[3] Id.

[4] Letter from Admissions Office to entering 1L student.

[5] See UCOP Memo.

[6] N.B. – this is an official title, not a suggestive one.

[7] “Policy on Fees for Selected Professional School Students,” approved January 21, 1994; amended July 2007 and September 2007; available at:

“Tuition, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Loans,” Virginia Law website, available at:

[9] “2009-2010 Law School Tuition Rates,” Michigan Law, available at:; “Estimated Budget,” Financial Aid, University of Texas at Austin School of Law website, available at:

[10] Communication from Dean Hirshen to Boalt student body, November 17, 2009.

BLOC Open Letter - Print Edition

This letter is in response to the following:

To the Boalt On-Campus Community:

I write to clarify, briefly, the situation regarding tuition, and also to comment on the impending "strike" concerning budget and related matters.

1. Tuition increase of $579. At their meeting this week in Los Angeles the UC Board of Regents will adopt tuition increases for all UC students by raising the so-called "registration and education fees". For Boalt students this will mean a $579 increase in tuition for the spring semester. The San Francisco Chronicle, quite characteristically, wrote a confused story that gave many people the mistaken impression that far larger increases are at issue. Dean Annik Hirschen will distribute more detail.

We have planned a student town hall meeting on tuition and Law School finances, something I do at least once each year. At the recommendation of the Boalt all Student Association, that meeting will take place in January and focus on tuition issues for next academic year and beyond. The meeting will be after exams because the inevitability of this week's action by the Regents has been clear to observers for quite some time. Our focus in January will be monger term. For example, since four years ago Boalt has followed a policy of gradually increasing tuition to more closely approximate that of our peer law schools, both public and private. This revenue has supported the expansion of financial aid and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, the hiring of additional faculty, the various construction projects you see and hear, and other improvements in the school.

2. Strike. Several groups have called for a UC-wide "strike" on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, coinciding with the Regents' meeting, although not all organizers seem concerned about precisely the same issues, or agreed on any proposed remedies or demands. I hope that Boalt faculty will bear in mind that there will certainly be students who want and expect their classes to meet as scheduled, especially considering the time of the semester. I hope students will bear in mind that the school lacks the facility to record or reschedule classes on a wholesale basis, and in any case it would be inappropriate to have any official program to do so. (This is especially true in light of accreditation requirements for regular classroom hours to ensure attendance.)

Thanks much.

Christopher Edley, Jr.
Dean and Orrick Professor of Law
Boalt Hall, U.C. Berkele


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