Ben Hermalin is the incoming Chair of the Academic Senate. In addition to this significant responsibility, Ben holds professorships in both Economics and the Haas School of Business and previously served as Chair of Economics and Interim Dean of the Haas School of Business. We met in the Academic Senate offices in Stephens Hall to talk about the role of the Academic Senate and its intersections with staff.
UC Berkeley has a tradition of strong faculty / academic governance. Can you talk a bit about the role of the Academic Senate on our campus and how it may vary from what you might experience at other Universities?
The Academic Senate is a long standing part of UC across the system. It receives delegated authority from the Board of Regents to determine curriculum and admission policy. There is a lot of trust between faculty and administration, meaning the Chancellor, Provost, Vice Provosts, and Grad Division. The Senate, specifically the Budget Committee of the Senate, and administration work together in the appointment and review of faculty. UC Berkeley differs from our sister campuses in two significant ways – the Budget Committee weighs in on faculty salary issues connected to retention and the allocation of faculty slots across campus. The Budget Committee is one of the most important and powerful committees in the Academic Senate. The Senate also provides guidance in issues related to student welfare, resource allocation and other areas where faculty can lend expertise, such as real estate.
In your role as incoming Chair of the Senate and also as former Department Chair of Economics and Interim Dean for the Haas School, I assume you have needed to influence your colleagues from time to time. What tips or lessons do you have for staff when trying to influence faculty?
Be honest and transparent in your dealings and check your ego and emotions at the door.
Be honest and transparent in your dealings and check your ego and emotions at the door. Know what constitutes a win-win situation and recognize there is usually compromise on both sides. Also, listen and validate your assumptions as you may have misconceptions about what the other party objects to.
Another lesson is to trust people and let them run with it unless they go off the rails. Don’t micromanage. And be aware that most faculty are not used to managing, there is a reason they went into academia.
Where does the work of the Senate intersect with staff issues?
The Senate is a proponent of inclusiveness and diversity across campus and takes that role very seriously. And the Senate also provides a voice on changes happening on campus.
Generally, I have thought of admissions as a staff role but it sounds like the Senate has authority over admissions policy – is that right?
There is an AEPE (Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education) Committee that meets with Ann DeLuca and her staff regularly. This committee oversees admissions policy, including admissions criteria.
Do you have specific goals for the coming year for the Senate?
The University is a vehicle to keep the California dream alive and we need to do so intelligently. We are one of the world’s greatest universities period.
The outgoing Chair, Panos Papadopoulos, is a force of nature. I will continue his work on admissions and the Undergraduate Initiative. My goals are to partner with administration on fundraising and budget allocation. We need to be strategic about how we use our resources in order to keep Berkeley on a path of excellence and not a glide path to mediocrity. I intend to work with the administration and my colleagues to see that we are good stewards of this public entity and that we honor our commitment to social inclusion, diversity and mobility. The University is a vehicle to keep the California dream alive and we need to do so intelligently. We are one of the world’s greatest universities period. It is important to preserve the University’s standing and spend our limited resources wisely. Philanthropy can be powerful as a vehicle to increase our funding.
You’re a busy professional, what activities give you energy outside of work?
I work a lot. For example, I spent last weekend cutting 1/6 of a research paper so it fit the journal requirements. I like doing research – it’s like solving puzzles all the time.
I do like going out to dinner and local theater with my wife. We have seen some good plays at ACT and the Aurora Theater. And I like to read mystery novels.
Any final thoughts to pass along to staff at UC Berkeley?
There are many smart and dedicated staff on campus who need more recognition.
In my leadership roles, I recognize how valuable the staff is. The Academic Senate staff is really good and the Budget Committee staff does an amazing job. Every case that is turned in on time to the Budget Committee is processed on time and that’s a tribute to the staff. There are many smart and dedicated staff on campus who need more recognition.
And on that note, I ended the interview nodding my head in agreement.