Why should the chancellor live “on campus”?

My colleague Sam Davis has a long and thoughtful post about a campus kerfuffle occasioned by installing a fence around part of the chancellor’s on-campus house  (the uphill/east part of the estate is already fenced).  Instead of spending close to a half-million dollars in a way that creates no value for the university, I agree with Sam that it’s time to take a long think about what we are trying to accomplish, and start down another path.

chance houseThe idea that the chancellor lives on campus is a charming idea (i) whose time has passed and (ii) which never really worked at Cal anyway. Three chancellors ago, the head guy was out and about on foot at all sorts of campus events and had students and others drop in to chat, but a combination of security risk and changes in the duties of the office have changed that.  The house in question is isolated in the middle of a large compound that is not on the way from anywhere to anywhere (there’s no access from the street, which in any case has no sidewalk), and heavily screened by plantings.  It’s geographically within the campus borders, but not “on campus” in any functional sense.

I take as given that the market-clearing price for a good chancellor includes really nice housing, but the romantic model of having the house on campus is a fiction. At Harvard, Derek Bok took his family out of the house on Quincy Street and moved to a nice big mansion on a street in Cambridge, where he could have people to dinner like a normal person and meet ordinary neighbors mowing their lawns; no-one has wanted to move back since.  Many quite grand houses in upscale residential neighborhoods in Berkeley would serve perfectly and not isolate the chancellor in a cocoon, which is what the current scheme actually does. He has an office right in the middle of campus, which is plenty of presence.

Then we could open up the grounds, and use the house for what we really need, which is conference and event facilities. Chancellor Dirks, tear down this fence!

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

4 thoughts on “Why should the chancellor live “on campus”?”

  1. Agreed that the chief officer of a university is the Hindmost, and the usual macho norms of corporate and political leadership don't apply, if they ever really do. Can you name the President of Switzerland? When Swiss politicians commute by tram, nobody recognizes them. When I last looked, Switzerland was doing more than fine.

    Mustrum Ridcully doesn't have the housing problem, because Unseen University is bigger on the inside than the outside, as all universities should try to be.

  2. How about a combined approach: the present Chancellors house is converted for University use and the parkland opened to the public, and the Chancellor continues to live on campus, but in an ordinary faculty apartment instead of a stately home with grounds?

  3. The Vice President of the U.S. sets a nice precedent for your suggestion. It doesn't appear to cause undue hardship that he has to commute (in that awful D.C. traffic) to wherever he's working that day.

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