The Malthusian Enrollment Cap
When you're willing to kill off a generation of public education at the University of California to fulfill your Peter Pan syndrome.
I never went to UC Berkeley but I took my lower division computer science courses there as part of my community college concurrent enrollment program. I was pretty stunned by what I saw. On the first day I witnessed ~2,000 students trying to cram into UCB’s largest auditorium for the intro class. Literally taking lecture notes huddling in giant human masses on the floor and peering through the door from the overflow crowd in the auditorium.
UC Berkeley does not have the capacity to handle this many students for upper division classes, so the purpose of the lower division courses is to weed people out. My experience was waking up early in the morning and spending all day in the basement of a crowded computer lab, coding on the hallway floor among dozens of students in a huddled mass. The wait times for TA assistance — who shockingly only numbered a dozen — were literally hours towards the end of the courses. I actually enjoyed my time concurrently enrolled at UCB, but it was stressful and when I was wait listed for the UCB CS program I decided to refuse the wait list and go to UC Santa Cruz with my friends.
The University of California bears partial responsibility from an administrative perspective. The UC has used precious public dollars on adding more administrative positions rather than more faculty for the classes. They built a brand new office complex on a downtown parking lot rather than prioritizing more dorms and classrooms there. Plenty of UC owned parking lots should’ve been redeveloped into classrooms and housing decades ago. The other half of the blame lies with the state legislature. California’s population growth continued massively these last five decades and people have demanded that UC expand enrollment. Yet California built 23 prisons since the 1960s and only 1 new UC and 3 new California State Universities (CSU).
But the group who so far is successfully obstructing UC Berkeley’s enrollment is not called “Build More Classrooms and Housing.” They’re called Save Berkeley Neighborhoods because their issue is that student growth is annoying to affluent homeowners who chose to buy their houses right beside a college campus. Considering the UC predates the city of Berkeley and the plaintiffs themselves are UC alumni, you’d think they’d know better about seeing students when they chose to buy a home within blocks of the campus districts but evidently not.
The lawsuit alleges that UC didn’t do an environmental impact report on increasing student enrollment before they did, and the most recent ruling from a superior court judge is that UC must now rollback admissions. Depriving thousands of an education at UC Berkeley. The motivation behind this suit is that pervasive belief among older, anti-change residents that Berkeley has enough people and should cap its population — even though Berkeley’s population in 2020 is just 10,000 people more than what it was in 1950. For the anti-student crowd, the town for which they bought their home in decades ago must always be the same no matter how much society changes and no matter how much they age. It’s Peter Pan syndrome.
It’s not just Berkeley either, the hatred for students is in Santa Cruz, Davis, Irvine, and Riverside. It’s very common to hear at City Council meetings students spoken of like they’re not true residents. Guess what, students pay sales taxes, they pay rent which pays property taxes, they are registered to vote here and they sleep here so they are residents — whether you like it or not.
The homeowner groups are increasingly aware of the apparent perception that they’re just merely just NIMBYs who are selfish. So they obfuscate by noting that the housing shortage (which is decades old and largely unrelated to students) is amplified by an ever growing influx of students without sufficient dorms. But the very same plaintiffs of this lawsuit against UC Berkeley fought against UC Berkeley housing projects and against upzoning for more housing.
To quote one city council member who had enough of this willful hypocrisy: “how stupid do you think we are?”
The lead proponent of the enrollment cap at SBN argued that building high density housing for the UC students would turn the town into an overcrowded slum like something out of East Asia. When you call them out for not only this Malthusian NIMBY rhetoric but also their real actions harming real, potential students, they accuse you of bullying and piling on. That our words hurt more than their actions. It’s entitlement to such a severe degree you’d think its intentional but it’s not.
The Berkeley NIMBY is not accustomed to anyone pushing back. I’ve been watching city council meetings since the 2000s. They’re accustomed to shouting down and tarnishing anyone who wants a better city. But are now genuinely hurt when an inch of it is delivered back. So be it: times are changing, but this is not an invitation to retaliate against the plaintiffs. Every college town has people who dislike college students—it can’t be helped. The enrollment rollback was imposed by the court and the issues UC faces has been imposed by the legislature and abused laws—thats the problem.
The most pathetic actions to me are the anti-student sentiment from UC students and UC alumni themselves. It’s one thing to attack the UC for their wrongdoings. But its quite another to pull up the educational bridge after you’ve already crossed it. If you’re a UC student or UC alumni living in a UC town and you think the solution to increased enrollment is enrollment caps, then be a part of your solution and leave.
Seriously, leave. Go home. And the same goes for the NIMBYs at Save Berkeley Neighborhoods.
If you can’t handle living right beside students in a college town, cash out your $2 million home you’re paying nothing in property taxes for and under Prop 19 you can transfer anywhere, and move to another neighborhood. If you cannot handle seeing tall buildings to accommodate student population growth then take a dart and throw it at a map of the Bay Area which is 85% zoned for banning multifamily housing (including 50% of Berkeley) and move there. Stop ruining the 15% of neighborhoods that are diverse, walkable and moderately dense.
Those supporting the decision to deny public education to 3,500 future students are telling the homeless student, the overcrowded student, the crammed student that they should’ve never been admitted here. I tell that student that there’s more than enough homes and classrooms here if we want it. These conservatives masquerading as progressives that have dominated Berkeley for decades are fading and a new generation is promoting inclusivity.
NIMBYs likely overplayed their hand with this. They forgot UC Berkeley is a prominent public institution, not a local arts school to kick around. The reaction from thousands about the UC Berkeley enrollment cutback is massive and already the governor is calling for a reversal of the ruling. The environmental law used to stop enrollment, CEQA, a historically well abused law by NIMBYs, may cease to exist thanks to NIMBYs over-abuse.
Our mayor reminded us that students are not pollution. That he, a son of farmworkers became the mayor of this city because of the public education he received at UC Berkeley. It’s remarkably refreshing to hear more people ask what can we do to expand Berkeley’s public education to more people rather than what can we do to keep it to ourselves.