Commentary: Court Ruling Would Force UC Berkeley to Cut Back on Enrollment, a Precedent That Could Have UC-Wide Consequences

(Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Berkeley, CA – If a February 10 ruling by the California Court of Appeals remains in place, UC Berkeley will be forced to significantly reduce new enrollment for 2022-23.  To avoid around a 5100 reduction in student enrollment, they would need to get the California Supreme Court to intervene—and quickly—prior to March 23.

Under the court’s ruling, UC Berkeley would have to adhere to a lower court order requiring the university to freeze student enrollment at 42,347, the same level as 2020-21.

That may not seem so bad, but as a statement from the university put out Monday clarified, “Due to the pandemic, 2020-21 was an anomalous year when enrollment dropped as a large number of new and continuing graduate and undergraduate students decided to temporarily suspend their enrollment.

“By tying its unprecedented action to the 2020-2021 academic year, the court has effectively forced future enrollment to match the dramatically lower enrollment rate experienced during the height of the pandemic,” the university said.  “As a result, the campus is currently estimating that it would be forced by the court order to reduce the number of new undergraduate students enrolled for the 2022-23 academic year by about one third. That amounts to at least 3,050 fewer undergraduate students than what 2022-23 enrollment planning currently calls for.

“If left intact, the court’s unprecedented decision would have a devastating impact on prospective students, university admissions, campus operations, and UC Berkeley’s ability to serve California students by meeting the enrollment targets set by the State of California,” they said in a statement.

“This court mandated decrease in enrollment would be a tragic outcome for thousands of students who have worked incredibly hard to gain admission to Berkeley,” they said, estimating it would cost them roughly $57 million in revenue.  “The campus currently projects that the court-mandated reduction in enrollment would result in at least $57 million in lost tuition, which would impact our ability to deliver instruction, provide financial aid for low- and middle-income students, adequately fund critical student services, and maintain our facilities.”

All of this stems from a lawsuit filed by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods.  They argued that the university needed to study the environmental impacts of increasing enrollment by 30 percent by 2022-23.

Because UC Berkeley did not do a separate EIR for the enrollment increase, but instead examined it as part of a development project, on August 23 Alameda County Judge Brad Seligman ordered them to throw out that EIR and do a new one, to examine the impact of the increased enrollment on the city.

Ironically, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods argued that the university has failed to build sufficient housing for its new students, which they say is exacerbating the city’s housing crisis and increasing homelessness.

UC Berkeley has decried Seligman’s ruling.

As Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman, said in 2019, EIRs generally are required for new housing, not university enrollment increases.

“The court’s decision was so inconsistent with existing law, and so unprecedented, that there was no way to satisfy it, that there was no way to resolve all of the outstanding issues in time for this year’s admissions cycle,” Mogulof explained. “For example: We were ordered to analyze the impact of enrollment growth on homelessness, and there are no existing tools or methods to do that.”

UC Davis Law Professor Chris Elmendorf tweeted on Monday, “Why UC dilly-dallied about the stay is beyond me, but it’s hard to imagine a better set of facts on which to ask the CA supreme court to corral ‘CEQA sprawl’”—in this case, “the characterization of a speculative socioeconomic impact as an impact on the physical environment.”

Elmendorf pointed out, “There’s already good law on this point; the CA supreme court just needs to signal its approval of it.”

The Porterville 2007 decision found, “Unsubstantiated fears about potential economic effects resulting from a proposed project are not environmental impacts that may be considered under CEQA.”  Instead, the court ruled, “CEQA focuses on impacts on the ‘physical environment.’”

Not only would this ruling devastate Berkeley financially, it would also block another five thousand or so students from getting a top-notch UC education next year.

Here the state Supreme Court may want to intervene, or this could become a precedent by which local communities can sue universities to stop enrollment growth.

As Sustainable Growth Yolo tweeted, “Many Davis residents would be happy to do the same to UC Davis and try to block a chance at a UC education for thousands of young people.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    Go Save Berkeley Neighborhoods!

    Shish Boom Bah!

    “Many Davis residents would be happy to do the same to UC Davis and try to block a chance at a UC education for thousands of young people.”

    Count me among the many who’s goal is to block a chance at a UC Davis education for thousands of young people 😐  Personally, I wake up each morning, tune my AM Radio to ‘God’, and ask God how I can block yet another young person from getting an education.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      Actually the youngest Millennial is 26-27 years old.  So most of the college kids are Gen Z right now.  Most of their parents are GenX.  But as to who’s making the decisions to “screw” the college kids?  I don’t know.   And is it Boomers messing things up by not allowing new housing in Berkeley and then forcing limitations on UCB?  Or is it Boomers messing up because they (the city and UCB) didn’t plan UCB’s growth accordingly.?

      ” I’m Gen-X. I sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” -Kenan Thompson Host of Millennials Millions on SNL.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Not a bad clip, from SNL. This one paraphrased quote stands out:

        ” . . . and they (the boomers) won’t ever die”.

        Yes they will (and have already started to), and their millennial kids will get their assets.

        At which point, we’ll hear from Generation Z (or “AA”), who would then be next-in-line for that.

        (I’m not coming back until the “Model T” rolls-around again.)

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Not fast enough for Millennials to be able to afford houses and get their assets to pay off their debts.

          It’s really a stupid debate.  Every generation has to deal with stuff and benefits from other stuff.  Yeah, the Boomers were born during a time of the United State’s biggest economic prosperity in it’s history….but they also had to deal with Vietnam and Civil Rights suppression/advancement.  The Generation before them had to deal with the Great Depression and WWII.     Today we have more access to information (good and bad) than ever before….but the US is not as politically dominant and not as economically prosperous and climate change is starting to get less theoretical and more and more a reality.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Not to mention the declining value of that college degree they went into debt for, while simultaneously paying a lot more for tuition.  Sometimes, moving away from home for the “college experience”.

          Unless, of course it’s a STEM field – which has value (assuming you can get through it).

          While simultaneously, “everyone” goes to college, now.  Rather than pursuing trades (which are actually in-demand).  Though perhaps this is changing, given that college enrollment nationwide has been declining for years.

          But in the “old days”, any college degree seemed to mean something.

          The “introduction” song from the SNL clip kind of reminds me of the song “Little Boxes”, by Malvina Reynolds.

          In the meantime, there’s (still) people starving and living in shacks made out of garbage, in other countries.

  2. Keith Y Echols

    The major difference between UC Berkeley, the city of Berkeley and UC Davis and the city of Davis is that UC Berkeley is within the city limits of the city of Berkeley.  So I’m going to assume that connection goes two ways; that the city is obligated to to plan for the housing UCB students and that since the UCB is within the city’s jurisdiction that it has a right to dictate to UCB how much it can grow/to what degree the city is willing to accommodate student housing.

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