By David M. Greenwald
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.”