Campanile and UC Berkeley campus. (Photo by sarangib/Pixabay)

The fall semester has begun at the University of California at Berkeley and Chancellor Carol Christ is feeling enthusiastic.

“It’s such an exciting time of year for those of us whose rhythms are tied to the academic year,” Christ said in a phone interview.

Christ, who is beginning her third year as UC Berkeley’s chancellor, is deeply attuned to the rhythms of academic life because she spent 32 years as a faculty member and administrator in Berkeley before becoming president of Smith College in Massachusetts in 2002. She then returned to UC Berkeley on July 1, 2017, to succeed Nicholas Dirks as chancellor.

Christ also is excited for the 9,000 freshmen and transfer students entering UC Berkeley this fall, saying they spent a week on campus before school started to participate in mandatory orientation programs and are now ready to pursue their “dreams and ambitions.”

Carol Christ (Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley)

Another reason for Christ’s optimistic outlook is that the university has successfully addressed a structural budget deficit that stood at $150 million three years ago and now has what she described as “a very modest surplus.”

Christ said the university was able to balance its budget through “a combination of financial discipline, budget reductions and revenue generation.”

Providing adequate housing for students remains a challenge though because of the Bay Area’s difficult housing market, but Christ said she is making progress in the second year of her 10-year effort to double the amount of housing for students.

A key component of that effort is a plan to build housing for both students and the homeless at historic but crime-ridden People’s Park, a 2.8-acre site near the UC Berkeley campus.

Christ said a developer has been hired, design and land use work is underway and she hopes that construction will begin in 2021.

Christ said increasing the campus’s diversity is one of her major goals.

She said she hopes to achieve that in part by getting more academically qualified students from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations to enroll at UC Berkeley after they’ve been offered admission.

Christ said another important component of increasing diversity is to offer an improved campus climate so that students from those marginalized communities don’t experience debilitating and damaging isolation.

An additional area of emphasis for Christ is implementing the university’s Strategic Plan, which will be used to guide decision-making and investment on the campus over the next decade.

She said the plan will provide the basis of a major fundraising campaign that will be launched in February.

Christ said a key part of the Strategic Plan is having the university and students develop innovative solutions for society’s toughest challenges, such as income inequality, climate change, artificial intelligence and the future of human health.