UC Berkeley students march past Sather Tower

For more than four decades, award-winning filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has been producing verite-style documentaries that offer an in-depth, unvarnished look at American institutions. Previous films have examined a mental hospital, a police precinct and the fashion industry. His latest, “At Berkeley,” is a four-hour exploration of public higher education set on the UC Berkeley campus. Wiseman and former UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau join us to talk about the film.

'At Berkeley' Trailer from The Playlist on Vimeo.

In ‘At Berkeley,’ a Top School Struggles to Fulfill its Public Mission 4 December,2013forum

Frederick Wiseman, award-winning documentary filmmaker; "At Berkeley" is his 38th documentary focusing on an institution
Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor and current professor of physics at UC Berkeley

  • geraldfnord

    After hearing of what then-governor Reagan’s attempts to restrict academic freedom, I’ll guess the worst since the Loyalty Oath controversy of the late ’40s, I wondered if any governor since has acted similarly—my political biases are against Reagan and ilk, but I don’t believe that politicians more on my side are angels either….

  • Sam Badger

    I find it interesting that Chancellor Birgeneau is so angry at budget cuts when Berkeley administration used police to physically attack campus protesters who were themselves voicing their rage over the same issue. It seems that UCB administrators only wanted institutionalized dissent.

  • Doug

    Michael, can you repeat where this film may be seen. I kow it’s at the Roxie but frankly because of the running time & that I don’t live in the city it ends far too late for me. Any matinees coming up?

    • Doug

      Ah, you just did–thanks!

  • Ben Rawner

    Financial Aid is not the same as low tuition. Financial Aid is just another way of saying indebting the students. Can u ask the former chancellor how much was his salary for his last years?

    • Another Mike

      I thought in this context, “Financial Aid” was a discount from the sticker price. The chancellor said nothing of loans.

      In terms of administrator salaries, very few non profit administrators take a vow of poverty these days.

  • Another Mike

    Cal Berkeley was “tuition-free” when California was the Arsenal of Democracy during the Cold War. Silicon Valley was built to hold Lockheed workers, and the Bay Area was ringed with military bases. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the flood of federal tax dollars to California was cut back to a trickle.

  • David

    Michael asks a good question about the value of the college experience. I attended Cal from 1987-91, majored in English, and worked at KALX-FM all the way through those years. I certainly put those experiences to good use professionally (worked in TV/radio production right out of college, and I’ve been an English teacher since 1995). I’m also thankful for the full range of courses I took, and everything I learned outside of my major. But the college experience was so much more than that. Those years brought me into contact with peers from all over the state, such a wide range of personal and political perspectives. I had so much to learn about myself, and others. Some of my beliefs and values were confirmed or refined, some were challenged and altered. My sense of self, sense of purpose, and understanding of people and society all changed significantly. And of course, that learning continued after college – but still, an unparalleled opportunity and period of growth.

  • Margaret Dick

    I graduated from UCB with a degree in rhetoric. I want to thank Chancellor Birgeneau for his continued support of this department; it is fast disappearing from America’s higher education landscape at a time when we need skilled and ethical speakers and writers more than ever.

    • Another Mike

      Reminds me another feature of Berkeley is the sheer breadth of offerings, much more than at the Junior University across the bay.

  • Monica Heredia

    I am a beneficiary of Affirmative Action. I attended Berkeley as a re-entry student for my undergraduate work and was then a recipient of a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship for graduate school. The education I received at Berkeley radically changed my life. What I find astonishing now, as I raise my own children in a stable and affluent environment, is the extreme narrowness of the road to higher education and how unlikely and lucky I was to find my way through those gates. I am forever grateful to the UC system.

    • HiloHattie

      Grateful too am I who attended UCB in the 60’s when it was affordable and saddened that my daughter is priced out in the present decade. UC inspired me to move beyond a PhD. It set me up for a productive life, a 40-year teaching career and a richly cultured existence. I don’t think my daughter will get a similar opportunity and preparation because of this “narrowed road”.

      • Another Mike

        One problem is that Berkeley (and UCLA) alumni are notably stingy when it comes to giving back to the school that educated them so economically. Fifty percent more Michigan alumni contribute to their alma mater each year. UCB alumni are more apt to let some one else contribute.


  • Eric Gray

    I think that California would be shocked to know
    that in 2010 the % of out of state students at Berkeley was 33%. That number
    has only increased in recent years. What is being done to reduce the number of
    out of state students ? If I wasn’t displaced by an out of state student I
    might have remembered to put dashes between the out of state reference.

    • Another Mike

      In the 60s, Berkeley was full of out-of-state students, who moved to the Bay Area for a year, to establish residence, and benefit from free tuition. Imagine a UC Berkeley where Mario Savio was forced to stay in Queens.

      Historically, out-of-state students had to be twice as talented as Californians, to be admitted to its public colleges and universities.

  • Eric Gray

    Tuition is too high and with 35%+ out-of-state students Berkeley is rejecting qualified California student applicants. Current Chancellor Dirks receiving $486,000 /yr + free campus housing, along with $121,700 in relocation fees paid out in installments over four years and other benefits. I call B.S. on this.

  • Ipso eo

    The comment about the campus representing the diversity of the public at large is a huge misrepresentation. I’m a Hispanic student at Cal and hardly see any other Hispanic students particularly in my field. The problem is even more acute at the graduate level. Let’s be honest here the student body is largely composed of Caucasian and Asian students usually from privileged backgrounds. This is even more so the case with foreign and out of state students, given you have to be fairly well off to attend Cal out of state or especially from another country.

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