The persistent rivalry between Stanford and UC Berkeley is always entertaining every year at the Big Game. There is an atmosphere of animosity as the two schools witness a spirited clash of mediocre college football with mindless chants and thousands of middle fingers. If the rivalry for the dominant university in the Bay Area is only athletic, then chop the trees and storm the fields; this is Bear territory.
However, beyond the athletic showdowns, the most notable academic rivalry between Stanford and UC Berkeley seems to emerge from their engineering, computer science and broader STEM programs. Ignoring the arbitrary college rankings, both programs have a legacy of impressive alumni with tremendous contributions to their respective fields.
Working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has accomplished record-breaking advancements in chemistry, physics, cancer treatment and clean energy, which is evidenced by numerous Nobel Prizes. Outside of this, UC Berkeley is also known for being the academic home to J. Robert Oppenheimer and his leadership over the Manhattan Project.
Rivaling this, Stanford has 18 institutions dedicated to STEM research, medicine and energy. They, too, have made world-changing discoveries and contain a longstanding list of notable alumni, including two doctoral students who founded Google in the late 1990s.
Now, the comparison between the two schools does not come down to STEM or even liberal arts. That debate is ongoing and for another article. Entire newspaper issues can be dedicated to an extensive review of the two competing schools in this regard and overall.
Yet, the athletic and academic rivalry between the two schools seems minuscule next to UC Berkeley’s rivalry with itself.
With the risk of relying too much on broad generalizations, I see that UC Berkeley students approach their academic seats at this school with an extra layer of complexity.
Many students are proud to contribute to this campus’s legacy and brandish the UC Berkeley logo on their backpacks, laptops and water bottles. However, the students who will die on a hill insisting that UC Berkeley is the best public university are the first to cynically bash the UC administration for their perceived incompetence.
Last year’s academic workers’ strike over perceived unfair wages and hours displayed a stringent rebuke against the UC administration. Graduate student instructors, or GSIs, protested en masse during a month-long failure of negotiations for a better contract, disrupting the education timeline of undergraduate students.
The strike showcased nearly unanimous refutation from the GSIs but also revealed that the entire undergraduate body was not united in support of the cause. Some students grabbed a sign and joined the picket line, while others attended lecture halls and libraries to study for finals as if nothing had changed. Even campus faculty members were divided on the strike, with some still teaching while others refused to hold class altogether.
In the aftermath of the strike, the student body continued to face disruptive staff and admissions changes for key undergraduate departments.
Even within our lectures, I see that our divided student body is often left to fend for itself in a competitive environment with infinitely finite resources. With our massive student population, UC Berkeley is a melting pot of culture and beliefs that may make finding commonalities with fellow Golden Bears difficult.
With these constant setbacks, I believe that the student body increasingly makes a mental separation between campus’s glowing reputation and those who run it.
Needless to say, the pride among UC Berkeley students has an asterisk next to it.
Worldwide, the UC Berkeley campus is highly ranked and has earned an astonishing image in terms of academic stature. Our notable laboratories, complex research and reimagined liberal arts present this public institution as a nucleus of discovery. Every UC Berkeley student should be proud to be part of that image.
However, we should also be proud that our pride is qualified. What I think is admirable about the UC Berkeley student’s approach is that we are not seemingly complacent in any perceived ranking. From what I see, when we accomplish something, we are not striding on the concrete steps of Sproul Plaza with an inflated sense of being an academic goliath.
Often, I find that UC Berkeley students are weathering one cyclone after another, leaving very little time to remind themselves that they attend this prestigious school.
When we become more active in the student community, we plunge into an agglomeration of competing visions that could contradict long-held worldviews. In that regard, I believe the campus community can wield this tremendous contradiction as a strength — to condemn campus for perceived flagrant violations and still hold pride in crossing Sather Gate as a student.