Meet interim EVP Nathan Brostrom
Nathan Brostrom, the interim Executive Vice President for Business Operations, must have more energy than most of us. Not only does he juggle two jobs – he still holds his post as UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Administration – but he runs a household with six children, ranging in age from 4 to 15.
In his spare time he plays tennis, goes to his kids’ soccer, volleyball and football games, gives a monthly children’s sermon at his church –“which my kids either love or hate, depending on whether I talk about them”— and likes to go hiking with his family.“Between the two jobs and a family of eight, it’s a very rich and full life,” he says.
He has a degree from Stanford, but we gave him a pass when we saw his blue and gold tie, and heard that his wife is a Cal grad. In fact, among his immediate family, fifteen people have either studied or worked at a UC campus. His background in finance and municipal bonds includes extensive work experience in both the public and private sectors. We spent a few minutes asking him about the challenges and pleasures of his interim role with the Office of the President.
You’ve been here less than a month. How are things going so far?
It’s going really well, but it’s somewhat schizophrenic. I’m still figuring out a good way to handle both workloads and the two email streams. The first couple of weeks were pretty hairy, but it’s getting easier. And people here have been very welcoming.
Why are you doing both jobs at once?
There are some really big initiatives at Berkeley right now – we’re rethinking the overall financial model, and going through a restructuring similar to what happened here. The Chancellor thought it was important I remain part of those things.
Are the two jobs pretty similar?
The role at OP is more involved with global policy issues, such as retiree health benefits and the state budget, and less with the day-to-day aspects of running a campus. While this job is a more natural fit with my administrative and finance background, I am surprised by how much I enjoy some of the “city manager aspects” of the job at Berkeley, where I deal with everything from complaints about post-game trash to graffiti to responding to police incidents. As an example, I never thought I’d spend a year and a half negotiating with tree-sitters.
Has your view of OP changed in the time you’ve been here?
I’ve always had a positive view of the Office of the President. There are so many areas where we can expand our service to the campuses. We have tremendous opportunities to achieve economies of scale – five medical centers, ten campuses, the labs – in all aspects of our operations. We also need to look at what we centralize and what makes the most sense for local control. The state budget cuts have been truly draconian, but they’ve also given us a chance to look at what we’re doing and how we can do it better.
What are your main priorities at OP – what are you most focused on?
We’ve got to build a sustainable financial model for UC. People focus on the size of this year’s budget cut, but there has been a decade-long disinvestment in higher education by the state. We’ve been crowded out by state spending on prisons, K-12 education and Health and Human Services. The idea that the state is suddenly going to double our funding is unrealistic. We need a new funding model that preserves academic excellence and access for all Californians.
Are there other things you’d like OP employees to know?
What drew me to public education, and to UC in particular, was the combination of academic excellence and our commitment to access. We compete with the top universities in the world, and at the same time we have a tremendous commitment to quality education for all Californians. Over thirty percent of our students receive Pell Grants. At Harvard and Princeton, that figure is in the single digits. And at Berkeley, close to 25 percent of our students are the first generation in their families to go to college. When you think about what that means for the student, and for their whole family – we really are the economic engine for California.
So what’s the solution to the long-term funding problem?
It’s a tough challenge. It’s going to take creativity and persistence. But there is nothing more meaningful or fulfilling. We’re working on something here that is going to have impact beyond our own lifetimes. We’re setting the path for the University’s next 150 years.
Will you be getting out to meet OP employees?
Definitely – I don’t like being behind a desk. My work style is to get out and walk around. It’s a little easier to do that on a campus where you see and talk to a lot of people just walking across campus. But it’s somewhat of a challenge in this kind of environment where most of the interaction is in an elevator or a conference room. I’ve started casual visits with various groups, and I hope to get around and meet as many people as I can as quickly as possible. I encourage people to come up and introduce themselves and tell me a bit about themselves. And I’m hoping to get out a few times a week for some exercise at lunch. Running around Lake Merritt might work well – and I’d love it if people would join me.