Contemplating UCSD's Expansion

“”I can’t say it’s going to be wonderful, but I can say it will be inevitable,”” said Chancellor Robert Dynes in his March 22 State of the Campus address.

The inevitability is UCSD’s anticipated growth over the next 10 years. It is certainly inevitable: The state requires the UC system to serve the top 12.5 percent of California’s graduating high school seniors. Nearly 60,000 new students will descend on the UC system’s 10 campuses. It is estimated that 10,000 of those bright-eyed high school grads will find their way to La Jolla, bringing with them 450 new faculty members and even more new staff members.

Dynes’ ambivalence about the growth reflects the attitudes of many at UCSD, who fear that expansion will degrade academic excellence and quality of life. Although some may be “”losing sleep”” over the issue, as Dynes said he is, it is important not to become overly anxious about UCSD’s population explosion.

Far from lowering the bar, the expansion of our campus community will galvanize our campus with new ideas, new opportunities and new challenges that will give us the chance to cement UCSD’s reputation as a world-class university.

It is good to educate as many students as possible. People with the skills that a college education can provide, such as a sense of our place in the global community, communication skills, and technical knowledge in specialized fields, are continually in demand. Even in today’s slowing job market, college grads are still desired in every sector.

UCSD must share the responsibility of giving new students the chance to succeed in ways that would be impossible or significantly more difficult without a degree. This “”burden”” has many positive aspects that will improve life at UCSD.

A larger student population will bring more points of view to UCSD. With the regents waffling about the future of affirmative action in the UC system, it is unclear whether that population will be more ethnically diverse. It will necessarily represent a diversity of experience, because everyone who comes to the university brings unique backgrounds, opinions, pursuits and ideas.

Diversity creates a vibrant environment where students’ preconceptions will be challenged — another important aspect of the college experience. The more students we have, the more opportunities there are for personal growth.

Conversely, an expanding student body also enhances student life by providing more opportunities for social interaction. UCSD’s Web site lists over 60 student organizations, from Cal Animage Beta to the Indonesian Students Association, from Darkstar to the Greek groups.

These organizations represent a range of student interests and engage thousands of students, providing interaction and fostering a sense of community. The more people we have participating in these organizations, the more students will feel connected and included.

Adding students will enable many currently marginal interests to organize and bond. While now there may be only a handful of students who, say, enjoy sword swallowing, it is easy to imagine in a student body increased by 50 percent, a Sword Swallowers Student Union forming to give those future carnies a chance to meet others with their interest.

With students often complaining that there is “”nothing to do”” on campus and that it’s hard to meet people, student life would be improved by an increased student population

These incoming students will require adding new faculty. A larger faculty has similar benefits to having more students. The university would boast more diversity in its faculty in experience, gender and ethnicity, as female and minority graduate students are increasing in number every year. Opening new faculty positions will enable the professorial ranks to more closely resemble the student body.

Furthermore, the diversity in faculty interests and projects will enable students to find mentors whose specialties match their own. This will provide academic benefit by ensuring that all students have the opportunity to fully explore what ignites their passion, encouraging their achievement and serving their educational needs.

Obviously, this expansion will be challenging. UCSD’s already-strained infrastructure will have to be expanded over the next 10 years to provide more housing and dining facilities, meeting places and office space.

We saw the results of administrative efforts to fund this rebuilding: The Campus Life Fee Referendum failed amid controversy over financial aid coverage and support of fast-food corporations in the proposed expanded Price Center.

While students were unwilling to support this increase in fees, that does not mean that a better-written referendum will not pass in the near future. It will be crucial for the expansion to be responsive to students, who understand what works better than some campus officials think they do.

Other critics of expansion claim that more students will decentralize the campus. This problem can be solved with careful planning and thoughtful programs.

Increased funding for student organizations will be a boon to student life. Also, the preservation of the college system will ensure that students have the bonds of a smaller group while enjoying the sense of membership in a vast and exciting community.

It is estimated that UCSD’s student population will swell to over 30,000 students by 2010. The challenges associated with this expansion will provide us with the chance to innovate and to emerge as a leader among large universities — necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

Thoughtful, responsive growth undertaken with attention to and with respect for students is necessary for our success over the next 10 years. It is necessary to make sure that UCSD reaps the benefits of extending opportunities to thousands of new students and creating new opportunities for students, faculty and the community at large.

Dynes said something else about our impending growth in his State of the Campus address: “”Sometimes I lie awake at night and feel excited, and my mind races about the things that we can do.””

This is the right attitude. All of our minds should be racing with the confidence that we can expand UCSD and create something exciting.

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