All the complexities of the ‘Big Apple,’ right here at UCSD

    People don’t normally think about apples. The Red Delicious or Gala that they hold in their hand is just a healthy snack for busy days, or a good complement to a light meal. Look deeper, though, and it is salient that the apple doesn’t just magically appear.

    First, it must be bought from Vons, or maybe Trader Joe’s. Before it is put on display next to its orange and banana brethren, the apples must be shipped from a farm, probably located somewhere in California’s Central Valley. The grocery store employee took it out of a box that was constructed at a box factory in, say, Ohio. The trees from which the apples are grown must be cultivated with some kind of fertilizer that is produced by another company. The pesticides that coat the apple must come from a supplier, and so forth. Along the way, hundreds of people, places and plans contributed to the very moment in which Bob decides to can his low-carbohydrate Atkins diet and succumb to the satisfying crunch of an apple.

    The many transactions necessary to allow a seemingly simple act is the stuff economists tackle, not something ordinary folk think much about.

    An even bigger apple (no, not New York) is UCSD. I’d guess that not many students give much thought or care to the enormous reach and incredible complexity of a school such as our own. I never really thought about the scope of the UCSD entity either. In fact, it was only recently that I had my mini-epiphany when I saw signs with the words to the effect of “UC San Diego Auxiliary Tax Planning” at the Torrey Pines office complex, which houses all the business and logistical operations for the school.

    Like the complicated process that results in availing oneself of fresh apples, the act of taking an exam or eating in Price Center is the end product made possible by a massive UCSD operation. The extent of this operation and its impact rivals that of any major corporation. Acting Chancellor Marsha Chandler could probably trade a couple of tips and tales with the corporate king himself, Bill Gates.

    Students have a loose knowledge about the structure and factors that contribute to our education. Although our world is mostly limited to the confines of UCSD’s classrooms and campus, students understand that professors conduct research with and for the school’s money, that Center Hall’s bathrooms are cleaned by janitors, and that StudentLink schedules are carefully created by enrollment, department and administrative personnel.

    Do students know, however, that the school is run not only by one chancellor but also by eight vice chancellors? There are vice chancellors for academic affairs, research and graduate studies, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, student affairs, resource management and planning, external relations, business affairs, and health sciences and health care. In addition, there are many more associate vice chancellors and, all told, some 23,000 employees — more than one employee for every undergraduate student enrolled — working for UCSD in some capacity. The UCSD Reference Shelf Web site, http://www-er.ucsd.edu/ucsdreferenceshelf, provides an abundance of information about the ins and outs of this university.

    UCSD is one of the largest employers in San Diego County, coming only after the federal, state and school district offices. In addition, as reported in the Feb. 2 issue of the Guardian, the annual fiscal revenue of UCSD last year was $1.8 billion and the generated economic impact was $5.1 billion. Crazy, isn’t it?

    From a perspective more relevant to students, the academic livelihood of students at UCSD is made possible by an abundance of faculty, staff and administration. As an Associated Students representative in an enrollment committee, it blows my mind to see the vision and planning that goes into admitting a student. For example, the committee (made up of maybe 15 faculty and administrators plus two students) pores over tons of percentages and proposals from the office of the president to come up with a number of new admits. Students become an acronym (FTEs, which stands for full-time enrollment), which doesn’t mean that we’re any less important, but just become a more business-appropriate unit. And there are dozens more committees for everything, from naming parking structures to maintaining the quality of the libraries.

    Then there’s the mysterious Academic Senate, which summons images of some Star Wars-esque assembly of stately very important persons, decreeing our academic agenda and sentencing plagiarizers to life without purpose. In reality, the Academic Senate is a representative assembly of faculty, with committees on specific academic issues. It meets almost monthly to vote and discuss matters that are actually quite relevant to our lives, probably more so than what the other “A.S.” (that is, Associated Students) on campus does. In addition, they deal with the “other” dimension on campus — professors’ research, publications, and think-tank-like centers on campus that keep UCSD and the University of California in general floating on the top of the school-ranking charts. According to their Web site, the Academic Senate, on “standing Orders of the Regents, exercises direct control over the authorization and supervision of all courses and curricula, determination of admission and graduation requirements, and approval of all manuscripts published by the University of California Press.”

    Yes, the Regents, everyone’s favorite scapegoat. To even begin exploring the intricacy of the higher-level UC management would be an invitation to a dissertation-length article. The UC system as a whole is a colossus on a national and international level. It even has a lobbying-type office in Washington, D.C., a testament to both its scale and its stature.

    Down home in San Diego, though, it’s important not to forget the less-known but equally important organization that allows us to study here, and it’s beyond the mere derogatory label of “bureaucracy.” There’s Physical Plant Services, which deals with all the school infrastructure and maintenance. There’s Business Affairs, which handles the aforementioned taxes, payroll and other financial and resource matters. There’s a special public relations office that exists just to get UCSD on the map of national and regional consciousness. Then there’s University Events Office, Catering, Transportation and Parking Services, and so forth. This is just scratching the surface of the enormity that is UCSD.

    The confluence of all these efforts, a magnified apple transaction if you may, contribute to the overarching principle of advancing knowledge in the local and global community, of course to ultimately give us, the students, a world-class educational experience. Note the word “experience” — an encompassing, entire enterprise. It’s not just a matter of going to class and learning, it’s also the massive production that allows us to study in library or wash our hands. That being said, that apple doesn’t look the same now, does it?

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