Fox off to solid start as new chancellor

With the quarter drawing to a close and students preparing to have all the work they’ve done (or not done) over the last 10 weeks reduced to a simple letter grade, it is only fair that they turn around and give the same kind of scrutiny to the most prominent freshman joining UCSD this fall: Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. When Fox first joined the university, the three most pressing issues facing her were: the budget, increasing diversity and improving school spirit and participation. It is premature to judge her progress on those lofty goals; this quarter — with co-op controversies and censorship shenanigans — has given students more than enough fodder to pore over.

Fox arrived on campus amid a whirlwind of publicity events, taking special care to say the right thing and not ruffle any feathers. Whether it was calculated politics or genuine regard for students’ well-being, there was no doubt that Fox was in charge and ready to do business. Fox lead off the year by meeting students in person during welcome week and later hosted an open chat with students on Sept. 29. Her accessibility — students can even sign up for one-on-one time with her through her Web site at — has been a much-needed change of pace after previous Chancellor Robert C. Dynes’ relative obscurity. Whether or not that increased accessibility actually results in an administration that is more responsive to student needs, however, remains to be seen.

During this quarter, her administration has faced two major student issues: the status of the co-ops and the potential censorship of Student-Run Television. Given the history of mistrust between the co-ops and the university, it’s hard to determine which side is holding up the negotiations. Under Fox, the administration has done a reasonable job of communicating its issues to the students through letters printed in the Guardian written by Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Life Carmen Vazquez and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson.

After students voiced disapproval of the UCSD Closed Circuit Television Stations Governance Committee, which was established to review the governing structures of the campus’ student television stations and potentially increase controls on content, the administration again responded favorably, adding students to the committee. Though those decisions likely did not come directly from Fox, that her administration would at least make this kind of gesture toward students reflects positively on her. Nonetheless, with the co-ops issue yet to be resolved and the governance committee yet to release any conclusions or guidelines, it’s hard to say whether these attempts to include students are genuine or only token moves to placate the student body. At this point though, the presence of these attempts is a definite positive. Even then, however, her administration’s efforts have been more reactive than proactive.

Fox’s leadership to date in other areas has been much more direct, which indicates that she is prepared to continue raising UCSD’s academic stature. Under her watch, UCSD launched a TV studio that will allow UCSD professors and researchers to make their findings available to the public — and at little extra cost to the university. She also acted quickly to appoint Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences Edward W. Holmes to California’s nascent Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, which was created by the recently passed Proposition 71. This move should ensure that UCSD will have a hand in shaping California’s stem cell research policies.

Given Fox’s background, it would be surprising if she was not able to continue UCSD’s rise as an academic powerhouse. However, her record in dealing with the budget cuts has been less apparent. In just three short months, two different labor unions of university employees have rallied over inadequate cost-of-living increases in their wages, with the university yet to resolve either. After saying all the right things about helping to raise funds earlier in the year, no concrete plans or initiatives have been implemented, as tight budgets continue to affect the university on a daily basis.

Fox has also thus far failed to publicize the report on the lack of diversity among faculty and students she promised at the beginning of the year. Theater professor Jorge Huerta’s Nov. 30 appointment to the newly created position of Chief Diversity Officer could be a step in the right direction. Huerta is charged with coordinating the campus’ diversity efforts and implementing programming that helps foster diversty. But plans have been made before (look no further than Dynes’ 1997 10-point action plan). Fox must back Huerta up with funding and ensure that the office achieves the intended result.

All in all, Fox hasn’t made any notable missteps — yet. But as the year progresses, her honeymoon will begin drawing to a close and she will need to start following through on her ambitious statements. Granted, adjusting to a new university is undoubtedly a daunting task, which is why it’s premature to judge her quite yet. Thus far, Fox has demonstrated a savvy political touch, a knack for saying the right thing and a good eye for academic affairs. But for Fox to live up to her sterling resume — and perhaps even follow in the footsteps of her predecessors to the UC presidency — she must soon establish proactive initiatives to deal with the problems facing this university.