Campus Brass to Leave After 40 Years

    To older alumni, he is the founding provost of Thurgood Marshall College. To the current generation, he is the sometimes-overprotective vice chancellor of student affairs, and to the administration, he is a man of intelligence, patience and dedication.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson leaves UCSD with an unparalleled legacy for his dedication to both the university and students.

    No matter which view one holds, all who know Joseph W. Watson would agree that he has been a constant force, driving the transformation of this campus since its infancy. Watson recently announced that he will retire this June, ending a 40-year chapter in UCSD history.

    Watson entered UCSD amid the active political and social climate of the 1960s. He started as an assistant chemistry professor in 1966, but the revolutionary times accelerated his administrative involvement.

    In addition to the pursuit of professorship, Watson worked concurrently as the first faculty adviser to the Black Student Union in 1968. His involvement in the BSU began his deep commitment to the enrollment and education of underrepresented students, an effort that Watson has continued to date.

    Upon recognizing Watson’s understanding and passion for the issues at hand, UCSD named him the first provost of Third College, today’s Thurgood Marshall College, which aimed to address the campus’ need for multicultural education and diversity.

    According to Watson, while he faced opposition and controversy in trying to carry out the goals of the college, specifically admitting larger numbers of minority students and faculty, the idea of Third College is still valuable because it was a reflection of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the underrepresented communities.

    One of the major frustrations of his 40-year career is the lack of progress in the representation of students from key races. The similar challenges that still exist today result from institutionalized problems, exemplified in the passing of Proposition 209, he said.

    “If you have a problem, you have to be able to focus on the problem in order to solve and address it,” Watson said. “By not allowing any consideration of race and ethnicity, it’s almost a recipe for not being able to solve the problem in a direct way.”

    Although UCSD still falls short in the area of representation, Watson has made numerous strides in the right direction without ever compromising admissions standards, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and former BSU member Ed Spriggs.

    Among other efforts, Watson has established the Student Education Advancement Cluster, which assists minority populations from secondary school through college with educational outreach and financial aid, and he was instrumental in the creation of the African-American Studies minor.

    “I hate to think where UCSD would be without him in terms of diversity,” Spriggs said.

    Watson left his post as provost in 1981 when offered the position of vice chancellor of student affairs, an office responsible for regulating a $34-million budget and the numerous facets that envelop student life, including admissions, residence life, athletics, recreation, career services and student involvement.

    The role of the vice chancellor of student affairs is to defend the student position, according to Spriggs­; however, some call Watson’s effort unsatisfactory.

    Some students feel that Watson has been too firm on certain issues, especially those regarding alcohol on campus, hindering the proper experimentation and development that college life entails, according to A.S. President Harry Khanna.

    “A vice chancellor [should] allow students to make their own mistakes because this is an educational institution,” Khanna said. “Students need to have real decision-making power on this campus. We’re here for education, not just in the classroom but also in student life.”

    One example where Watson did attempt to stand back and let students make decisions was in the Student-Run Television issue, according to Spriggs. He supported the student position through the first and second incidents until there was almost an alleged physical confrontation, he said.

    “His normal response when issues arise is to say, ‘Hey, it’s all right, we can take our hit,’” Spriggs said. “He’d rather just let things flow their course toward a resolution.”

    While Watson may have held an easygoing attitude at the beginning, he was not afraid to usurp power over the station through the acceptable use policy which followed, Khanna said.

    “Dr. Watson is God as far as the [policy] is involved,” Khanna said last March. “He is the judge, jury and executioner.”

    Another controversy of his term centered around the structure and accountability of the campus’ co-ops, which are owned and operated independently from the uninversity.

    The co-ops were often sources of student organization and control over issues, especially administrative efforts to raise student fees, according to Graduate Student Association Vice President Internal Dana Bahlstrom.

    The administration wanted more oversight over the co-ops, leading to the establishment of a new contract that allowed for more control and easier eviction, he said.

    “In the example with the co-ops, there was too much student control,” Spriggs said.

    Although students can’t always see Watson’s support, it is demonstrated behind the scenes, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions and Registration Mae W. Brown said.

    “He is working while some of us are sleeping,” Brown said. “That kind of pace wears you out.”

    Along with his dedication, faculty members will remember his intellect and respect for others, according to Spriggs.

    “He’s probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met,” Spriggs said. “He can penetrate even the most complicated financial problems a lot earlier than most people, but his patience with his staff and colleagues, even when he has already figured out the answer, is remarkable. Most bright people don’t have that kind of patience.”

    In his 25-year term as vice chancellor of student affairs, Watson is most credited with the physical development of this campus, most notably for the construction of the Career Services Center, Price Center and its current expansion, RIMAC and the new North Campus housing project for transfer students.

    He was also involved with the athletics department switch from Division III to Division II, increased emphasis on study abroad, creation of the Faculty Mentor Program and invention of Tritonlink.

    This year marks the end of Watson’s five-year strategic plan, which addressed the issue of a growing campus. Now that many of his plans have been completed and student growth is predicted to level off at 30,000, the campus will reach a transitional state.

    Watson has laid the physical foundation of student life and now it’s up to the next vice chancellor of student affairs to formulate a new strategic plan to address the challenge of implementing new programs without relying on the funds that result from a growing student body, Spriggs said.

    “There’s no use in trying to duplicate something you can’t,” he said. “The next vice chancellor will have to look at what’s already been done and see where to go from here. [Watson’s] going to be a tough act to follow.”

    Readers can contact Serena Renner at [email protected].

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