The Fresh Face of Student Life

    With former Vice Chancellor Joseph W. Watson’s legacy over, this fall marks the beginning of a new era for student life. The philosophy of newcomer Penny Rue is idealistic and ambitious, but neglects UCSD’s long-lasting tradition of inhibiting community. Given this reality, her lofty vision for an about-face of the school’s most embedded characterisic is naive, but appreciated.

    STUDENT LIFE — Penny Rue was not looking for a new job, but one found her. She was recruited from her post at University of Virginia to replace former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson, who had just finished a decades-long tenure. She inherits the office most directly linked to students — the department oversees admissions, athletics and most all facets of student life.

    Watson grappled with a long-standing university problem, one that was laid out by the Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction report: UCSD lacks a strong, unified community.

    Recruiters pegged Rue as the cure for what has become UCSD’s defining problem. The university, and its colleges, form an expansive entity that finds difficulty in clearly uniting its parts. Separation of community is built into the school’s administrative hierarchy and physical layout. The six colleges find it difficult to establish their own communities and identities, as students tend to finish their general education requirements and move off campus. Several attempts by the colleges (cross-college events, more A.S. Council positions with university-wide focus) have fallen short of creating community ties. Even Library Walk, the center of campus, is designed as a passageway — not a hang out — which impedes the formation of community.

    Rue believes that communities are built on one-on-one interactions: “It’s all about creating relationships,” Rue said. She said that UCSD is on the rise, ready to become one of the top contributors to many fields of knowledge, but acknowledged the university’s most immediate enigma: an ailing community spirit.

    The new vice chancellor’s introduction to UCSD was a busy one: she walked past the tribal masks and UCSD literature in the lobby of the her office complex to meet for an interview. She had endured back-to-back interviews the entire day, and her upcoming schedule will find no relief: appointments fill her work days until late October. Still, her personable side managed to shine: “Happy birthday,” Rue said to one of her employees as she escorted me to her office, which has views of both the students and sagging tree branches around Library Walk.

    In her previous position, Rue established a multicultural center and expanded the Greek program. Her colleagues knew her as approachable and professional, especially toward students. She praised her staff for being ambitious and focused on the students’ well being. During her career in Virginia, she commissioned a report similar to the U.S.E.S. report, which she used to measure the community’s needs and respond accordingly.

    The vice chancellor of student affairs at UCSD, however, is a much larger position, covering over 27 programs. UCSD also has twice the undergraduate enrollment of the University of Virginia. Various directors and assistant vice chancellors report directly to Rue and the student body is separated from her by at least two levels of bureaucracy. Still, she plans to communicate directly with students — the foundation of her policies and goals.

    “I am in the business to form relationships,” Rue said. During Welcome Week, she spent much of her time walking all over the school meeting students. She even served up some ice cream.

    Rue has invited staff throughout the student affairs department to schedule time to talk with her directly. She hopes that these high-level conversations themselves will eventually reach students, and spark a movement where all students will find and strengthen, or create, their own communities. It’s a recycled idea that may have worked for Virginia, but is too ambitious for UCSD. Her expertise in community-building now encounters its biggest opponent: this university’s vast network of student services. In addition, UCSD’s larger population will stunt the impact of her trickle-down technique with sheer numbers.

    Though Rue’s moxie is admirable and her expertise is suitable for the campus’ ails, she fails to recognize the breadth and depth of our university. Our problem has become woven into our development, something that has existed since the creation of UCSD. Attempting to build a community by empowering the student alone is naive, mainly because she’s in a hostile environment; UCSD has been built with the aim of stifling community, not breeding it.

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