A Talk With Penny Rue

1. How has the
adjustment been?

Incredibly invigorating, very exhilarating, there has been a
very steep learning curve. I do spend most of my time in meetings. I’ve been
going out to meet with all of the college councils to see what’s on their mind.

2. Talk about
your relationship with the A.S. Council.

I went to one of their meetings; we had a good conversation.
I also meet regularly with [A.S. President Marco Murillo. I think the obvious
answer, when you talk about the distinctiveness is the college system, is about
learning the different character of the colleges. I really appreciate the way
the college councils give people the opportunity to get into leadership roles
very quickly. But then the issue of coordinating things like RA training or
mental health outreach across the six colleges is challenging. I’ve been
meeting with the various college provosts as well as the deans. We work pretty
much by consensus — we’re distinctive.

3. So you
mentioned the situation with mental health outreach, can you talk about what
has been going on with that?

I really talk about it in sort of a tiered fashion, each of
these tiers is important:

FIRST TEIR: Service provision to individual students who
express the need for help. We have a staffer in each of the colleges, which
lowers the hurdle for students.

SECOND TIER: On the issue of outreach, one of the things I
will be doing is taking on the issue of helping students realize how common
mental health issues are so they are destigmatized. Forty-six percent of
college students deal with a bout of depression so severe that it affects their
daily routine — so basically half of students are struggling, and right now
they are often struggling alone. And these are normal struggles; almost every
one of our students deals with the problem of going from being a straight A
student to not being a straight A student. THIRD TIER: Is all the ways people
stay connected, to help them feel they have a niche and aren’t alone. All these
tiers are important to the larger issue of mental health. Mental health issues
are among the most important; we are all learning from what happened at
Virginia Tech. We’re working to connect the dots where many people may be
concerned about a struggling student, so that the student can be helped.

I went to Duke and was an English major as an undergraduate.
Then I picked up a second major in religious studies along the way — it was my
way of getting a handle on diversity and how diverse the world is — I also got
my PHD in counseling. I’m going to be talking to the larger Academic Senate
about those mental health issues, faculty see students every day so if we can
educate them about the signs of depression we can work together.

4. What is
going on in the academic world at UCSD?

Here’s what’s fascinating to me: we’re 50 percent humanities
and social sciences, and 50 percent sciences, but would you know that based on
the press at the university? I would like the fact that we’re as highly ranked
in the humanities to be just as well known. I do really appreciate how rigorous
the institution is; we’re going to have the highest academic standards. I think
our admissions data is phenomenal; we’re able to be incredibly selective. I
think that’s one advantage of how we’re so young and up and coming; there’re
fewer rules and more possibility for collaboration, and I know students benefit
from it.

5. Have you met
at all with the Academic Senate? How has that interaction been?

I meet with them pretty regularly, in that situation I’m
more in the listening mode, they don’t need me to tell them to be

6. What has
been going on with the U.S.E.S. Report data?

We’ve recently gone through all the suggestions and the top
two (that were the most feasible) were both academic: there should be more
freshman seminars and more opportunity for transfers to get involved in similar
seminars, and also faculty be involved with students outside the classroom.

Also, undergraduate research opportunities, again, was a big
request. Most of that has been in the sciences, but it shouldn’t be limited to
that; one of the projects we’re working on is pulling a group together to see
how we can attract more students and underrepresented students through

7. You
mentioned transfer students, and UCSD has just broken ground on the North
Campus transfer housing, what else has your office been working on for

One of the things I like to say about transfer students is
that transfer is something you do not something you are. After month one you
want to be called a UCSD student, not a transfer student; so there’s the
challenge of how can we give them services without labeling them? One way is
through those seminars so that transfers have the option for a small academic
experience right off the bat. The colleges put some together but they were too
“adjustment to college” geared; not academically robust. Right now the main
outreach to transfers is through the colleges but it’s very hard to do that
without residences, I think the Price Center expansion will help that because
there will be a lounge.

8. And kind of
along the vein of construction, what has been going on with housing and new
building projects like the North Campus housing?

I think the future will hold more undergraduate housing, there
are infill projects in [John Muir College] and [Revelle College],
and north campus housing projects. But we’ve met our debt capacity right now.
Housing 50 percent of students is the long-term goal. We’re lucky because we
have a lot of space to expand — San Diego State University only houses about
3,000 out of 30,000 students — don’t quote me on the numbers but it’s something
around that — UCSD has room to grow. [Chancellor Marye Anne Fox] gets
tremendous credit for that; for convincing the regents to make the finances
work, which was really a tremendous accomplishment. We have leadership here
that really cares about the college experience.

9. And what do
you think about the Price Center Expansion?

I’m not really good at envisioning rooms from metal bars but
I’m excited about the planning that went into the expansion based on the
U.S.E.S. Report. I’m very excited about having the alumni association involved.
At the other universities I’ve been at there is a huge link between alumni and
current students, we need to link them here a lot more. One thing I would like
to explore are the ideas of class committees, the college structure is great
but it kind of leaves you hanging at the end. I’ve been at two universities
that did a really big thing for the senior celebration, and that’s because the
committee who did the senior planning came back to plan the 5th-year reunion —
it was a 6-year commitment. Things like that need to be done in association
with the alumni association to build that long-term commitment.

10. So what is
the situation with parking? It is obviously a big issue for students, but
Parking and Transportation Services is separate from your office — how is it
working with other offices like that?

Student Affairs is a boundary-spanning role; we have to know
everybody else, we’re often in the role of translating student experience to
others who don’t think of them as unique customers. I have limited power and
influence so I need to use it wisely. Parking is a good one; we feel very
strongly about the need for a “downtown garage” it would be across the street
from the main entrance, but there are some other things that would need to be
built for that to happen. Gilman and Hopkins are good, and Student Affairs
appreciates the campus’s commitment to green, the fact that everyone has their
own car and drives to campus isn’t reasonable; the garages are more the issue
of people coming back to campus. If you can’t park you’re not going to come
back in the dark. Those parking spaces would be dual use: workers during day
and students at night. It also puts a premium on shuttles.

11. But what will
happen when the Loft is done relatively soon and there is no parking garage?

Well, both Gilman and Hopkins are close, so we should talk
about it that way — that they’re close “look, it’s only a block away you can
park there.”

12. You come from
big sports schools; what has your experience been here with athletics?

I have really enjoyed my opportunity to work closely with
the athletics department; they report directly to me. I’ve served on athletics
committees and I love college basketball, but what I appreciate in Division II
is truly the role of the students athlete, the athletic experience allows
student athletes who are passionate about something to continue that through
their schooling. Athletics teaches them tremendous time management, they get a
leg up in terms of life skills and academic advising. I’ve been to water polo, women’s
volleyball and basketball games. I appreciate the level of play and commitment,
it’s interesting that our league is almost all CSUs, we’re a little bit of a
fish out of water in that sense, and we come in consistently second. In other
colleges, athletic departments report directly to president or chancellor, but
they often end up under supervised.

13. What is going
on with the SunGod Planning Report?

I haven’t had a chance to meet with the group, but I did
speak with Marco about it, he shared the report with me and we talked about it.
I was glad to see there was a consensus about some problems. It’s about pride,
and it is something that really draws and puts UCSD in a great light.
Unfortunately the number of students who have near-death experiences is scary
so it’s about balance — How do we do this in ways that put student safety at
the forefront? There are lots of program planning things, one of the clearest
ones is: your entrances aren’t your exits, which is very easy to do very
obvious. There are some other specific recommendations that make a lot of
sense. In most cases there was consensus between students and adults on the

14. What do you
most hope to preserve?

The ritual nature out of it, this is our day when UCSD
really shines and people have that sense of “aren’t we special.”

15. What has your
experience been with programming in general?

It’s a trick of balancing fun with safety. I was very
impressed with the student programmers safety consciousness; things like moon
bounces, for example, they are very fun but its interesting that we need all
kinds of waivers. Students should be in the driver’s seat in programming
because they know what they want. I think it’s really important that students
stay in touch. I think one of the fascinating things about students in this
generation is that you don’t have a generation’s music. What has happened with
the personal devices is that there are 50 different generations of music, but
there is no shared music — and that’s great but there’s something that’s lost;
you can’t pick a band or a dj that’s really going to pull everyone together.
The other thing I’m really intrigued by, getting back to the issue of
programming, is the technology that’s able to recognize you when you sign on
[to Tritonlink] and tell you what events would you be interested in. I’m
co-chairing a Tritonlink committee and I think that is interesting, technology
is becoming more available. Tritonlink and blink will be integrated into the
main UCSD homepage.