Town Hall Meetings to Begin Conversation About UCSD’s Plans

UCSD students can now boast that they attend one of the nation’s top public universities. In our 52-year history, we’ve received several commendations for our education and research. For three consecutive years, we’ve been ranked the number one college in the nation by the Washington Monthly based on our contribution to the public good. But according to incoming Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, turning 50 shouldn’t be treated as an excuse for UCSD students to rest on their laurels. Khosla called two town hall meetings for students last Tuesday and Thursday to address what he views as a growing “complacency problem.”

The meetings, co-hosted by the current Executive Vice Chancellor for the committee Academic Affairs Suresh Subramani, focused on the 50 years that lie ahead.

The aim of the planning process, Subramani said, is to establish a “shared vision” among the students, faculty and staff on campus and a set of common goals for the future of UCSD. Khosla said the process was designed in November. It was then initiated in December with two town hall forums for faculty and staff. In a presentation titled “Strategic Planning Process: Defining UC San Diego’s Future,” Khosla stated that the process was launched to improve the undergraduate student experience, lower the student-to-faculty ratio and increase the global impact of UCSD.

“We’ve done exceptionally well for 52 years without the strategic plan ever being done,” Subramani said.

Our many achievements thus far can be traced back to the founders of UCSD, from which a vision of an institution of renowned faculty, rigorous curriculum and innovation originated. In the 1950s, UCSD was but a dream of oceanographer Roger Revelle, who was the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the time. He wished to broaden the horizons of the graduate students at Scripps by providing them with a UC campus nearby, where they would have access to more comprehensive and higher-quality instruction in the sciences. After lobbying faculty around the world to jump on board, Revelle eventually gained the approval of the UC Regents in 1958. Initially, the plan was for the institution to be a graduate and research institute of Technology and Engineering. This plan, under Revelle’s direction, was later expanded to encompass a more general campus that was to be called the University of California, La Jolla. It wasn’t until 1960 that the first graduate students were enrolled and the campus was renamed the University of California, San Diego. Four years later, the first undergraduate students were admitted.

“We want to make sure that what we’ve accomplished in the last 50 years is something that we hold dear to ourselves,” Khosla said.

For the first time in UCSD history, Khosla said students would play a role in this strategic planning process, which strives to define what action must be taken to most effectively carry forth the legacy of our founders.

The first phase, developing a process design, has been accomplished. As part of the second phase of the process, “Assessment and Engagement,” students were invited to participate in two town hall forums last week. These open forums gave opportunities for students to speak out about the prominent issues that they face on campus, express their concerns and provide input.

Of the couple hundred students who attended the first meeting held on Jan. 8, over 30 leapt at the chance to be heard as they formed lines behind two separate microphones. UCSD’s top four strengths, according to the students, are its academic reputation, thought-provoking professors, interdisciplinary programs and its trademark six-college system.

But when it came to discussing their academic and social experiences on campus, many points of dissatisfaction emerged as students illuminated the weaknesses they saw in UCSD. The most recurrent, heated topics included issues pertaining to career guidance, diversity, funding, alumni, quality of teaching and school spirit.

From the broad range of topics discussed, students volunteered suggestions for improvement upon highlighted issues. Many called for establishing a clearer articulation between academic success and the professional world. Some advised to strengthen ties between alumni and students while others advocated for the fostering of school spirit through the promotion of athletics and Greek life.

Despite the promise that the administration’s efforts hold in engaging students in this process, some students remain critical of what actual change the planning process will elicit.

For Revelle College senior Tanner Smith, talk of these pertinent issues has only been repeated time and time again.

“I’ve heard similar things [in] the last few years I’ve been here,” Smith said. “I’ve heard a lot about diversity, transparency and funding. But I’ll be honest — in three or four years, I don’t know how much that has improved the reality.”

Smith elaborated on the faulty allocation of funding and lack of diversity that he has seen over the course of his academic career at UCSD.

“While state funding is mandatory and has certain financial purposes, tuition is not going towards these basic facility issues that we’re having,” Smith said. “We’ve lost four libraries in the last year. We’ve lost the Crafts Center. People are getting fired. People are having their salaries cut. Workers are having their hours cut, and at the same time, Mr. Khosla is getting a rather large salary increase. In terms of diversity, I remember being very excited about coming to UCSD and hearing about what a diverse campus it was. I stand here four years later, and almost everyone here today — I’ve only heard negative things about diversity on this campus.”

Regardless of doubtful feelings that some students may share with Smith, the planning process will proceed.

After evaluating UCSD’s current context and gathering feedback from students, faculty and staff, thereby defining a unified vision, the administration will devise a strategy to achieve that vision and to implement it. According to Khosla’s presentation, our ultimate goal is “to be the leading public university that enriches human life” and “provides an enabling and empowering environment and opportunity for all to achieve their objectives, dreams and ambitions, while contributing to institutional goals.”

This entire process is scheduled to conclude in June.

Meanwhile, students are encouraged to submit their comments online at plan.ucsd.edu — another platform through which the administration is harnessing information from the student body.

“We’re trying to collect the voices of 30,000 people,” Subramani said. “The goal of all of this is that some part of the document represents you.”

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