Following an announcement that Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue will be leaving UCSD to begin her position as vice president of Student Life at Wake Forest University, the Guardian sat down with Dr. Rue for a final interview.
Guardian: Good afternoon, Dr. Rue. First off, congratulations on a tenure of over five years as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
Vice Chancellor Rue: Thank you very much.
G: Can you speak a little about the issues you had to address as vice chancellor?
R: I came in based on my conversations with the search committee and with Chancellor Maryanne Fox with a focus on three real priorities. The first was strengthening the sense of community at UC San Diego, the second was paying greater attention to student safety and well being and the third was really increasing our appreciation of diversity — our ability to really respect and learn from each other and those who are different from ourselves. Each of those are pretty big items, so you don’t ever say “I completed that,” but I think we made quite a progress in each of those areas.
G: Is there any specific strategic planning effort at the forefront for next year?
R: I think issues of campus climate are very, very important — we work[ed] pretty hard on those throughout my tenure, and it’s wonderful now that with the new vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we’ve got another — again — set of partners working on that, so there are lots of different thrusts to improving campus climate. A lot of them have to do with creating communities of interests and real areas of support for underrepresented students. We now have our new Black Resource Center that just opened in the [Old Student Center] just last week, so I think that’s an exciting opportunity.
G: Perhaps on the other side of the spectrum, what do you think has been your biggest accomplishment as vice chancellor of Student Affairs?
R: There are two things I’m most proud of. The first: Four years ago, in collaboration with the campus community centers, we created something called the Institute for Building Communities for Social Justice, and for four years in the summer we ran a week-long institute for Student Affairs staff — about 25 to 30 people — who really delved into both the scholarship around equity and diversity and [thought] about how that informed their personal and professional practice. So we’ve had over 100 people go through that institute, and I think it’s really enriched the community. It’s created new collaborations, it’s created a holding environment for people who, maybe, felt marginalized themselves, and it’s been really exciting. That’s the heartwarming part. The other thing that I’m very proud of is creating a culture of assessment with an emphasis on documenting our impact on student learning and really understanding the difference we’re making when we do our programs and projects. So, that’s a culture shift to get people to think about establishing learning outcomes and measuring them through their program development, but we’ve developed a lot of capacity and that’s now woven throughout our organization.
G: What has been your most memorable moment as vice chancellor?
R: The most memorable moment is certainly the Compton Cookout. It’s not what I’m most proud of, but it was searingly memorable, and I do believe that decisions that I helped make and actions that I took allowed the community to come together and heal through that process as opposed to really fall apart. I’m proud of what we created out of that very dark moment, and in fact the administrative commitments we’ve made going forward that we’ve been able to honor and really make progress on.
G: What will you miss the most about UCSD?
R: The students. California is very distinctive. It is such [an] avant-garde, if you will, sort of progressiveness. I think about the caliber of students that I’ve gotten to work with and the diversity of backgrounds that they come from and the spirit of sort of creating and entrepreneurship that they have, and I think that’s really been exciting to me. That, and the beach. I’m a beach bum. I am a Triton for life. I have kept my Triton Day T-shirt, and I plan to wear that with pride on the other coast. I’m also very serious about the fact that UCSD is not as well known on this coast as it could be or should be — partly because we do operate a little bit in the shadow of the two other UC [schools] that are as highly ranked as we are — and of course, they have some PR assets in the shape of football and basketball teams that catch the airwaves, so I’m really hoping to be an ambassador for UCSD back in the East Coast.
G: Lastly, is there anything you want to say to the school or to the students?
R: I’ve really cherished my time here — it’s an amazing university. I’m just really honored to have been associated with that, and I will always feel a kinship. I will stay in touch with folks through our professional associations and through Facebook. I will always have a piece of San Diego in my heart.