Editorial: An open letter to Chancellor Jane Conoley

Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER
Wesley Ng/HIGHLANDER

Dear Chancellor Conoley,

We at the Highlander would like to warmly welcome you to the University of California, Riverside. Adjusting from the cool seaside breezes of Santa Barbara to the dry Santa Ana gusts of Riverside is quite the transition—no doubt it is as large as the transition from serving as the dean of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to helming the chancellorship of one of the top research universities in Southern California. Moving is difficult. But we believe that you’ll feel at home before you know it and do a wonderful job as the 13th leader of UCR.

The previous chancellor of UCR, Timothy White, left a remarkable footprint on our campus. He managed to guide the university through massive budget cuts and skyrocketing tuition, maintained UCR’s top national standing in campus diversity, and shepherded UCR’s School of Medicine through a turbulent accreditation process. But above all, he maintained a personal connection to students, be it through his town hall meetings, Friday letters, or romps around campus during Finals Week with cookies and his dog. Chancellor White understood that the way to enact positive change at UCR was to generate a positive connection with students and the UCR community as a whole. He accomplished this not only through communication, but by advancing projects that the students of UCR supported. Talking to students is one thing. Chancellor White ensured that those words resulted in concrete actions that benefitted the students of UCR.

We urge you to follow in Chancellor White’s footsteps by further supporting the UCR community. The first place to start is the beautification of campus and the cultivation of a campus identity. Many places on campus—the Rivera Lawn, the plaza by the bookstore, the patch of grass in front of Hinderaker Hall—are dull and in need of character. They don’t speak of a UCR with a strong community identity, a devastating irony given UCR’s ranking as ninth in the country in terms of universities that contribute to the community’s public good. UCR can begin a program to display the artworks of student artists in order to liven up the otherwise bland and lifeless areas that students pass by daily. Furthermore, other than the Bell Tower and the big UCR letters situated nearby, UCR has no widely-known identifiable landmark. Likewise, the only landmark that announces a visitor’s arrival on the UCR campus is an out-of-the-way discrete stone slab that is easily missed by any pedestrian. We should invest in a large landmark at the entrance to campus that can showcase the unique spirit and identity of UCR and be something that everybody at UCR can be proud of.

We can build on this by accelerating the planning and construction of the C-Center, a multipurpose sports complex that would replace the aging structure of Bannockburn. Alongside the ongoing expansion of the Recreation Center, the C-Center would refocus attention onto the campus’ athletics program by housing a modern sports arena for athletic games and give the UCR community a new building and sports identity that is uniquely UCR. Though Bannockburn is affordable and houses a great deal of UCR history, it is old and incapable of accommodating an expanding campus population. In addition, moving forward with the C-Center would not only liven up the UCR campus and promote UCR school pride, but it would also generate income through ticket sales of sports games and leasing of unneeded space.

Similarly, UCR needs to construct and renovate housing units to accommodate more students. Aberdeen and Inverness, Glen Mor, and Lothian are simply not enough living area for students should UCR continue on its expansion trajectory. And though Glen Mor 2 is under construction, it won’t open until 2014. In the meantime, UCR can upgrade its existing habitations to make the space worth living for UCR students. The current residence halls are cramped, with three people squashed into rooms originally designed for only two. Happiness begins at home, and revamping the residence halls would be the perfect place to start.

Finally, you can lead the way in the development of a more community-oriented classroom by increasing the faculty-to-student ratio. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel like an individual in a sea of thousands of students. Hiring more faculty to teach additional classes would not only alleviate the feeling of being a mere sardine in an ocean crammed with bigger fish, but provide more class variety and enable more students to take classes interesting to them. UCR can innovate a new path forward for universities with large student populations by maintaining student growth and a faculty-to-student connection.

All of these actions can further a sense of community and identity among the students of UCR. However, they all require money. And although Prop 30 passed, state divestment from higher education is still a serious threat. With no certainty of funding from Sacramento, UCR needs to return to its roots: the Riverside-based community. UCR’s very own School of Medicine provides a case study for what UCR needs to do in the future. When the school was originally rejected for not having sufficient funding, it embarked on an ambitious plan to raise $100 million. 80% of those funds came from the Riverside community. In stark contrast, endowments were only 0.31% of UCR’s overall income for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Relying on the state for funding may not be tenable in the long-term. Instead of facing a situation where UCR is forced to rely on ever-dwindling funding from California, we can pioneer a new path by increasing partnerships in the local community. The University of California is the second-largest employer in Riverside and has received incoming classes of over 4,000 students for the past three years. This means it has a large network of employees, alumni, students, and interested local citizens that it can turn to for fundraising. If every person living in the city of Riverside were to contribute five dollars, UCR would net over $1.5 million—and this number would only grow when alumni no longer living in Riverside are taken into account. To be sure, this is only a drop in the bucket in a budget that totals more than $500 million. But it’s a start.

UCR shouldn’t limit itself to fundraising in the local community, either. The people of the state of California and throughout the country have an interest in the success of UCR, and we should take this opportunity to expand UCR’s fundraising network in order to provide more for UCR students, staff, and faculty.

This is a lot to ask of an interim chancellor. But an interim chancellor has all the power—and responsibilities—of a chancellor of UCR. And further fostering a sense of UCR community spirit will not only make each student feel more at home at a campus where it’s still easy to get lost. It’ll also help UCR attract more students, top-tier professors, and help make our athletics department something to be proud of.

Gordon Watkins served as UCR’s very first provost. After he retired, he was called upon to become dean of the school of education—at none other than UCSB. Chancellor Conoley, you can live up to his legacy and be the driving force to make the UCR community even better than it is now. Or at the very least, we’d be pleased with the chance to munch on delicious cookies and pet a friendly dog during Finals Week.

Sincerely,

The Highlander Editorial Board

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