On November 2nd, chairs of the UC Commission on the Future arrived on campus to hear the opinions of faculty, staff and students, hoping to use that information to set the direction of the University of California for the next 30 years. Dean Christopher Edley (UC Berkeley), Professor Cynthia Brown (UCSB), Chancellor Michael Drake (UCI), and Professor Mary Croughan (UCSF) invited attendees to the microphone and took notes during the forum.
Of the approximately 50 people assembled that Monday in the Crystal Cove Auditorium, there was a noticeable absence of undergraduate students.
As faculty expressed their concerns about how the quality of their teaching is being assessed and their inability to teach in classrooms of 400 students, the student input remained limited by comparison.
Those students who did speak focused on the communication gap between the UC system and the students it serves. One speaker’s concluding question became the meeting’s backdrop: how can the UC get the support of students and graduates?
Jesse Cheng, a student regent on the Commission of the Future and a senior at UCI majoring in Asian American studies, was present at the forum. He suggested that the UC could be doing more to reach students.
“Honestly, the student turn out wasn’t as high as I’d like, and maybe that was because students didn’t hear about [the meeting]. The publishing for it wasn’t as intense as it could be,” Cheng said in a follow up interview.
For many students, that thought was an understatement. Chancellor Drake claimed to have e-mailed faculty and staff, but messages to students other than student body officers seemed to have never arrived. Suzanne Kordis, a freshman political science major who spoke at the forum, only knew of the meeting because of her internship with Cheng, and never received an e-mail about the commission’s visit.
No one felt the disconnection between school and student at the forum more than Sarah Thompson, a fourth-year transfer student and political science major, who told the commission of the events Monday that led her to the meeting.
“I went to my counselors to ask them about the potential fee increases, when they were going to happen and who they were going to affect,” Thompson said.
She was redirected to the financial aid office, where a counselor told her she didn’t know anything about the fees and tried to send her back to the political science counselors.
“I asked ‘Where do I protest this? How do I get involved?’ And she laughed at me,” said Thompson of the counselor she spoke to.
Another financial aid counselor mentioned an e-mail about the commission meeting to her colleague, who wasn’t aware of the event.
“I was stopping people [on Ring Road] and asking if they knew they could go [to the forum] and get answers and nobody knew — not a single person. I couldn’t even get the information when I asked for it … there’s something wrong there,” said Thompson of the communication between students and the UC.
No student interviewed for this article outside of the student body government received an e-mail about the event.
“I’ve heard quite a bit [of] ‘What e-mail? What is this e-mail?’ … I think that really does characterize the disconnect students feel with the UC system,” Cheng said.
If the gap is there, ASUCI President Megan Braun argues it isn’t because UC doesn’t try, even keeping students up to date through such mediums as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
“I think the nature of being in a ten campus system … is that it is a challenge to communicate to students,” Braun said.
But Thompson feels the brunt of the absence of an invitation nonetheless. “I’m thinking, why wouldn’t you inform the student population unless you didn’t want them there? There can be no explanation but neglect, which is just as bad,” Thompson said.
The UC system is not trying to neglect students, but, as discussed repeatedly in the Commission forum, is trying to mobilize them.
“We have 225,000 students, most of whom … are eligible to vote, and the UC has over a million alumni,” Braun said.
With that sort of mass, the UC could not possibly find a more persuasive promoter than the student and alumni population.
It’s clear that UC students need to get involved in the future of their school, but so does the school in its students. There is a communication gap between students and the UC precisely when communication is most important — in a crisis. Whatever the solution, the commission will not have the UCI student input it could have had.
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