UCI Reflects on Its Past

On Nov. 3, UC Irvine presented the Celebrating 40 Years of Innovation Symposium at the Barclay Theatre in conjunction with the new exhibit ‘Under Construction Indefinitely: Forty Years of Designing UCI.’
The event was presented by the UCI Libraries, after two years of work on the UCI Historical Research Project.
Among those who attended were many founding members of UCI and former students and faculty. Noted individuals included philanthropist Joan Irvine-Smith, who was instrumental in getting the Irvine Company to donate the land to build UCI, Gene Aldrich, wife of UCI’s founding chancellor Daniel Aldrich Jr., and members of the Chancellor’s Club.
University Librarian Gerald Munoff opened the ceremony by acknowledging the purpose of the event, which was to look back on the past in a ‘critical examination of UCI’s established tradition of innovation,’ to celebrate accomplishments and to seek improvements in the future.
Following his speech was a short clip of a 1965 NBC documentary of ‘The Birth of a Campus,’ featuring the late chancellor Aldrich strolling by the then-newly erected Engineering Tower and the original Computer Science building, gazing at the empty rolling plains that would soon become a campus. In the documentary, Aldrich shared his views of a new ‘university of today,’ that would be able to provide for ‘40,000 students to think, learn and do.’
Moderated and organized by Spencer Olin, an Edward A. Dickson professor emeritus of History, the event explored the architectural history of UCI and how the campus came to be.
Former president and campus planner of the Irvine Company Raymond Watson spoke about the early stages of founding the university, overcoming refusals to build a city surrounding the university and conflicts over the expansion of the new city.
According to Watson, Irvine has become the ‘first citizen-elected city governed by its people,’ setting the ‘standards of a new city’ and ‘the most successful new town of the 20th century.’
In addition, James McGaugh, research professor of neurobiology and behavior and former executive vice chancellor, gave a presentation highlighting the efforts of the past 40 years to recruit a world-renowned faculty, and design an academic organizational plan that would promote scholarly excellence.
The presentation highlighted achievements of former distinguished faculty members, singling out deans who had been inducted to the National Academy of Sciences after joining UCI, as well as Nobel Prize winners and many others.
McGaugh’s point was clear: In the space of 40 years, UCI has achieved many milestones, ranking 47th in the world according to 2005 World University Rankings, 12th best after factoring in the age of the university (with Cambridge at 11th and Princeton at 13th).
Watson concluded optimistically, ‘We have another 10 years to get to number one.’
Rebekah Gladson, associate vice chancellor of design and construction services and campus architect, gave an overview of the architectural aspect of the campus, noting the different stylistic periods of the buildings, such as the Brutalist Phase in the 1960s, headed by the late architect William Pereira, the postmodern phase of the 1970s and 1980s and the more recent phase collectively called Contextualism.
Brutalism, exemplified by the Main Library and Gateway Study Center buildings, was a ‘celebration of concrete’ that gave ‘technical advantages to expedite building,’ and was a ‘period of architecture that changed the skyline,’ Gladson said.
Postmodernism called for individual statements, which resulted in the many notable works by architects Charles Moore and Frank Gehry. Gladson observed that these buildings did more than just house classrooms and lecture halls, and brought a new challenge for the architects of today, dealing with not only building space, but also cyberspace.
Gladson briefly mentioned the ongoing discussions of the likely demolition of Gehry’s Information and Computer Science and Engineering Research Facility, saying that although it is a historical testament to Gehry’s Deconstructive vision, the reality of a growing student population may deem the demolition a necessary reality.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Gottfredson concluded the symposium with a brief outline of UCI’s plan for academics and buildings for the next 10 years, which he assured would be ‘integrated with the original premise.’ The plan included several key points, including goals to extend the enrollment to 32,000 by 2015, with 25 percent of the student body to be made up of graduate students.
Gottfredson also said that UCI would be a ‘destination university, a place where individuals will want to come and stay.’
After the symposium, the UCI Libraries’ 40th Anniversary exhibit was opened to the public, showcasing historical documents, photographs and material linked to the architectural evolution of the campus.
Though the event concluded in positive retrospect, many found that the university could improve in various areas.
‘For aspects that still need to be addressed, I have long believed that UCI, as a major research university with world-class aspirations … needs also to place a very high priority on a first-rate undergraduate educational experience,’ Olin said. ‘I believe we are doing rather well in this regard, and I know that … many faculty members are absolutely committed to that goal.’
However, Julian Feldman, professor emeritus of information and computer science, who was also a founding dean, felt that UCI is not as innovative as the presentation led people to believe.
‘I feel that the theme of innovation may be too emphasized, because the university is more conservative,’ Feldman said. ‘We need to improve mainly in the interdisciplinary things. But I can tell you that the fact that ICS has recently become an independent department shows at least one major milestone for UCI.’
Third-year biological sciences major Nhan Le was appreciative of the event as it provided information about many unknown aspects of UCI.
‘The symposium was really interesting because they emphasized the history of the architecture, and the plan of the founders really hasn’t changed at all,’ Le said. ‘UCI lacks a lot of student activism [but it can] still improve. I see a lot of students concentrating on their own gain in society and forgetting to talk and know other people. I wish that more students had come to learn why they attend this institution.’