UC Irvine: A Perspective Throughout the Decades
Imagine that the Jamboree exit on the 405 freeway does not exist, that MacArthur floods regularly during the winter rains, that Culver snakes through cow pastures and that almost nothing obstructs the view from campus to the 405 freeway. UC Irvine, as well as Orange County itself, seems a world removed today from what it was in the mid-1970s.
Dr. Thomas A. Parham, UCI’s Vice Chancellor Student Affairs, remembers the great changes made on this campus and offers insight into what students, faculty, staff and administrators need to continue to strive for as this campus continues into its 47th academic year.
“There are a lot of us who occupy senior faculty or administrative posts [in the university] who are all products of the front lines of the movements of the ’60s and ’70s,” Parham said. “I am one of these people. I’ve been a student, staff member and now an administrator and adjunct faculty member here. The educational climate [back in the ’70s] was interesting because I am a product of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the ’60s and ’70s. You began to see various programs designed to provide access and opportunity to talented people who could take advantage of the resources in these institutions.
“There was a push for culturally different students to attend college, programs like affirmative action to address what I call structural inequities that existed in society. Educational institutions at the time were reflections of the larger society. Society was still struggling to move from desegregation to true integration. There came a group of very talented kids who I think were very capable, but because they came, in some cases, as part of a climate of social reform, some of them came with a stigma where there were questions about the quality of the applicant pool. Tension existed at the time in society in general. I found this campus to be a sharp contrast to Orange County’s cultural sterility.”
Vice Chancellor Parham noted that to experience a sense of community, many of UCI’s African-American students would simply retreat back to their homes in Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Diego over the weekends. The culture of Orange County simply did not accommodate those students. Getting a haircut was impossible because there were no barbershops that catered to them. No restaurants served soul food. Concert venues did not schedule shows featuring African-American performing artists.
Everything was white after crossing “the Orange Curtain.” However, UCI did offer these students an invaluable support and mentorship network.
“The leadership of this campus was always clear about embracing diversity,” he said. “I knew Dan Aldrich [UCI’s founding chancellor]. He was famous for having meetings with African-American and other ethnic students up in his office. There was also a large impact by faculty. [UCI] had a small but active group of African-American faculty that supported all students. I met my first mentor here, Dr. Joe White, who was recruited by Chancellor Aldrich. [The faculty] and students collectively were creating a cultural comfort zone for students.
“In my Irvine experience Joe White was my most important role model. He was one of the founders of the African psychology movement nationally. However, his blackness was reflected in a human quality that was able to transcend race and gender to help all students. That was the Irvine campus culture. The atmosphere was made more hospitable by a number of white faculty as well, like Dr. John Whiteley, Dr. Karen Nelson, Dr. Gary Evans, Dr. Dan Stokols, Dr. Bob Newcomb and Dr. Ray Novacco.”
Vice Chancellor Parham transferred to UCI from California State University, Long Beach in 1975. After receiving his degree in social ecology two years later, he went on to Washington University, Saint Louis where he received a masters degree in counseling psychology, and to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he received his Ph.D. in the same field.
He returned to UCI from 1981-82 for his internship in psychology, and returned for a second time in 1985 after three years as an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1975 he transferred to UCI for California State University, Long Beach. He received his degree in social ecology in 1977 and went on to Washington University, Saint Louis where he received a master’s degree in counseling psychology. He received his Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He returned to UCI from 1981 to 1982 and completed his internship in counseling psychology, after which he went to the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor.
“This is my 27th year back,” he said. “The distribution of who is here has changed, but the small time feel of the campus and commitment to diversity hasn’t. It’s the glue that holds the campus together, even as we continue to increase our excellence in academics and research, that have always been strong. I think that’s something to be celebrated.”
Campus demographics are not the only part of campus life that Vice Chancellor Parham feels have improved through the decades. He noted the overall increase in student body size, the number and variety of majors and programs offered, and the growth of the graduate and professional student body as positive developments.
As UCI continues into the 21st century, Vice Chancellor Parham remains optimistic about the relationship between students and the campus administration in spite of recent tensions across the UC system.
In recent years, he points out, the campus administration has made an increased effort to meet with students and address their growing concerns about budget cuts, rising tuition and reduced access to academic resources.
“My colleagues and I certainly work hard every day to develop student relationships,” he said. “We’ve held two forums to educate students, provide transparency and enlist their support. I watch the chancellor meet with students regularly, go onto a student-run radio show … He and the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost have monthly lunches with [ASUCI and Associated Graduate Students] representatives, and meets with the New U twice a year. He gives unparalleled access.”
Parham hopes that these efforts will help students and administrators work together to create a positive and constructive campus atmosphere, and maintain the legacy of progressiveness this campus has fostered since its founding.
“Students have learned how to communicate in the language of protesting, demonstrating and screaming,” he said. “If you’re talking to people who just don’t get it, I can see raising your voice. What I wish would happen is for students to assess their environment and identify places where they have allies in the administration and the deans.
“You have a Provost and a chancellor who work tirelessly to minimize the impact of budget cuts on students, not only by creating efficiences, and holding hiring, but also imposing administrative salary reductions in some years. All of these things go in to place before we even think about raising a dime of student tuition. We are all victimized by a fiscal crisis and a legislature and a governor who despite verbiage to the contrary, make decisions that negatively impact funding [to higher education].”
“We want to advocate for students and raise awareness so that they understand that we are on their side,” he said.