UCI’s Inadequate Infrastructure
UCI is facing a structural problem these days. This problem has been developing for a long time, but its effects are now being felt and threaten the future growth of UCI. Simply put, the infrastructure of UCI is increasingly unable to support all of its students.
A lack of available funding is the root cause of this grief. When the state of California cuts its funding to our university system, someone, somewhere, is going to be losing money. For UCI, that means that the expansion and development for more buildings has been severely cut. In 2005, numerous construction projects were planned and carried out for the next decade, outlined in a “Strategy for Academic Development at UCI through 2015.” The total cost was around $1.3 billion and UCI worked hard to build up that amount. Now, however, there are fewer building projects scheduled, even as the student population of UCI continues to grow.
In my capacity on the Legislative Council, I have seen some of the damage this has done. Classes are scheduled later into the night, in an effort to optimize lecture halls and meet the huge demand for classes by an expanding student body. It also forces student organizations to find room elsewhere, as they typically use lecture halls in the evening, when their members have greater availability.
This in turn has led to pressure on the Student Center, which now must coordinate the many club requests for rooms with the shrinking number of potential spaces available. Inefficient bureaucracy and a lack of coordination have worsened this overcrowding and the uncertain scheduling has caused more than one club to lose new members.
With a limited amount of money to allocate, the UCI administration has cut funding throughout the different departments. This means that technological upgrades, like new computers or projectors, are being put on hold, quite possibly permanently. In our society of increased usage and connectivity online and with more powerful computers, the ramifications of not having access to updated technology will mean UCI is at a disadvantage compared to other universities. When the outdated machines eventually die, then we will truly be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Of course, all of the school’s departments are actively looking for ways to make up for the cuts by the UCI administration, reaching out to E-Tech and alternative sources. However, such options have limited money as well and without a large influx of funding, this problem will only continue to degrade UCI’s capabilities to service its student population effectively.
Examples of this from the School of Engineering that I know of are things like the poor state of the Engineering & Computing Trailer (ECT). Although it is a trailer, this structure is probably permanent, given the lack of funding to raise an actual building on the land, but ECT lacks air conditioning, which is highly uncomfortable since it often fills up with people using its computer lab and who swelter under the large body count plus computer heat discharge. This issue relates to another problem for engineers and is a common problem for other disciplines as well — there are not enough computers. As more and more professors are putting resources online and often specific programming softwares, the demand for the computer far exceeds the number of computers available. Students are forced, more often than not, to stay late into the night to get things done, tying back to what I mentioned in the beginning.
This problem is the “growing pain” of UCI and it is a common problem for any university rising in prestige and enrollment.
Quite frankly, it was bad luck that this happened while the California education budget alternates between being slashed and being frozen. The only permanent solution is a return to the pre-2008 education budget and the proper oversight of that money, to ensure that it is not wasted and contains student input for what they need.
Until that happens, UCI needs to treat the current symptoms by keeping contact between students and administration strong. This can be seen in the case of the Student Center — no one in the General Registrar is talking to the Student Center who can update students in a timely manner. The easy answer is to find someone to blame for wasting money or not fighting hard enough. There is a time and place for such action, but in this dire situation, we do not have that luxury.
We need to lobby the California and U.S. governments to support education in this country, together, students, faculty, anyone concerned about the future. It will not be easy, but if we can present a unified front against this, then we will succeed in keeping UCI a grand school that can support a large and diverse student body.
Tin Hong is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.