Thursday, November 23

New director intends to make students priority


Williams has different vision for ASUCLA than previous management

The recent hiring of Bob Williams as the executive director for
the Associated Students UCLA signals a shift in management from
directors hired outside of the association to a director who has
had a long history with ASUCLA.

Williams, who has worked for ASUCLA for 25 years, notes that the
visions he has for the student association may be different from
past executive directors who were brought in to save the
association from past financial crises.

While the student association must balance financial viability
with providing services to students, Williams said he intends to
strengthen the relationship between students and the
association.

He adopted this approach of prioritizing students as soon as his
first day on the job as night manager of the Treehouse, a cafeteria
that was on Ackerman Union’s first floor.

“I first came in telling students what to do and they
didn’t like it,” he said. “Within the first few
hours, I realized that ASUCLA was a very unique organization and
that students play a vital role in all aspects of the
organization.”

During his first 20 years, Williams said he changed his approach
and developed student leadership by asking students to take on
complex leadership roles and interfering as little as possible.

“I’m a great believer in students,” he said.
“I’ve never underestimated them, and they’ve
never let me down.”

During the tenures of past executive directors, the association
has seen drastic changes, from the structure of the ASUCLA Board of
Directors to the types of stores in Ackerman as it handled a
precarious financial situation in the mid-1990s.

The two most recent executive directors of ASUCLA ““
Patricia Eastman, who served from August 1996 to September 2003,
and Charles Mack and Douglas Drumwright, who served as co-directors
for the year before Eastman’s tenure ““ spearheaded
efforts to improve ASUCLA’s financial situation.

In the mid-’90s, ASUCLA saw consistent losses, starting
with a loss of over $400,000 that ballooned into over $3 million in
losses. During that time, the association also took out a $20
million loan from the university in 1996 to fund capital projects,
mostly toward the renovation of Ackerman Union.

Before working for ASUCLA, Eastman was in charge of business
development at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Jerry Mann, director of the student union and student support
services, said Eastman emphasized developing the association as a
business rather than developing student services.

During Eastman’s tenure, more third-party operations came
to ASUCLA, like Copeland’s Sports and Sbarro’s La
Cucina, which provided services that would be difficult for ASUCLA
provide, Mann said.

The student association also became profitable again while
Eastman was director. Starting in 2001, the association saw a
profit of over $2 million.

The renovation of Ackerman was also finished during
Eastman’s tenure, during which a temporary $51-a-year fee
increase was implemented from 1997 to 2002 to further help
ASUCLA’s financial situation.

The renovation completely changed Ackerman, said Todd Sargent, a
student in the mid-1990s and alumni representative to the
undergraduate student government, who noted that the union was
“antiquated” and that there was a demand for better
quality food from students.

The association did not only change the look of its facilities,
but also student leadership in its board of directors. The
structure of the student-majority board of directors changed in
April 1996, when the board voted to oust elected officials from the
student governments in order to receive the $20 million loan at the
insistence of the chancellor and former executive director
Mack.

Then-Chancellor Charles Young said that the direct political
influence of elected student officials was partly responsible for
the troubled financial situation the association was in, according
to a May 1996 Daily Bruin article.

A year before, Mack and Drumwright, who worked with an outside
firm specializing in financial turnaround, likened the board to a
“mining company run by environmentalists” that focused
on short-term student benefits instead of capital investment.

While elected student officials from the student governments
could serve on the board in the past, currently the board is still
composed of a student majority appointed by the presidents of both
student governments after an application process. The chancellor
can change the structure of the board if ASUCLA does not comply
with conditions established in the loan agreement.

According to the loan agreement, if ASUCLA does not follow
conditions like submitting its budget and a five-year forecast to
the university or repaying the loan according to a payment
schedule, the chancellor can change the board.

There were positive and negative aspects in changing the
board’s structure, Mann said. Depoliticizing the board made
it so board members could focus more on the financial health of the
association while still maintaining student involvement, he
said.

“The bad thing is we lost a direct connection to the
governments, and that’s something we’ve been trying to
make up,” he said.

While ASUCLA and its board have changed, Sargent feels that the
relationship students have with ASUCLA is not much different from
when he was a student.

“I think people saw it as a place to go buy your books, to
get your food at lunch time,” he said. “There
isn’t much of an ASUCLA identity.”

Williams said he prioritizes establishing a better contact
between the association and students, the association’s
shareholders through the student association fee.

“I believe students should see ASUCLA as their
organization,” he said.

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