When students try to communicate with school administrators, their grievances often fall on deaf ears. The appointment of a new administrator, however, has a chance to initiate a paradigm shift.
The search for UCLA’s first vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion will approach its end next quarter. So far, three candidates have visited campus and made their respective cases for why they’d be the best fit for the position.
All three seem to have a fairly solid resumes, but it will take more than just one person with a new, seven-word-long title to address a topic as far-ranging as campus diversity.
To be successful at his new job, the diversity chancellor cannot sit in an ivory tower, unreachable to students and yet making decisions that will determine their ability to feel safe and comfortable at UCLA. Whoever takes on the position should make it his responsibility to respond to student needs – and he can only do that if he knows what those needs are.
Upon appointment, the vice chancellor should assemble a body, whether it be a task force or a more permanent council of student representatives from different campus communities, to assist him in addressing diversity-related campus issues and to advocate for student concerns. Ideally, this body would meet every other week to voice the students’ concerns to the vice chancellor so he can maintain a solid understanding of their ever-changing needs.
Additionally, those who sit on this new body should do so on a rotating basis to ensure all communities get a chance to establish strong ties to a high-ranking UCLA administrator who can carry more clout than students currently do. A quarterly rotation of the board would do enough to establish strong relationships but to also allow different communities to be represented.
Having that voice in university administration is particularly crucial considering the slew of on-campus incidents that harm diversity and campus climate. For starters, the proposed diversity requirement is being contested by a group of professors after months of discussion and debate between students and faculty. Additionally, students still have trouble accepting each other’s racial, ethnic and religious differences, most recently made evident with a number of Islamophobic and anti-Arab fliers posted on and around campus aimed at pro-Palestinian students. At the state level, Proposition 209, which effectively banned affirmative action in California, is still as significant a barrier as ever.
The new vice chancellor, no matter who is eventually appointed, should recognize that issues that range from discrimination at student government meetings to institutional hurdles like Prop. 209 require the development of a collaborative relationship to solve. The appointee should act as the leader of a network but also needs to do a good job of delegating to ensure direct student involvement.
A culture can’t change with one appointment and it can’t change in a single year.
Whether Chancellor Gene Block and executive vice chancellor and provost Scott Waugh choose Franklin Tuitt, Octavio Villalpando or Jerry Kang, the three remaining candidates, to fulfill the position is of relatively little consequence. It will be the network of people they lead that will have the potential to enact change, not the lone person at the top.
The candidates all said that they want to solicit information from students, but putting a structure in place to increase student participation will ensure that they actually do so.
The key for the person that comes out on top, and probably the biggest concern students should have, is student involvement once the position is implemented in the office. Only one undergraduate student, Jazz Kiang, director of the Asian Pacific Coalition and a third-year Asian American studies student, was on the search committee to find the new chancellor, which is a problem in and of itself. The new vice chancellor would do well to improve upon this lapse in judgment by the administration to get as much feedback from as many different communities of students as possible.
The position needs to be more than a way for UCLA to not get sued; it needs to change attitudes. Students of color need a strong advocate high up in the administration to level the playing field for them, whether that playing field is the admissions process or everyday interactions with fellow students.
If the vice chancellor fails to involve students in his efforts to address campus issues, he will become another inaccessible bureaucrat supposedly working for students without engaging them directly. UCLA doesn’t need another administrator; it needs someone that can serve as a mouthpiece for the student body in the administration.
Many students feel strongly about issues like the diversity requirement and on-campus discrimination and would be more than willing to pitch in if given the opportunity. The vice chancellor can serve as a bridge between the administration and the student body and give the students some much needed representation.
If the person that winds up receiving Block and Waugh’s endorsement takes the job seriously, he can benefit greatly from student participation and support. All he’ll have to do is ask.