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Gene Block discusses UCLA’s response to Skirball fire, recent issues

Chancellor Gene Block and other campus administrators met with the Daily Bruin Editorial Board on Friday and discussed campus issues, including the university’s response to the Skirball fire. (Hannah Burnett/Assistant Photo editor)

By Yun Kyung (Anny) Kim

Dec. 8, 2017 5:22 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Ricardo Vazquez's name.

This post was updated July 28, 2020 at 4:32 p.m.

Chancellor Gene Block meets with the Daily Bruin Editorial Board every quarter to discuss issues affecting campus and explain administrative policies. At their meeting on Friday, Block, who was joined by Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang, Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck and Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi, spoke about the administration’s response to the Skirball fire, student housing insecurity and Centennial Campaign for UCLA. Block also addressed his celebrity status on the Facebook page, “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens.”

Skirball fire

  • Block said the university considered students’ needs to have access to office hours because of upcoming finals and safety obligations when deciding to cancel classes during the Skirball fire.
  • Beck said the Emergency Management Policy Group, which consists of Block and campus senior management, decided whether to cancel classes based on information from Los Angeles Fire Department officials and the California Department of Transportation. Block said he was at a meeting with University of California chancellors in Oakland, California, when the fire first started.
  • Block added he thinks the alerts could have included clearer and more complete information on the reasons behind the university’s decisions. “We are getting all the technical information and data, but we are not sharing with (students) what went into the decision, which we think would be very helpful,” Beck added.
  • Beck said he thinks the new BruinAlert system made communication with students during emergencies faster and more efficient. Bruins Safe Online, an official source of information during a campuswide emergency, also distributed information about air quality and evacuation zones. However, Beck said he thinks students may not have been aware of the program because it is relatively new.
  • Beck added the university does not make evacuation plans public because it does not want to risk students being ambushed when they are moved to a central location. He added that evacuation zones change based on the emergency situation.
  • Beck said the administration will be performing an in-depth assessment on its emergency management procedures. “Our goal is always to do better,” he said. “We welcome opportunities to hear criticism and ideas.”
  • Beck said he thinks a letter from the Undergraduate Students Association Council and Graduate Students Association, which called on the administration to cancel classes until the fire is stabilized, did not reflect the complexity of closing portions of the campus. The letter received nearly 8,000 signatures before it closed. “We pay attention to all data and different factors that go into decision making,” Block added. “We also understand that this is emotional for students as well, which we are appreciative of.”

Event security costs

  • The university is still reviewing its security costs policies for high-profile events featuring controversial speakers, Kang said. He added UCLA policy already dictates the university will cover basic security costs for all events held by registered campus organizations, he added.
  • Kang said he thinks Bruin Republicans’ Ben Shapiro event in November went smoothly, and believes the protests outside the event allowed individuals with different views to engage with each other.


  • Beck said the university decided to reduce the size of a proposed student dorm on Le Conte Avenue from 20 to 17 floors in response to Westwood community members’ concerns. The decision will result in fewer beds, about 200, which will not be compensated for because of the constraints of other building sites. He added UCLA is trying to address the campus’ need for more housing while considering the interests of community members.
  • Beck said he understands the frustration of students in the Westwood Forward coalition, which is pushing for a new neighborhood council. He added he thinks students want more food, retail and entertainment options in Westwood. He also thinks the interests of the current neighborhood council and the students are not far apart.

Valet workers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

  • Several student and union leaders have called on UCLA to create more insourced positions for contract valet workers at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, after the university ended its contract with ABM. Beck said the university is committed to insourcing positions at the hospital, and added not all contract workers who were offered positions accepted them.
  • UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the university made offers to 37 ABM applicants, and two applicants declined their offers.

Housing insecurity

  • Blandizzi said she understands that student housing insecurity is a long-term problem, and added the Economic Crisis Response Team provides students with housing at no cost during emergencies. She added the team also helps students adjust their financial aid or sign housing contracts with the university once their emergencies are resolved.

Centennial Campaign for UCLA

  • Block said Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which aims to raise $4.2 billion by 2019, has received $3.5 billion so far. The campaign has raised $398 million for student support, which includes undergraduate student scholarships and graduate student fellowships.


  • Block said he is aware of his fame on the “UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens” Facebook page.
  • He added that he has a difficult time walking on campus without students asking for a selfie.
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Yun Kyung (Anny) Kim
Kim is the assistant news editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for the beat.
Kim is the assistant news editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for the beat.
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