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The Centennial Campaign has created a brand for UCLA that strays far from reality

(Cody Wilson/Daily Bruin)

By Lisa Basil

Jun. 24, 2019 10:23 am

Light shows on Royce Hall, enormous fundraisers and fancy graduation sashes marked UCLA’s 100 year celebration, as it made the promise of “Lighting the Way” for generations to come.

But with the spotlight on the Centennial Campaign, everyone else was left in the dark.

The Centennial Campaign is a fundraising effort meant to celebrate 100 years since UCLA’s establishment. So far, the university has raised $4.7 billion in donations, surpassing their $4.2 billion goal.

The campaign’s efforts to market the university have leaned heavily on the success stories of UCLA’s research and athletics milestones. Whether it be basketball players turned social justice advocates, or UCLA researchers who have developed new ways to treat spinal cord injuries – the Centennial Campaign has worked not only to show donors just how successful the university is, but more importantly, how deserving it is of their money.

But this success is not just the work of the institution.

UCLA’s greatest achievements are the work of students, student athletes and faculty – all of whom face injustices that go ignored by the administration for the sake of creating a positive brand. While UCLA’s administration boasts its athletics programs, it disregards student athletes. It pushes for research publications, but undermines faculty well-being. For students and faculty, the university is more than just the name brand and logos plastered on Centennial merchandise – it is their education and livelihood.

But if it means more money, UCLA seems to forget that rather quickly.

The Centennial celebration has only widened the gap between UCLA’s goals and its reality. Meanwhile, the cultivated image of national excellence strays further from the students and faculty that are central to maintaining that image.

Katherine Alvarado, a UCLA spokesperson, said the campaign administrators are focused on highlighting the role of donations in what is possible for the university.

“The campaign shows us snapshots of UCLA’s first century and UCLA today and provides a window into all that is possible for UCLA’s future, particularly with the help of philanthropic support,” Alvarado said.

Right now, however, the possibilities seem grim.

UCLA boasts 118 NCAA titles and pays its coaches millions of dollars to increase that number. But a report on the academic progress rates of athletes put UCLA at the bottom for schools in the Pac-12, while the UCLA men’s basketball team narrowly escaped penalties for low academic performance.

It is apparent that this continued success in athletics comes at the expense of the academic well-being of the student-athletes that bring home these championships – while athletes’ GPAs plummet, UCLA’s profits skyrocket. Student athletes are a cash cow at the hands of the university’s lofty NCAA goals, and the repercussions are wide reaching – from academics, to mental and physical health.

The recent lawsuit against former football coach Jim Mora by three former football players for alleged neglect and severe injury unearths a culture where wins come before well-being.

And athletes are not the only ones affected by the university’s neglect.

The Centennial Campaign favors promoting UCLA as a top research institution driven by the genius of a dedicated faculty. Yet that genius is often smothered by an administration happy to take advantage of their work.

There is an increasing number of lecturers in relation to tenured professors at UCLA. Lecturers are expected to teach classes and conduct research, but their short-term contracts exclude them from the job security, pay and benefits that tenured professors enjoy.

Saba Soomekh, a UCLA lecturer in the comparative literature and history departments, said that UCLA’s increasing number of lecturers in relation to full professors does a disservice to the lecturers expected to fill these roles.

“They are not giving people a living wage,” Soomekh said. “You are running around, often between campuses, and you don’t have time to do your own academic research – you are literally living class to class.”

Despite the Centennial Campaign highlighting major research milestones, the university continues to neglect those whose work made the achievements possible.

Soomekha said that by hiring lecturers on short-term contracts with a low number of classes, UCLA is also hurting undergraduates’ education.

“You can’t fully invest in the students, the campus and your department,” Soomekha said. “I can’t write a good letter of recommendation for a student I had for one class, one quarter – these contracts hurt the students as well.”

For the university, reform isn’t the priority – publicity is. But UCLA doesn’t want to talk about its ugly current state of affairs.

UCLA is not wrong to raise money – donations and funding have the capacity to greatly benefit student and faculty well-being in the form of new programs, services and support. But while UCLA profits from the accomplishments of individuals on its campus, it fails to give back to them once the campaigning is over. In order to help the people that make UCLA the best public university in the nation, donations must be reinvested in those individuals and the programs that affect them.

Students and faculty are the backbone of UCLA, but they are continuously treated like an afterthought. Until that changes, the Centennial Campaign is not lighting the way.

It is merely a distraction from the darkness around it.

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Lisa Basil | Opinion columnist
Basil is an Opinion columnist.
Basil is an Opinion columnist.
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