Priorities

POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN

The following op-ed piece appeared on November 9 in the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper at UCLA.  It was reposted as well by the UCLA Faculty Association under the above title.  For those unaware, according to Wikipedia “a flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products.”

UCLA must stop marketing campus hospitality over educational concerns

By Karishma Daibee

Flexitarians of UCLA: Rejoice, for there is a new flexitarian bar opening at De Neve dining hall next quarter.

Finally, you can live your life the way you’ve always imagined and realize your true destiny. Your academic dreams will come to fruition, and all the while, you can enjoy a diet of mostly plant-based protein, with a little meat and fish sprinkled here and there.

This truly unnecessary measure is just the newest in a series of efforts by UCLA and other colleges to market their facilities and hospitality services while ignoring underlying educational concerns. The new flexitarian bar demonstrates how UCLA has gone from marketing its school as an institution of superior academics to a summer camp with the country’s highest-ranked dorm food and all-new and improved dorms.

Meanwhile, as UCLA’s student population increases each year, class sizes grow and the student-faculty ratio worsens. More of UCLA’s efforts need to go toward improving its academic departments and facilities rather than toward turning the Hill into a student hotel.

And it’s not just in regards to food. The 2015 UCLA Viewbook boasts a campus “adorned” with “sparkling pools, tennis courts, state-of-the-art fitness centers and palm-tree-lined vistas.” There is a new quick dining service opening winter quarter, a graduate fitness center opening next summer, and a new outdoor study space was just recently opened near Powell. In short, the addition of the flexitarian bar is not the first time UCLA has hid behind its state-of-the-art facilities, marketing itself as a glorified hotel rather than an institution of higher learning.

In fact, for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, expenditures on residence halls amounted to $137,772,000, which is more than what was spent on the business and management, psychology, nursing, and architectural and environmental design departments combined.

Though there are many die-hard Bruin Plate fans on the Hill, I doubt any of us have any intention of becoming Van Wilder. Class enrollment issues, as well as the difficulty students have encountered in looking for solutions to these issues, have severely disillusioned us to the “let there be light” and “we the optimists” vibe that UCLA sold to us when we committed here.

With a rising student population, the student-faculty ratio will only continue to get worse. The student-faculty ratio has deteriorated to 17:1, and class sizes are so large that many students feel intimidated and unable to build a teacher-student relationship – a relationship that is imperative to getting recommendation letters in the future. If the trends keep up, faculty will become less and less accessible, along with the great resources that UCLA prides itself on, like the Academic Advancement Program and Campus Academic Counseling. Bottom line: There will be more students but less opportunity.

I’m not saying that the money spent on dining should be spent on academics – that’s not how the funding rules work. But this isn’t the Beverly Hills Hotel. Instead of trying to entice tenants for its year-long lease, perhaps UCLA should focus more on its academics – and I mean more than listing its impressive alumni or talking about how the global city of Los Angeles is our oyster or going over its position on arbitrary college ranking lists. Advertising things like Diddy Riese as a perk of UCLA will not help students get the education they deserve and pay for.

UCLA should be seeking to fund and improve its individual academic programs. For example, the administration should undertake short-term fundraising efforts for these departments in the same vein as they do for building new athletic facilities. It can be a very effective way to raise the money we need to help maintain our world-famous academic programs.

It may sound like I don’t appreciate the facilities my school has given me. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Bruin Fitness Center. I love Bruin Plate. I love bragging to my friends from home about my dining halls. But they’re not why I’m here.

I spend more time stressing about myUCLA not working, or CCLE being down or, most importantly, not being able to get into the classes I need to graduate. Adding high-end services is not enough to mask the underlying educational issues present on campus, and students aren’t going to stop asking for better academic services and support just because we have a new gym.

While we’re at this beautiful school with state-of-the-art gyms and the “best” college food in the country, it’s easy to forget the real reason why we come here: to get an education. UCLA should not forget this, nor should hopeful students. It is imperative UCLA focuses on marketing its academics rather than just putting the dorm food on display. Prospective students are extremely susceptible to falling victim to this type of propaganda, and these students should be able to make the best decision for themselves based on academics, first and foremost, amongst other things.

Let us not forget why we came here, or what makes UCLA so great in the first place.

One thought on “Priorities

  1. The article mentions a 17:1 student:/faculty ratio. While we know that the “faculty” is composed of those on tenure track and the growing “at will” adjuncts, the complaints regarding class access, particularly those required for graduate, the ratio seems to indicate a problem with the allocation of faculty resources and campus space based on requirements and demands of, particularly, undergraduate students. Occasionally one senses that part of the issue resides on the emphasis or balance of resources allocated to research and graduate faculty, those areas which produce revenue from grants and external sources. This latter issue is gaining more attention as the university considers what areas are well funded and thus commanding an imbalance in faculty allocation to the point of considering decreasing or eliminating certain areas. Thus there appears to be cognitive dissonance within the scholarly priorities, perhaps to the detriment of allocation to student needs, perhaps, predicated on perceived value of employment upon graduation.

    The issue of food service on university campuses, including food affiliated with campus living arrangements has been a perennial source of ululations of both quality and price or value. These services are often outsourced and are managed separate from the academic programs. The campus demands for such services has changed over the years, including options to avail oneself of these amenities or find alternatives including off-campus options (freshman years excluded in many cases). Therefore there is a more competitive set of options surrounding most major public institutions, particularly in urban areas.

    While there have been campus demonstrations about many issues, often threatening to shut the institutions, neither the food, nor the concern for access to classes has produced, across academia, such protests and demands as may be seen currently, internationally, such as in South Africa regarding access to education. In this latter case, there is synergy among the students and the faculty about access to an education, a scene not played out in the United States either in support of students or students in support of faculty as they raise concerns regarding staffing and, particularly faculty funding, including the persistent increase of at will faculty.

    My sense is that the publishing of this article in an AAUP blog is to point to administrators a rationale to increase resources for the faculty, retention and compensation. What is not clear is whether the 17:1 ratio cited indicates that somewhere there is a lack of synergy between students, particularly undergraduates and faculty that provides a common ground of sufficient immediacy to alleviate a commonly agreed upon problem which, may in the end lead to a restructuring of the university from freshman entrance to Ph.D. research.

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