By CHP Staff
George Blumenthal, UC Santa Cruz’s newly anointed chancellor, sat down with CHP last week to discuss the hot issues he is facing as he steps into his new role. In part 2 of our interview, he addresses how to accommodate the needs of a growing state, the concerns of the student body, and the future of the city that will be affected by it all.
City on a Hill Press: The relationship between the university and the city has seen a lot of lawsuits with regard to the future of campus growth. How do you see this relationship getting patched-up?
Chancellor George Blumenthal: It’s kind of ironic, because in some ways our relationship is a good one. I know that sounds so strange, but it’s as though there’s the LRDP set of issues, which are very contentious in court, and we’re bogged down in the struggle, and then there’s everything else.
Just last week we signed the climate compact with the mayor [Emily Reilly] and [Third District Supervisor] Neil Coonerty, which was a major form of cooperation. We worked on that together for the last six months trying to get the wording right, trying to put together an event that would commit the area to work together on greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s a lot of cooperation.
So on some level, we have a really good working relationship with the city, except for this issue.
So let’s talk about this issue: the issue is the growth, or the LRDP [Long Range Development Plan] or however you want to put it.
[The LRDP] is fundamentally a tension between two competing interests. There’s the competing interest of the state of California to provide access to higher education to every student in California.
That’s a statewide concern, versus the concerns of the city about the effects such growth would have on the quality of life.
My first comment to you is that those are both legitimate concerns. It isn’t as though I’m saying that one side is right and the other side is wrong.
We’re simply talking about how you weigh the concerns of the two entities that both have a legitimate list of concerns.
Obviously we weren’t successful in finding a way to come to an agreement without bringing in the court process. But we are talking to each other and we will continue to talk to each other.
I believe it is in everyone’s interest to negotiate a resolution to our LRDP.
I’ve said many times that I think that mitigation is much better than litigation. I think that we really need to end up in a win-win situation, where the university has the opportunity to grow.
I’m actually optimistic that we’ll find a way, though it hasn’t been easy.
On Sept. 24, when you addressed the campus for the first time as chancellor, you said that “the founders of the university were looking to develop a university of major proportions, while maintaining the intimacy of a small college.” If UCSC continues to grow, how are we going to maintain that intimacy?
Well, let me also remind you that the founders of UCSC believed that the city had originally bought into 27,000 students. That was the original plan for the dimensions of UC Santa Cruz. [The LRDP currently calls for the undergraduate student population to expand to 19,500.]
The size of the campus isn’t necessarily [antithetical] to the terms of the original vision of the campus.
The way we [keep intimacy], of course, is with the colleges—as we grow, we will develop more colleges.
We depend on our LRDP to do that.
I think it’s been a successful system.
Nationally, our school seems to have a reputation for liberal, even radical activism. Do you see this reputation hindering the path to academic prestige?
No, I think that activism is a part of being a student—it’s a part of being a university.
So I see the idea that there’s activism and that students care as a very good thing.
There are obviously limits to [the] behavior of student activism that can be problematic.
[But] I see it as a very good thing that our students care and that they become involved.
I’m proud of our record of, for example, students going into the Peace Corps.
Also, national reputations can be a bit dated.
A few years ago, we were the number one party school, which I think was probably an unfair characteristic.
I think our academic programs and the quality of our graduates stand on their own merit, and I’m not at all concerned about student activism.
Was there ever a time when you would have called yourself a student activist?
When I was a student, I was a student activist. I organized peace marches among graduate students, and I was very much a student activist.
As your background is in science, I know you’re rarely encouraged to predict the future. But putting that aside, we’re wondering if you can tell us some big plans for the future of the coming academic year, and for your time as chancellor.
I see a number of things coming for the future.
I see our reputation continuing to grow, as we develop more programs, and as some of our existing programs develop a stronger national reputation.
I see there being more graduate students on campus. We started off with 9 percent graduate students, and I think it would even benefit undergraduates to see that number rise to a more reasonable [percent]—our goal was 15 percent.
I see the campus developing new programs in new areas. To cite as an example—I’m sorry to use a science example—bioinformatics is an area that sprang up and developed a national reputation.
I see a campus that’s very diverse. We live in one of the most diverse states in this nation, and we have an obligation, as a university, to reflect the diversity of the state of California. I want to ensure that our student body, our faculty and our staff better reflect the diversity [of our state].
So when you come back and ask this question in 10 years, I will give you the answer from the standpoint of: our campus has quite a reputation.
What’s the most important issue that you will face this year?
[Long pause] I don’t want to answer that because there’s so many. You’re not going to let me answer with five issues, are you?
Guy Lasnier: I’ll offer one that you’ve mentioned many times, which is ‘family friendly,’ with child care…
To me, family friendly is an important issue, but I wouldn’t put it as number one. I think the most important issue is building upon our academic quality. The reason why I put that before ‘family friendly’ is because, fundamentally, that’s what we are: we are an academic institution.