UC Santa Cruz recently appointed Felicia McGinty as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs in early September. McGinty replaced Jean Marie Scott, who was serving as acting Vice Chancellor of student affairs. Prior to coming to UCSC, McGinty served as associate Vice president for Student Engagement at Pennsylvania State University. City on a Hill Press recently sat down with McGinty to talk about her new position as Vice Chancellor.
*How is student life at UCSC different from four other schools?* What makes Santa Cruz different is the ethos of the place… everything about this place is different. Even though it’s a research institution, it feels kind of liberal artsy to me, and people are able to do lots of interdisciplinary work and kind of create their own majors.
*What’s your job description?* For me, the heart and soul of it, I view myself as—and I hate to use this term ‘chief’—but as the chief student advocate. So my job is to help make sure that as decisions are made at the university[…]that we don’t lose sight of why we’re here, and that is the students.
So my job is to really help ensure that your experiences outside the classroom are rich and meaningful.
*What’s the most important way of making sure that that’s done?* My job is to represent students, so I need to hear and understand what their concerns are. I can’t do that from just being in this office all day. I need to be out, I need to be visible, I need to form relationships with students, so that’s a large part of it for me.
*Do people seem to know who you are now?* No, I don’t think so; I think it’s going to take them a while; I’m starting to recognize a few people and they’re starting to recognize me, but it’s going to take a while because it’s still early.
*What do you think about students using physical force at the protest?* It’s hard, because it’s such an issue that people are passionate about, and I understand that, but I also think that as intelligent, civilized people, what underpins all of our values is civility. What makes intelligent people resort to such uncivil behavior?
What’s really interesting too is that I would watch as the crowd got more agitated, and more agitated, and they kept advancing and confronting the police… and there was no talking. There was profanity, there was no, “who’s in charge, we want to know why we can’t go over there”. And then as soon as there was pepper spray, it was, “who do we talk to about this?!”
So, we have to be willing, as educated people, to engage in the dialogue before we resort to violence. Nobody wants to be put in that position. I was quite surprised.
My hope was that they would just say, ‘ok fine, if you’re not going to let us in, we’re going to leave this food and water right here and maybe taking it to them later.”
*A lot of people see [the protest] as a case where the police officers are in a position of authority, and while the students are aggressive, they’re more vulnerable. How do you see it from that perspective?* I was there on the inside, so I was there with police, and I didn’t think that there was an overly aggressive use of force… what I saw was that as police continued to retreat… But all of us have to understand that I’m a citizen, too. And I might not always agree with law enforcement, but I have to respect that it’s law enforcement, and if they ask me to do something, as a citizen I have to comply with it. There was no respect for the directives that were being given by the police.
*Why are so many students willing to bring so many different issues into one arena?* I think it’s misinformation, but I also think it’s passion. In the absence of clear information—and maybe we haven’t really done a good job in communicating with students, to help them really understand the LRDP and what it means.
*Do you think that passion is an inevitable part of being a college student?* I think it is an inevitable part of being a college student. What you believe in, what your views are, what’s most important to you…the one thing I know for sure is we keep living and we keep growing and we keep learning, and our viewpoints change. What I thought at 19, I think of so differently know at my age.
So I know and I understand; I’ve done my fair share of protesting and the whole nine yards, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Where I get concerned is that people are doing things that are going to o cause them or other people to get hurt. How can we do this in a safe way that gets your message across and doesn’t jeopardize your safety?
You can still feel passion, you can still voice your concerns…I have offered to set up some forums with the campus architect who’s been here for 30-some years, or the arborist so we can talk about the trees. I’m willing to facilitate some of those dialogues so we can bring people together to ask questions and get information.
And I think that there are some things that students may not agree with, but overall—when you’re looking at what’s happening in the State of California, tht the number of high school graduates is increasing—if we don’t grow the university, what will happen? What will happen to the other students who have a right to education, but don’t have access to it?
*What about the students who have concerns for the way the campus is growing, who are not aggressively opposing the administration? What can be done to ensure that there is an open dialogue?* My issue is, if we have students who are an elected group that’s here to voice [for] the students, and you’re a student and you have a concern, that’s your first vehicle- that’s where you should start.
It’s kind of like writing to your Congressman, kind of thing… because if you just storm the White House, chances are you won’t get in to see George W. There’s a process. And I really encourage students to talk to SUA and get some background. Because they were involved in the process.
*Do you think the protest brings up any important points?* I think it brings up a lot of important points, but the problem is: they’re all over the map! I mean they’ve thrown everything into the pot… “we’re anti-growth and we don’t want the university to grow,” “we love the trees and you can never touch the trees”… “we want ethnic studies,” “we don’t want the camper park to be removed…” the list goes on and on.
I continue to say, “what are your issues, and how can I help you have a dialogue with the right people?” You’ve got to focus.
*How does Student Affairs operating budget work?* I think learning occurs outside the classroom, so I think that as student affairs professionals, it’s our job to help facilitate that learning… and people are learning when they’re getting involved in clubs and organizations, when they’re being leaders on campus… so we need to have more funding to support that so that students can have those kinds of experiences.
So one of the things that I’m looking at, I’m perplexed that we don’t have enough money to flat-out support some of the things that we should support.
*Do you think that there is a big disconnect between the administration and the students that needs to be bridged?* I don’t think there’s a huge disconnect, but I definitely think that I have a responsibility to better understand what the student’s challenges are, what things they like. And I never underestimate the fact that students can really help solve problems.
*How do you ensure that—when dealing with 15,000 people—everyone’s voice will get heard?* I’m still pondering that…