City on a Hill Press (CHP) interviewed Chancellor George Blumenthal and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp in the administrators’ last press conference with Student Media in their current roles at UC Santa Cruz.

Chancellor Blumenthal and CP/EVC Tromp sit down to answer questions from student media organizations City on a Hill Press, Fish Rap Live! and KZSC. Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez.

Stevenson and Cowell Asbestos Contamination

A few days before spring break, the UCSC Environmental Health and Safety department discovered asbestos in a total of five separate Stevenson and Cowell buildings. An information technology upgrade project, beginning in August 2018, required drilling into walls, releasing asbestos particles.  

Employees in the Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall, Cowell Coffee Shop, Stevenson Coffee House and offices were told to leave mid-shift, unaware of the potential danger they had been exposed to. The clean up process commenced over spring break, and affected buildings have since been cleared and reopened. However, workers lost hours of pay and still fear asbestos-related health risks.

CHP: Stevenson and Cowell Colleges have faced quite a few problems within the last year with multiple floods and the asbestos contamination. Are there any plans to remodel either college?

BLUMENTHAL: “I’m not sure where they stand on the list of future projects. I know we had done some remodeling of Cowell not that many years ago. The issue with the asbestos just came up recently when contractors were messing around in a few of the buildings, releasing a fair amount of asbestos. That issue has now been resolved. As I understand, it is now safe to access these buildings. With regards to Stevenson, I simply do not remember the last time there was any sort of remodeling. We do maintain a prioritized list of the colleges and the projects that need to take place. The list is prioritized by life safety issues, ADA accommodations and then wear and tear. I am not sure where they lay on the list.”

TROMP: “Capital projects are really costly, and it used to be that the state funded these types of projects that we call deferred maintenance for the campus. […] In recent years, the funding has all fallen to the campuses to do that work. As student populations have grown and we’ve seen budget reductions from the state, it has become increasingly difficult to do that deferred maintenance. Our list is pretty long, and it is a function of how the budget has changed.”

Title IX at UCSC

Former CP/EVC Alison Galloway implemented the “Beyond Compliance Initiative” at UCSC in 2016, which aims to reduce sexual violence and sexual harassment (SVSH) and improve responses to Title IX claims. Despite steps taken to reshape Title IX policies, recent cases, like the one involving history of consciousness professor Gopal Balakrishnan, demonstrated some in the campus community are unsatisfied with the process.

CHP: There have been a high number of sexual harassment allegations circling among departments and the farm. Do you think UCSC needs to change the way it addresses Title IX cases?

TROMP: “Nowadays, we are hearing more cases regarding sexual violence and harassment. I am grateful for this, I believe it is in part because of the #MeToo movement, it has empowered people to speak. When I was still in school, the word sexual harassment didn’t even exist in the mainstream public […] This doesn’t mean this has gone away. The difficulty with all of our processes is because it requires an investigation that determines if there was a violation of policy. During an investigation, [both parties] are kept secret. We have to keep the progress of the cases confidential. We sit down with faculty to inform them on the process of an investigation when we begin a new investigation. Faculty will often ask ‘When will we find out the result of the investigation?’ and we have to say ‘You won’t, unless the complainant chooses to release that information.’ We take these cases very seriously. Due to the confidentiality that is a part of each case, it may not appear that way to the campus. Despite our current rules, we are eager to learn how we can better help cases of sexual harassment.”

Leadership Turnover

At the beginning of the academic year, Chancellor Blumenthal announced his plans for retirement. Blumenthal will retire on June 30. On April 23, CP/EVC Tromp announced her plans to leave UCSC effective June 30 to assume her newly appointed role as Boise State University’s President. The 2019-20 academic year will be led by new administrative leadership.

CHP: With both of you leaving, what projects do you hope to see continue and what do you hope to see focused on more? What areas do you presume will be most impacted by both of you leaving at the same time?

BLUMENTHAL: “First of all, I hope the projects that are ongoing will be completed. I think it’s important that Student Housing West move forward. I also think that the Strategic Academic Plan is another project that the campus has put a lot of time into and I hope to see completed for the future of the campus. In terms of increased focus, I’m going to be honest, the new chancellor may have their own set of priorities. Things can change, and things should change! It would be unfair of me to influence that.”

TROMP: “When you have a faculty this remarkable and a student body this extraordinary, I don’t think you have to worry about leadership turnover. They will be the voices of change on this campus for years to come […] I think there will be times in which the university will have to be adaptive and responsive to changes being made on-campus and around the world. I view leadership turnover as an opportunity to look anew at the organization, which is healthy for it to continue to grow.”