Culture Starts from the Top

I initially wrote this as a comment in response to Class of 66's Shame On You Dan Guerrero post, and per request, have cleaned it up a bit and now posted this as a Fan Post. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my time at UCLA, and at the challenges the institution is going through. Having read the article in which Dan Guerrero talks about the "culture" at UCLA, it really struck me - this "culture" has a huge impact on the athletics department, and indeed, the school as a whole, and it starts from the top.

This is a bit long winded but here’s my take on UCLA, looking back…

As a (relatively) recent grad of engineering at UCLA, I didn’t quite realize the intricacies of what was going on at the institution until I had a few years of experience working, talking to people from other schools, and then (perhaps most importantly) getting my Master’s at a different institution. It was eye opening, to say the least.


For one, as an engineer, I had no idea just how bad the state of our facilities for undergrads were. Other schools had far newer buildings and equipment (yes, even the folks across town) that put ours, which looked like things haven’t changed since the 70’s, to shame.


Yes, we’ve built a new building (Engr V) since then, but from what I’ve heard, the facilities are mostly for the Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Material Sciences Engineering… the smallest of the engineering majors. Don’t get me wrong here, they needed new facilities, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth as an electrical engineer, the largest of the engineering majors, and a certain money maker from the plethora of research funds through to alumni donations.


Another shock to me was the reputation we have as a school – that our undergraduate majors are too research focused. Of course, while an undergrad, that thought never occurred to me – after all, I had never seen another school’s curriculum or experienced it. I assumed that our professor's were no different from another school's. Once I started work on my Master’s elsewhere, however, I saw that the argument had merit. Not only did the professor’s in my Master's program often emphasize how our learning applied to the real world, but there were far more group labs and projects in each class to emphasize hands-on experience as well as teamwork. It then reminded me of undergraduate study, where a single topic had me wondering "what’s the point of this" for nearly a year (Fourier transforms, for the other nerds out here!) until I finally took an elective lab, and it all suddenly made sense. However, had they actually done this earlier in the curriculum, rather than just thrown equation after equation, proof after proof on the board, it would have no doubt enhanced my learning experience in those classes.


Now engineering isn’t the only area that’s been criticized as being too research oriented for undergrads – the lack of a business administration major (which shocks a lot of people outside of UCLA, since Anderson has a great reputation) hurts as well. This will be explained a bit more later in my post.


A big thing I noticed in this past year, when I graduated from my master’s program and went back out on the search for jobs, was the difference in career centers and how companies view us. Yes, it was a tough economic time, and companies were seeking to hire the very best so it was very competitive – a difference from when I first went through on-campus recruiting as an undergrad at UCLA when the economy was doing great.


This time, however, armed with real-world work experience (having seen the other side), insight from a career center at a different institution, and knowledge from friends and my little brother who were also going through on-campus recruiting (at UCLA) at the same time, I noticed a lot of differences. For one, there was a stark difference in how the career centers operated – UCLA didn’t have nearly as many events such as resume workshops and career counseling, nor did they do a very good job advertising them. In fact, looking back, I can only recall having attended one workshop at UCLA during my 4 years there, and literally stumbled upon my first job out of college by accident. I went in very unprepared and had to literally learn on the fly how to interview, how to improve my resume, and the importance of networking.


I recall my friends going through the same process at UCLA lamenting at how so many people they met waiting for interviews at the career centers seemed unprepared and some even looked like they had just rolled out of bed, which made a friend cringe at the thought that it could hurt our reputation with employers. That’s not to say those things don’t occur at other universities, but it seems to echo the theme here – that UCLA’s administration is okay with it, since enough of our top students still get hired by great companies, and thus it doesn't need to do more when it can and should, given the quality of our student body.


To tie this with my own career, which is in the realm of consulting, it never hit me how many consulting firms go to UCLA to hire only two demographics: engineers and the super excellent top 1% from other majors. For one, I stumbled onto consulting by accident since I had no clue what it even was at the time I was an undergrad. Few undergrads on campus knew much about the field, and since the career center did a poor job at advertising this big field.


The second thing I noticed is that a lot of top consulting firms and financial firms don’t even bother actively recruiting undergrads at UCLA – they expect the top students to apply on their own, but don’t bother showing up for even info sessions. I won't name any particular names, but I think most of us have an idea which firms do this. TThe lack of a business administration major for undergrads is a big hit on us – and when a school lacks relations with top brand name employers out there, it reflects on us all. To quote one of the companies a friend works at:

"We accept applications from undergrads looking to intern here, but honestly, we’ve only taken one person from UCLA in the past 6 years for an internship"

The fact that same company actively recruits on campus at SC, despite their being an academically inferior school, hurts.


And my final point is that the overall culture at UCLA among undergraduate students has changed. A lot of old traditions have been killed – midnight yell, for instance, is banned now (in no small part because of the neighborhood). In fact, if you live in a dorm and do it, the RA's were all told to write people up for it. And this is only a few years after I graduated from UCLA, where it was a great tradition during finals week.


Undie Run? They still try to do it, but cops actively ticket and even detain/arrest ANYONE who crosses the intersection for jaywalking, even if they’re late by a second. And yes, I said detain – I recall watching them pile a bunch of people into a van and drive em to the UCPD station. The stupidest thing I saw, and this happened more than once, were students being ticketed and even detained while walking back from Powell library with sweaters and backpacks on at midnight, no doubt after studying, having nothing to do with the people trying to do Undie Run. All they did wrong? They tried crossing a second or two too late, and didn't make it all the way across the intersection, and now get to spend part of their night at the UCPD station when they should be at home resting for their final the next day. Good luck creating great memories for them to fondly remember on in the future.


On-campus bar? Apparently, we’ve been dreaming of this for more than a decade now, and it’s become obvious it’s a UCLA-only issue. Cal, UCI and UCSD all have one, and yes, SC did rebuild their on-campus bar in a brand new building with plenty of amenities such as pool tables and many big screen TV's. UCLA? Well, we’re still dreaming of one, but as always, it ends up just being a thought.


Now how does all of this tie in together, you might ask? I think it’s the fact that the culture of UCLA has become very unfriendly towards undergraduates, a fact that students often don’t realize until they’ve left and seen it from a different perspective.


For instance, I fondly remember the "old" traditions on campus such as midnight yell, something my own dentist did when she was there, and it connected me back to our alumni base. Students there today? They don’t even have a clue what midnight yell is. And yes, I put "old" because these traditions were still alive as recently as 2008, but they've been stopped.


On campus bar? We always talk about a lack of student attendance and an apathy towards our sports. I’m not saying that an on campus bar will cure all those ills, but when our requests as a student body are repeatedly shot down (often, arbitrarily with little explanation from the administration), how does that engender our interest in supporting the school, and by extension, our teams? Why not have a gathering place on campus where students can get together to watch the game if they can’t make it to the stadium/don’t have tickets/whatever? Because love it or hate it, alcohol is a big part of college campus life, and currently big sporting events where people can drink near campus usually end up being gatherings at your fraternity house or your own apartment, which hardly builds unity among the student body. It’s hard to build a unified interest in sports when people fragment into small groups to watch our games, often without ever leaving their own room/apartment.


The final point is that for myself, and from some others I’ve talked to (anecdotally), it’s hard to want to donate to UCLA and be interested in its sports when we’ve felt that the administration has been out of touch with our undergrad experience. Undergrads not only make up the bulk of the student body, but they make up by far the biggest part of the alumni base as well. And yet, a lot of people have related that the school prefers to spend its time and money on keeping up our law, business, and med schools (rightfully so of course, given that they’re tops in their fields and no doubt bring a lot of prestige and rankings to our school), but often it feels that they do so at the expense of undergrads, or even certain majors – such as my experience with engineering facilities being outdated for the biggest engineering major, while the small and new majors got brand new facilities.


Another example of how the administration is out of touch with the larger overall student and alumni body. I drove by Gayley recently and noticed major construction projects by the De Neve dorms. I asked my brother if they were finally building parking structures - nope he said, they were dorms. "What? More dorms!?"

The reason, apparently, was to guarantee 4 years of dorms - personally, I couldn't see myself living past my 2nd year, and certainly past a 3rd year in the dorms, but apparently UCLA decided they wanted more dorms. It's not to say that people won't take advantage of it, but my bet is that far more people want to experience some time in apartments or other forms of housing. Thinking of all that money they have to spend on big dorm projects, a lot of people wonder... "why can't they spend it on facilities/parking/athletics instead of charging us ever more money to live there"

Apparently it's part of a bigger push to get students to live on campus - my friends say that UCLA has tried hard to discourage living off campus, and has made it ever harder to get out of housing contracts. To add to that fact, parking is even more ridiculous in Westwood now - there's 2-hour-only parking on most streets now, making a near impossible parking situation even worse. Granted, that's likely done by the City of Los Angeles, but don't kid yourselves - that reflects poorly on UCLA, especially while giant dorms are being built across the street and parking enforcement is based out of UCLA. (Parking tickets are also now $60ish, up from $40ish). And that's to say nothing of the $10 daily parking on campus, when 5 years ago it was $7.


And ultimately, the vast majority of the student body goes to school in the hopes that it will lead them on their path to the career they want. But when the school has relations with employers weaker than one would expect from a top 25 school in the nation, or when students feel like the school has done little to prepare them for even getting a job (especially when the economy is down and competition is high), how does said student reflect on their education and time at UCLA? How many want to support and donate (fair or not) to a school they feel might be going in the wrong direction, and aren’t using the money they get in the right direction? I remember asking a friend about whether to join the UCLA Alumni Association, and they said, jokingly, that it’s "a license to get asked for donations." Turns out, he wasn’t too far from the truth..


Now I know this was a long read, and a lot of it was anecdotal, but it’s my perspective from a recent grad who’s now had experience in the job industry and in graduate studies at a different institution, and has met a ton of people from various schools. These challenges certainly are not unique to UCLA by any means – but I think it’s the combination of so many of these factors, largely done by the administration (whether directly or indirectly, they have a lot of influence in what direction the campus culture goes) that creates a self-feeding cycle.


Great schools attract great minds and provide a great environment for said minds to achieve their potential once they leave school, which allows those alumni to keep a vested interest in making sure the school continues to be great. And for many if not most schools, the athletics program is the greatest creator of a great environment.


However, when great schools provide a (even perceived-to-be) poor environment for great minds, those great minds may not have the same vested interest in the school once they graduate, especially if they think the school’s administration is going in the wrong direction. Less interest in the school, and then the school’s own performance begins to decline as the alumni base starts to distance itself, alumni and employer connections/relations wane, etc. It's truly a cycle that grows on its own - if a school keeps attracting great students who want to give back, more great students come in. However, if a great school turns students away from giving back, the quality eventually begins to decline, and less great students come in.


Whether fair or not, I've felt that the administration has increasingly shown that it has priorities outside of the undergraduate experience. Whether that's due to differing priorities, mismanagement of resources, or downright stupidity, I don't know - and frankly, their lack of communication on a lot of matters has not helped either. Are we under hard economic times for the UC system? Absolutely, and that should not be discounted at all. But a lot of the signs that trouble was brewing were there even when the UC system didn’t face these issues 5+ years ago. And that's my take from a recent alum

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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