-Bumped. BN Eds.
Dear Mr. Yudof:
Since you are a legal scholar, I'm certain you have expertise in both the law's idealism and its practical side. By idealism, I mean the systems and processes the law puts in place to try to ensure such things as "justice for all." However, I'm writing to you because of my interest in the practical side — that part of the law that deals with day-to-day reality. And it's in the spirit of what is practical and feasible that I hope you read this. You are, after all, the chief steward of a university whose achievements have torn down the walls of ignorance in many parts of the world.
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that, despite his many accomplishments, Gene Block is temperamentally unsuited to lead my beloved university, and I would like to raise several questions that I hope are pragmatic in nature.
First and foremost, what is the value of ignoring what has made UCLA so distinctive among American universities? I am referring to the fact that, in addition to excelling academically, UCLA is renowned for its athletic success. There is no need to review those achievements (and suffice it to say I share in the criticism of Dan Guerrero, whom Chancellor Block has consistently supported).
But what I am more concerned with is the PLACE of athletics in the lives of UCLA students. Another way to say this is that, in my judgment, attendance at sports events plays a crucial role in forming the QUALITY of campus life. We are not the University of Chicago's (or, for that matter, the University of Virginia's) West Coast campus, and sports — particularly football and basketball games — provide an opportunity for undergraduates to form the bonds they will later nourish as alumni.
I want to add that in calling on Mr. Block to oversee UCLA's football and basketball programs in particular and its athletic department in general, no one is foolish enough to believe that it's only about wins and losses. (And the complaints about the athletic department's administration include such things as the original plan for seating students away from the center of the court when Pauley Pavilion reopens and the seemingly bizarre decision that led to abandoning UCLA's traditional uniform before its game against Southern Cal.) No, the criticism amounts to this alone: We want enlightened decisions by the athletic department and UCLA teams that compete with pride, discipline and intensity; nothing more and nothing less. We are the school of John Wooden and Jackie Robinson. Is that too much to ask?
A second — and, I believe, equally important — question is what is the value of alienating alumni to the point that they reduce or withhold contributions to UCLA? You have said, "The moment is fast approaching when the university (UC in general) will no longer be able to guarantee admission to all California applicants who meet the eligibility criteria." And you have, with reason, described that moment as a "bleak milestone." Do I misunderstand or does that mean UCLA needs every dollar it can obtain in contributions?
The issue has never been whether Gene Block CARES about the success of UCLA's football and basketball teams. The issue is whether Gene Block is motivated to strengthen one of the world's great universities in ALL its aspects, including the most public face of our athletic program — football and basketball.
And if Gene Block is not motivated to strengthen UCLA in ALL ASPECTS, the question that follows is whether he is the right man for the job. All that he has said and done — and more importantly, what he has NOT said and done — convinces me that he is not the right man to lead UCLA.
Chancellors like Franklin Murphy and Charles Young helped forge the spirit and build the dreams that guide us. (I would go so far as to say that none of their successors have come close to their achievements.) But even conceding we now live in a different era, is it unreasonable to say that UCLA still needs visionary leaders?
Finally, I would suggest that there are times when maintaining the status quo is not really maintaining it at all. Issues fester and often become even more intractable. I hope you will consider whether UCLA, which has so often led the way for other universities, is now at such a crossroads.