A Tonedeaf Chancellor Reviews the 2011-2012 Academic Year

UCLA's Chancellor shows how out of touch he is with regards to the athletic program in his message to the Bruin community providing his end of year review.

If you are a member of the UCLA Alumni Association, you probably receive e-mails like this twice a year (if we're lucky), from our chancellor. The other dozen e-mails or so that I receive from "the chancellor's office" are e-mails soliciting donations.

While many of you loyal Bruin alumni have experienced the glory years of Chancellor Franklin Murphy and Chancellor Charles E. Young, better known as Chancellor Chuck, both of whom contributed so much to the UCLA culture that they have lasting legacies in the form of buildings and roads, I, along with many of the younger Bruins here, got to experience the wondrous years of Gene Block.

I'm sure that those familiar with Chancellor Murphy and Chancellor Young have stories to tell. Chancellor Chuck was seen sidelines at home football games at the Rose Bowl and was well-liked at UCLA and Florida. Meanwhile, how many of you here have sentimental Chancellor Gene Block stories? How many of you have sent Block an e-mail and received a personal reply? Apparently he went to a UCLA basketball game at the Sports Arena last year but at a university that boasts the richest basketball history and the greatest coach to ever coach a game, going to one game does not make you a Bruin just like spending 15 minutes in Newport Beach does not make you a Trogan.

Block was known (if he was known) to most students at UCLA for sending out mass e-mails (hey I get those too now that I'm an alumni) once a quarter letting students know that he was holding "office hours" or as some of my friends liked to call them, "Hey Gene's still with us" e-mails. As a recent graduate who was involved in several student organizations and groups, and knew quite a handful of students, to this day, I know exactly 0 people who have actually met the man whom we entrust to lead our university.

More thoughts after Block's e-mail and the jump.

Dear Bruins and Bruin Families,

Our commencement exercises earlier this month marked the ceremonial end of a year filled with outstanding accomplishments by UCLA’s students, faculty and staff; and the conclusion of my fifth academic year as our UCLA’s chancellor. During that half-decade, which has coincided with one of the most challenging periods for public funding of higher education in our nation’s history, our campus has thrived. As we prepare to close the book on 2011-12, UCLA is stronger than ever. Today, our campus enjoys unprecedented respect and acclaim around the world.

Thanks to our planning of the past several years and an extraordinary collective effort that is not only campus-wide but also extends to parents, alumni and donors, UCLA is well positioned to continue our upward trajectory toward our centennial in 2019 and beyond—despite the state of California’s continued disinvestment in our great institution.

Recounting all of our campus’ important achievements of the past 12 months would be a near-impossible task, but these were some of the most noteworthy.

Academic and Research Excellence. UCLA’s reputation, nationally and internationally, continues to soar. Although third-party rankings are inherently imperfect measures of a university’s excellence, they do illustrate the regard in which an institution is held, and I am especially proud of our standing in three recent surveys. The Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities places UCLA No. 12 internationally. London’s Times Higher Education rankings places us at No. 13 in the world. Washington Monthly, which publishes rankings based on cutting-edge scholarship, commitment to service and access for low-income students, places UCLA No. 2 in the U.S.

With one week remaining in the fiscal year, UCLA faculty had received $950 million in competitively awarded grants and contracts, following two years in which our campus received more than $1 billion per year. This three-year performance would be an extraordinary achievement in any environment, but it is particularly so in this era of declining federal funding for research.

Across campus, UCLA faculty continue to break new ground in their research. Among the most intriguing examples, electrical engineering Professor Aydogan Ozcan is developing technology that utilizes standard cell phone components to create mobile medical labs to aid in the fight against global disease. In a development that could impact all of our daily lives, Professor Wenyuan Shi of our School of Dentistry created a mouthwash that targets the bacteria that is the principal cause of tooth decay and cavities. His invention may eventually prove to be the end of tooth decay. In another important project, UCLA researchers led by Dr. Beate Ritz identified two genetic markers that may help determine which Parkinson’s disease patients will experience a more rapid decline in motor function; the discovery sparked hopes for new therapies.

Our stellar faculty also continued to bring honor to UCLA by earning election to the most prestigious academic societies and winning national and international research awards. Among those numerous accolades were not one but two Crafoord Prizes, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, to physics and astronomy professor Andrea Ghez and mathematics professor Terence Tao. It was a rather auspicious achievement for UCLA scholars to win two of the four awards presented by the Royal Academy for 2012. And, just last month, Professor David Jewitt received two of the highest honors in his field: the Kavli Prize in astrophysics and the Shaw Prize in astronomy.

In February, Teo Ruiz, professor of history and of Spanish and Portuguese, was awarded the National Humanities Medal at the White House by President Obama; and in April, Laure Murat, associate professor of French and Francophone studies, received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Even the Academy Awards provided an opportunity for Bruins to celebrate. Two accomplished alumni filmmakers earned Oscars: Alexander Payne, for adapted screenplay (The Descendants) and Gore Verbinski, for animated feature (Rango).

In addition, our multifaceted efforts in international outreach are yielding important results in terms of faculty collaboration, student exchange and cultural understanding. I was delighted when UCLA received a prestigious award in May from the Committee of 100 for advancing U.S.–China relations.

Civic Engagement. In very tangible ways, our academic year began and ended with civic engagement. Before classes started, more than 7,000 Bruins participated in our third annual UCLA Volunteer Day, cleaning, painting, gardening and making repairs at 26 sites throughout Los Angeles. I’m delighted that this new UCLA tradition has, in its brief history, strengthened the culture of volunteerism among our students—many of whom are already committed to service when they arrive on campus. This year, we extended the spirit of Volunteer Day by introducing "One Bus, One Cause." This new UCLA Volunteer Center initiative aims to introduce students to opportunities for ongoing volunteer work by sending busloads of Bruins into the community to address needs at various service organizations.

Our commitment to the Los Angeles and global community extends beyond volunteer projects. Many of our students are engaged in service learning (academic courses in which students engage with community organizations), and faculty across campus regularly seek opportunities to translate research into tangible civic good. In one compelling current example, a group of public health professors collaborated with local high school students to promote healthy eating in an East L.A. neighborhood by revamping a once dimly lit convenience store into a fresh market.

Our collective responsibility to one another was one of the key touchstones in a stirring lecture at Royce Hall in May by former President Bill Clinton. President Clinton was the featured speaker of the inaugural Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership. As it continues, the lecture series, which was established by longtime supporters Meyer and Renee Luskin, will facilitate high-level dialogue among scholars, leaders and our community on pressing societal issues. And as the year came to a close, Jessica Jackley, entrepreneur and co-founder of the peer-to-peer lending website Kiva, echoed the theme of civic responsibility in her keynote at the College of Letters and Science commencement on June 15.

In addition, we continue our strategic efforts to foster civic dialogue, partnering with groups such as Zócalo Public Square and the Artists and Athletes Alliance to hold forums that encourage discussion on pressing issues and engage the public with our prominent faculty.

Diversity and Access. Diversity is a priority, not just in the demographics of our student body, faculty and staff, but also in ensuring a welcoming environment where all viewpoints are respected. Building on our Principles of Community, we developed a series of public events, curricula and programs that further our obligation to equip students for success in a complicated, interconnected world. I enjoyed teaching one of these seminars in spring quarter.

We remain a beacon of access and opportunity for students of all backgrounds. The students admitted to UCLA last spring represent our most ethnically, geographically and socioeconomically diverse class to date. Our financial aid program helps families find federal, state, local and private resources, as well as UCLA assistance, to make sure their college education is affordable.

Financial Security. The dramatic decline in state support of the University of California system has prompted UCLA to become much more self-reliant, and we are well on our way with a multifaceted strategy to transform the funding model and enable UCLA to truly thrive in this new environment.

Because of prudent financial planning, we are making strategic investments to enhance the UCLA experience for both students and faculty. We are continuing to expand both graduate and undergraduate student housing. The Edie and Lew Wasserman research building in the Jules Stein complex is under construction, and planning is underway for a residential conference center; medical education building; an expansion of Schoenberg Hall; renovation of space at the School of Theater, Film and Television; and more.

While we remain focused on administrative and academic efficiencies, we also have a promising effort underway to increase revenue from intellectual property and licensing faculty inventions. The results will become apparent over the next several years, when we expect that higher returns and a more stable revenue stream will not only benefit UCLA and our faculty inventors but also promote regional economic development.

UCLA enjoyed another impressive year in raising funds through the generous support of our alumni, parents and supporters. As we near the end of the fiscal year, we have deepened the culture of engagement and philanthropy at UCLA. Among the most notable contributions of the past 12 months was a $50 million gift to the School of Public Health—the largest in its 50-year history—from faculty member Jonathan Fielding and his wife, Karin Fielding. In February, in recognition of the gift, the school was renamed for the Fieldings.

This month, the School of Law closed a successful fundraising campaign that exceeded its ambitious goals, bringing in more than $110 million. The funds have already resulted in new research centers that have elevated the school’s national profile and enabled faculty and students to have an even greater impact in the community.

In the near future, UCLA will begin a concerted fundraising campaign that will strengthen the platform for our second century of excellence and enable new generations of students and faculty to build upon the remarkable legacy of achievement that has made UCLA such an important engine of opportunity and vital contributor to the advancement of our society.

We are proud of the achievements of our athletic teams this year, when our student-athletes and coaches continued to enhance our outstanding record in NCAA athletics. The Bruin baseball team advanced to the College World Series for the second time in the past three years. In November, our women’s volleyball team added another NCAA championship to our record-setting total, defeating University of Illinois in the title match for the program’s fourth NCAA crown and UCLA’s 108th in all. The men’s volleyball team marked a noteworthy and bittersweet milestone as well—the retirement of the legendary Al Scates, who led Bruin volleyball teams to an astounding 19 NCAA championships during his 50-year run as coach. We already are looking forward to the fall, when we will celebrate the reopening of Pauley Pavilion.

Finally, we plan to continue our new "Optimists" branding campaign, which we launched in the spring. We want to share our spirit of excellence, pride and innovation with all of our UCLA family as we plan for our second century of achievement.

I remain grateful for your commitment to UCLA. Have a safe and enjoyable summer. Go Bruins!

Sincerely,

Gene D. Block
Chancellor

"We are proud of the achievements of our athletic teams this year, when our student-athletes and coaches continued to enhance our outstanding record in NCAA athletics. The Bruin baseball team advanced to the College World Series for the second time in the past three years. In November, our women’s volleyball team added another NCAA championship to our record-setting total, defeating University of Illinois in the title match for the program’s fourth NCAA crown and UCLA’s 108th in all. The men’s volleyball team marked a noteworthy and bittersweet milestone as well—the retirement of the legendary Al Scates, who led Bruin volleyball teams to an astounding 19 NCAA championships during his 50-year run as coach. We already are looking forward to the fall, when we will celebrate the reopening of Pauley Pavilion."

Excuse me? With all due respect to our excellent student-athletes, outstanding coaches and hard-working staff who enhance the athletic department despite a severe lack of leadership and vision coming from the top, but since when did no men's national titles, being the first football team to finish 6-8 and failing to make the NCAA men's basketball tournament, translate to "enhancing" or "outstanding?" Perhaps that kind of year would enhance another UC's athletic program (no offense) but this year was a disappointment in the eyes of most Bruins.

Major props to UCLA baseball, women's volleyball, Coach Scates and all of our other teams, but need I remind anyone here that UCLA has 108 NCAA championships? Under the right chancellor and the right athletic director, we could be stockpiling championships and enhancing our trophy case, not pretending to care about sports and commenting on UCLA basketball only in the context of a Sports Illustrated scandal or "we already are looking forward to the fall, when we will celebrate the reopening of Pauley Pavilion."

Gene, if you are looking forward to the reopening of Pauley, can you tell me how many UCLA basketball championship banners have been hung from the rafters during your time here? I'll be here, patiently waiting for your response.

It is well documented here that Chancellor Block is not a sports fan, but his comments are so hilariously out of touch, that perhaps I would have more respect for the man, if he had left the hilariously out of touch comments to his hilariously out of touch athletic director. Perhaps it is time to enhance our outstanding athletic history by asking ourselves this question: if Chancellor Block has kept Dan Guerrero around this long, is he the right man to lead UCLA?

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