Ideas: Practical Steps to Bring Competent Leadership to UCLA

Bumped. Great thread to brainstorm, reflect and discuss strategies to deal with the lack of competent leadership at UCLA. - BN Eds.

The case against Dan Guerrero as Athletic Director is painfully clear to thousands of UCLA students, alumni, and fans. We have assembled dozens of data points under the Guerrero regime that attest to the failures of our major sports teams; erosion of fan support; forfeiture of potential bowl, ticket, and merchandise income; affronts to the school's integrity by unsavory players and coaches; bungling of the search process for major revenue coaches; wanton spending on unproven new hires during a time of economic hardship; disingenuous communications or silence in response to legitimate criticism; cheapening of the UCLA brand through appalling choices of Bruin uniforms, bikini days at the Rose Bowl, and ticket promotions geared toward rival fans; an utter lack of transparency about how the department functions, despite the fact that UCLA is a public university; and zero sincere outreach to a fan base that would gladly propose useful innovations to energize our sports teams. A list of misdeeds this long would normally enough to get an employee fired. At UCLA, however, under the purported leadership of Gene Block, our Athletic Director not only stays, but scores a six-year deal that will pay him between three quarters of a million dollars and a million dollars every year. Guerrero will haul in more money for himself than will virtually every star faculty member on campus. He will get enough cash to fund the tuition of thousands of students, yet he gets to keep it for himself, with the full blessing of our Chancellor.

In light of this miscarriage of leadership, words on a blog are insufficient methods to remove the cancer that afflicts our school. What, then, shall we do to rid our campus of the incompetent Athletic Director and the clueless, aloof, and fiscally irresponsible Chancellor who has chained our school to Guerrero for the rest of this decade? We need to get enough leverage to make the situation publicly untenable for the leaders of UCLA and the UC system, and that means getting allies within the administration as well as beyond it.

What leverage do we need?

As Bruinut observed earlier today, our Bruins Nation community has made a difference in areas such as coaching positions and student seating — but these are tactical wins. These wins contribute in important but modestly incremental ways to the betterment of UCLA’s athletic environment and performance. But the problem, as we’ve observed again and again, is that a lazy elephant can sit on his haunches all day while horse flies bite at his trunk. If the elephant is still in the zoo at the end of the day, only a larger animal or an intolerable sound will get rid of him.

The big picture issues at UCLA require more than biting words; they require noise in the right places, bellowed by the strongest animals in the university. The greatest voices are those of decision-makers at UC headquarters and UCLA, plus major donors who have the power to alter the administrative landscape. These are the people BN must reach and persuade. These leaders will make it harder for defensive administrators to dismiss BN as a fringe group. These leaders will bring BN’s well-reasoned and valid arguments to the board and to senior leadership teams. These leaders will command attention when they point out an insight from BN. If we discover a windfall opportunity to build UCLA’s fan and alumni base, or if we call out an administrator whose performance is a hindrance to UCLA’s brand and integrity, we must have this kind of internal leverage to achieve lasting and powerful improvements. We can apply further leverage through the sheer volume, dispersion, and clarity of our comments, but influence at the highest levels is crucial.

How shall we gain that influence?

First, BN must establish credibility with Vice Chancellors, the Alumni Association’s leadership, the UCLA Fund’s leadership, and major donors. Provide useful examples of how BN’s voice can and does benefit the university. Demonstrate that our ability to reach and engage students and alumni goes beyond what these entities have the capacity to do on their own, citing numbers that indicate BN’s growing power. Share ideas for stadium ticketing, merchandise sales, etc. that are effective at other universities, and that would dramatically improve financial results at UCLA. Provide a statement of values with echoes of John Wooden’s words to give administrators a framework for assessing the conscience for the athletic department. Focus on all the positives that are possible because of BN. Eventually one, then two, then several campus leaders and major donors will see the benefits that will arise from ideas that begin at BN.

Second, give campus members a welcoming guide on how to interact with BN. Invite prominent staff and alumni to write guest commentaries on BN about specific athletic topics pertaining to UCLA. Encourage them to read BN at least once a week to keep a pulse on UCLA’s student, alumni, and fan base. Invite them to come to a BN-hosted tailgate in the fall. Offer to write pieces for UCLA Magazine, the Alumni Association’s web site, and other publications, so there will be more interesting content for the UCLA community to read. In short, turn campus members and donors from non-readers or skeptics into observers, and from observers into friends and allies.

Third, provide a few clear and actionable recommendations on a scheduled basis. Do not overwhelm administrators with ideas or emotions, but provide a handful of well-reasoned suggestions that are supported by logic, data, and a compelling vision for the future. A quarterly set of three powerful ideas may be enough to get meaningful traction on campus.

How will these things happen when BN has such a widely distributed readership?

Crowdsourcing may be the answer. Our discussion threads, polls, round tables, and other tools and techniques are great ways to mobilize BN around, say, one “leverage-building” topic every fifteen days. At the end of each fifteen-day period, one or two members of our BN community can synthesize the ideas and send them to the aforementioned campus leaders and donors by mail or e-mail. It may take a while for leaders to see the value in our comments, but given how popular BN has become, it’s likely at least some administrators and major donors will like what we produce, and thus our influence will eventually grow.

This businesslike approach may be what we need to convince high-level decision-makers to rectify the problems in the Morgan Center and take advantage of the potential for alumni, student, and fan support of UCLA athletics and UCLA as a whole.

What else can we do beyond campus?
Pressure needs to come from beyond as well as within campus. As noted above, major donors can play a role, so we must reach out to them and get them to apply pressure on senior administrators. In addition, we can publicly shame the Chancellor and Athletic Director by submitting op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, addressed to major media outlets such as the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The themes of fiscal mismanagement and general neglect of a student and alumni base are captivating in the face of student tuition increases, economic struggles throughout California and the nation, and several high profile cases of insular, self-serving, and destructive power bases in American government (DeLay and Ensign), finance (Wall Street), and education (Atlanta's public school leadership...and now UCLA). We can mobilize our BN community to develop talking and writing points and to volunteer to write pieces to several media stations and news wires. When two men at a publicly funded university reap years of lucrative windfalls despite middling performance, media exposure must follow.

Pressure can also come from camera-friendly displays. Posters and costumes at sports events and campus events in general can draw attention to our concerns in amusing and serious ways. Youtube videos can further expose the frustrations of our fan base and highlight promising solutions. The viral nature of these media will turn up the heat on administrators who have turned a cold shoulder on their constituents for too many years. The more we amplify and magnify our case, the harder it is to ignore.

Thank you for taking the time to read these thoughts. Please share your ideas. What practical and timely strategies and tactics should we use to channel our energies toward swift action and liberating results?

<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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