I've been thinking about this looming Luskin Conference and Guest Center at UCLA, and the thinking hasn't helped my blood pressure. I am a mix of saddened, disappointed, and despairing, with several tablespoons of hopping-mad thrown in.
Before I get into it, though, I want to be clear about what this post is NOT. It is not an attempt to derail the plans or to stop construction. I have given up on that fool's quest. My letters and thoughts on the subject, as well as those of many others, have been utter wastes of time.
The lawsuit designed to stop a Block-led UCLA from gaining an unfair advantage in the local hotel business seems to fall on deaf ears at the school. The complaints that point out the folly of building a hospitality empire at a state-funded institution of learning seems to make UCLA dig in their heels all the more. Logic, you lose.
The people in power are going to do what they want, because they can. And, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.
So, I realize that, with this post, I am pissing into the wind. With defeat well in hand, I was initially going to attempt to find some humor in the subject, and write a post on that. However, the more I looked into the project, the less I felt like laughing. So, I'm going to get a few things off my chest, first. There may be other parts in this series, involving more chest-clearings. There will be a part 2, at least. In any case, I'll save the laughter for last, that is if I can find a way to laugh about it.
Reality Trumps Fiction, and Then Some
A while back, I wrote a farcical fanpost, concerning the UCLA Administration, athletic and otherwise. In the spoof, I imagined that UCLA would transform a beautiful, functional facility (in this case, Drake Stadium) into a superficial and unnecessary luxury edifice that catered to the elite and benefited students not one iota. An in-your-face extravagance. An ego-grope. A boondoggle.
The issue of the day had been #SFAtPauley. As you all know, the Morgan Center was seeking to move students away from a prime viewing and participating experience in the new Pauley, in favor of wealthy donors, and to place the powerless students in basketball Siberia. Rather than putting efforts toward creating an atmosphere of raw enthusiasm, and toward bestowing on the new Pauley a game-time atmosphere worthy of UCLA's rightful place as a college basketball shrine, they put their efforts into maximizing cash. Instead of striving to give current and future students the incredibly rich experiences that so many of had at the original Pauley, they put the value of moola well above the value of the students. Rather than recognizing what a Mecca of Bruin basketball could do for today's students, and by the way, for tomorrow's donors, UCLA wanted their payoff today. Today over tomorrow, money over students, always.
Worse, they tried to do this in a cowardly, duplicitous fashion. They hid behind a rigged "survey," and tried to pin the decision on the students, themselves. It's what the students want, they told us.
So, my fictional fanpost satirized the Administration's conniving, self-serving, screw-the-students tactics. The topic was real, but the presentation was obviously satirical and ridiculous. Or, so I thought.
In the piece, there would be, get this, an unneeded luxury hotel. The hotel would be for use by VIPs, but not for students. The hotel would occupy precious campus real estate, and would demolish facilities that DID benefit students, previously. The project's design would treat students as though they had barely entered into the Administration's priorities. The project would be a shameless pandering to the upper crust. A ridiculous fairy tale, right?
In light of the planned Ruskin Center, obviously I was not nearly ridiculous enough.
Never in my darkest nightmares did I imagine that UCLA would improve on my lame fiction many times over. They took my absurd fable, laughed at its pathetic under-reaching, guffawed over its short-sightedness, raised the stakes exponentially, and came up with a plan far more ludicrous than I could have ever fantasized. I stand humbled.
How do you out-farce a farce? You do so by making it real. You start with a flawed, vainglorious plan. You ignore realistic needs and common sense, for those are not essentials. You hide from the public until you absolutely have to show your face. When you do, you misspeak and doublespeak about how essential the project is. You ignore requests to consider alternative re-purposing of the land. You put off, placate, bully and browbeat those with dissenting views. And then you go through with the project.
They are going to demolish a perfectly good and strategically placed parking structure, bypass other important campus needs, and replace it with... this hurts to type... a conference center and hotel. In other words, they are going to construct a superficial and unnecessary luxury edifice that caters to the elite and benefits students not one iota.
And, for what? So that UCLA big wigs can show other big wigs a luxuriant good time right there on campus, without their having to soil their shoes on public sidewalks? How nice for them.
UCLA is largely a commuter school. Many students commute to campus because they have to. Housing rentals in and around Westwood are very expensive. One way around this is to live elsewhere, where rent is cheaper, and commute to school. Of course, once you're there, you need a place to park. A centrally located parking facility is a valuable resource. Not only does this hotel boondoggle not help students, it actively hurts them.
But, what really sticks in my craw, what gets my blood boiling, and what has motivated this series, is the vulgar hypocrisy that passes through the lips of UCLA's leaders.
They have been telling us for years about our limited choices for future developments, because we are stuck with a non-expandable, "postage-stamp" sized campus. They have used this as justification for quashing every bold idea that could benefit UCLA athletics. An on-campus football stadium? Sorry, no room. Postage-stamp campus, you see. Expand Spaulding? Sorry, not enough room for that, either. We have a tiny campus. Our hands are tied. Make Pauley into a state-of-the-art facility that inspires people inside and out, gives them places to park, encourages students to attend and cheer their fellow student-athletes on the court for all their worth, and gives UCLA a real home-court advantage? Bummer, we'd like to do that, but, you know, postage-stamp.
To a degree, I can appreciate the kernel of truth in their protestations. UCLA is, in fact, considerably smaller in size than most, if not all, universities of similar student population. It's true, too, that there is no room to expand on the perimeter.
I don't buy, however, that ambitious projects to strengthen UCLA's position in intercollegiate athletics cannot be done on the existing campus. What's more, I feel strongly that they should be done, for the benefit of current and future generations of students.
Well, such projects may be beyond our leaders, but it's not from lack of real estate. Any impossibility placed on ambitious projects to benefit athletics and students comes entirely from lack of imagination and commitment to serve UCLA students. It's from lack of appreciation of what athletics have contributed to make what UCLA is today. It's from lack of perspective that these self-important, bed-feathering, self-enriching bureaucrats would not be in the positions of exploitation that they are in without UCLA's past athletic accomplishments.
Given bold, ambitious leaders at UCLA, there are probably hundreds of talented professional designers and architects who could do amazing things with our small footprint. They could have come up with elegant plans for all of these potential projects, had they been led effectively. Hell, I'll bet there are dozens of amateurs on BN who could have produced better, more sensible, and less costly plans for the new Pauley than what the geniuses at the Morgan Center and their hired yes-firms foisted on us.
But, to have rammed postage stamps down our throat for all these years, and for them to come before us now and claim that, of all the possibilities, the very best re-purposing of current functional facilities is for a hotel and conference center is to expose their deceitful, ugly hypocrisy for what it is. Their pet project divulges for all the world to see that they have been lying through disingenuous teeth for all these years. Well, maybe "postage stamp" does apply after all, as in the size of our leaders' collective honesty, altruism, and imagination, put together.
UCLA, you have hereby lost the right to ever cite UCLA's small size again, for any reason. You have spent that currency. You have cashed your "postage stamp" check to deny more worthy projects, and now you squander the dearest commodity UCLA has, land, on a hey-look-at-us showpiece. You rejected projects of solid blue passion in favor of a gilded white elephant. You have sold a large piece of UCLA's soul for a pocketful of coins and a steamer trunk full of vanity.