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Dr. Watson, I Presume
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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Doctor Watson, I Presume?

(Continued) Interviewed by Raymond Hardie


M: And the successes?
W:The success is that the college has continued its commitment and its focus. I think without Third College, there wouldn’t have been a Preuss School, no outreach, no Gompers Charter Middle School, and there may not have been a base for a teacher’s education program.

M: What was the issue about naming Third?
W: The original proposal was Lumumba-Zapata. I think, taking into account the demands of the college, it was one of the best names one could think of. It’s rhetorical, it’s rhythmic, and it has certain images associated with it. Some people have asked, ‘Did you ever really intend for that to be the name?’ And from my point of view, no. And I think other people thought, no. I do consider one of my successes is not having that fight drag the college down. It’s interesting that the name most people liked was Third College, because they felt it represented the spirit and the experiences of the college over a period of time. I have heard a very few people say that they regret it was not named Lumumba-Zapata but we have lots of people who say they regret that it was not named Third College. [Editor’s note: Third was named Thurgood Marshall college in 1993.]

M: You became vice chancellor of Student Affairs in 1981. What has been your most difficult decision during those years?
W: I would say the budget cuts—and the most recent were the most difficult. It was a 25 percent cut, and we made the decision to focus on current students and to cut our outreach programs to our black and Mexican-American communities. That was difficult.

M: You have sometimes been criticized for being too conservative in your policies toward student social life. How would you characterize your philosophy?
W: I think I am conservative. But I make a distinction between what the institution does, recognizes, approves and accepts, and what individuals can do. I’m very liberal in that I don’t believe we should follow our students off campus. On the matter of alcohol, I don’t believe as an institution we can permit or turn a blind eye to underage drinking. But, I endorse having alcohol available on the campus to those who are over 21. And we have several locations on campus in which alcohol is served.

M: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time as a vice chancellor?
W: That’s a hard one. There are a number of things. I would say that one was building the career services center. And doing it with our own internal resources, and doing it quickly. The thinking was that we may not be able to make this the happiest place on earth, but we will ensure that if you stick it out, you will have a future. I saw career services as playing that role.

M: Have you ever struggled between the duties and responsibilities as vice chancellor and your personal philosophy when it comes to such issues as Prop. 209, or minority representation?
W: I don’t know if I had to create affirmative action, whether I would have created it. I came from an era and a family and community background in Harlem where it was pounded into me that you had to be twice as good for half the outcome. However, I felt that during the period of affirmative action, there was a certain degree of commonality of interest between the institution and the underrepresented communities. I thought that was a constructive period. I think we’re now in a period of no commonality of interest and just the opposite.

M: Why is that?
W: I’m a strong believer that if you have a problem, you have to be able to address that problem directly. You can’t say: “Look, we have a racial problem, let’s focus on income.” That just doesn’t work. A simple example here: You have two poor people, one is an immigrant and one is not, and yet we can predict which is going to get ahead because of historical backgrounds. You can’t say that the class differences amongst blacks and whites are purely class, and ignore the historical context.

M: So, do you find your personal views are in conflict with your role as vice chancellor?
W: I get paid to be vice chancellor, and I try to make things work while being true to my principles. And I think I can do that. I don’t see it as a conflict. I see it as an obligation on my part to infuse the institution with the things that will achieve the sort of racial goals I want to achieve. Now sometimes you’re very successful at it, and sometimes you’re not. I thought the University could afford a temporary scholarship program that would provide high-level scholarships for outstanding black and Mexican-American students. And I felt we should have been willing to go to the wall on that, and even fight it in court. The University didn’t want to. I think that’s one instance where the University was wrong. I don’t think the University has always taken actions that were in the best interest of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans.

M: But wasn’t Prop. 209 forced on the University?
W: I’m not impressed with the University’s defense of affirmative action or opposition to Prop. 209. For example, one of the major arguments that should have been made against Prop. 209 for medical school admissions was that the number of medical school spaces available in California was half the national average. If there were 10 for 100,000 nationally, California had 5 for 100,000. Therefore, the competition for medical school admissions is so much higher and the University should have increased the number of medical school spaces. I also strongly support lawsuits in this area. If you take the approach of using the law, I think we would make much faster progress.

M: Should the role of athletics at UCSD change?
W: That’s a difficult question but I think UCSD took the right approach in focusing on academics, on scholarship, and on research. Having said that, I think athletics is one of the mechanisms for developing school spirit and social vitality. And I think, ultimately, UCSD will go to Division I and enjoy real athletic rivalries with our sister campuses.
I think that’s not a bad way to go.

M:The 2005 Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction survey uncovered a deep dissatisfaction with undergraduate social life. How do you think those concerns have been, and are being, addressed?
W: I think they’re being addressed in a number of ways, and I actually have a very simple solution. We need to build more housing for upper-division students on campus, and that will make a major, dramatic difference in the vitality of social life on the campus. I think strong athletics and other things will help, but I believe that more housing is the number one need.

M: Do you think the administration correctly handled the controversy over the pornography shown on Student Run Television (SRTV) in 2005?
W: I don’t have any confusion or hesitation on this matter. Our students should have lots of freedoms to express themselves, but with that freedom should come a sense of responsibility. Pornogra-phy is not one of the things that should be associated with a university and its community. The one thing that we did—and I would do it again—is that we said it was a student matter to address. The students addressed it, and then it fell apart. The administration had to step in and close down the station for two quarters. But it would have been far better if the students could have resolved it on their own.

M: What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in UCSD students through the decades?
W: I would say the students from the ’60s and ’70s had a greater degree of confidence. They felt they could actively get involved in social issues—Vietnam, the role of diversity—then buckle down and get their degree, and that a good life would be available to them in the middle class. I think students today don’t have the sense that there are great guarantees to the middle class life. They feel they have to fully devote themselves to their studies in order to have a good outcome. Also, in the ’60s and early ’70s, everybody knew everyone else. From Scripps to the literature department. Today, you don’t have that. The campus is much bigger. Also people felt they were building a campus, as a collective. I think people still have a sense of building, but they’re building Calit2, they’re building the chemistry department, they’re not particularly building a campus as a collective.

M: You have been a mentor for so many students, who were your mentors at UCSD?
W: A number of people, but I would say that my principal mentor at UCSD was A.W. Russ. He was assistant to the provost at Third College, and therefore I was his supervisor, but he mentored me. He really understood the bureaucracy and how to function in it.

M: What are your plans for retirement?
W: I don’t have any. I’m trying to approach it as a new chapter in my life. And I am not trying to make decisions about it too early.





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"I don't think the Univesity has always taken actions that were in the best interest of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans."