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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

Creating Community

 
     

@UCSD Magazine: Why did you decide to come to UC San Diego?
Vice Chancellor Rue: I was very happy in my role at the University of Virginia. I really needed to be tempted to leave. What ultimately captivated me about UC San Diego was its sense of forward motion. It’s still a story that’s being written.

M: From your viewpoint what would you say are the main differences between the two schools?
Vice Chancellor Rue: At Virginia, students have a more collegial relationship with faculty and staff. There’s a history of student self-governance that’s taken for granted. Here, there’s a little more concern that the administration might want to insert itself or take over. So there ’s a little more tension between students and administrators than I’m used to.

M: Why do you think that is?
Vice Chancellor Rue: I believe it comes from the principle of shared governance as articulated in the UC doctrine. And I think students within a larger state system are really educated and taught almost not to trust administrators —that what it means to be a student activist is to take that stand.

M: How do you think the ethos at UC San Diego has changed since its beginnings?
Vice Chancellor Rue: Every time we added a college here, the mission got a little bit more complicated. At the same time, along came the rise of new technology, changing higher education in phenomenal ways. It changed how we communicate, what the marketplace is, what the town square is. Now students exist in a virtual realm and our campus is more meandering, more fluid, more complex. So serendipity takes hold in a lot of ways, in terms of students ’ chance encounters.

M: Do we need more marketplaces and town squares?
Vice Chancellor Rue: Yes, both in a physical sense and a virtual sense. Part of what we ’ve lost is a shared physical collective experience. Look at the rise of Facebook. The worlds that students construct through Facebook are sometimes trivial, but sometimes deeply meaningful. The ways in which they can find communities of interest at an atomistic level is fascinating to me. And that’s an aspect of community, that sense of who cares about the same things that I care about.

M: How do you breach self-selected walls to create a sense of University community?
Vice Chancellor Rue: An excellent question. I do think that that ought to be the trajectory of the college experience. It is a combination of affirming who I am, and creating possibilities of who I might become. If a student gets no affirmation about who they are when they get here, they can really go out to sea; they can become ungrounded. They ’re really in the identity formation process. That’s what that time of life is. Who am I? How am I different from my family? What do I care about? And what we should be doing is saying “Yes, the things you care about matter to us as well, but have you explored this?” I’m a great believer in friend-dragging. I think if you ask most students “How did you get involved in X,” somebody said, “Come to this with me.” And I think serendipity is important. I worry about students who come in saying, “My parents want me to be a pharmacist and I need to take these courses.” We should be about opening them to things they don’t know exist and haven’t thought of.

M: Do you see yourself more as an educator or an administrator?
Vice Chancellor Rue: I ’m an educator. I think on my IRS form I put administrator, but I’m constantly thinking about what are we learning here and who’s learning what. I’ve also had, for the last several years, the opportunity to teach graduate students in my field. So I take that aspect very seriously. I’m not doing that now, I do miss it, but I am still sitting on dissertations and still am very active, intellectually.

M: What can be done to nurture the student experience and further develop traditions here?
Vice Chancellor Rue: First of all, the Undergraduate Student Experiences and Satisfaction report (USES) told me that the institution thinks the student experience matters. The chancellor thinks the student experience matters. That ’s extremely important to someone in my line of work. I wrote my dissertation on community and what makes a sense of community in higher education, so I have pretty clear ideas about that. I met with each of the college councils over the course of the first quarter and challenged them to think about what it would be like if you came back in 10 years and found that something you created still existed.

I’ll also be working with alumni on the issue of the class identity. I think we really need to create—post-second year—a very strong class identity that culminates with that graduating class. That is the way you stay bonded to an institution over time as well.

M: Speaking of alumni, how do we nurture traditions that will engage them?
Vice Chancellor Rue: There are different ways of doing it, but I think there needs to be a few, big, calendar-linked events, so people with busy lives can remind themselves that it ’s that time of year. Right now, Sun God is the one that alumni think about—almost as a rite of spring. We need a couple more of those anchor events. We really have to be more creative. And I won’t sell our alumni short. I think our alumni will continue to care about intellectual aspects of the institution.


M: How would you like to see the relationship between alumni and the student body develop?
Vice Chancellor Rue: Sometimes we talk about alumni through the ways in which we serve them. I think one of the better ways to connect with alumni is allowing them to serve us. Most of us like the opportunity to give back. Right? So while it’s important that our career center serves alumni, particularly young alumni, it’s probably more important that those young alumni come back and recruit our students, and give career talks about what it’s like to be in finance or biotech.

And while alumni have to remember that each generation of student experience is their own, and honor that, I ’m very sure that helping prepare students for that next step is incredibly valuable.

M: How do you see your own personal relationship with alumni developing?
Vice Chancellor Rue: For me, alumni are really a part of the organizational saga that I ’m learning about. So I welcome the opportunity to meet alums at events and hear what mattered in their experience. I think that’s very important. Also, I’ve got my own little Facebook page. It’s now full of Georgetown and Virginia alums. And I look forward to being connected to UCSD, since part of my role is this notion of helping create enduring traditions. Anybody that’s willing to help knit the fabric of this institution is my ally and my colleague, and a lot of those will be alums.

I met with each of the college councils over the course of the first quarter and challenged them to think about what it would be like if you came back in 10 years and found that something you created still existed.