Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Strategic Plan

The email from Scott Waugh arrived yesterday. The executive vice chancellor asked us to look at the strategic plan for UCLA, the recommendations for the same to be precise. And so we did.

The process falls into five sections, each with a committee and a substantial report, and plenty of recommendations. I started with the section on Civic Engagement.  H-i-g-h-l-y   r-e-c-o-m-m-e-n-d-e-d.  V-e-r-y.  It is an extended meditation on the Chancellor's demand that UCLA must make a difference in the civic life of Los Angeles. The report reminds us how the other team in LA  has achieved an admirable track record on neighborhood engagement, while the community programs UCLA had initiated after the LA riots were silently dropped after a few years. The report contains some very clear language about a confusing and inefficient hierarchy, especially surrounding the so-called Office for Community and Government Relations, which, for the bicycle advocate, always felt deeply conflicted and ineffectual. The report suggest a new position of a Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement who would have the resources and the authority to facilitate the much needed connection between the campus and the community. The report envisions community relations that are bi-lateral, a constant give-and-take, and never top-down. It gives short shrift to the arrogance of academia that would consider itself as the bringer of all things nice to the community which does not know what it needs. It also highlights the unique responsibility of UCLA, being the only elite public university which is located smack in the middle of a global megalopolis. Bingo. Let's run with this!

Mind you, all this lofty talk is not goody-two-shoes stuff: The back-end is made of hard-boiled marketing considerations, brand surveys, and the need to shore up political support for public education. The ivory tower campus is no longer a viable proposition in an American city and an American society that needs a great deal of urgent fixing. There is talk of integrating disparate initiatives, of formally acknowledging student and staff involvement in such initiatives, and the interdisciplinary challenges posed by realities that do not neatly fall into disciplinary terrains. Like the bicycle which challenges the co-operation of urban planning, public health, sustainability, diabetes prevention, transport engineering and behavioral psychology.  

Thanks, folks! From the handle-bar of our bikes we have identified very much the same shortcomings in the current strategic engagement and in the organization chart of our campus. But our short proposal, long proposal goes further. Because the bicycle is the unacknowledged purveyor of healthy living, our proposal had a closer look at UCLA Health, the big bear on our campus . Yes, there are many many many doctors and nurses in the system who do what they can to fix what they can. Imagine what they could achieve with the support from the top as envisioned here!

One report does not list the people which make up its committee, but from the available composition of the committees, we are hearing a whole lot of silence from one entire half of the campus. The bigger half, mind you. UCLA Health, previously known as the UCLA Health System, is hard to find here. Paul Staton, their Chief Financial Officer, is listed as a member of the committee on Institutional Effectiveness. And there are faculty from the Medical School participating. But reading through those reports, it is evident that UCLA Health is boxing far below its real weight. The missing voice of a major health care provider in the region marks a worrisome disconnection. Perhaps Mrs Spisso, President of UCLA Health, should look into this. Or is there a secret plan for the UCLA Health to opt out from the community engagement vision outlined here? To be sure, the bi-annual accounting exercise called "Community Health Needs Assessment", required by the IRS to secure the tax-exempt status of the hospital, is miles, light-years behind the strategic vision of how the campus should make a difference in the civic life of Los Angeles.

Managerial formulas will not make a difference in the civic life of LA

The "Healthy Behaviors" project, presented as part of the Research Innovation section, is a superb example how campus and community can come together. It includes a reference to an entity called "UCLA Medical Center" (p 13), which is the 520 bed hospital located on campus. But it fails to note the staggering opportunities of community outreach afforded by the network of 160 plus UCLA Health medical offices located in the LA County, - even if the locations of these offices precisely mirror the map of affluence in our region. "Healthy Behaviors" has evidently been written without the benefit of engaged feedback from UCLA Health. The uncanny silence from UCLA Health threatens to derail this very laudable effort. There must be no opt-out from making a difference in the civic life of Los Angeles.

Thanks, fellow Bruins! Great work! But why was all this good stuff kept in a drawer since July? Yes to more institutional agility. Improving access to campus for those who would not drive has suddenly become much easier, and it should have been easier 6 months ago. 
  • When presenting community partnerships, try to avoid the false impression that UCLA is located in the city of Los Angeles. Those on two wheels learn very quickly that UCLA is located in a complex network of municipalities, districts and agencies, from Beverly Hills to the Veterans Administration, from Santa Monica to Culver City, from LA County to CD5, from West Hollywood to the National Cemetery Administration. The problems associated with this regional complexity are addressed in our short proposallong proposal 
  • When talking about housing, environmental justice, education, please do include transportation
  • And thank you for envisioning DTUCLA close to a station of the purple line. These details do count! 

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