Will Growth End Santa Cruz's Uniqueness?

October 23, 2006

The University of California's Santa Cruz campus has long had a reputation as a counterculture institution that prides itself on being different from the system's other campuses.  But when the campus unveiled the final draft of its plan on Wednesday that projected increasing student enrollment from 14,000 to more than 20,000 and adding 3.2 million gross feet of building space by 2020, students protested over that and a wide range of other issues at a Board of Regents meeting, resulting in arrests.

While local residents expressed concerned that expansion will increase traffic and hurt the environment, professors and students said that the real worry is whether a larger UC Santa Cruz can retain its offbeat personality and its focus on small classes.

The campus was founded in the mid-1960s during a time of strong political protest, and that era has greatly influenced both the university and the city of Santa Cruz, said Tyrus Miller, provost of Cowell, one of the 10 residential colleges found on the campus. "Those days are definitely over, but we do have some of that innovative core," he said. "I'm very hopeful that it can be retained."

"It's quite different already from the old days," said Ellen Suckiel, provost of Stevenson College, another of the residential colleges. Suckiel said that the era in which Santa Cruz was founded is over, and that people are of a mixed mindset about whether change and expansion are good or not. "I'm worried about the traffic," she said.

Miller added that much of the protest against change is not coming from the campus community, but from residents of Santa Cruz who have a "slow growth or no growth mindset" and who are motivated by material desires to keep their property values high. UC Santa Cruz is now locked in a lawsuit with the city, which is presenting ballot proposals for the next election on traffic and water pollution that may impede growth by the university. Miller said that UC Santa Cruz has always planned to expand and that with UCLA and Berkeley running at maximum capacity, Santa Cruz must grow to offer educational opportunities to California's high school graduates.

Jennifer Ward, an information officer with the University of California's Office of the President, echoed Miller's views . "California is expecting an influx of a lot of students. How do we provide for them?"

Leah Bartos, co-editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, City on a Hill Press, said that the local town does have a "coastal utopia" ideal that creates conflict when the university wants to expand. She said that the ill effects of expansion are most noticeable when environmental issues such as traffic and water pollution become a problem.  "We can see that a former redwood grove is now a  building. That's tangible," she said.

However, Bartos added that students are also discussing whether growth will change the unique nature of the campus. Bartos first attended UC Santa Barbara for a short time before switching to Santa Cruz. "It was like night and day." She said that Santa Barbara offered mostly large classes in which students showed up for lectures and took notes. Classes at Santa Cruz offer more interaction with professors, more chance to do research and projects, and a better feel for community. "We value education in a different way," she said.

Elizabeth Irwin, a spokeswoman for the university, said that the plan is only a proposal for possible growth and that the university may choose to not expand as much. (Last month, the university lowered the enrollment projection to 19,500.) "Some careful and gradual growth over the next 15 years is likely, especially as the population of California increases."


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