March 1, 2003 - From the March, 2003 issue

UCLA's Gilliam Leads University's Effort To Create Community Partnerships Throughout Los Angeles

UCLA recently launched the "UCLA in LA" program with the goal of strengthening the ties between the campus and the community in order to effect change and extend the significant resources of the university beyond Westwood. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Dr. Frank Gilliam, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Community Partnerships at UCLA, in which he discusses the "UCLA in LA" program and the university's responsibility to the community.

Dr. Gilliam, UCLA is a world-class institution located in one of the major metropolitan cities of the world, but it's not known for its engagement with the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Elaborate on your task at the university and how it relates to changing a perception that UCLA is more at home globally than locally?

Let me correct what is, in part, a misperception. While we may not be as well known for our involvement, we actually have a real legacy of involvement in the community - we have thousands of students and faculty out in the greater L.A. area every day. That being said, this certainly represents a new phase of community engagement and certainly it is the first time that we have centralized our community engagement activities. By "centralized," I mean placing it at the real core of the university's mission, which is research, teaching, and service. I am running an initiative called "UCLA in L.A.," whose basic premise is to have high-level administrative and academic leadership focus the university's community engagement in three primary areas where the campus has particular strengths: children, youth, and families; arts and culture; and economic development. We've operationalized the concept of "UCLA in L.A." through the recently established Center for Community Partnerships, which I direct in my role as the associate vice-chancellor. The Center for Community Partnerships is the portal for engagement-we are one of the focal points through which concerns from the community come to the campus. Conversely, campus interests in the community can be communicated through us as well. Through our Center, we now have a formal and systematic channel for these communications.

But allow us to press you a bit more regarding the perception that UCLA is too little engaged locally. Many who've attempted to work locally with the university have concluded that there are few incentives for faculty to substantively engage in the metropolitan and regional issues that challenge Los Angeles; that community relations is no substitute for using the vast resources, intelligence and capabilities of the university; and, that the university is drawn to worldwide issues more than it's drawn to its own home ground, which happens to be one of the most interesting and important regions of the world. Are these critics misguided, or simply misinformed?

Well, they are off target. We have a lot of community engagement, a lot of scholars who are working on issues of concern to L.A. and on L.A. itself. But, we've been doing this in what I would describe as an ad hoc way. That is to say, individual faculty and programs have been engaged in a kind of come-and-go fashion. We have not been systematically engaged as an institution with the kind of engagement that gives you a certain cachet in the community, or that would lead to the characterization of the university as a robust community stakeholder. However, it's hard to get there if we are only known for individual faculty who are out doing their own separate projects. In many cases people don't even know these projects are affiliated with UCLA, and that's certainly one of our challenges. So, certainly it is a legitimate question to ask a public land-grant university to be responsive to the issues in the community in which it resides. In fact, citizens and community residents want to be addressing our community responsiveness. We do it more than people think we do, but we have not done it in a systematic enough way to make that clear.

Now, having said all of that, I am a longtime faculty member here. I was among the old crusty cynical faculty who wondered if this kind of initiative could work. And so, a lot of what I do in conceptualizing our work is ask myself, if I were still sitting in my regular faculty role, what would get me interested in this? What kinds of things would have to happen for me to be interested and engaged if I were not already? I'm a person who has written some on Los Angeles myself, but, like a lot of our faculty, not exclusively. That's where the set of programs that we've started to establish comes into play.

For example, we are a large, major research university. Given that, it seems that one of the ways to incentivize the faculty is to appeal to them where they live - in the world of research. We believe there is a way to do that while, at the same time, building capacity with our community partners. We have a keystone project we call the L.A. Research Agenda project. It is a series of grants that we are making and have made available. There are three kinds of grants. The first grant program is for faculty and professional staff - any faculty or professional staff member can apply. We will fund a project up to $50,000. We stipulate that faculty must have community collaborators and they must demonstrate how that relationship will play out as a function of the project we would fund. The project can be in any of the three missions. It could be research, it could be service, it could be teaching, it could be a combination thereof. It can be basic research, it could be applied research, but it has to have this community collaboration component attached to it, and it has to be demonstrable that we're building capacity with our community partners. Second, we have grants available for graduate students, up to $12,000, and the same criteria apply. The point there is to try to encourage the next generation of scholars to be interested in Los Angeles and issues of concern to people in the area.

The third part of the program, which is novel for the campus, is that we're making community grants of up to $25,000 available for organizations with active 501(c)(3) status. In the proposal, they have to articulate a campus collaborator, and describe in some satisfying detail what that relationship will be. Again, the project must fall within the three areas of focus. In the case of our arts and culture focus, the product could be performance, it could be in the applied arts, or it could be in arts as education. It could be any number of things, but there has to be a campus collaborator for these.

So these L.A. Research Agenda, faculty/staff grants, graduate student grants, and the new community grants, are one of the prime ways to incentivize the faculty to think about issues of concern to L.A., if they weren't already doing that. This will encourage them in a somewhat organic way not only to bring their intellectual, scholarly, and academic resources to the table on issues of concern to Los Angeles, but also, along the way, to build capacity with our community partners and to learn from our community partners. You know, not all scholarship happens sitting here on the campus. We understand that there has to be a marriage of basic and applied research, and we'll fund some of each, I suspect.

Does UCLA metaphorically feel the footsteps of USC and does the Chancellor feel competitive with President Sample, as USC is increasingly perceived as a major stakeholder in the Los Angeles basin, even as its academic standards and reputation dramatically improve?

Well, it's interesting you ask me that question, because my counterpart at USC is Carolyn Webb de Macias and she and I have been meeting regularly. In many ways, we have inverse community engagement projects. Their project, as you may know, has primarily focused on the area directly around the campus. They've done a lot to build relationships improving education and health outcomes, as well as increasing employment opportunities for the residents in a fairly constrained area around the campus. But, they have done less work in the broader L.A. area. She makes the interesting observation that a lot of her faculty are working all over the area, like ours are, and that she's thinking of ways to expand that program. Conversely, we cannot and will not draw a two-mile radius around the UCLA campus - it's obvious we're unlikely to redevelop Bel Air or the Holmby Hills.

UCLA certainly has been active in redeveloping its Westwood campus.

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Well, you may do commercial development in Westwood, but the residents are hardly at a disadvantage. We have to re-imagine the role of a university. We can't just go out our front door like USC does, like Columbia can and does, like Penn does, like the University of Miami does, like Illinois-Chicago does, like University of Chicago does - they all walk right out their doors and try to become engaged with a community that sits contiguous to the campus and indeed needs a lot of work. We don't have to do that. Carolyn and I think we can learn from each other and we're in the process of developing a series of projects to continue to support and nourish and extend the collaborative work that happens between the two campuses.

With 21st century metropolitan areas having lost their stakeholder banks and much of their Fortune 50 companies to contraction and globalization, LA.'s two universities are now two of the most significant pillars in the community. How has the changing economic landscape of our metropolis changed the role of UCLA as it relates to being a stakeholder, rather than just a resident institution in Southern California?

If you allow me to push back, I take issue with the premise. In fact, on those scores, we have been a huge stakeholder - our government relations people have these wonderful maps that show where our employees live, how many jobs we create. We're a huge contributor to the city's tax base, both with our own programs and with our employees.

The Chancellor recognizes that the senior leadership at UCLA needs to have more of a presence and be more substantively involved. So whether it's participating at the Chamber of Commerce, or whether it's as simple as holding UCLA events away from Westwood - which I've been a big proponent of - we recognize that we have to be more outward looking. The very creation of this office is evidence that this Chancellor believes we need to extend ourselves a bit more as a campus and be a more robust community stakeholder.

Are we seeing a redefinition of the notion of town and gown?

When I was being interviewed they asked us to write about that. And I said, in fact, that I thought that the town/gown metaphor was a false dichotomy. I drew a model to show a more integrated relationship that a university must have in its community with a series of institutions - whether it's with a corporate community, whether it's with government, whether it's with media.

Let's draw this interview to a close by having you address one of the problems which challenges L.A. and all public universities in California - housing, not only across the region, but housing on the UCLA campus. How does the university best engage in this issue?

There are several components to housing. There is less student housing than we would like, which is a problem, and we're continuing to build new dormitories as we speak. There is housing for faculty, which is an issue in our ability to attract the best and the brightest, particularly those that are coming from places where the housing markets don't look like Los Angeles. Then there is general housing in Los Angeles and our contribution to questions about affordable housing in L.A. I've been a little bit on the outskirts of that. I'm on the board of the Lewis Center with Jan Breidenbach and she, of course, has been pushing us on that. Neil Richman at the Advanced Policy Institute also has been pushing us to get more involved in affordable housing issues. With regard to student housing, let me say that UCLA is a bargain. Students pay relatively low fees for a world-class education. Even living on the campus, even living in student housing, and that's why the demand is so great and why we're building more housing.

Lastly, you mentioned the university's focus on children, families and their neighborhoods. Elaborate on what we might expect from UCLA faculty and student engagement on such issues.

We have a first-rate group that works on children and youth issues, whether it's in the medical school, whether it's in public policy, or whether it's in public health. This is one of the drivers behind the Chancellor articulating this as one of the areas where we should focus some of our energy. We will continue to support that work. Whether it's something like the Hope Street Family Center downtown, the Mar Vista Family Center out in Mar Vista, or the work we're doing out at Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy, we have a fine record when it comes to children, youth, and family. It's one of the areas that we're going to continue to fund and I'm hopeful that we will find some new partners in this area.

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