By Hanne Steen, Photos by Carla Richmond Coffing
Published Apr 1, 2015 8:00 AM
Since UCLA began as the “southern branch” of the University of California — almost a satellite campus for the southern region — it has evolved into a world-class research university in its own right. Longtime professors remember the growing pains and share what they see for the future.
Less than 100 years ago, it was almond and avocado orchards. In 1929, UCLA opened its Westwood campus with four buildings and 5,500 students, and mostly served the local community. Today, 163 buildings serve 43,000 students from 50 states and more than 100 countries. Now a world-class institution with a reputation for global leadership in research, academics, health care and innovation, UCLA remains committed to the community — even as its 112,000 applications for fall 2015 admission have made it the most applied-to university in the world.
On the way to greatness, UCLA has had its share of ups and downs. Here, seven distinguished professors who have been part of the university for more than three decades and have witnessed many of its triumphs and struggles share their memories of the past, their perceptions of the present and their hopes for the future.
Microcosm of the Larger World
Of course, many changes on campus have echoed changes in society. “To give you a sense of the 1950s,” says Professor of Philosophy David Kaplan ’56, Ph.D. ’64, who came to UCLA in 1951, “my wife was a psychology major with a spectacular academic record and great recommendations. When she talked about applying to grad school, the graduate adviser said, ‘Look, with a record like this, if you apply, of course we have to admit you. But do you really want to take a position away from a man who is going to have to support a family at some point?’” Kaplan laughs incredulously. “The same is true of the changing climate of diversity, acceptance of homosexuality — all these changes were taking place within the student body, but also in wider society.”
When Karen Rowe, founding director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, came into the Department of English in 1971, she faced a similar bias. At 25, she was the third woman on a faculty of 70. “I showed up at the reception for new faculty, and one gentleman came up and introduced himself and said, ‘Hello, and whose wife are you?’ I said, ‘I’m your new colleague. I’m Professor Rowe.’ He was mortified.”
In 1971, there were no women’s studies programs at UCLA — a fairly common situation on college campuses at the time. “There was pent-up student need,” Rowe says. “My position was that you needed those of us inside the institution to begin to make the changes that would advance women’s rights within the institution, because that’s the only way to create change in a broader social sense. There were whole departments that had not a single woman.”
Patricia Greenfield, distinguished professor of developmental psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, recalls that when she joined the faculty in 1974, the campus had one child care center. In 1983, she donated her lab space and then her office to help start an infant development program. “Now there is enough child care to satisfy the needs of faculty, staff and students. It’s taken for granted as part of the campus,” she says.
Particularly important in her field has been the diversification of the student body, a key factor in UCLA’s rise to academic excellence. UCLA consistently ranks near the top of U.S. News & World Report’s list of the country’s most ethnically diverse campuses.
“My classes are now like little United Nations,” Greenfield says, adding that this is vital because “we do not teach the psychology of the American undergraduate as universal.”
Mario Gerla M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’73, who came to UCLA as a graduate student from Milan in 1969 and joined the faculty of the Computer Science Department in 1977, distinctly remembers the composition of his first class. “I would say one-third of the students were from the aerospace industry, with crew cuts and shirt and tie. Then there were students on the GI Bill — some had served in Vietnam and would come barefoot, with long beards. The international students were mostly from Europe — there were very few students from Asia, if any.”
Reflection of the Students
Society’s changes also have influenced what students want from their UCLA education. “It’s not enough to have a job, punch a clock, go to work, make a little bit of money, spend it, go home, watch TV,” says Alfred E. Osborne Jr., senior associate dean of UCLA Anderson School of Management, founder of the Harold & Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and professor of global economics and management.