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Spring 2003
Going After the Best
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But once we begin a conversation with those very few possessing the necessary talent and areas of expertise required in order to generate the same level of interest on our part in them as they have in us, we often encounter a problem that threatens to become an insurmountable barrier to a successful resolution of our common desire: difficulty in finding housing that provides easy access to campus and good access to public schools. I am sometimes tempted to add to those advertisements that we are required by law to publish when positions become available a notice that “those without trust funds or richly employable spouses need not apply,” but such restrictions would eliminate most of the best and brightest.

So we struggle on, sometimes winning (particularly when those base salaries provided by the state can be augmented by additional funds from private sources), but often losing. There are obvious, marketplace reasons why it costs more to live in West Los Angeles than in Ithaca, New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; or even Chicago, but there are limits in the sacrifices one is willing and able to make in terms of shelter, children’s education and proximity to work (which for good faculty members, means proximity to their students).

REMEMBERING MY PARENTS’ WARNING about the perils awaiting the braggart, I hesitate to say that in my department we have for the most part been successful during the last decade in recruiting and retaining superb faculty (as well as the very best graduate students). But it has been extremely costly, and I fear very soon our losses will far exceed our successes, that we will become at best an energetic, well-conditioned “farm team” for more privileged institutions.

To me this thought is intolerable. Fortunately, it is a thought many of our alumni and friends also find intolerable. This is important, because it is only through their help and support that we will remain competitive, that we will be able to maintain excellence in the worthy environment of a public university.

It is not impossible, but it will take considerable imagination on the part of our administration and, even more, the considerable generosity of our alumni and friends who believe not only in the fact of UCLA, one of the most stimulating intellectual environments in the nation in which to work and learn, but also in the very idea of public higher education.

Thomas Wortham is chair of the Department of English.

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