Visiting UCLA: The Future of Access, the Student Experience and the Campus Workforce

Monday, May 16, 2022 - The second stop of the Future U campus tour took hosts Jeff Selingo and Michael Horn to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Chancellor Gene Block and a panel of guests from the UCLA community fielded questions about the impact of university size on access, a flexible student experience, and the future of the higher education workforce.

Listen Now!

Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Speakers

Transcript

Chancellor Gene Block:

Well, there's a lot of emotions surrounding this issue and there are students who believe very strongly that every class should have dual-mode instruction. That I should be able to look through the course catalog and decide which ones I take remotely and which ones I take in person. It turns out to be difficult to provide really high quality, real truly dual mode where students who are remote are getting the exact same attention as students in the classroom. Faculty will tell you, it is extraordinarily difficult to do that without a lot of infrastructure.

Michael Horn:

That was UCLA's chancellor, Gene Block, speaking to us about the future of teaching and learning.

Jeff Selingo:

I'm Jeff Selingo.

Michael Horn:

And I'm Michael Horn.

Sponsor:

This episode is part of the Future U. Campus Tour, which is made possible thanks to the exclusive support of Salesforce.org. Subscribe to Future U. wherever you get your podcasts and follow us on Twitter at the handle FutureUPodcast. If you enjoyed the podcast, please leave us a five star rating so others can discover the conversations we're having about higher education.

Michael Horn:

It was great to be back on a campus for a second time this spring and speaking to not just the chancellor, but also faculty, staff and students, Jeff. As Chancellor Block mentioned in that excerpt we just played, we heard some different themes at UCLA from what we heard at Northeastern.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, that's right, Michael. It's clear that optionality is the new normal in every sector of the economy coming out of the pandemic. But how that plays out in higher education seems to be different depending on your campus. Whereas at our first stop at Northeastern, their ability to do hybrid was seen as a differentiator, much like their co-op program. Here at UCLA, there were concerns about what it would do to the quality and equity of the UCLA experience. So we dive deep into this and other issues in our latest stop on the Future U. Campus Tour in sunny California on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jeff Selingo:

Thank you UCLA for hosting us. Thank you, Chancellor Block-

Chancellor Gene Block:

Yes. You're welcome.

Jeff Selingo:

... for having us here and welcome to Future U.

Chancellor Gene Block:

Thank you.

Jeff Selingo:

We want to focus on what we think are the three big issues coming out of the pandemic in the hope that we could kind of take a deep dive on them. First is the appropriate size of UCLA and the UC system. Second is what we're calling optionality for students, flexibility in how students access UCLA education. Then third is the higher ed workforce in general, including not only the leaders of these massive organizations, but also the workforce staff and faculty as well. So size, optionality, and the workforce.

Jeff Selingo:

So let's get started on size. So UCLA, if I'm not mistaken, received something like 150,000 freshman applications this year, right?

Chancellor Gene Block:

Mm-hmm.

Jeff Selingo:

For about 6,500 spots or so. So clearly the demand is there. Why can't UCLA take many more students?

Chancellor Gene Block:

So with startling number of students applying, and I think we're all amazed every year. It's gone up every year and we say it has to stop, but it doesn't stop. It keeps going up and we're pleased in a sense. Obviously it means students are trying to vote with their feet about where they want to go to school and I think that reflects well on UCLA, but we have a limitation. We're the smallest of the UC campuses. So in land area, we're actually the smallest even though we're clearly the most dense. If you want to have the kind of education we provide, which I would say is high touch, I mean, this is really the traditional residential experience where students spend time on campus, hopefully do directed research scholarship while they're here and get to know faculty. There's just the limit. Limit in physical size, limit on number of staff and faculty that you have to support students. So given the model, I think we are reaching the limit right now of how many students we can serve well.

Jeff Selingo:

So we talk often about that model of American higher education. It seems we in the US equate small size with high quality. But when you look, for example, at Canada, right, some of their largest universities are also their highest quality universities as well. How do we start to kind of change this mentality that you could be larger and still good quality, or do you think that's not possible?

Chancellor Gene Block:

So I think first we're fairly large. So I think you can. I contrast us to something like Swarthmore, which really is retail, I mean in the sense, and we are wholesale. We're still large. So I think you can do an outstanding job at a large institution. A small institution, different advantages. I mean Swarthmore has smaller classes, better faculty to student ratios. We have many more opportunities, an extraordinary array of majors you can have, of putting together your course of study in ways that you couldn't possibly do at a small institution. The question is, can you be larger yet and can you get to a mega size? That's really sort of the Arizona State model if you look at it, and that's kind of an interesting model. That's a big tent model. There's parts of it that are very attractive to me.

Chancellor Gene Block:

I think the core of what we do, we do very well, which is residential, what I'll call high touch. But there is a way to think of this as a sort of an onion with different layers. I think that's the way Arizona State and Michael Crow begins to think about it. This outer layer is a different kind of education. It's going to be probably mostly virtual and it has different characteristics. So far, we've already stayed sort of true to what we think we do best, which is our residential model, but I think we're open. Our faculty senate and our leadership is really thinking about different ways to reach more students. Now we reach a lot of students through UCLA extension. So there's many adult learners as there are learners on campus actually through extension. So it's not as if we don't reach a larger number of people, but how you can integrate this in so that we can think about students, so these 18-year-olds to 21-year-olds getting an education that is not fully residential. That's something we're now beginning to think about.

Chancellor Gene Block:

So I would say we are opening up to new ways, but we're very concerned that we keep the quality of UCLA education. We don't want to dilute the quality at the same time that we expand.

Jeff Selingo:

And just one last question on size then is because you're part of a system too, is part of this also thinking about maybe the system grows even as places like UCLA, because of its land being landlocked the way it is, maybe stays the same. Is that a potential solution?

Chancellor Gene Block:

Exactly. Remember the system is all at different ages of development too. So you have what I called the baby Merced. Merced wants to grow. I mean, Merced probably doesn't want to be a 40,000 student campus, but Merced wants to be a 25,000 student campus. I think Riverside has potential to grow. It has land, and Davis has some capacity to grow. So I think you can grow this system and maybe even eventually think about additional campuses of the UC system. But right now, take the existing campuses and fill them out and you could accommodate quite a few more students. That said, what we hear from the legislature and from many people is that's fine, but we want to have more access to Berkeley and UCLA and San Diego. So no one is satisfied with just growing other campuses. They say, "That's great. Talk to the hand. I want to come here."

Chancellor Gene Block:

So we are actually going through sort of the intellectual work now and the real work of figuring out, how could we accept two to 3,000 more students? That's a challenge because the legislature would like the UC system, I think, to accept 20,000 additional students over this decade. We have to do our part. So we're thinking creatively how to better use our summer, turn into a summer quarter, how to use some remote educational opportunities that we've gotten better at to do it. So we're going to grow some, but I think you're right, the system itself can grow substantially.

Michael Horn:

So I think that actually is a perfect transition to the topic around flexibility and a continuing theme obviously from the pandemic is flexibility for students. Giving them options about how to access their education, whether that's in person, you mentioned virtual hybrid. I think as I understand it, UCLA had a pretty good experience with online and hybrid during the pandemic. Your faculty taught courses in new ways, created new content for these classes. So I guess I'm curious, and it relates a little bit to the size, but it's more deeply about the UCLA experience itself. If students want some of that flexibility in an ongoing way, why not continue offering that optionality and going forward, or, and so what are your plans around that and what are the tradeoffs as you think about it?

Chancellor Gene Block:

Well, there's a lot of emotions surrounding this issue. There are students who believe very strongly that every class should have dual-mode instruction. That I should be able to look through the course catalog and decide which ones I take remotely and which ones I take in person. It turns out to be difficult to provide really high quality, real truly dual mode where students who are remote are getting the exact same attention as students in the classroom. Faculty will tell you, it is extraordinarily difficult to do that without a lot of infrastructure. So you can do it. It's just going to take a lot more support to do that. So that's a challenge.

Chancellor Gene Block:

So what we've learned from the pandemic is our faculty were extraordinary, as there were many other campuses, where literally in a few weeks they converted and many faculty have never done this before. Zoom was really a pretty new platform a few years ago, and faculty got good at it and students got reasonably good at using it, but there were limitations to it. There's a couple of faculty members at UC Irvine that have looked carefully at what happens over time with remote education, and especially students from sort of lower income backgrounds start doing rather poorly.

Chancellor Gene Block:

So initially it was very interesting. We saw some data that really got me excited because I saw after the first couple of quarters remote, it looked like some of our students, especially students underrepresented backgrounds, lower income look like they're doing really well, even actually proportionally better than some of our other students. I thought maybe there's something about a remote education that's an equalizer that makes students more comfortable. So I had all kinds of ideas that maybe there's really power in this methodology, but the data over time is that they do more poorly. So why? There is still a digital divide. Many of these students don't have their own bedrooms. They don't have a place to study. They have limited bandwidth. They're sharing with their siblings bandwidth. So I think there's a lot of reasons why remote education does not give you the kind of expected outcomes that we'd like to see.

Chancellor Gene Block:

So that doesn't mean throwing it away, but it means being respectful of the fact that it has limitations and figuring out ways to overcome that. We overcame some of this by lending out a lot of laptops and MiFis and trying to sort of close the digital differences between students, but it's still imperfect. I mean, students don't have space to study. It's hard. So I think we have to approach remote education carefully. It worked. We've generated a lot of content and we do think now it's great for alumni. We're very comfortable now using this to reach more alumni. So there are great advantages to it, but I'm not sure in the long run, it's going to be a really excellent methodology. Certainly not going to replace in person education. That's my sense.

Michael Horn:

How does it connect? You talked about being able to bring more communities into the UCLA experience, alums and so forth. You referenced Michael Crow and ASU using virtual. Do you think it has any potential to sort of answer the questions that Jeff was talking about in terms of size of UCLA over time?

Chancellor Gene Block:

It can help. I mean, it can play. I mean, I just think it's not going to be a substitute and probably we're not going to ever be comfortable with the student fully having online education, fully online, but that doesn't mean that couldn't be used for a year. They could take online program or maybe they do public service. Maybe they want to donate their time to their community, and this is a way to do that. Or they have family obligations that don't allow them to be on campus. So we may be able to find ways to use it part-time, but I think most of us feel a full education requires being on campus and there's a risk. I see a risk, what I've called before the reverse digital divide. So the digital divide closes eventually because bandwidth goes down in cost continuously, computers are commodities now and are relatively low cost. So eventually low income families will have everything they need for remote education.

Chancellor Gene Block:

The scary thing I worry about is that parents will then say, there's no need for you to go to campus. We can save so much money by you staying home. All of a sudden we wake up one day and higher income students are getting this in person experience. They're making all the social connections and everything they need for a successful life and our lower income students are all at home. That's sort of a reverse digital divide and unintended consequence. So we have got to make certain as we use digital technologies, that we make certain that we keep our campus experience completely open to all students of all economic backgrounds. So there's a little bit of a concern about it. It can go in ways that would be really counterproductive, I think.

Jeff Selingo:

You were talking a little bit about a community there and being on campus. We were talking earlier about mental health in particular. Do you feel that having students back on campus and having kind of that in person experience, whether it's full-time or whether it's a hybrid experience is important to student mental health?

Chancellor Gene Block:

We think so. We think the needs of our students are mental health needs increased pretty dramatically during the pandemic. Of course, this is complicated. This is not just remote education. This is a pandemic with enormous stresses on families, especially low income families have disproportionately been impacted by the pandemic. So it's confounded, but our senses, I believe, and there's others who will speak the panel who could probably weigh in on this, who are close to it, is that the mental health needs of our students when they came back was higher than when they left. So there is need. I think the online therapy that we were providing wasn't subscribed at the level that our in person therapy is subscribed, even though we're doing both now. So we're actually reaching even more students. But I think students for whatever reason, lack of privacy to be able to talk, discomfort talking remotely about personal issues. But I think the pandemic took a toll on all of our students.

Jeff Selingo:

Is also taking a toll obviously on faculty and staff as well. I want to move into the last big topic we want to cover with you, Chancellor Block, and that is the idea of the workforce in higher education. Obviously, these challenges ahead, whether it's getting a bigger campus or hybrid education are going to require talent at both the faculty level and at the staff level. I really want to focus on staff particularly because in higher ed, I always felt, at least before the pandemic, that we treated faculty as talent, but staff, as just they're replaceable in some ways, right. That we didn't think of them as talent necessarily, not necessarily here at UCLA, but higher education generally. Do you think that needs to change after the pandemic?

Chancellor Gene Block:

So I'd say absolutely. Quite frankly, we made a commitment when the pandemic began that we were going to keep everybody employed because we thought we didn't want to lose staff. At the time, it was really an ethical decision. That we just didn't think it was fair when people were going through these really tragedies in their lives that we'd be putting people out of work. So we made a commitment that whatever it cost, we were going to keep everybody employed. It turns out that was not only an ethical decision, that was a wise decision because even so we had a fair number of retirements and we're short on staff in many areas.

Chancellor Gene Block:

I think although I believe we've always appreciated staff, I think your point is correct is that we have to think about staff as talent just like we think about faculty. We're talking about these extraordinary faculty that we can't lose. Well, I think what we're realizing is that's exactly true for staff as well. I mean, this is really a team effort and we have to be more sensitive to staff needs. I think about it because I guess my attitude, just being honest, was that I always thought, boy, it's what an honor to work at a university with all these young people and helping them be successful. We have so many students that are first generation and it just makes you feel great when you see graduation. Then I'm thinking, if you're working in a back office at UCLA, you may never get that kind of contact. What's the difference between the job you're doing at UCLA than you could be doing in any company in Los Angeles? You don't feel as much part of the process, the educational process.

Chancellor Gene Block:

I think that's gotten us thinking about how we can make certain that staff feel and experience some of the real benefits that faculty experience with working with young people and seeing the benefits of their efforts. So I'm giving you a long answer because it's just a fascinating issue. I think that there has to be a mindset change that everybody's precious at the university and we have to figure out ways to retain them. We have to figure out ways that they can continue their education and continue to develop their skills. I think that's exactly true. I think everyone has had a wakeup call.

Jeff Selingo:

One place that I want to end is around leadership, around jobs like you have. We're seeing a lot of presidents leave during the pandemic. There's a lot of concern about essentially not only training the next generation of leadership, and not presidents, provost to other vice presidents, but let's focus on the presidency in particular. What advice do you give to people? If somebody calls you today and says, "I want to be the next chancellor of a UC, a campus or, or a president of a public or private university." What advice do you give them? Do you tell them to run or do you tell them it's still the greatest job, one of the greatest jobs out there?

Chancellor Gene Block:

At graduation time, it's the greatest job. When you see families and they're the first in their family to graduate, it's the best job in the world. Families are over the moon about their children graduating. But you have to go in this with your eyes open. You have to breathe slowly. I think the tensions on campus are greater than ever before. People are coming back fragile, and that leads to lots of intemperate behavior in some cases. You just have to have more compassion. I mean, I think the whole campus we had the evening last night, which was really about remembrance and compassion. I think we just have to be more... We have to understand this is a difficult time.

Chancellor Gene Block:

As far as leadership, I still think these are really great positions to have. I think that being at a place that's just an enormous opportunity for your own intellectual growth and to make a difference with young people's lives is so rewarding. I would not tell anyone not to do it, but you have to have your eyes open that it is going to be more challenging.

Jeff Selingo:

So is there a skill that a president today needs that maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago they didn't need necessarily, or a skill that's become more important?

Chancellor Gene Block:

I think you have to listen more. I mean, I really think you have to listen more. I think everybody wants to be heard. We had a sit-in on campus, our hallway in our building. A lot of it, it came down to listening and students want to be heard and especially students that don't get heard so often, small groups of students that feel they're not being listened to. So I'd say probably a willingness to really listen and truly listen and take advice is more important than ever before.

Michael Horn:

I'm curious, just staying on that theme, you mentioned the fragility that a lot students, faculty, staff all have right now. Do you think that's going to stay with campuses for the foreseeable future or do you think it's something that may recede the further we get out from this moment in time?

Chancellor Gene Block:

No, I think there's some more permanent it's a strong word, but I think there's going to be some long duration changes in people's attitudes. I think that probably happened after the 1918 pandemic too. It affected my family, actually. My father lost his oldest brother and I think it affected the family. I think these pandemics still have long lasting effects and they're going to have long lasting effects on the institution as well. But the pandemic, I mean, we don't even really know whether it's over or it's going to recede in the next year or not. This is really an uncertain time. So I think certainly for the next few years, it's going to be very challenging.

Michael Horn:

Thank you.

Chancellor Gene Block:

Thank you.

Sponsor:

Salesforce.org is the exclusive sponsor of the Future U. Campus Tour. salesforce.org is proud to partner with institutions like yours to build a better future for all. We believe creating a technology enabled, personalized and continuous experience throughout the learner cycle is so critical to driving student and institution success from anywhere. Learn more at Salesforce.org/higher ed.

Michael Horn:

Welcome back to Future U. We have a great panel here assembled to give us a range of perspectives on the future of higher education at UCLA. So please help us welcome Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Monroe Gorden. We have UCLA's Dean of Life Sciences, Tracy Johnson. Sarah Wang, a Vice President of the Student Government at UCLA who is studying communications and entrepreneurship. Jason Belland, a Vice President at Salesforce.

Michael Horn:

So I want to start the segment with you, Sarah, because you just heard Chancellor Block talk about some of the tradeoffs inherent in creating more flexibility for students and the desire to grow and the challenges. As a student, what's your perspective on having more flexibility in growing the student body? Do you sense that there's a prevailing view, if you will, among the student body at large?

Sarah Wang:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that one of the best things about coming to college is the diverse array of backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs, values that you encounter here. You wouldn't have that without such a massive student body. I mean, when I was first applying to college, I was like, "Okay, put me in a private liberal arts college. I want one-on-one time with my professor. That's all I need." But after being at such a huge university, I think I've learned that the beauty of it is taking in all these stories and integrating it into your perspective on life and how you engage with others.

Sarah Wang:

So my first thought is yes. More students, more fun. Great. But of course, like you said, there are so many tradeoffs that come with it. Like there's so much more flexibility with remote learning, but you have the digital divide. You have like accessibility issues. So I think we have to be very cautious as we think about how we expand, to make sure these underrepresented communities are not left behind in the process and that we preserve the quality of education. So broad perspective expansion, good, carefully.

Jeff Selingo:

There's always tradeoffs.

Sarah Wang:

Yes.

Jeff Selingo:

So turning to you, Tracy, I'm kind of curious to dig into this question about flexibility from faculty perspective, because creating more flexibility for students, of course, requires us to ask faculty to make changes to their teaching practices as well as Chancellor Block mentioned, right? Like creating courses that are online and face to face and hybrid really require faculty to think differently. Faculty members clearly across higher education around the world have had to make a lot of changes over the last two years. So what do you think are their appetite for continued change to how they teach and how learning occurs? Are there things that you're particularly excited about or things that we've talked about today that maybe make you a little fearful about what's next?

Dean Tracy Johnson:

Well, thank you. That's a great question. Indeed, we have learned a lot in the last couple years about new modalities of teaching. I mean, Zoom is just the beginning. So our goal, I think, as faculty and as an institution is how do we take what we've learned and take the best parts of it and then grow those, and then recognize that there are also lessons that we've learned and move forward learning those lessons and implementing those. So for example, many of our faculty have found that they can have more flexible office hours. So if there's students who work, there's an opportunity to, for example, have a remote interaction with students that we wouldn't be possible if we were only interacting with students on campus face-to-face.

Dean Tracy Johnson:

Many faculty found that there had to be different ways of assessing knowledge. So as opposed to the typical final exam where all the students are in the room and they're taking, faculty started thinking, how do I assess student learning in creative ways? Students had different opportunities to express what they'd learned over the quarter. When we talked to faculty about that and you ask, "Do you want to go back?" They say, "No way, this is so much more interesting and so much more fun." We've also, I think, really learned a lot about our students, ways that we may not have learned in the past. We could see that students were having certain kinds of experiences in their homes. So I think it really engendered a different level of empathy among faculty that has changed the way we think about the job and I don't think anybody wants to go back there. Now, granted, there are also challenges.

Dean Tracy Johnson:

So we've built, I think, and increasingly these are important across the campus, we've built in centers for learning and teaching excellence that can go from where we were a couple years ago, which is how do you use Zoom, right, how do you mute yourself to the kind of things, well, how do you create an inclusive classroom? How do you enhance pedagogy so that students from all backgrounds see themselves in the class and feel like they're welcome. These are transitions we've been able to make.

Michael Horn:

So I'm curious just to stay on that because these centers for teaching and learning they were present before the pandemic. They were heavily utilized during the pandemic. What are you seeing about the continued use of them to improve that classroom and teaching and learning experience? Are there places where faculty are saying, "Yeah, that's optional. Maybe I'll duck out of that one"?

Dean Tracy Johnson:

That's been one of the most exciting things, that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was necessity to try to figure out how to move forward. I think once the experience of being in part of a pedagogy community, I think it's really caught on. So the utilization of centers for teaching and learning has gone up exponentially since the pandemic. So I don't think we're going back and that kind of iterative process of doing what we do even better I think it's here to stay.

Jeff Selingo:

So Monroe, I'm kind of curious your take on this. So we've talked about it in the classroom experience, but you're thinking about the full student experience here at UCLA. So what are you hoping to see in this new flexibility? What should change, what should stay the same? Then more so, because I think this is the challenge that many institutions are grappling with right now across the country is what will it take to create that more flexible experience for students?

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

Yeah, I appreciate the question. So what I would say is at this point, and being at a university, one of the exciting things about working at a university like UCLA is nothing really should ever stay the same, right. So we work around just really brilliant individuals from faculty and staff and every aspect of our community and our students as well, both undergraduate and graduate students. So there are so many lessons that we learned through the pandemic. We started with, as Dr. Johnson said, sort of an emergency situation. We had to make the emergency situation work, which I think we did in many ways. But we also learned that as we move to a time now where we have a little bit more flexibility in thinking about what does this mean longer term for us, we shouldn't be thinking necessarily in an emergency situation anymore. Now we really should be thinking very specifically about the various student populations at UCLA.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

The one thing I'd say is that a positive student experience is something that every single student deserves. So as we think about flexibility as we move forward, it's really important that we're not taking broad swaths of information, but we're really looking very specifically at our student groups. The one thing I would say, as I said earlier, nothing should stay the same. One thing that I would say though that clearly will be continuing to change is the ways in which we go about socializing students and the opportunities that students have to socialize. We say that every single student before they're even admitted to UCLA is a Bruin for life. So we have to think about that socialization through the entire span of their lives, right. Not only before they get here, while they're here and certainly after they graduate. So how we socialize is going to be very important and a lot of that will go to how do we think about our individual students, individual student groups, and what makes the most sense for them.

Michael Horn:

So, Jason, I want to turn to you then because you're seeing a lot of different arrangements across the country, right. You have a bird's eye view, if you will, from your vantage point at Salesforce. In your view, are there principles both that you're hearing here but that you're seeing more generally, that we can generalize about what campuses are doing right to create that flexible and robust student experience? And where importantly do you see room for improvement?

Jason Belland:

Yeah. I think I'm going to pick up... Thanks. That's a great question. I'm going to pick up, I think, a little bit on what Monroe said here. One thing that stuck out to me is you were talking about how every single student deserves a great experience. I locked in on the word single there, and that we have to be prescriptive down to the individual and their journey and what's happening in their lives and how we can engage the amazing staff that was talked about earlier, faculty, to make sure that students are surrounded with the support that they need, that will get them through whatever difficult moment that they're having so that they can certainly graduate, but then be a student for life.

Jason Belland:

A customer was talking to me recently and she said the magic on our campus happens in the classroom or in faculty interaction. That's awesome. We love that. That's why we're here. That's why we love this campus experience. But most of the moments on campus do not happen in a classroom or even on this campus. They happen on our website or they happen when students trying to do something else. So we need to really think about how do we not think about the campus experience and then the digital experience. We need to think about what's the institution experience and how do those things come together as one experience.

Jeff Selingo:

I want to flip this around and talk a little bit about where we ended with Chancellor Block, and that's around the employee experience, because it's clear that we're seeing, across industries, kind of the Great Resignation. People thinking about what they want to do with their jobs. They want more flexibility with their jobs. Some employers are happy to offer that flexibility, others less so. You heard transferred Chancellor Block talk a little bit about this, right. How do we create kind of this workplace culture? So Monroe, let's start with you on this. So what are you hearing from staff and faculty at UCLA? What are some of the things that UCLA is trying to do to create a better employee experience coming out of the pandemic?

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

Well, a very good question. I mean, I would probably connect what we were just talking about to some extent from a student experience as well. I think one of the things that is clear for us is that we really have to think about all of our staff, and being an individual who oversees an area with 1100 FTE, I'll stay with staff for a second, but we really have to think about the individual staff experience. We also have to recognize that it's not a one size fits all, particularly at a residential campus like UCLA. There are times when we will need staff to be the frontline individuals assisting various parts of our constituency in our community. There are other times when we'll have staff who will have the opportunity to do other things from a flexible perspective.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

I think though, that regardless of where staff are situated in particular employment, what's important is that every staff feel as though their experience is important, and that has been highlighted throughout this pandemic and certainly where we are today. As we talk about things like the Great Resignation, really what I think about when that happens is just opportunity that exists for staff as they're going different places. So then the question for us is how do we create those opportunities individually for our staff? It really has placed a very, very bright spotlight on how we go about making sure staff understand the benefits of the institution. It's not just about being at UCLA, but it's very specific about the various things that we're asking them to do. So I'd love to say that we're doing this perfectly. I'd be a complete, utter liar to say that, but I will say that we have gotten a lot better at it, and we're going to have to get better still because there are opportunities that exist for staff as they should be.

Jeff Selingo:

But at the same time, as you mentioned, this is a mini city, right? It's a 24/7, 365 day a year operation, right. So while some companies and some industries could go fully remote, a lot more flexible, at the end of the day, you do need people here and interacting with students face to face.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

That's exactly right. So I'll bring you into my next meeting with the staff.

Jeff Selingo:

It's a challenge, right? It's a balance that you have to have.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

No, and I say that in jest. Yeah. But no, I think you're exactly right. As a university, we sit in some precarious situations where we have some benefits that other employment areas do not, but we also have challenges that they may not have as well.

Michael Horn:

I'm still struck by the fact that you have 1100 FTE, but I also hear value for each individual employee, just like value for each individual student, as a constant theme here. I want to turn to you Dean Johnson, because I'm curious for your take on this as well because staff demands, if you will, for flexibility obviously impact the faculty as well and vice versa. So what do you see as the important levers here to land in a place that doesn't short change students, but also respects the talent that makes UCLA all that it is?

Dean Tracy Johnson:

Well, I love that question. Coming from an academic unit, I will say one of the things that we have learned very clearly is that we are completely dependent on our entire community of staff, students, faculty, but from the people who write, who help to submit grants, to the people who make sure that our laboratories are safe and clean and who advise students and who oversee the mental healthcare of our students and our staff and faculty. Everybody is critical, and that has become super apparent during this period. So nonetheless, there have been some significant challenges. We live in an expensive city. So we have staff who are commuting from far away, right.

Dean Tracy Johnson:

So we're trying to now figure out how can we not lose the value of what it means to be UCLA while providing this flexibility, what kind of technology needs do we need to bring, to bear to make sure that's possible? Then thinking about, is there an opportunity here, for example, can we reimagine space if there's a more flexible way of people being on campus? I will say that's one of the things, for example, that's happened in my unit. When we realized that it was possible for people to come in three days a week instead of every day, then that space could be re-imagined such that then students benefit because we've converted into a student learning center. It just takes a level of creativity.

Dean Tracy Johnson:

So I'll say there are three things that, in order to move forward, we have to really think about. How do we not lose the human touch that is critical for students? How do we not lose the community? What does it mean to be a Bruin? We have to be deliberate about building capacity for community, even if we have more flexible options. How do we not lose the creativity that happens when there's serendipity and when people can run into each other? How do we build in the opportunity to have that creativity and how do we do all of this with an eye toward equity because that's going to be critical. If we don't deploy it equitably, it's not going to work. So those are the challenges. We solve them the way we solve everything at UCLA. We collect the data. We ask the people who are involved. We do the analysis. Then we let our values guide the decision making, and hopefully we do the best we can, but it's a process.

Michael Horn:

It's something obviously a lot of employers right now are grappling with these issues. I want to turn to the other side of the equation. Sarah, sitting on the other side of this, obviously you don't have to think perhaps about the faculty and staff's day-to-day lives perhaps, but you probably do have opinions on having faculty and staff available for students and on campus. So I'm sort of curious about what you've noticed about the experience over the past couple years. What do you feel is important to maintain that's perhaps changed to keep that great student experience?

Sarah Wang:

Yeah. I mean, I'm in my third year at UCLA. I've learned a few lessons. B Plate is the best dining hall. Sometimes you walk and you don't scooter. Finally, I think a happy faculty, happy staff makes for happy students. I think that has really shown, especially during the pandemic, that our faculty are humans too. They're dealing with the same things. They have crying toddlers. I've heard them in the back of all my lecture videos. They're like doing their best. I've gotten a little taste of that this quarter because I've had the privilege of serving as a teaching assistant. Wow. It is so hard. I mean, like Chancellor Block touched upon it, dual modality, that is the dream. Right. But I'm trying to get the class together. There's people in the waiting room on Zoom and people coming up, emails coming in. It's so crazy.

Sarah Wang:

So I think mental health is like the ultimate key to making sure that we all have a well-rounded and healthy experience because you want to really walk that line between being accessible, responding to emails, being there for your students, but not burning out and protecting your work life boundaries. I think that's just important recognizing the humanity that we have in each other and really building community with compassion.

Sarah Wang:

I've been a student worker outside of my academic pursuits, like worked at a coffee shop, worked at engineering school. I'm a communications major. So I know nothing about that, but I felt taken care of as a student employee, even though I like lost my job due to the pandemic. I couldn't work at the Starbucks on campus anymore. But through that time, I think I really learned how to take care of my mental health and realize what the priorities are. We're here to push each other beyond our limits, to learn new things and not necessarily get a 4.0 GPA in everything. Not necessarily get perfect evaluations on faculty end-of-year reports. Right. So just being kind to each other ultimately is what I hope to see going forward.

Michael Horn:

It's a good statement of UCLA values, I'd say.

Jeff Selingo:

So I want to ask one last question. I'll make it a jump ball. So whoever wants to take it or multiple people can take it, but I think one of the interesting things that we've seen, we just did our 100th episode of the podcast. I think one of the things that we've seen pre-pandemic and now during the pandemic because I know we don't want to use that word post-pandemic yet, although I like to use it sometimes, is that the pandemic, I think, gave higher education, like it did a lot of industries, a chance to break some rules. It gave them permission to break some rules, right. Every institution in the spring of 2020 did things that they might have been talking about for years. Maybe you've never talked about and just did, right. They changed the calendar. They changed how they taught and everything else. Right.

Jeff Selingo:

So it created this institutional agility that we may not have seen on every campus, but at the same time, people are exhausted. Right. So one of the things that we're hearing from people that we interview and talk to is that, especially from leadership, whether that's faculty leadership, administrative leadership, student leadership is coming now into two years later, how much do we push that institutional agility forward or how much do we just kind of take a little bit of a break? But do you lose that kind of momentum? Do you lose that mindset? That's a tough balance. So I'm just kind of curious about how you're thinking about that because I think in the institutional leaders we're talking with, there are some people who are saying put that foot on the gas pedal and let's keep going and others who say, you know what, people need a little bit of a break here. Any thoughts?

Dean Tracy Johnson:

Well, just briefly, I think it's both/and. That we have to build into whatever we do next the recognition that people have been sprinting for two years. So there has to be built into whatever we do, both the vision to move forward, but also the recognition that there has to be space within that vision for people to regroup and recover and talk it out and interact with each other. So I think we have to be able to do both, but there is great momentum and it would be a shame to lose it.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. I think it's a great thought, Tracy.

Jason Belland:

Yeah. I would just add this. I'm thinking of my yoga teacher now in this, but agility is very much a practice and must be continued so we can change the pace of the work that we're doing and take a breath and go into our child pose for a minute if we need to. But agility is a practice and we have learned, in the last two years, that we know how to do this. We know how to transform the experience. We've built this muscle. We can't let the muscle atrophy. We must keep going forward and for the benefit of the students that are here, but also the benefit of the economic growth and development around us.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

So I'll just add real quickly. I think it's important to also say that I don't see this as 100 meter dash, right. I think that we've been running this more than marathon for quite some time now. I think the pandemic exacerbated a lot of the sprinting that was needed to happen. But we have to remember there have been other things that have been happening as well as we've seen a lot of things happen within our world over the last couple of years that really have weighed very heavily on all members of our constituency in our community. So I do think it's both, doing both as my colleagues have said. I also think though, it's attaching and connecting the agility with the principles of the institution.

Monroe Gorden Jr.:

The one thing that I think has come out of this time period of the pandemic is a change of our principles to ensure that we're looking at the individual needs of members of our community. So I think as long as that agility is connected to ensuring that every member matters, every member's perspective matters and we're really thinking about their experience. I think that agility is actually something that we can continue. If we don't connect that principle of ensuring that people are able to, from a mental health perspective and otherwise, move forward, it really doesn't matter what other things we're going to try to do.

Michael Horn:

So I think first, let's all thank them for a terrific conversation.

Jeff Selingo:

Closing thoughts.

Michael Horn:

Jeff, before we fully wrap up, I do want to put you on the hot seat and ask if you have any insights that you take away from both this conversation and our first interview.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. So Michael, I think there are two things that really fascinated me. Tracy, I didn't get the four things you said, but you said, we're going to do this like we make every decision at UCLA. You started with data and you ended with values. I can't remember what the middle two were off the top of my head, but I thought it was interesting that you start with data, right, because I think everybody in higher ed says, well, this is what's happening with students, or this is what we think should happen. They come to that discussion with their own set of data. I think that one of the things at institutions is that we have to have a common set of facts. I mean, this is an issue I think is in larger society as well, right. That we need to deal with a common set of facts and then figure out the strategy and approaches from there.

Jeff Selingo:

But at the end of the day, whatever decisions you make have to be rooted in your values as an institution, because that's what you have, right. This is a mission driven... Higher education is not driven by profit, right. It's driven by its mission to serve society as a whole, students, research, whatever it might be. Right. Everybody has a different mission, obviously, within higher education, which makes I think our system so great. So that's one thing that struck me.

Jeff Selingo:

Then in our earlier conversation with the chancellor, I was really struck by this idea of how we think about size and that there are ways of thinking differently, for example, about the academic calendar, right. So we talked, is there a different way to use... Chancellor Block made a quick reference to it, but I know we talked to him earlier about this, about thinking about the summer, for example. Are there other ways... And this is one of the rules that I think we broke in higher education during the pandemic, we started to think about the calendar in different ways. Could there be a low residency option, for example? Could we use summer internships and co-ops in different ways? Right.

Jeff Selingo:

So I think that one of the things that coming out of the pandemic that we learned to break these rules, and could we continue to do that in order to reach more students, especially at places like this? I mean, the thing now in higher ed is that we really have kind of a divide between the haves and have nots, right. UCLA got 150,000 applications. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of institutions out there desperate for applications, right. So how do we kind of help balance that out in some way. Michael, any thoughts on your end?

Michael Horn:

I'll go to a trio of thoughts, I guess, to end this here. The first one is on this point around talent and faculty and staff. We heard a number of perspectives on it. When the chancellor was talking, I was struck by something that someone told me a long time ago, which is sort of this sense that you get to do great work and therefore you'll settle, if you will, for other things that are maybe less than. One of the thoughts I was having as you all were talking about family lives and bringing in home lives, that may have worked in the past for an individual, but it also didn't work for their family necessarily. So we need to take in, as we think about the full person, we really need to think about the full person.

Michael Horn:

Sarah, you said, happy staff, happy faculty, happy students. It's interesting. A lot of places teach customers first, but I actually think when... I credit my wife in the hospitality industry for teaching me this, but Chef Daniel Boulud always said your staff comes first because if you nail that, your customers will be thrilled. I think that's something we take. The second one, I just struck by is the lower utilization rates of online mental health. Chancellor said to us again earlier that sometimes that's because if you're in your bedroom that you share with someone else, that's not a conversation you can have. As we think about the reverse digital divide, that's something we're going to have to give a lot of thought to.

Michael Horn:

Then the third thing on a more hopeful note around utilization is the utilization of the centers for teaching and learning. I think that we continue to see that momentum at places, and I won't speak for UCLA, but writ large across higher ed that have sometimes neglected the teaching and learning in favor of research. That is a very hopeful trend for the future of higher education, for value and for the students and the citizens that we'll be producing. So I feel pretty good, I think, on that front, Jeff.

Jeff Selingo:

Well, and that does it for our second stop on the Future U. Campus Tour. Thank you again all of you out there for joining us. Thank you to salesforce.org for their generous support of this tour and to UCLA and particularly you, Chancellor Block, for being such a gracious host in putting this on today. Thank you again and have a good day.

Wherever You Listen to Podcasts