Saturday, March 19, 2011

University Public Relations in the "Social Networks" Era

Imagine if you were the proud parent of 35,000 different teenagers.  By a law of large numbers at least 1% or 350 of them will do something "wild and crazy" each year and the rest of your neighborhood will hear about this and say to themselves; "those crazy Kahn kids".   A University President faces this challenge.  He/she is the public face of the University and is supposed to keep "his house in order".  In this age of Facebook and Youtube, any "wild kid" has a microphone.  She/he is aware if they do something wild that they can go viral and have their 15 minutes of fame. This creates bad incentives unless severe punishment is anticipated.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block has created his own Youtube video in order to respond to Ms. Wallace's original  video.

As a faculty member and as someone who has spent almost 5 years now at UCLA, permit me to make a few points.   UCLA is a happy, serious place.  As I walk the campus, I see all sorts of happy students walking around living their lives to the fullest.   I hear students speaking many different languages to each other.  This is an immigrant friendly campus and this is a good thing.

Each year, I sponsor visiting faculty and graduate students (mainly from China) and they have a great year living and learning at UCLA.   Students from Asia should be confident that if they enroll at UCLA that they will have an excellent learning experience and high quality of life.

U.S universities tend not to be the great melting pot that they claim to be. Similar to all U.S Universities,  and I have previously taught at Columbia, Harvard, Tufts, Stanford,  there is an unfortunate amount of ethnic segregation on campus.  Speaking in broad generalities, students of similar ethnic groups tend to cluster together in social settings.  I do not know Ms. Wallace (and I have not watched her video) but I would want to know whether she has any UCLA friends who are Asian immigrants? Has she expressed her "pet peeves" to them?  Did they agree? Did they answer any of her questions?

Universities make a big deal about "diversity" on campus but continue to struggle with how you integrate a diverse campus beyond admissions counts. You can't force "bridging social capital".   Since I have not blogged about social capital in a long time, I should remind you of the past work that Dora Costa and I have done on this subject.

UCLA does not deserve a bad rep for the ugly choices made by one of our students.   We have many great students and some bad ones.  As I have blogged before, UCLA's student body would be more diverse if we change our admissions rules to become 40% out of state.  There are too few people from Chicago, New York City, its suburbs and the greater Boston area at UCLA.  These individuals would offer UCLA both diversity and $.