Monday, August 9, 2010

No Faculty Center for 3 Years? Food Trucks Instead?

In June, Lawrence Kruger, Chair of the University Emeriti & Pre-retirement Relations Committee, got wind of a grand plan to tear down the Faculty Center and replace it with a "Residential Learning Center" which would contain space for a new Faculty Center. However, the project would take 3 years to complete and in the interim the only suggestions for operating the Center involved some kind of bubble building and food trucks. He sent a letter to Academic Senate chair Robin Garrell expressing concern, both about how the Center could be viable during such an interruption and the lack of faculty consultation.

Apparently, the project was said to be justified by a desire of the Anderson School to have such a facility. But when I checked with the powers-that-be at Anderson, it turned out that the School in fact has no interest in a facility where the Faculty Center is located. The summer is always a dangerous period when grand plans are initiated and faculty are not generally around to intervene. Below is an excerpted text of Prof. Kruger's letter.

Re: Faculty Center Closure - Threatened Demise or Replacement of the UCLA Faculty Center Building

The Emeriti have a strong interest in the future of the UCLA Faculty Center and at our final meeting of this academic year, we discussed recent available information concerning its future and the need to communicate with the Academic Senate. The information we received was distressing. We learned, for the first time, of a plan to replace the Center with a new 'Residential Learning' facility. This was the first time UEPRRC had discussed this matter and we learned that we had been excluded from the shared governance process that has served the UCLA community so well in the past.

Moreover, discussion of the process reported from the final CFC/SCC meeting on June 3 caused some alarm when we were informed that the leadership of the Academic Senate was aware of the project. It appeared that the project was in the advanced planning stage and was essentially a 'done deal' (according to past Senate Chair Michael Goldstein). That impression was essentially confirmed by outgoing Senate Chair Robin Garrell, although it was conceded that the project still lacks the Chancellor's approval.
The Faculty Welfare Committee (FWC) was unable to schedule discussion of this important and urgent issue at its last meeting due to other pressing business.

Thus, the UEPRRC wishes to express its concerns about the project. We would like, in addition, to participate in the process of shared governance that would permit us to provide such input as might prove useful. Our input, even at this late stage in the planning process, is important since there is much at stake here. Conceivably, our long experience on the campus may provide some insights reflecting the long and successful UCLA tradition of converting problems into opportunities.

The problem and opportunity: The Faculty Center building is aging and in need of a new roof and other costly repairs and improvements. The UCLA administration, in its attempts to 'regularize' its control of the Faculty Center Association?s operation, has been frustrated by the decision-making process and seeks an opportunity to modernize both the physical plant and operation. An expanded use of this property might also fulfill other campus needs.

The proposed solution: Construction of a 'Residential Learning Center' with modern communication facilities has become of increasing interest and importance. This goal could be achieved by rescinding the 'gift' of the land for a 'Faculty Club' and building a new replacement building. Such a building would fulfill the existing needs of the faculty and also provide a conference center with sufficient lodging space to accommodate visitors to the campus. This proposal was mentioned (in passing, in another context) by VC Sam Morabito to the Faculty Welfare Committee at its May meeting. The project purportedly would encompass a 9-story building and two underground levels of garage space that would also fulfill need for additional parking space for Murphy Hall.

Faculty and Emeriti needs, and propitious timing: A functioning 'Faculty Club' that can be optimally operated by the current management of the Faculty Center is urgently needed at this time. The Faculty Center is in regular use as a lunchtime restaurant for faculty. It also provides meeting room and lounge space. Finally, the Faculty Center provides dinners before evening campus events that in the past have fostered important interactions.
This evening function has been particularly important before concerts and various large Royce Hall cultural programs, as well as before UCLA basketball games. Elimination of evening meals and social rooms for several years might well have deleterious impact at a time when subscription support for Pauley Pavilion has become costly, but essential. The cultural program, largely 'UCLA Live', has been foundering in recent years for various reasons, including competition of more modern venues downtown. Traffic from the Westside is part of the problem which evening food service at the Faculty Center helps resolve. There is need for sustaining and improving these campus programs for the Westside community as well the vastly expanding resident campus community.

*** The campus already does have a handsome visitor housing facility bordering Hilgard Ave., just one block north of the Faculty Center and Murphy Hall. Its function as a campus Guest House has not been optimal for some time; perhaps for reasons affecting the entire hotel industry at this time. A few other North campus sites might be feasible, including the West campus Recreation Center. We presume that alternatives, unknown to us, have been considered at some time in the planning process. ***

Interim solutions during construction: A purported optimistic three-year construction phase after final approval of the proposed project presents some VERY serious difficult problems. Elimination of a functioning Faculty Center for at least three years would be devastating to faculty morale. It would have a negative impact on campus events cited above. The Faculty Center Association has paid off its University loans for construction, as well as for maintenance and recent refurbishment. Closing its operation would be disheartening and also result in loss of membership, operating income, and other factors that would likely result in its demise.

A three-year hiatus would lead to an inability to recruit new and younger faculty to join. The generous gift of land and excellent loan arrangements, so deeply appreciated by the faculty, is a felicitous part of UCLA history that should not be simply rescinded or expropriated; an interpretation that would be most harmful to campus relations. The Faculty has a fifty-year investment in its Faculty Center and should not be required to relinquish it without consultation AND participation BEFORE the proposed plan is irreversibly set in motion. A temporary functional Faculty Center operation during the years of planning, demolition and construction apparently has been correctly recognized as essential. But to our knowledge a practical, workable solution is not easy. A temporary replacement structure, exemplified by the past award-recognized 'Temporary Powell Library' operation would not be easy to design and construct with kitchen facilities. A structure with inflatable tent-like operations and food truck deliveries would not likely prove successful or even vaguely viable, even if a suitable space could be found. Rumored sites for tents and plans for trucks seem patently unrealistic.

*** Conclusion: A good faith, workable solution to this problem is crucial and an alternative that risks failure could be devastating, widely resented, and destructive to the concept of shared governance that distinguishes University of California campuses. ***



August 10, 2010

Dear Members,

This has been a very challenging year for the Faculty Center, as it has been for UCLA. During my term as President of the Board of Governors – coming to an end on August 31 – I have heard from some of you (happy or unhappy) about the Board’s policies or about the future. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to bring you up to date on the challenges we have faced and are facing. These include an aging facility, the most severe financial crisis in our history, employee layoffs, and the Chancellor’s proposal to build a “UCLA Residential Conference Center and Faculty Club” on the present site of the Faculty Center. I will address each of these issues.

First I would like to recall that our academic year began with a sense of celebration. It was the fiftieth anniversary of our building and the Board hosted a series of special events to reinforce our strong belief that the FC has been, and should continue to be, the intellectual and social center for the faculty and staff of the entire campus. We had talks by Chancellor Gene Block on his Vision for UCLA, Vice-Provost Nick Entrikin on UCLA in the World, and Professor Lenny Rome on Nanoscience. On October 21, 2009, almost 300 members and friends attended a dinner honoring Chancellor Emeritus Charles Young as a longtime friend and supporter of the FC. The Board hoped that these events would engender a heightened sense of the importance of the FC for the campus community, since it was already clear that we might need to plan for extensive repairs and reconstruction of a fifty-year old building. We are a “Private Club” and no longer receive subsidies from the university.

Financial Crisis

Many of you are aware from previous messages that the Faculty Center has had problems both with income and with expenditures over the past two years, and we had a budget shortfall of about $300,000 in 2009-2010. In a nutshell, the FC depends on the many events – banquets, receptions, talks, etc. – to finance the everyday running of the plant and to pay its employees – many of whom were hired precisely for those events. During the financial decline of the past two years, and the severe cutbacks on expenditures within the university, our income from special events has plummeted. (Lunchtime revenues have remained steady.) Many events have been cancelled or, in other cases, the sponsors cut back on expenditures. This is completely understandable, but the FC has a physical plant and employees that are no longer being fully utilized.

I ask you to encourage your departments to host events, where possible, at the Faculty Center and even to schedule personal events (birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings) there. The Faculty Center is accepting reservations until December, 2011.

At the same time, there has been increasing costs for salaries and benefits – these are up almost $150,000 for the same number of employees. Though we are separate from the university, for almost two decades our employees have been university employees with the same health care and pensions as other university employees. The Faculty Center now pays about $65,000 per month for health care. Most are union employees who received almost a 20% raise last October, and we will soon have to make pension contributions for all employees.

Staff Layoffs

After more than a year of declining event revenues, and increasing salaries and benefits, the Board determined that we had to bring staff more in line with our actual needs. The Faculty Center was continuing to lose $30,000 a month and the losses could mount during the slow summer months. Since university personnel rules require advance notice of sixty days for permanent layoffs, our manager informed twelve employees of permanent layoffs and two of temporary layoffs. (The permanent layoffs were all of employees with fewer than four years of service.) We had hoped that many of those permanent layoffs could eventually be avoided – just as UCLA’s layoffs of Lecturers were rescinded last spring – through a combination of attrition (with severance pay), relocation on campus, or rehiring as the economic climate improved.

This was a difficult time for employees, management and members. Many of you saw the leaflets distributed by the union. After intensive meetings and the help of the Human Resources staff, the Board rescinded the permanent layoffs and instituted five temporary layoffs. At the same time, the university administration created five food-service positions in Housing in September for which our employees would be highly qualified. The laid-off employees have been encouraged to apply for those positions and we hope that all will be able to retain employment on campus at the same level of salary and benefits. At the same time, the Board has voted to increase membership dues (most members - $18.50 to $20; emeriti $11.50 to $12.50) for the first time in six years. For the moment, these actions among others should allow us to project a balanced budget for next year.

Residential Learning Center

Of the greatest interest to our members, and to the Board, during the past nine months, has been the administration proposal to construct a “UCLA Residential Conference Center and Faculty Club” on the site of the present Faculty Center. Sam Morabito, Vice-Chancellor for Administration, has been the Chancellor’s point person for this project and he devoted several months to informing, and consulting with, interested campus groups including Deans, the Faculty Senate and its committees, and the Faculty Center Board of Governors. Though there was much discussion, it was only at the end of the academic year that Chancellor Block gave “official” designation to the project with an RFP for an Executive Architect, etc. The plan is for a Conference Center with approximately 300 high-quality hotel rooms, classrooms and meeting space, and a large conference ballroom.

The Faculty Center would be given space in the building equivalent to our current facility. (It should be said that the university owns the site, which we have been using rent-free for fifty years.)

The Board and Executive Committee have heard varied reactions to the project. Chancellor Block forcefully argued for the intellectual and academic need for a world-class conference center on campus, with a great benefit to the Faculty Center. The Chancellor praised the FC as an enormously successful enterprise which has contributed greatly to the campus social and intellectual environment. But he also pointed out that we have an aging facility ($1 – 2 million in deferred maintenance) and a questionable business model, and he argued that this is an opportunity for the Faculty Center to develop a new programmatic vision for its future. Others raised objections to the use of the site, the loss of tradition, and the lack of any firm plan for an interim facility during a construction period of perhaps 30 months. There are genuine concerns over loss of the Faculty Center’s independence and character. The Faculty Center as an institution is more than a building, but for many of us it is difficult to think of these aspects separately. Now we may need to do so.

Until the Chancellor decided to move into an “official” planning stage, there was little the Board of Governors could do except develop some contingency plans. We have set up, or will be setting up, four committees to explore different aspects of this proposal. A space committee has been assessing our current space utilization, and Dick Weiss, as President-Elect, is developing a Future Planning committee (we call it a “Vision committee”) to think about what we would like to have in a new facility. That group will survey members and speak to focus groups in the fall while discussing their findings with the project Architects. We will have a negotiating committee to work on a Memorandum of Understanding with the administration on the new facility. (The Faculty Center and Administration have never actually agreed on an MOU before, despite several negotiations.) That will address such issues as economic viability, kitchen, shared staff, space, parking, rent and utilities, liquor license, etc. Finally, there will be a separate group to work with the Chancellor’s office on an Interim Facility. This Committee will include representatives of two founding groups – the Emeriti and the Faculty Women’s Club – which are particularly concerned about it.

Now that the project has become official, there will doubtless be widespread discussion about the feasibility, desirability, and the nature of the Conference Center. In the past few weeks an Executive Architect has been appointed and EVC Scott Waugh set up an Advisory Group with Acting-Chancellor Emeritus Norm Abrams as Chair and wide representation of Deans, faculty, Senate, Emeriti, FWC, and the Faculty Center. That group will begin its work in September. The Faculty Center Board will have much to discuss with them. The administration would like to begin construction work on the project early in 2012 and complete the new facility during the summer of 2014.

Finally, the Board will hold a General Meeting of the Faculty Center membership in early October on the subject of the “Residential Conference Center and Faculty Club” Complex. We will invite Vice-Chancellor Morabito to make a brief presentation before a general discussion of the project. That meeting will allow members to raise concerns with the Board and its planning committees.

This has been a challenging year but it has also been, for me, a fulfilling one. At the very least, I have learned how very important our institution and our building are to so many faculty and staff members. Though I will continue to serve on the Board as “Past President,” I will with some relief turn to presidency over to the capable hands Richard Weiss of Chemistry on August 31, 2010. Thank you for your loyalty and concern during the past year.

Best wishes,

Ron Mellor

Ronald Mellor
Distinguished Professor of History
President, UCLA Faculty Center Board of Governors

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