When the original grand plan to build the hotel/conference center had to be halted in spring 2011, the administration apparently concluded that the problem was not the scale of the project but the process by which it was unveiled. That is, it was concluded that the plan had leaked out too soon, sparking opposition. In this view, if only the plan could be withheld from public scrutiny the next time around, all would be well. Sadly, the Senate largely went along rather than insisting that the secret process was not going to be acceptable. As a result, there was officially no plan until Feb. 9. The Committee on Planning and Budget did not get the plan until March 5 or 6 when the Regents did, but unfortunately this delayed sequence occurred with Senate concurrence. Why was it allowed?
In reality, the administration desperately needed Senate blessings and the Senate could have done the administration a favor by insisting, shortly after the press release came out last fall announcing the revised plan in “concept,” that it wanted a business plan pronto. The fact that there is little difference between the fall press-release plan and the final February 9 plan that went to the Regents in March indicates that the administration was committed to a slightly-scaled-down version of the original hotel but at a less offensive location. It was committed to the idea that if it dropped replacing the Faculty Center and kept control of the process, the Regents would rubber stamp the revision. The now-revealed business plan is nothing that could not have been produced a short time after the fall press release.
Had the Senate insisted on a plan pronto and on obtaining the external critiques (with whatever biases were entailed), it would have ended up asking the same questions of the administration that the Regents asked. And had those questions been asked well before the Regents meeting, at least there might have been better answers from UCLA at the Regents rather than the embarrassment and loss of credibility that occurred. There is no guarantee, of course, that the questioning might have led the administration to a fundamental rethink. The administration might have stuck with its diagnosis that the problem was just one of controlling the process to keep information from getting out.
It’s still not too late for the administration to rethink and certainly it’s not too late for the Senate. Maybe, just maybe, the true goal of facilitating academic conferences needs to be the focus rather than process. If you start with the true goal, as previous posts on this blog have noted, you don’t necessarily end with a grand monument. Ultimately, the Regents will approve the project as currently proposed if UCLA’s chancellor insists on it. Undoubtedly, “answers” to the Regents’ questions can be produced by the next Regents meeting. But pushing the project through that way leaves a troubling impression that will linger about how UCLA and its leadership set priorities for scarce resources.
Too many people have painted themselves into a corner on this project. But when you paint yourself into a corner, the only thing holding you back from walking out is – after all - just paint.
The CPB report is below:
Can we hope something better can be produced in light of the morning after?