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Chancellor Fox reflects on her first year in charge at UCSD

It was a year of many successes for UCSD, but Chancellor Marye Anne Fox knows her work has only begun.

Fox hosted a rountable discussion recently to mark the end of her first year as head of the university. It was a year that saw UCSD remain near the top in rankings of public schools while raising more than $150 million in outside funding. It also saw the school continue to struggle with problems that have plagued it for years, such as the underrepresentation of minority groups in the student body and the inability of the school to start development projects that will allow it to house half its student population on campus.

Fox is pleased with the state of the university after her first year on the job, which ended Aug. 15. The year ended with UCSD being ranked seventh among public schools by U.S. News and World Report and being dubbed “the hottest place for science” by Newsweek.

Fox took those accolades in stride, saying, “That’s where we should be.”

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Her goals for the future include better informing San Diego high schoolers about how to prepare for college. Fox said the university did a study at local high schools and found that many students did not know what classes they should take to be ready to apply to college until they were juniors or seniors, when it was often too late. She said the university is working with San Diego State University and the University of San Diego to get more students informed.

“SDSU and USD go to some high schools to talk to students about how to prepare, and then we go to the same schools, because they are convenient,” Fox said. “So we’re talking with those schools about working together to get a larger fraction of local students coming in prepared to compete.”

Fox said the goal of informing more high schoolers on what it takes to get into college goes hand in hand with another of the university’s main goals for the future: making the campus more diverse. Fox said the numbers of underrepresented minorities coming in for next school year are projecting to be about the same as last year. The student body is 38 percent Asian and 38 percent Caucasian, with underrepresented groups including Latinos and African-Americans accounting for the rest.

“We are not happy with where we are,” Fox said.

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Fox and Associate Chancellor Jorge Huerta, who is in charge of diversity issues at the school, said local outreach could help make the campus more diverse. Huerta said the school needed to raise its profile with minorities to keep up with other University of California campuses at Los Angeles and Berkeley.

“L.A. and Berkeley are our biggest competition for minorities,” Huerta said. “We have to change the perception of UCSD among minorities. They tell us they don’t know what’s going on here.”

In addition to diversifying its student population, Fox said a major goal of the school is getting half of its 19,000 students housed on campus. The school currently houses 33 percent of its students on campus. Construction will begin in October on a new housing facility for graduate students, but Fox said at least two more major projects would be needed to reach the 50 percent goal.

Fox hopes to build a housing facility for transfer students and expand housing at UCSD’s Sixth College, but said a debt capacity limit imposed by the University of California Office of the President has prevented those projects from starting.

“Whenever we’ve come before the university (president) with a third party or a developer,” Fox said, “we have not met with immediate success.”

Fox said increased on-campus housing is critical to improving diversity at the school and protecting students from a tight housing market that is forcing students further away from the campus.

“Students are driving in from further and further out,” she said. “They’re also complaining about condo conversions, and rents going up. It bothers us a lot.”

Public transportation in San Diego does little to ease the situation, Fox said. “The public transportation is miserable.”

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Fox said the school would speak with the city about extending its agreement that allows students to ride buses for free to include the trolley. That would allow students from all over the county to ride the trolley to transit centers where they could catch buses to campus.

“We do it for the buses,” she said, “so there is no reason it wouldn’t work for the trolley.”