Professor Accepts Outreach Position

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UC Berkeley professor Alex Saragoza has seen many changes in his 15 years at the university. He has seen the end of affirmative action. He has seen students take over Barrows Hall to protest suggested budget cuts to the ethnic studies department. He has seen the number of underrepresented minorities dwindle while students and staff employ fierce attempts to increase diversity.

Now the associate professor plans to leave his beloved teaching post and take on the new challenge of coordinating outreach programs for the 10 UC campuses.

Saragoza was named the next UC systemwide vice president for educational outreach at last week's Board of Regents meeting.

The professor, who has taught in the ethnic studies department since 1986, is expected to oversee the UC system's growing effort to prepare a greater number of underrepresented minorities for the rigors of a top-level university.

The Daily Californian: When will you be starting your new position, and will it be a full-time job?

Alex Saragoza: I'll start on July 1. My predecessor, Karl Pister, who is an ex-dean at the school of engineering here, will be stepping down on June 30. It will be a full-time job, although I do hope to be able to teach at least one course per year - probably a seminar-type situation. Realistically, I probably wouldn't start that until the spring semester of next year. I'll let the fall semester be a learning curve for me in terms of how much time realistically I would be able to give to a course.

DC: The ethnic studies department has faced a lot of challenges recently. How do you think they will deal with your leaving?

AS: I know that my leaving the department at this time comes not at the ideal time. We are going through a very important transition and I have been very much involved in that transition. I know that my absence will be difficult.

DC: What are some of your outreach goals?

AS: The goals of the position are essentially to sustain the diversity of the students who enter the University of California and, secondly, to improve upon the access for higher education for disadvantaged students. Those are the two basic goals. We have developed - the university as a whole and not just for Berkeley - a number of different programs that are intended to address those two objectives. The intent of this office is to coordinate those efforts, both emanating from the office of the president as well as those initiated by each individual campus.

DC: What do you see as the major challenges standing in your way?

AS: One of the major challenges of this job is the question of coordinating, of doing more things that are in concert with each other, and to enlist the campuses in an articulated campaign to meet these two objectives. What has happened is that each campus has developed its own programs relative to these objectives. With this new infusion of resources for this effort into the office of the president, there is no way we can accomplish these goals without working more closely with the individual campuses.

This leads to a second major issue, and that is, each campus has its own problems of coordination. These programs have developed over time and as a consequence, even on individual campuses, there is a lack of optimal coordination. There is a lack of optimal effectiveness and efficiency in these different types of programs. In that sense there are two levels I will be dealing with in this new position, not only on the systemwide level but also working with the individual campuses to enhance our efforts. There has been some redundancy, there's been overlap, miscommunication - all kinds of things of that nature.

DC: What specifically do you need to do to overcome these obstacles?

AS: There are a number of steps I need to do. Keep in mind I haven't been on the job and I have to be somewhat general because I don't know enough about the specific workings of each individual component that I'll be dealing with.

One of the first things I need to do is to improve the communication between the office of the president and the campuses. That means I need to go to each individual campus, see where they are at in their efforts to bring greater organizational capacity and efficiency. UC Riverside is not UC Berkeley. In this respect the office of the president has to be able to be flexible enough to recognize those differences and tailor our efforts and our programs in such a way so that it accommodates the distinctive situation of UC Riverside versus an Irvine versus a Santa Barbara versus a UC Berkeley.

Secondly, what I need to do is work very closely with individuals on the campuses to make sure that we are on top of their problems in ways that my office would be able to alleviate those problems if possible. Each campus is distinct and has a different kind of audience, different problems of outreach.

In general terms, I think we are trying to move very quickly and sometimes in the rush to do something we are not always as efficient or as careful as we need to be. I think what I'll be trying to do is to make sure we use our resources as effectively as possible and not just throw money at the problem and hope for the best.

DC: Will your efforts be aimed at the university level or at K-12?

AS: One of the major components of my job will be working with K-12 education. In this respect, this is another area I hope to improve upon by creating better linkages, better mechanisms that link the K-12 educational process, the schools, the campuses and the office of the president so that we have a very well-coordinated triangle.

DC: How did you feel when you learned you had been selected?

AS: I was surprised to some extent by the fact that there are a number of people in the system whose main body of work and research has been on issues related to educational outreach, whether it is people looking at it primarily from the education side, or people who are looking at it primarily from the issue of class and race, people who are looking at it in terms of immigration.

DC: What skills or experience do you think you have to offer the position?

AS: My sense is that in my case, among the assets that I brought to my application is the fact that I've worked for a long time with K-12 schools. I've worked both at the ground level - everything from tutoring in schools to providing workshops to teachers - about the teaching of various subjects. I've also been involved in understanding the larger problems of K-12. For three years I served as the UC representative to the history, social science project intended to help teachers in K-12 in the teaching of history and social science. I got to talk to a lot of teachers. I got to know the different types of learning environments that exist in the state of California - everything from your tough inner city high school in south L.A. to rural schools with very tiny populations.

I think I also brought an awareness and sensitivity to the importance of the faculty to this effort. I was chair for the committee on educational policy, and that allowed me an opportunity to examine and understand in a systemwide way the question of education, in terms of UC and particularly the concerns of faculty. Most recently I was on the admissions committee here on the campus, and that gave me the opportunity to understand the admissions process, how our admissions process is different from UCLA and UCLA is different from UC San Diego.

Finally, I think I've had a lot of administrative experience, particularly educational administration, as opposed to administrating nonacademic units. I think that was important because for this job to work well, it has to bring in the faculty in a substantive, coordinated, deliberate way. In the past, too often the involvement of the faculty has been episodic, uneven and ad hoc. For all those reasons, I became a viable candidate. There were obviously other excellent candidates.

DC: Why did you decide to apply for the post?

AS: I hesitated in applying. The original deadline passed and the committee decided to extend the search because they were not completely happy with the pool of candidates that applied in the first phase of the search. I hesitated for two reasons. One was family reasons. I knew the job would take a lot of time away from my family and I was reluctant to accept that liability that comes with the job. The second reason is I thoroughly enjoy being here at Berkeley and being in this department. However, I got a letter, I got phone calls - "please apply, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by applying."

DC: Was it hard to commit yourself to the job?

AS: I did hesitate. I had to speak to my family. Not only my immediate family. I have a mom who is very ill, she has Parkinson's disease. I try to help out as much as I can on the weekends. My sister is now living with my mom and shouldering an extraordinary burden there. I had to think very carefully.

DC: What made you finally decide to accept the offer?

AS: I think my daughter is the one that convinced me. I do believe that most parents, most fathers, want the best for their 10-year-old daughters. I have the great privilege of providing my daughter with opportunities, a lot of enrichment, whether it's math camps or coming to the Lawrence Hall of Science. There are a lot of poor parents, a lot of working parents who can't do that for their kids, and I can contribute to what I know is true of most parents. They want the best for their kids.


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