After an appointment process last January where students, staff and faculty weighed in on Cowell College’s next provost, Alan Christy, who has taught East Asian history at UC Santa Cruz for 21 years, was selected to succeed Faye Crosby in July. The Cowell provost oversees the college’s programs, college-specific courses, academic funding and communication between students and the Cowell administration. The provosts serve three-year terms and typically stay in office for six to nine years. City on a Hill Press asked Christy about his plans for Cowell and his take on issues facing our campus and the UC system.
This is your first time in a prominent administrative position at UCSC. Are you nervous?
“I don’t feel nervous because the Cowell staff seems very experienced and knowledgeable. I’ve heard good things about many of them, so [I’m] walking into a job where all of the people who are part of the team are functioning really well … I don’t feel I am going in alone. There are people in all kinds of places who will be able to give me good advice when I need it and whose skills I can count on. The only thing that feels nerve-wracking is managing the flow of information.”
Faye Crosby often attended Cowell Student Senate meetings to get student input. Is this a tradition you will continue?
“I really want to be able to be able to keep a good ear on all of the goings on in the Cowell community, and that means, of course, the Cowell Senate. I think it is really important to be listening to everybody on those things. The basic thing you can do is show up to these things — be present.”
What’s something different you will bring as the next Cowell provost?
“What I have been thinking and talking with folks about is trying to find ways to really encourage people to come to me for support for doing collaborative work. So maybe forming an interdisciplinary team, somebody from film and digital media and another one from politics and another one from environmental studies, or something like that … One of the things I want to talk a lot about is the value of collaborative endeavor, interdisciplinary endeavor — working in teams but also working in ways that allow students to expand their encounters with other approaches.”
What’s your commitment to keeping programs like the Cowell Press and the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery funded?
“Those are both venerable institutions. The Cowell Press has a strong endowment support recently under Faye’s watch. Generations of students who’ve come from Cowell have had a real attachment to the Press. … So [it] should retain my very strong support the whole time. The gallery is a really amazing tool and opportunity to create that kind of excitement about things happening at Cowell … They need to be kept well-funded, they are the kind of things that alumni and potential donors are interested in.”
UCSC dining is taking over the Cowell Coffee Shop to handle the cost of running the shop. What are your thoughts on that?
“I’m concerned about what looks to be not the greatest prior consultation with the communities before these decisions were made and announced, and that’s why I’m heartened about the forums being announced. My understanding after speaking with Faye and [Stevenson’s provost] Alice Yang is that the provost doesn’t have a lot of control over those spaces there. They are more under the administrative office called Colleges, Housing and Educational Services.”
UCSC is taking in 300 more students in fall as part of the UC’s plan to add 5,000 more in-state students this year to receive extra state funding. Why is this a good or bad thing for UCSC?
“The thing I worry about is very material stuff. I worry about the water burden in the town, I worry about the rent situation in town and adding many more students, without adding any good affordable housing in town, is only going to put even greater pressure on the cost of living here. That’s going to lead to a couple of different things for your average student. It’s going to mean maybe more loans which means more debt, it might mean trying to hold down two, maybe three jobs in the quarter which is going to mean lost time to what everyone’s in college for which is to learn … Students have a whole lot of burdens on their lives and growing the number of students here in advance of growing an infrastructure to make sure they can come without the extra burden on them, worries me a lot.”
Are there any benefits you see from the enrollment plan?
“One of the benefits is thinking about the State of California and the people we are meant to serve. We can give a very high quality education here … The university has opportunities beyond some of those as well, particularly because of our research mandate — giving students the opportunities to engage in research. So if more people from the State of California have access to their university, that strikes me as a good thing. If we are going to increase the student body this gives us a real nice way to address diversity issues we have, and a really diverse student body that reflects the population of the State of California is only to our benefit.”
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.