Constructive Criticism: UCSD Prioritizes Campus Expansion Over Student Life

Connor Gorry / The Triton

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla claims that if you were to go to sleep today and wake up five years from now, you wouldn’t recognize the UCSD campus. As a globally recognized university and powerhouse research institution, UCSD has embarked on these ambitions, as the school plans to expand throughout the community with a historic $1.6 billion physical expansion. This expansion would include the construction of the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood by Muir College, an infrastructure for accommodating the new trolley that will run through campus, as well as another significant academic building. As the school reaches its 60-year mark, however, it’s important to assess how the university has dealt with the proverbial growing pains associated with an experiment of this size. These growing pains may be shaken off, but for an institution that nearly 35,000 undergraduates call home, they have serious implications. These consequences include limitations on parking, housing, and the quality of student life.

To anyone walking through campus, the construction has become a sight to see. The university recently closed the Muir parking lot—a space designated for student parking within close proximity of the Muir College dorms—to go along with plans to build the mentioned Living and Learning communities off North Torrey Pines Road. This community will make it so more students can be admitted and housed, but further exacerbates the severe parking problem for current and future students. The effects of constructing the Living and Learning communities have already begun limiting student parking options. They have also raised the question of how the university plans to manage more students parking in fewer spots.

It seems that the university’s answer to parking concerns, at least in the short term, consists of makeshift solutions, including 30- dollar daily valet parking for students, which provides the possibility of stacking cars in front of one another, and a student pass markup from $732 to $780 dollars, making it more financially challenging for some students to park their car on campus. For Warren College senior Jacob Mitchell, who owns a car and lives in neighboring University City, this financial conundrum is the truth. He explains his frustration with having to take the bus to class, mentioning that “the bus stop isn’t really close to my house, so I have to take a half-hour walk every morning to get close to it.” He adds that “getting to class early has me getting up earlier and earlier while still barely making it to class.”  

In a city where housing is impacted and commuters can’t always manage to land housing near bus stops, getting to class on time becomes challenging. At the same time, officials on campus also raised visitor parking rates from two dollars an hour to a three-dollar rate—making a three-hour class on campus cost students, potentially, an additional three dollars each time, just in case student’s can’t find one of the disappearing S spots in time for their class. And these spots are literally disappearing. The top floor of Hopkins Parking Structure, which had a majority of S spots last year, now consists entirely of B and V spots. This change reinforces the point that the university seems intent on managing its parking problem by disincentivizing student parking on campus. In a housing climate where distance to campus and traffic vary, these parking policies are effectively preventing many students from doing what they’re here to do—go to class.  

To make matters worse, the university continues to struggle with housing its undergraduates comfortably while admitting at record rates. The new communities being built as a part of this expansion will mitigate this problem, but for current students and for at least the next few years, this problem will persist. Considering that the university probably won’t admit fewer students after building new complexes, the problem will also likely persist for future classes. Students now receive a short two-year housing guarantee—one that was four years strong before the 2014–15 school year. This partial guarantee also fails to ensure housing in your home college—undermining the traditional wisdom of the college system, which was created with the intention of fostering small communities on a huge campus. To that point, Warren College has turned a graduate building, the Bates Apartments, into undergraduate apartments for overflow students. Even if some students are lucky enough to score a spot in the campus dorms or apartments, they’ll almost surely be reminded of the university’s billion-dollar expansion every day in the form of jackhammers and reversing 18 wheelers—just before their 8:00 a.m. lecture.

The administration expects students to understand that the university is expanding, appreciate its efforts, and in turn reap the benefits from increased future prestige associated with a UCSD degree. This year’s convocation, led by Chancellor Khosla, drove home this theme with flashy images of a university-to-be for students who will be on their way out well before the plans are completed. This bargain becomes challenging to accept for many current students , however, whose experience today will reflect their future contributions to the university as alumni.

As a fourth-year student reflecting on my time at UCSD, I’ve come to believe that every year, UCSD has been more mindful of the future classes of 2030, 2040, and 2050 than the students here now.

Arsham Askari is a Staff Writer for The Triton.

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.

  • xicano sandiego

    Excellent analysis of the costs and benefits of UCSD’s out of control expansion. It should be noted that the UC system long ago had identified San Diego as one of the few UC campuses with sufficient land to grow its footprint. But the results, as the article makes clear, are mixed because the quality of student life almost certainly will undergo a significant decline due to overcrowding, densely urbanized spaces (such as the new Sixth College jammed into two former parking lots), long wait times for basic services, ridiculously large lecture classes, etc. If the student population is to reach 50,000 in 2040 or so, as Khosla has recently stated, those future students will have an even worse college experience than did those currently on campus. In what was supposed to be an environment maximized for learning–the public university–bigger is never better.