Sunday, May 25, 2014

Murder in #IslaVista Mars #UCSB's Image

Longtime readers will recall that I took my Ph.D. from UCSB, and I lived in Santa Barbara for seven years. It's paradise. I worked at a downtown Chevron station when my wife and I first moved down there in 1992. European tourists stopping for gas would repeatedly say how lucky we were to have this beautiful view of the oceans and mountains, and the Mediterranean weather, every waking day. And of course, I couldn't disagree. I was so happy to be accepted for grad school in Santa Barbara. We were enchanted.

It was a more innocent time all around. My wife and I were engaged in 1992. We were married in 1994 and our first son was born in 1996. We were starting out as a couple. It was some of the best years of my life. I wish we could have stayed there, but of course I had to find a teaching position. Luckily my job search brought me back to Orange County, where I grew up. When I take my sons down to Laguna Beach I get the feeling of downtown Santa Barbara all over again. That's probably the closest comparison, but still not close enough. In 1992, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors had a slow-growth majority. Big box retail outlets like Home Depot, and even Barnes and Noble, didn't come to the Isla Vista area until almost 2000, when I'd finished my program. With the Santa Ynez Mountains and the valleys beyond, you have idyllic pasture lands and recreation areas that remind you of rural 19th century California. It's something special up there.

In any case, the problems with UCSB's reputation aren't new. I'm sometimes ribbed about receiving my doctorate from a "party school," despite Santa Barbara being ranked among the top ten universities in the sciences, as well as a consistently top-50 ranked national university. The political science program was outstanding, far beyond my expectations, and continues to be ranked among the top in the nation, especially in terms of research output per faculty. But Isla Vista is a whole 'nother world. The Halloween parties are of national notoriety. Riots break out with periodic frequency (like just a month ago). And in 2001 another Hollywood leftist David Attias mowed down and killed four students.

The story of UCSB's marred reputation is a recurring one, picked up today at the Los Angeles Times, "Isla Vista's troubles belie UC Santa Barbara's academic strength":

UCSB photo Ucsbuniversitycenterandstorketower_zps287d306c.jpg

UC Santa Barbara had a notable double achievement in 2013. The beachside campus placed second in the world for impact in the sciences as scored by the Center for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Home to five Nobel laureates, it ranked below only MIT and topped such powerhouses as Stanford University, Harvard University and UC Berkeley.

The university also came out high on another list: the Princeton Review rankings of best party schools in the nation. UCSB again came in second, bested only by the University of Iowa.

That image was dramatically reinforced in April when the infamous Deltopia street party turned violent in Isla Vista, the densely populated student residential district adjacent to the campus. More than 100 were arrested, most of them young people from other places.

On Saturday, UCSB students and officials were in mourning and shock after a rampage in Isla Vista that left seven people dead, including the attacker, who was said to be a Santa Barbara City College student.

They also expressed concern that the university's strengthening academic reputation would be tarred by the tragedy — and by Isla Vista's past incidents of chaos and violence, including four deaths in 2001 when a student plowed his car into a crowd.

Nikka Kurland, a third-year economics major who is a student senator and lives in a sorority house close to the scene of the killings, said she and many other students were traumatized and wanted "to find solutions making Isla Vista a safer place."

When choosing a college to attend, Kurland said, UC Santa Barbara's party reputation made her hesitate a bit. But she was swayed by the school's strong economics program and the chance to get involved in many extracurricular activities.

"Yes, we play here, but we work much harder," Kurland said...
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