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October 4, 2013

UCSC shuffle sparks outcry

After announcing the departures of two top-level administrators and a shift in direction, the University Community Service Center (UCSC) is now facing significant backlash, with over 200 current students and alumni organizing in opposition to a decision they claim lacked tact and transparency.

The dismissal of Trudi Langendorf, former assistant director, and the resignation of James Britt, former associate director, come as the latest round of staff departures in a year marked by high employee turnover in the department. Since December, the Center has lost four of its six full-time staff members and several student employees.

According to UCSC Director Amy Chan, the structural shift intends to pave a new “social innovation and philanthropy” path for the Center, leading to the creation of new full-time staff positions for candidates with business, philanthropy, and nonprofit backgrounds.

Characterizing the changes as an expansion of UCSC, Chan cited five new initiatives created for students last year, including Chicago Bound, a pre–Orientation Week service for incoming first-year students.

“We have solicited extensive feedback from students, faculty members, and community partners,” Chan said in an e-mailed statement explaining the changes. She added that four open houses are scheduled during the autumn quarter for students to provide further feedback.

Many of those currently or previously involved with UCSC, including fourth-year and former employee Abby Pershing, feel that the decision to restructure was made behind closed doors.

“The UCSC mission is changing. It used to be grassroots: going out, person-to-person interaction. Now it is gearing much more towards a management organization,” she said.

Pershing, who participated in UCSC’s nonprofit internship program Summer Links in 2011, resigned from her job at the Center’s Volunteer Referral program last weekend in protest of the Center’s new direction. At least one other student has also resigned in protest since the e-mail announcement last Thursday.

“I didn’t know anything about what was presented in that e-mail,” said Britt, whose last day at the UCSC was September 20, in reference Chan's original e-mail to staff about restructuring. Britt, who described his resignation as UCSC associate director as “a mutual decision,” said that he was struck by the lack of discussion about the proposal with students and staff.

“I think it’s ironic that this is all taking place in this department, the department that had been known for social justice,” he said.

Organizing under the banner of “Fix the UCSC,” concerned students are calling on alumni, parents, and community partners to voice their concern over the lack of clarity and inclusion surrounding the proposed changes.

“Even though I had been an active member, this was the first I had heard that the UCSC was taking this direction, and these kind of pillars were new to me,” said former Summer Links coordinator Teddy Kent (A.B. ’13). “I wish that there had been some sort of dialogue.”

In response to the backlash, Chan and Assistant Vice President for Student Life Elly Daugherty (A.B. ’97) have been holding individual meetings with anyone who requests one.

The departure of Langendorf—an eight-year employee who received the College’s Marlene F. Richman award this June for her “high levels of dedication, care, and compassion in the service of students”—was the emotional tipping point for many.

“On campus right now, I would say that there are probably one to two hundred students that she is a direct mentor to. Off campus, alumni, that number is enormous. There are so many students who have appreciated her mentorship,” Pershing said.

Langendorf did not respond to questions regarding her departure. Under the terms of her severance package, she is not allowed to publicly discuss her exit, according to Pershing.

The University also cannot comment on personnel issues concerning individual staff members, according to University spokesperson Dianna Douglas.

The main sticking point for those taken aback by the announcement is the diminishing student involvement in the direction of the UCSC, an institution founded by students in 1992.  The Center did not take on full-time professional staff until Michelle Obama became UCSC Director in 1996. It now is comprised of both student and full-time staffers.

In his 17 years working as an administrator at different campuses, Britt said that he had never encountered such little engagement with students as he did during his six months at the UCSC.

“They [the UCSC] need to be accountable, and they should be accountable. And so far they have not been at all.”

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