Skip Navigation
Associate Vice Chancellor Gilliam on Community Partnerships

Associate Vice Chancellor Gilliam on Community Partnerships

UCLA in LA Is Discussed in Meeting with 15-member Multinational Delegation

By Samantha O. Popoy

Dr. Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Associate Vice Chancellor, Community Partnerships, met with a fifteen-member delegation representing NGOs in Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, West Bank, and Yemen, which visited UCLA on August 13.

Gilliam's discussed the recent history of UCLA's role in the Los Angeles community, the establishment of the Center for Community Partnerships as a centerpiece of the UCLA–LA relationship, and the important accomplishments of UCLA in building a vibrant partnership with the Los Angeles community.

The Center for Community Partnerships

In 1997, UCLA's then-new Chancellor, Albert Carnesale, began to think about the direction that he wanted to take UCLA. Wishing to stay at the frontiers of knowledge and make UCLA an even more international university, he focused on three interdisciplinary endeavors: the California NanoSystems Institute; the Genetics and Society initiative; and UCLA in LA, an umbrella program designed to strengthen and expand the University's extensive engagement with the broader community.

UCLA in LA was created to reaffirm and strengthen UCLA's commitment and responsibility to the community. In the words of the initiative:

"As one of the nation's great public land-grant institutions, UCLA has a special responsibility to use its teaching, research and service resources to make life better for those living in the Los Angeles region and beyond. Through the decades, the University and the city have forged a close and creative partnership -- one that has become even stronger over time. Every day somewhere in the city, faculty, staff, and students work together with the community-at-large to help solve pressing problems and issues. The UCLA in LA initiative renews the University's commitment to be an active, engaged and valued partner in greater Los Angeles."

Before the initiative was launched, UCLA, according to Associate Vice Chancellor Gilliam, had been unfairly criticized as being an ivory tower engaged in “drive-by research.” Critics claimed that UCLA did research indiscriminately, with no concern for indigenous populations and no thought to returning value to the communities in which it worked. In this environment of university-community estrangement and misunderstanding, the chancellor recognized the need to encourage interaction with the community that was systemic, visible, and meaningful. He began by holding focus groups with people in the community and faculty members on how to strengthen UCLA's relationship with the greater community.

The chancellor also decided to create a high-level executive position at UCLA to lead the university into a closer, more productive and positive relationship with the community. While it was still unclear what direction the initiative would take, the chancellor began to look for prospective candidates to fill the position. According to Gilliam, there was heavy pressure to have a candidate from the community, but Carnesale knew the faculty would strongly favor an academic for the job. In the end, the chancellor drew up a list of faculty members to compete for the position. Critical of the project from the beginning and the direction it was taking, Gilliam was surprised to find out that he was among those nominated. He figured that he was nominated only because he had the word “community” attached to one of his titles.  As the search progressed, much to his surprise he was chosen as one of three finalists. He reiterated his position to the chancellor that, "If we do business as usual, we will fail."

Much to Gilliam's surprise, the chancellor told him that since he had been so critical, he more than any other candidate was in a position to figure out what should be done to design a program to meet UCLA's commitment to the community. Thus it was that Gilliam found himself appointed Associate Vice Chancellor, Community Partnerships, with a budget but otherwise with a clean slate: there were no guidelines, no model to tweak or revise, just a mandate to promote ties between UCLA and the Los Angeles community.

Moving Beyond Conventional Models

Gilliam told the group of international visitors that as he and the chancellor and others began to think through the initiative, they kept in mind one central question: "How does a large university engage with a large metropolitan community?"

The standard model of such initiatives, Gilliam explained, is the outreach model. This model he rejected, he said, because he felt that it is unidirectional and patronizing. In his view, it invokes charity and the university is not in the business of charity. Furthermore, the model has a weak academic core and is fundamentally incompatible with a university that is driven by research.

The second model -- used by mostly wealthy, private, urban schools in decaying neighborhoods -- is the public relations model. Basically, this entails a university's buying up property in the surrounding area and redeveloping it. Gilliam described this as "enlightened self-interest." Schools like Columbia (in Harlem), and to some degree USC (in South Los Angeles), often follow this model. Regardless of the merits of the model, it is not an option for UCLA, Gilliam explained, considering our location.

The final model, Gilliam explained, is the engagement model. This model, which is followed by the Center for Community Partnerships, is bidirectional: it marries UCLA's core interests with those of the community, creating benefits for both. Gilliam explained: "I need to be able to do research, teach undergraduates, train graduates, and you need social reforms. But we both gain and we identify those places jointly and organically." Collectively, members of the UCLA community and the larger Los Angeles community decide together what they want to accomplish.

Gilliam then went on to discuss the various programs offered by the center and it specific projects. A question-and-answer session followed. A delegate asked, "How do you utilize undergraduates?" Gilliam replied that most of the programs involved mostly graduate students, which was a weakness. This issue has been addressed in two ways, he explained. First, the Center for Community Based Learning, which offers academic courses and community placement for undergraduates, was established. Second, and more recently, UCLA has received a grant from Verizon to fund internships. Gilliam also announced that a minor in Civic Engagement will be offered beginning in 2005.

Another delegate asked, "How much can you expect to change? And how to you evaluate that change?" Evaluation has been something of a struggle, explained Gilliam. UCLA has employed three ways of evaluation: self-evaluation; in house, in which a professional researcher in higher education evaluates all of the projects; and finally, an external evaluation, in which an extramural organization uses their own evaluation process. With regard to the first question -- how much change can one expect -- Gilliam answered, "I want to change the world, but I always feel unsuccessful. It's hard to demonstrate change, but we will see." He described the various levels at which change can been seen and explained that "it's all relative, depending on what the change is."

The final, important question was raised: "What's your basis for choosing projects?" Gilliam answered: validity, articulation between relationships, scope, and impact.

Portraits of Islam & the Middle East: The Role of the American Media

After meeting with Associate Vice Chancellor Gilliam, the group met Jonathan Friedlander of the Near Eastern Studies Center. Friedlander briefly introduced the Center and spoke of how the American media portrays the Middle East and Islam. In the media, the portrayal of Islam has recently become more nuanced. A move in this direction -- toward a greater understanding of the Middle East and of Islam -- Friedlander explained, is something that the Near Eastern Studies Center has assiduously worked to foster.

Also in the meeting were representatives of Relief International, a nonprofit active in Central Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa and South Asia that provides schooling on line and helps to get children from one country to talk to children from other countries so that they may learn to appreciate and accept diversity.

*    *    *

The delegation's program was sponsored by the U.S. State Department and coordinated by the Academy for Educational Development. It was administered locally by the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles and the itinerary at UCLA was arranged by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau.

The members of the delegation:


Mr. Tarek LABED
General Manager
Private Business


Mr. Ataur RAHMAN
Country Director
Hunger Free World


Ms. Jaimala IYER
Chief Executive Officer
New Delhi


Mr. Sa'eb Sa'ed HASAN
Projects & Programs Manager
Kafd (King Abdullah Ii Fund For Development)


General Coordinator
Lebanese Ngo Dar Al Amal


Ms. Myriam Nadim SHWAYRI
Director of Communications
Public Relations and Fundraising
The Al-kafaat Foundation


English Teacher
Al Akkad High School
Sidi Moumen


Program Director
Hoste Hainse


Mr. Hameed Ullah KHAN
Adolescent & Youth Counselor


L. Sudath Jayalal SILVA
Archdiocesan Chaplain


Mr. Clifford Decklan SPECK
Field Assistant


Mr. Nizar Ben ROMDHANE
Internet Advising Technician
Wanadoo's (French Internet Service Provider)


Ms. Hebah Osama ALTAIBI
Project Coordinator and Interpreter
The Palestinian Youth Union


Ms. Qobol Mohammed ALMUTAWAKEL
Girls World Communication Center

UCLA International Institute