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Occidental Adopts Guidelines for Future : Education: The small liberal arts college's sweeping plan is designed to attract women and minority students to the school and strengthen its ties to Eagle Rock.

October 18, 1990|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Board of Trustees of Occidental College has adopted a sweeping set of proposals aimed at making the campus more culturally diverse and strengthening its ties to the Eagle Rock community and urban Los Angeles.

The comprehensive plan, intended to guide the private, liberal arts college into the next century, includes measures such as conducting a multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign, raising teachers' salaries, solving a burgeoning financial aid problem, and diversifying science programs by attracting more women and minority students.

The plan emerged from a two-year planning process known as "Occidental Tomorrow." More than 200 administrators, teachers, students and alumni made scores of recommendations and presented them to trustees last week in a 61-page report.

Now, school officials say, comes the hard part: implementing and paying for the measures.

"The biggest challenges are finances," said Occidental President John Slaughter, who initiated the long-term, strategic planning process shortly after he took office in 1988. "We're worried about doing all of this at a time when the economy is shaky . . . when the University of California is in an expansionist mode . . . when the demographics are such that fewer and fewer students are coming out of high school and looking for a college education.

"It's not optimum in terms of time," Slaughter said. "But we've got a lot of ingredients to overcome a lot of the roadblocks that are out there."

The trustees decided to finance the initiatives by setting aside 1.5% of the school's education and general expenditures budget--about $500,000--each year, starting in 1991. The trustees also agreed to begin within five years a multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign. A 13-year campaign that raised $100 million ended just two years ago, but the school's $150-million endowment needs an additional $100 million to be competitive, Slaughter said.

In addition, the trustees approved forming a Planning and Priorities Council to determine which of the plan's recommendations should be implemented first. Administrators, teachers and students now are being appointed by Slaughter and others to serve as council members, said Jeff Coons, student body president.

The plan has two general themes: encouraging cultural diversity and strengthening the school's ties to the community.

It recommends increasing the number of minority students and teachers, changing the curriculum to better address the interests of a varied student body and getting ethnic groups to work together in multicultural programs.

Although 40% of this year's freshmen are minority students, Occidental must continue recruiting more minority students and teachers, particularly in the sciences, the report says. Minorities made up 23% of the school's about 1,600 students last year, and about 20% of the teaching staff.

The plan also recommends sending students as volunteers to local schools and parks, and establishing the campus as a center for the arts in an effort to develop stronger community and metropolitan ties.

"No other liberal arts college with which Occidental compares itself is so severed from its surroundings," says the report, which proposes that school officials consider actions such as building near the campus a "college village," or small shopping center to be used by students and the community. The report also recommends that the school appoint an administrator to oversee community relations.

"We believe that strengthening ties to Los Angeles really begins with strengthening ties to Eagle Rock as a part of Los Angeles," Slaughter said. "I mean, we're a small school. We're not going to be able to have a significant impact throughout the city, nor should we ever assume that we could. But we can have an impact in a few miles' radius around this campus."

Specifically, the plan's proposals include:

* Reducing the proportion of the college's about $38-million annual budget that is spent on financial aid.

* Hiring at least 15 instructors in the next six years, raising faculty salaries, and removing caps on the number of instructors who can be granted tenure.

* Strengthening the school's science programs. This could include constructing a new building for geology and physics, offering summer institutes for students and attracting more minorities and women into such fields, the report says.

* Creating new offerings, such as a Public and International Affairs Program, and imposing tougher general requirements, such as higher levels of competence in foreign languages.

More than 65% of Occidental's students now receive financial aid, accounting for about 25% of the school's budget. That has significantly reduced funds available for faculty salaries and academic programs, school officials said. They want to reduce the amount spent on financial aid to 20% of the budget by 1992.

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