Peach Indravudh, Senior Staff (Contact)
Published: Monday, March 3, 2008
Ned Alpers has had the same office for 40 years: Bunche 5351.
The African studies professor first arrived at UCLA in 1968, when
Young Research Library was still a blueprint, when former coach John
Wooden led the basketball team into the NCAA Championship game with
an undefeated record and when Charles E. Young was in his first year
He began back when U.S. foreign policy was entangled in a war in
Vietnam, when the Civil Rights Movement was fervently animated and
when student activism was surging across campuses.
Some professors, such as Alpers, have been here for 40 years. Then
there's comparative literature and Hebrew professor Arnold Band, who
has been here for 50 years, and chemistry professor Robert Scott, who
has been here for 60.
And along the way, they said they have come to witness striking
changes on the campus – from within their academic departments to the
student composition to the impact of current events on the university.
"The university today is radically different than the one I knew when
I first came here," Band said.
But then again, as Alpers still resides in the same office, it seems
as though there are some things that have stayed the same.
A time for diversity
The 1960s were a period of important change. The Civil Rights
Movement was infectiously building momentum across the country.
Larger numbers of young people were seeking university degrees.
And soon the imprints of these movements were seen through the
changing diversification of the student and faculty compositions on campus.
"The student body today cannot be compared to what it was then," Band
said. "The campus is certainly more multicultural."
Alpers agreed, noting that there was also a diversification within
"The population of Asian students has grown, but it has also become
diversified. The same with Latino students, too," Alpers said.
Another trend Alpers said he sees is in the education level of
students entering the University of California, which he said has
been negatively affected by the current state of K-12 education in California.
However, he adds that students seem to be more perceptive and keen in
"Students today are probably 'sma rter,' but not as well-educated,"
Alpers said. "If you go back to the 1960s, California had one of the
best K-12 educational systems in the country, and now it has one of the worst."
Activism, then and now
In 1985, Alpers watched as Dickson Plaza flooded with tents, as
students protested the apartheid system in South Africa and urged the
UC to divest from companies that did business with the country.
Twenty years later, he watched as student organizers mobilized again,
rallying the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies with
holdings in Sudan.
"Their efforts really represent such an incredible student energy,"
Student activism has remained a prominent mark on the campus through
the years, though there are distinctions in the way that students
approach each issue.
To Alpers, students approach the crisis in Darfur differently than
they did the crisis in South Africa.
The anti-apartheid movement was a momentous global protest that
allowed students at UCLA to use previous models of demonstration,
such as divestment.
But for the situation in Darfur, there had not been a university
model students could follow.
"There were only two other universities and one city council that had
done this," Alpers said. "And soon this became a UC-wide project."
To him, the divestment efforts were unique in a way that it was not
ethnically, religiously or politically exclusive.
"It reminded me of the anti-apartheid movement, in a sense that it
was a non-sectarian movement," Alpers said.
For Band, student activism against the Vietnam War was particularly
memorable, a movement he said he believes is unrivaled by student
demonstrations against the present-day Iraq War.
Band said there was much student unrest on campus against the war
during the earlier period, since the military draft had brought the
situation to a more personal level.
"Men were subject to the draft then. There was a great deal of
resentment toward the war," Band said. "The students now are less
He recalls the demonstrations on campus, as well as the presence of
police, even in his classrooms.
Whenever he talked with his students, he said, he could feel the
impact of the war on them and on their activities.
"It was a totally different kind of feeling than what you had today,"
Changes in the academic landscape
Back in the 1950s, the economics department was housed in Campbell Hall.
Then there was the speech department, Band said, which was eventually
"(UCLA) wasn't a major university and didn't have the research
facilities it does today," Band said. "Some of these subjects, major
universities don't have anymore."
There have been many academic changes to the university, as these
professors have seen – some majors have faded out, some have been
started up and others have strengthened and grown.
In 1948, there were about 12 faculty members in the chemistry
department. Today there are more than 50 members, Scott said.
Funding has also grown in his line of work, with more research grants
being invested in the chemistry department.
Scott said when he first joined the UCLA faculty, the National
Science Foundation was just starting up and there were fewer avenues
of monetary support for scientific research.
Now, he estimates that the UCLA department receives approximately $10
million a year.
Band, like Scott, said he has seen tremendous growth in the size of
When he arrived, he was one of the first six members in the Near
Eastern Languages department – and he is the only one still at UCLA,
though he retired in 1994 and now only teaches part-time.
In 1969, a decade after arriving, Band also helped found the
comparative literature department at UCLA.
"The university has grown in areas which were felt to be important," he said.
When Alpers came to UCLA, the university had already established
itself as having one of the top African studies programs, and he said
he believes the department has only grown stronger over the years –
one of the reasons he has not left the university.
"I've never been tempted to go. Why? What's the point?" Alpers said,
laughing softly. "You know," he adds, "forty years goes by very fast."