The father of a former UCSB student has launched a Web site criticizing the campus, calling it a “cesspool of drugs, alcohol, noise and violence.”
James Baron, whose daughter attended UCSB for two and a half years, said he withdrew her from the university because of her negative experiences with alcohol, drugs and sexual and domestic violence. The Web site — thedarksideofucsb.com — displays various photographs that do not include people or events in the UCSB community, but features drug use and victims of violence, along with an inebriated cat. Baron said the Web site is run and financed by university alumni and parents of students. The page includes a section in which individuals may submit complaints and information to be posted on the Web site.
Baron said the objective of the Web site is not only to inform the public, but also to provide help and support for students with problems.
“The purpose of the Web site is twofold,” Baron said. “First, give people resources within and outside of the university they can go to for help. Second, we would like to change the prevailing ethos there… to say ‘sexual assault isn’t okay, drug abuse isn’t okay.'”
Associate Dean of Students Debbie Fleming said Baron’s offer to assist troubled students concerns many on-campus groups whose job it is to provide support services for their students.
“Those of us who work in Student Affairs are pretty concerned that an outside individual not connected to the students, and with a bone to pick with the university, has created a Web site offering a place for students to go for help,” Fleming said. “He’s got an agenda.”
Chancellor Henry Yang said the UCSB community already provides a support system.
“Support and assistance is readily available through a variety of campus offices and organizations, both on campus and in Isla Vista,” Yang said.
Baron’s Web site, however, states, “the UCSB ‘system’ may not be the best place to obtain help and support-they may actually be part of the problem.”
Baron first publicly criticized UCSB in a Daily Nexus editorial published in February 2004. In the editorial, Baron said the university experience at UCSB is morally bankrupt. He also wrote that everything that parents of incoming students were told at the New Student Orientation is a sophistry, and that parents admitting their children to UCSB was analogous to consigning them to a moral, ethical, emotional and educational cesspool (“Fatherly Words About Our Cesspool,” Daily Nexus, Feb. 12, 2004).
Dean of Students Yonie Harris said she disagrees with Baron’s assessment.
“I don’t think that’s accurate at all,” Harris said. “This is not an ethically, morally neutral campus. And we’re a safe campus. We have very low incidents of violent crime.”
Fleming said crime information is not withheld from parents of prospective students during the orientation process.
“I don’t think there’s a rosy picture painted,” Fleming said. “If anything we try to be very realistic with parents. They hear about the Clery Reports at orientation and we tell them the challenges and first-year issues faced by students. Even if a parent came to orientation and didn’t hear anything at all, they still take home the parent handbook which covers everything.”
The university needs to take a more direct stand against criminal behavior, Baron said.
“There has been a lack of condemnation at the university,” he said. “You have the chancellor walking around with people that commit felonies just saying, ‘Some kids make bad choices.’ And felonies are not just bad choices. A good example of this is A.S. President Cervin Morris.”
Morris was arrested on Nov. 11 for allegedly hitting one man over the head with a glass bottle and punching another man. His arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 14. Morris declined to comment on Baron’s statements or on his arrest.
“I’ve already suggested that he resign,” Baron said. “I think people that commit felonies shouldn’t be in a position of leadership. If he’s a person of character, he’d resign.”
Harris declined to comment on the Morris case, but she said she denied any ethical vacillation on the part of the university.
“We in UCSB Student Affairs hold to high standards and hold our students to our standards,” Harris said. “Our motto is ‘scholarship, citizenship and leadership.’ I think there’s a growing emphasis on ethical behavior. This is a campus where we do care. The entire campus wants to produce good scholars, good citizens and good leaders.”
Baron said UCSB is not applying strong enough moral standards to its students.
“California’s best and brightest have become its biggest thugs,” he said. “You don’t usually start with murder. You start by pushing the other kids around in the playground, and then hitting someone with a beer bottle. … It wouldn’t take much for the chancellor to change the tone. It helps to have blanket guidelines of what’s right and what’s wrong. … Violent criminals should basically be branded ‘Taliban’ and hunted down.”
Chancellor Yang said he couldn’t comment on the circumstances of any individual student.
“We can say that criminal behavior of any kind is a violation of our Code of Student Conduct and is taken very seriously,” Yang said. “The Code of Student Conduct is enforced by the Office of Student Life.”
Harris declined to comment on the possibility of a conduct hearing for Morris.
“We operate off of a set of regulations,” Harris said. “We don’t have those designations of misdemeanor or felony.”
Baron said his Web site has already received a flurry of hate mail from UCSB students.
“The opposition is so ignorant, juvenile, vitriolic – just vicious threats,” he said. “And people saying, ‘You’re molesting your daughter,’ or ‘You’re a redneck Republican,’ or ‘Fuck you, asshole.’ It’s really solidifying our belief that we’ve got to do something about this. What kind of society would attack the family (recovering from trauma) and have a total lack of compassion? I’ll tell you – UCSB does.”
Baron said those who run ‘The Dark Side of UCSB’ Web site are committed to the same goal of improving the university.
“Each of the people involved with the site – and I don’t think this is an uncommon experience – have had unpleasant experiences at UCSB,” Baron said.
He said every attempt made by him or these parents to correspond with the chancellor and the university was ignored.
Fleming said the university has not received any correspondence from Baron and the administration only learned of his situation through his editorials in the Daily Nexus.
Harris said parents are encouraged to communicate their concerns to the university.
“We correspond with parents and talk to them about their complaints, very often by e-mail,” Harris said. “We don’t get many complaints. In the last six to eight months, maybe three or four.”
Baron said his daughter is currently living outside the state of California.
“She’s finished a great deal of counseling,” he said. “I take some responsibility. My daughter takes some responsibility. What we need is the university to take some responsibility too.”
Chancellor Yang said the university would accept any suggestions and comments from parents or students, including Baron’s complaints concerning his daughter’s experience at the university.
“We are sorry for the circumstances that led Mr. James Baron’s daughter and her family to decide that UCSB was not the place for her to continue her studies,” Yang said. “We appreciate the feedback from parents, and we take their concerns very seriously. We are committed to promoting a safe and law-abiding environment where our students can be free to enjoy themselves responsibly.”
Fleming said the university was not made aware of the troubles facing Baron’s daughter.
“The sad part is, Mr. Baron’s daughter was in need of assistance and, as far as we know, no one came forward to someone that could help her,” she said. “It was a missed opportunity and he’s taken that we’ve done something wrong. And we never had an opportunity to do something right.”