After spawning a controversial website, writing a flurry of opinion pieces, hiring a plane to fly over the school with a banner, and generally getting in the face of UCSB students and administrators to prove his point, James Baron has now gone on television.
Baron, creator of www.thedarksideofucsb.com, recently began running commercials on several television stations in order to increase the traffic to his site. While the commercials run through mid-October in the Santa Barbara area, Baron said he hopes to soon spread the campaign nationally.
Baron said his commercials appear on channels with high student viewership. He said running a television advertisement on a news station for a week costs approximately $3,000 for 20 slots, depending on the commercial’s airtime and frequency.
“Our test market that we’re doing right now is in Santa Barbara,” Baron said. “[The commercials are on] VH1, MTV, the Discovery Channel – that kind of thing. This group includes channels that are directed towards a younger audience.”
The advertisements consist of stock footage that depict a variety of signs from protests and marches, concluding in a screen showing the website’s address. Baron said new advertisements will follow.
“I’m busy and it takes a lot of time to do a real quality ad with full production values,” Baron said. “The next set of ads will show [Del Playa Drive] action similar to what is on our website. It will also show lots of the gruesome headlines about all the horrible things that happen in I.V.”
The parent of a former UCSB student, Baron launched the website in 2004 to denounce what he describes as severe problems in Isla Vista. He said he hopes to pressure the university into changing Isla Vista’s party culture.
Baron, who owns a residence in Santa Barbara, stated in a 2004 interview that he withdrew his daughter from UCSB following her negative experiences with alcohol, drugs and sexual and domestic violence.
“I had over the years been very unhappy by the solutions provided by the UCSB system,” Baron said. “I thought, let’s come up with some different solutions.”
The website lists three main goals: To provide resources to students experiencing problems at UCSB, to help students understand and avoid the “dark side of campus life” and to mitigate the negative impact that dark side has on UCSB.
Baron said his distaste for “injustices in Isla Vista” fueled his desire to advocate his cause.
“I think in a sense my conviction was born out of what I see in terms of injustices,” Baron said. “I see I.V. as a huge social injustice. Dozens of people are being killed and I’d like to stop that.”
Baron said he wants to draw national media attention to his campaign, something he previously had not attempted. He said his move is designed to pressure UCSB to begin expelling students accused of violent crimes.
“The genesis [of Isla Vista’s problems] is UCSB: Isla Vista would not exist without UCSB,” Baron said. “If the university said, ‘We will not tolerate student misconduct’ and said, ‘We will not accept transfers from students who have an arrest record,’ [then the situation would improve].”
Currently, UCSB has extended jurisdiction into Isla Vista and may summon a student to a Student-Faculty Conduct Committee private hearing. According to campus regulations, UCSB students are accountable to the university for serious crimes perpetrated on or off campus. The university only considers the most serious crimes, which fall under the categories of physical abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and hazing.
Although he has not seen the advertisements, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said UCSB is committed to improving Isla Vista. He cited the formation of the Isla Vista Commission in 2005 as an example. The IVC initiates, coordinates and develops programs and activities for UCSB and Isla Vista.
“UCSB devotes a tremendous amount of resources, energy and time with very high priority, to the continuous, incremental improvement of the living and learning environment in Isla Vista,” Yang said. “We have recently formed an Isla Vista Commission to focus our efforts.”
Baron said he personally finances the Dark Side operation – including the television advertisements. He said he has already donated enough funds to run the organization for at least 10 years or longer. He said he refuses to accept outside donations.
While Baron said he has no plans at this time to expand his website to include other schools, he said he feels the UC system at large could become a target for coverage on his website.
“I think UCSB is unique in that it’s a very interesting area with its student ghetto I.V. that’s unincorporated,” Baron said. “We looked at the whole UC system and we think the whole system could use attention.”