Increased tensions in student-administrative relations and improvements to the university’s stature have dominated UC Riverside’s headlines this past year.

In January, the UC Board of Regents convened for a series of meetings at UC Riverside. Groups including ASUCR, the Occupy Movement and the Free UCR Alliance hosted seminars, demonstrations and rallies in response to the regents’ arrival. The regents’ arrival prompted the establishment of a tent encampment by Occupy protesters, who stayed on campus for nearly a month after the meetings.The two days of protesting took a violent turn on Thursday, Jan. 19, when two arrests were made and police utilized batons and non-lethal pellets against protesters. Both meeting days featured protesters speaking out against the regents. On Jan. 19, approximately 20 protesters hosted a sit-in that forced the regents to temporarily move to a different room.

The police response on Jan. 19 prompted outcry from the UC Riverside community following the administration’s refusal to condemn the use of force by officers—which students deemed as instances of police brutality. On Feb. 1, several dozen protesters held an anti-police brutality march that concluded with the mass filing of complaints at the UCPD station. During the march, students and faculty spoke out against the force used against protesters by police donning riot gear.

These types of protest-related incidents were prominent among other UC campuses, especially UC Davis and UC Berkeley. The former campus made national headlines when on-campus demonstrations resulted in officers utilizing pepper spray against a group of seated protesters. The incident prompted calls for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s resignation and the creation of an investigative task force led by former CA Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.

The police response to protests at UC Berkeley drew similar scrutiny when police officers resorted to the use of batons against protesters. Both incidents took place in November 2011 and have continued to make the news due to the recent release of a UC-wide report on policing practices; both the Reynoso report and the systemwide report were critical of the police-administrative response to protests and called for significant reform.

The repercussions of the UC Davis and UC Berkeley incidents were also felt at UC Riverside. Following the actions of other UC campuses, Chancellor White assembled a task force to create a revised set of campus protest guidelines. The guidelines, which were removed shortly after their release, prompted outcry from the campus community due to a clause that required individuals to consult with the university prior to hosting a protest—thereby posing a prior restraint on protesters’ speech.

The task force was also criticized for not publicly disclosing the location of their first meeting and for not consisting of student-elected task force representatives; while the group’s roster remains the same, it has since changed its policy on meetings and recently announced the date and location of its June 4 meeting. ASUCR took action in response to the incidents by enacting a resolution condemning the police brutality at the two campuses; however, a similar resolution addressing the police force used at UC Riverside was not made.

ASUCR was another source of increased tension between administrators and students following the Legislative Conference (Leg Con) scandal. In April, it was revealed that senators Esther Hwang and Albert Yum had neglected their lobbying duties by taking a trip to New York during a university-funded trip to Washington D.C. Subsequent ASUCR senate meetings were filled with students expressing their discontent with the two senators’ actions and demanding consequences.

A particular source of contention was a pre-trip contract that outlined a $500 fee if students failed to fulfill their lobbying duties. On May 16, ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Andrew Whall announced that none of the Leg Con participants would be fined, citing the fact that some students failed to sign the contract while several others did not attend every conference and lobby event.

In the midst of conflict, however, UC Riverside advanced in national rankings and made progress toward expanding the university’s services. In August, Washington Monthly placed UC Riverside as fifth in its list of national universities. The rankings gained some controversy due to the unconventional categories used as the basis for each score: social mobility, research and service. The criteria, which sought to gauge a university’s contribution to the public good, placed UC Riverside and several other UC campuses above prestigious campuses such as Harvard, Cornell and Columbia University.

The popular college ranking company, the Princeton Review, also recognized UC Riverside in several of its annual rankings. UC Riverside was recognized one of the top 150 colleges in the “Best Value Colleges for 2012” list and placed in the Princeton Review’s “Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2012 Edition.” The former was based on an institution’s level of academics, distribution of financial aid and cost of attendance. The green college guide, however, was based on a much larger variety of criteria including energy usage, recycling and waste management, impact on climate, availability of courses that promote knowledge of sustainable practices and the presence of eco-friendly infrastructure. The last factor was most recently attested to when UCR’s School of Medicine Research Building was the first building on campus to be awarded LEED Gold Certification—the second highest honor given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The financial conditions faced by the nation have also emphasized the importance of graduates’ salaries. UC Riverside also improved in this aspect as indicated in a study by the compensation data research company, Payscale. In the 2011 list, UC Riverside placed as the 29th top public institution based on graduates’ income. The university jumped 10 spots from the previous year’s list with a median mid-career salary of $88,800.

The university’s rankings may continue to undergo improvements due to the increased likelihood of a 2013 opening of the UCR School of Medicine. The medical school initially failed to obtain accreditation in 2011 due to the lack of a stable source of funding from the state. In March, the university was able to establish a $30 million, 10-year line of credit to support the medical school. With significant funding commitments also coming from Riverside County and local groups such as the Desert Healthcare District, the school will be re-seeking accreditation with the aim of a 2013 opening. An accreditation decision will likely be announced in the fall of 2012.

Other developments related to campus infrastructure include the planned construction of a UC-wide payroll and human resources center known as UCPath. UC Riverside’s selection as a host for the new center, which will create 500-600 jobs at full capacity, was announced in early May. Aside from creating more jobs for the region, the UCPath Center is expected to produce annual savings of up to $100 million for the University of California. The center is part of the UC Working Smarter initiative that aims to save $500 million over five years.

University infrastructure may further expand if the proposed C-Center, an 8,000-seat arena that would host events such as concerts and commencement, is approved. The exploratory phase of the C-Center began in May when an outside agency was hired to determine whether Bannockburn Village would be a suitable site. Concerns have arisen namely because Bannockburn Village contains student housing and popular student restaurants.

Members of the UC Riverside community, ranging from individual faculty members to the entire student population, also received their own praise and special recognitions. In March, Creative Writing Professor Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed by Governor Brown as California’s Poet Laureate. Herrera, whose work largely revolves around the Chicano experience in the U.S., is the first Hispanic to hold the renowned title. Other government recognitions came from President Obama himself, following UC Riverside’s selection to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The list recognizes institutions whose students have demonstrated a commitment to improving their communities through volunteer service.

Decisions made in the upcoming year will largely determine the future of UC Riverside, including the fate of the medical school, C-Center and the specific location of the UCPath center.