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Friday, February 23, 2024

It takes a village to save a college

Estevan Sanchez, a second-year African American and African studies and sociology major couldn’t get away with skipping Jiu-Jitsu practice at the Experimental College (EC).

“There have been times when I’ve thought about taking a day off, but I see other students on campus and they say, ‘Hey! You’re coming today, right?’ There is a great vibe and respect there, and the people care and want you to come back,” Sanchez said.

In light of the recent suspension of the EC, however, Sanchez and others will not only be taking a day off, they will be taking every day off until fall 2014 at the earliest.

In early December 2013, the outlet for those interested in learning martial arts, belly dancing, meditation, massage, pottery, DJing and just about anything that couldn’t be taught in a traditional classroom was suspended indefinitely by ASUCD due to financial losses.

In the past five years, the EC has experienced dwindling enrollment and failed to make the jump from print to digital advertising. Additionally, the high turnover of management resulted in lacking institutional memory and ultimately, failure to remedy the College’s financial issues.

“The Experimental College clearly had a marketing problem, its marketing had been based in print media for the last four decades… Unfortunately, [it] did not make changes in its marketing approach,                 [instead, it] cut its marketing budget in response to the problem that caused its inadequate marketing,” said Rick Schubert, Experimental College Instructors Advising Board chair during Jan. 9’s ASUCD meeting.

In their attempt to save money on marketing, the EC ended up becoming advertised through a few paper adverts and by students already enrolled in classes. While content remained at the same caliber, the inability to get the word out led to the EC’s decline.

“I’ve been taking social dance classes there for several years. Because it doesn’t really get advertised, I heard about the EC through word of mouth and most of my fellow students heard about it in the same way. Once people find out about it, just like me, they’re hooked,” said Charles Hagen, a student of the EC in an email interview.

This fall, in an effort to fix the EC’s many issues, a new, more communication-based management has taken steps toward opening up lines of communication between instructors, students and those in charge of finances. A new EC website was also designed to mitigate advertisement woes.

“The changes that are necessary to save the EC have been made, but unfortunately it was too little too late,” said ASUCD Senator Ryan Wonders, a third-year political science and international relations double major during Jan. 9’s senate meeting.

The suspension closed all classes and retained The Gardens, which was hoped to generate revenue in order to eventually reopen the College.

Instructors and students alike were taken aback by the news.

“I was very surprised to hear about the suspension,” said Experimental College Social Dance instructor Donnelle Yoshino, in an email interview. “Communication between the EC, EC instructors and ASUCD has been very limited. I knew the EC was in a bit of trouble, but I was unaware how severe it was until fall 2013. We were told we would be able to hold classes in winter 2014, but then were told suddenly that all classes were suspended.”

In response to the originally indefinite suspension, an outpouring of support for the EC has occured. At the Jan. 9 ASUCD meeting, the conference room was flooded with EC members, who range from veterinary school students and undergrads, to professors and Davis residents, all determined to petition for a resolution to the suspension.

“I feel like ASUCD really listened and now understands how valuable the institution is. It impacts lives. We have so many long-term students who have been coming for decades. You get to build an informal one-on-one relationship with these role models that you could never have had in a traditional lecture setting,” said Sarah Bonnar, a UC Davis graduate and student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “I would have never made a personal connection to [Professor] Sarah Lievens without my Hapkido class. I knew her first as one of my very good friends.”

After hours of testimonials from EC members and discussion with the senate on Jan. 9, it was decided that a task force dedicated to working with EC leaders was to be initiated and a loose date of reopening was set for fall 2014.

“I think that I would be very surprised if there was a member at this table that is not willing to work their butt off to get these problems taken care of and get us back online as quickly as possible,” Wonders said.

With steps made to get the EC up and running eventually, most members of are hopeful that its return will be a swift one.

“I have high hopes for the committee formed on Thursday [Jan.9] to restart the EC, but time is of the essence; the longer the closure persists, the more student interest will disperse,” Hagen said.

The passion of those involved in the EC has led to some instructors stating that they are willing to continue their classes free of charge, while others plan to relocate until classes open again.

“Some of the EC instructors, including myself and Gwen Burton Luke, have offered to teach the classes for free, asking our students to donate to the EC during the quarters of suspension. If we are not able to use the EC facilities to teach the classes, the social dance classes may be able to rent space at other dance studios in town,” Yoshino said.

The close relationships between the instructors and students have resulted in the continuation of the community, despite the EC’s suspension.

“The instructors are keeping us updated [on what the classes plan to do] and some are trying to go pro bono to retain and protect the community. We are community based, and deeply invested in these classes. It isn’t just the technical aspects of whatever you are learning — these are lifetime connections. I went through hip surgery, and these were the people that were sending me cards and checking on me. That doesn’t happen at the ARC; if you stop coming to classes, you drop off the map,” Bonnar said.

As part of the personal lives of those who attend, the EC has proven to be fiercely defended and loved by those who have walked through its doors.

“It provides tremendous value. It offers classes unique in content and unique in approach. It provides an environment in which students, faculty, staff and Davis residents can develop mentor-mentee relationships,” Schubert said. “The Experimental College is an incredibly valuable asset to UC Davis as a 47-year part of the institution, and it is arguably part of the very culture and character of the campus.”

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