Questions raised over council’s purpose, administration’s commitment to students
The Council on Student Affairs and Fees’ May 19, 2017 vote on an increase in student fees to support intercollegiate athletics ended in a tie, which, for the council, is an effective no. Then-Interim Chancellor and current Provost Ralph Hexter decided a month after the decision to provide the increase in student fees for athletics despite the council’s advice not to, raising questions on the purpose of the council and the administration’s obligation to students.
COSAF is one of 11 administrative advisory committees. Its purpose, according to its website, is to “provide a more comprehensive oversight of student fees” and “assure the highest degree of transparency and accountability regarding the use of student fees.” The council, which comprises 10 undergraduates, four graduate students, one faculty member and two staff members, passes nearly every proposal put in front of it.
Daniel Nagey, a third-year economics and psychology double major who at the time was acting as ASUCD’s appointee to COSAF and voted against the athletics measure, believes that students usually pass every proposal because the issues are complex and the students involved do not typically understand the dynamics of university politics. It is difficult, he said, for students to fully understand university budget politics in single-year terms, so many students seem to simply go along with what is said in an effort to pad their resumes and “play nice” with the administration.
Despite this, “it’s not in the chancellor’s best interest to not take [COSAF’s] recommendation,” Nagey said.
COSAF provides a student voice in the fee process, and Nagey believes that ignoring the advice of the council continuously could lead to a decrease in morale and questions of the council’s legitimacy.
Nevertheless, Hexter dismissed COSAF’s advice, announcing over a month later in an email to COSAF co-chairs Madelina Garcia and Brionda Tanner that he would be approving the fee increase for athletics, which amounts to about an $8 increase per student, or approximately $200,000 total, because of his concern “about a continued degradation of spending power” for student-athlete scholarships. These scholarships “allow teams to recruit the best student-athletes” and pay for their tuition, fees, housing and books, Hexter clarified in an email to The California Aggie. The fee increase was deemed necessary because of increases in tuition and fees.
The decision to dismiss COSAF’s advice came at a time when the council was in transition; the 2016-2017 school year was coming to a close, council members were terming out, and the university was transitioning to Gary May’s chancellorship, relieving Hexter of his powers as acting chancellor. Hexter said he made the decision based on a recommendation from the UC Office of the President and that “there was no intent to rush to make this decision before my term as interim chancellor conclude and I returned to my position as provost and executive vice chancellor.”
“I would say it was a snaky move to try to pull something like that when it’s the end of the year and you know that COSAF is transitioning,” Nagey said. “It’s a time where, if people were to find out, not a lot could happen.”
“As a student who spends hours going to these meetings, I felt unnecessary, powerless,” Nagey said. “What does this say about admin listening to students and not believing the students who pay the tuition? [The administration] is clearly not listening to the demands of students.”
Hexter, however, maintained that student input is taken seriously.
“I want to assure students that the administration does listen to the voices of students,” Hexter said in an email to The California Aggie. “Students are, however, bound to be frustrated if they expect recommendations to be taken as directives. I receive recommendations from many bodies across the university; I often agree, since those who offer advice think carefully about the matters before them, but sometimes I don’t agree and in those cases don’t follow the recommendation in every detail. In other words, one can listen and nonetheless respectfully disagree. It does not mean one has not listened, and listened carefully.”
In part, the decision to not approve the fee for athletics was due to Athletic Director Kevin Blue’s presentation, sources say. In the transcript, two voting students said the presentation was “poor,” with another expressing concern for the lack of transparency on what the money would be spent on. During the presentation, Blue also made a comment about the athletic department having to get over a financial wall akin to President Trump’s border wall, which some council members thought was made in bad taste.
“The brief comment was misunderstood by some,” Blue said in an email to The California Aggie. “It was not a joke […] nor was there any intent to be insensitive. I apologized for any misunderstanding and we moved forward fifteen months ago.”
Voting members also mentioned a “separation and a disconnect between Student Athletics and the student body.” A suggestion was made to “make athletics more palatable to the general student body.” Some of the affirmative votes on the proposal seemed reluctant but still voted yes because of the obligation that the students have to pay for intercollegiate athletics that originally stems from UC Davis’s transition from Division II to Division I.
When the university transitioned to Division I, it was agreed that the athletics department would not give preferential treatment to the more visible sports like men’s basketball and football. It also promised to not cut sports, and students at the time made an agreement with the UC Regents that the core funding for athletics would come from student fees rather than outside sources. This led to UC Davis becoming one of the largest spenders of student fees for athletics in the UC system. Students paid $562.11 in fees for the 2017-2018 school year to support scholarships for student-athletes that include out-of-state tuition and housing costs.
With nearly 28,000 undergraduates this year, the athletics department received around $15.5 million just from student fees. The athletics department’s request for more money last May raised questions of bloat in the department that follows a nationwide trend of athletics departments overspending.
Chancellor May addressed accusations of financial bloat in an email to The California Aggie. He said the athletics department pays “below the campus average” for staff positions and coaching salaries are “very modest.” The department also provides recent graduates with positions “to reduce costs and provide entry-level employment.” Daily spending and lodging are “significantly less than the allowable amounts” for the university, and the operating budget for administrative support for the department was reduced by five percent in 2018 and will further be reduced in 2019.
“I do not believe ICA [intercollegiate athletics] should be considered bloated in anyway,” May said. “I believe that ICA is stewarding its funding very conscientiously.”
Written by: Taylor LaPoint — firstname.lastname@example.org