The Editorial Board sees multiple misuses of money by UC Davis during this unprecedented pandemic
Attending college right now is challenging. With physical distancing from the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty from political insurrections and stress from remote learning, students require greater support from the university in order to succeed. The Editorial Board believes that the university is currently prioritizing its funds incorrectly and students have more pressing needs that must be addressed.
On Monday, Jan. 11, UC Davis announced a series of contests and promotions to encourage healthy habits among the Davis community. According to the contest website, the promotional events serve to excite the community, promote healthy habits to fight COVID-19 and keep UC Davis “healthy and connected to each other.”
To enter the “Every Aggie Together” contest, students, faculty and staff must make a social media post answering the question: “Why is it important to wear a mask?” Participants compete against each other for the chance of winning a 13-inch Apple Macbook Pro, a 64GB Apple iPad Air or an Apple Watch with a wristband, retailing at $1,300, $600 and $400 respectively. The first 500 participants also get a UC Davis face mask, retailing at $5, which totals to $2,500.
For the “In It Together” event, students can participate in new challenges every two weeks that “helps to promote ways to fight COVID-19.” By completing each challenge, students will be eligible to win gift cards to local businesses. The Editorial Board appreciates the inclusion and support of Davis businesses as a part of this event.
The completion of all four challenges provides students the chance of winning a grand prize—20 students will receive up to $2,500 to support rental expenses, a sum that will be taxed by federal and California income tax reporting. In total, $350,000 in prizes will be awarded.
While the Editorial Board appreciates the university’s effort to create fun events and promote correct and consistent mask wearing, the systems of the contest and challenges are majorly flawed. A distraction from the news of rising COVID-19 cases and upcoming online midterms is nice, but students have to focus on matters like working, studying and supporting their mental health and may not have time to spend on contests.
The greatest issue is the price tag of these programs. Boasting about awards worth in total $350,000 is inappropriate and inconsiderate to students who are struggling financially. A California Student Aid Commission survey of over 70,000 college students from May found that seven in 10 students had lost some or all of their income since the start of the pandemic. Instead of dangling the carrot of free rent for 20 people, why not establish new programs to support rent payments for all community members who need it?
For the 2020-21 school year, UC Davis tuition and fees are $14,597.27; the cost of the “In It Together” challenge could pay for close to 24 student tuitions.
The nature of a competition at this time also feels inappropriate. Students who need the most financial help may not have time to enter these promotional events. Since the contest is judged subjectively, students who do not have time to work on their entry may be at a disadvantage. Also, if the idea behind the contest is to keep the community “connected to each other,” why pit students, employees and faculty against each other to win money that they might desperately need?
If UC Davis has spare dollars to spend on expensive prizes, why not use it to reduce student fees, increase mental health resources or establish greater financial aid measures? For a university that furloughed 37 partial-year Student Health and Counseling employees last April and is currently in a lawsuit about campus fees, it is clear that the university does not have their financial priorities completely straight.
For more examples of misallocated funds, not all workers at the COVID-19 testing kiosks are paid. Students may work there as a part of the Mass Testing for COVID-19 course. While students earn course credit and gain hands-on experience with mass-testing and contact tracing, workers should be paid for their weekly three-hour shifts.
Unpaid opportunities are not accessible for all students. Those who desire this experience may not be able to participate, since they need to work and pay their bills. For this work that involves a possible risk of exposure, as well as handling infectious and hazardous materials, pay is necessary for the inherent risks of the situation.
In further misuse of funds, the salaries of UC Davis administrators are shocking in the context of 18% of students having experienced homelessness or some form of housing insecurity and increased economic stress in a pandemic. It is commendable that all UC chancellors, including Chancellor Gary May, have decided to take a 10% pay cut for this fiscal year due to the pandemic. But even with this pay cut, May will still earn a salary of nearly $500,000, provided that his salary was not already set to increase for this year.
It is not just May. The average salary of 13 vice chancellors, provosts and associate chancellors is $340,521.54. This is not including many of the UC Davis deans and other administrators who make close to or more than that number.
UC Davis’ overall enrollment of students for Fall Quarter 2020 is expected to be 39,600. If 18% of them experience homeless or housing insecurity, that is at least 7,128 students who fall into that category. We believe that is far too unacceptable of a number, particularly when the salaries of so many administrators are this egregiously high. The best thing UC Davis can do to support students during this time is encourage administrators to take pay cuts and decrease future salaries, rerouting these extra funds to ensure students have their basic needs met.
Attending UC Davis is expensive and financially-straining for many individuals. Based on the current actions of UC Davis administrators, it seems they have forgotten the hardships some students go through in order to be an Aggie. What students really need right now, to ease the pain and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, is programs to cover rent, more counseling services and reductions in student fees.
Written by: The Editorial Board