UC Davis students and faculty excluded from decision to terminate physical education program

UC Davis students and faculty excluded from decision to terminate physical education program

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie File. Hickey Gym at UC Davis.

Both the Faculty Association and ASUCD said they heard from outside sources before hearing directly from administration about the change

Physical education (PE) courses and the coaching minor are no longer offered at UC Davis as of the end of Fall Quarter. This came as sudden news to faculty and students who were not part of the administrators’ decision-making process.

One justification by administrators for the removal of PE courses was that the program had declining enrollment, according to Appendix 1 of the UC Davis Budget and Institutional Analysis. ASUCD Senator Tenzin Youedon said declining enrollment was due to the decrease in courses offered as lecturers left and were not replaced.

“I read the data on students and enrollment and noticed that the section was cut by a large percent over a couple of years and enrollment declined,” Youedon said. 

The estimated savings from the discontinuation of PE is over $1.2 million, but the cost savings will not be immediate, according to the Budget and Institutional Analysis.

Ari Kelman, the interim dean of Letters and Science said the program, which offered up to six units of for-credit courses in lectures such as volleyball and table tennis, was a potential avenue for misuse by student athletes looking to meet unit and GPA requirements.

“When a campus offers credit for PE courses, that can be a mechanism by which student athletes maintain their eligibility and other forms of misuse or misconduct take place,” Kelman said. “I do not believe anything like that ever happened on this campus.”

Student athletes are required to be taking a minimum of 12 units and maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 according to the UC Davis Student-Athlete Handbook. Since PE courses are taken for credit, they could be used as a way to meet the mandatory credit minimums or help athletes maintain their GPA by taking a course that may be easier to pass. 

Madison Butler, a third-year human development major said she had planned on pursuing the coaching minor since she had already taken several PE courses, but found out that she would no longer have that option.

“We reached out to students directly who had not yet declared the coaching minor but had taken several PE courses and asked them if they wanted to declare the coaching minor,” Kelman said. “Those students have some minor requirements that we are going to make sure they can complete.”

Butler said she has taken multiple PE courses, including various levels of abs/back conditioning and interval weightlifting and has not been contacted by anyone from the university about this opportunity to declare the minor. 

Lack of communication between faculty, students and administration prior to the decision being made

The administration holds that the decision came after years of review. However, the Faculty Association stated in a letter sent to Chancellor May and Provost Mary Croughan on Oct. 10, that they first heard about the decision in an article published in The Davis Enterprise on Dec. 3 and were not consulted.

ASUCD President Kyle Krueger said he first heard about the decision when he was contacted by a concerned alumni of UC Davis.

“There is definitely, overall, between ASUCD and administration some tension because of this,” Krueger said. “With that being said, I think there are some members of the administration who genuinely wish they had done more consultation ahead of time.”

Youedon said the lack of communication with students prior to the decision was disrespectful to students.

“If they, on purpose, didn’t consult students, I’m disturbed by their refusal to think about us,” Youedon said. “I’m also disturbed by the timing of it because I feel like it was very on purpose.” 

Butler was one of the co-creators of a petition that has received over 5,000 signatures to-date

“Every signature matters because it shows you every Aggie or person who signs it is in support of PE and the value that it brings to UC Davis,” Butler said.

A Campus Recreation Committee has been formed in ASUCD to address the concerns that were raised by students and to help negotiate a potential replacement of some of the programs.

“[Administrators] don’t have a plan,” Youedon said. “They made a committee for us to make a plan for them.” 

Layoffs of lecturers

Thirteen lecturers, one staff and one recall appointment received layoff notices informing them that the last day of Fall Quarter would mark their last day of work in that position.

According to an email provided to The Aggie, Barbara Jahn, the then director of physical education, sent an email letting PE staff know that as of 9:45 a.m. on Sept. 25, the Physical Education program would “cease to exist” and that they would be given layoff notices on Sept. 28.

“I want you to know that the decision was made without our input,” Jahn said via email. “This is devastating news for all of us.” 

Daryl Lee, the men’s tennis coach and former lecturer, said he was made aware of the decision to discontinue PE on Sept. 25.

“The next thing that happened was Sept. 28; that was when my colleagues and I received layoff notices,” Lee said. “They said that we were going to be done on Dec. 18.”

Kirsten Stevenson, the senior campus counsel for UC Davis, said via email that the 13 lecturers who had been laid off in all but one case will continue to be paid as if they were still lecturing for a 12-month period following the notice of dismissal. 

Most lecturers were also coaches at UC Davis in a teacher-coach model that divided the position between teaching PE courses and coaching.

“This is called the ‘Davis way’; it’s been in existence for about seven decades,” Lee said. “That’s the core and foundation of the program.”

Stevenson said that most of the UC Davis faculty that were laid off from their positions maintained a coaching appointment.

“And they weren’t a 50/50 split, most of them were 70/30 or 65/35, something like that,” Stevenson said. “Most of them retained their coach appointment and were pumped up to 100% coach.”

Lee, who no longer held a coach position at the university, said he no longer has employment at UC Davis. 

The ‘Agreement’

The understanding by some faculty and students was that there was a longstanding agreement that if students paid for Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA)—which was entering into Division I at the time and has no direct benefit for non-athlete students—the administration would pay for PE courses. 

“I was here when it all went down,” Lee said. “May has only been here for three years.”

The agreement—reportedly struck in 1994—implied that students were under no obligation to continue paying the Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI), which included ICA if the benefit of PE was removed. The administration has pushed back against the criticism citing that PE is not directly paid for by students and therefore does not relate to SASI fees according to Chief Campus Counsel Michael Sweeney in an email obtained by The Aggie.

“And you know something?” Lee said. “They’re right. But that’s not what the agreement was.”

Bob Franks, a former associate vice chancellor for student affairs at UC Davis, said he was around when the arrangement took place.

“So, were all these matters explicitly spelled out in SASI?” Franks said in an email. “No, of course not. It would have been as unnecessary as speaking of sunrise and sunset. These simply were the reality, and all involved parties understood the reality.”

The administration cites a lack of formal documentation and maintains it has not broken an agreement with students.

“The agreement is not memorialized formally in any of the documentation that I or anyone else has seen,” Kelman said. “So, what we have is, and it’s deeply regrettable, a significant discrepancy between what you might call ‘collective memory’ and the historical record.” 

Krueger said the moral argument stands with or without a formal recognition of the SASI fees being involved.

“I think from a legal standpoint, I’m not sure if it holds up,” Krueger said. “But I think there’s a moral standpoint with which [the] administration should have consulted with students because of that agreement.” 

Youedon brought a resolution to the table to force the administration’s hand to either bring back PE or consider revoking SASI fees.

“I decided I would be the one to get everyone talking about it, at least,” Youedon said. 

Krueger said he vetoed the original version of the bill because of the threat to remove SASI fees that fund important student programs.

“There is a lot tied up in SASI fees: the Cross-Cultural Center and the Women’s Resources Center,” Krueger said. “So there’s definitely a risk with a referendum like that.”  

Once the language about SASI was removed, the revised version of the resolution was passed on Dec. 10 with 11 senators approving it and one abstaining. However, the question about whether or not the move by administration was fair is still being debated.

“I choose to believe there is a connection between SASI and PE and over 5,000 students and alumni who signed the petition also believe the very same thing,” Youedon said. 

Proposed solutions

The proposal to move some courses to no-credit Campus Recreation raises concerns from students about the added cost, since PE courses are paid by tuition.

Kelman said the goal was to provide a little- to no-cost option for some courses through Campus Recreation.

“They made it clear that one of their concerns was that they didn’t want to see their constituents having to pay more for programming,” Kelman said. “And so the Provost and Chancellor agree that’s an issue and are planning to sink a lot of the money into programming through campus recreation.” 

Notably, this is not a guarantee that new programs will encompass all of the courses that have been removed. Kelman said replaced programs will likely be related to health and safety.

“So this would be self-defense classes, swimming lessons—ways that our students can feel safer,” Kelman said.

Many students are not impressed with the solutions that have been offered so far. Butler said that if the programming moved to Campus Recreation, students would lose a sense of community.

Butler said she believed that the teacher-coach model was important to maintain because coaches themselves may have completed the coaching program and that they have a direct connection to the student experience.

“That teacher-coach model is just so important to have,” Butler said. “It’s just a whole part of their lives that you get to experience that now you won’t have with Campus Recreation.” 

  Youedon proposed that if the administration is unwilling to bring PE back, then they should create the same program through Campus Recreation, utilizing the laid-off lecturers, but only if Campus Recreation had an easier system for registration and the fees were eliminated. 

The only solution, as Lee sees it, is to either refund students the amount they are paying to ICA or to reinstate the PE program. 

“Everything ultimately circles back to the agreement,” Lee said. “If [Provost Croughan] decides on behalf of the administration to break the agreement, then why are they still charging you and your peers over $10 million annually to pay for the sports teams?” 

Written by: Kathleen Quinn — campus@theaggie.org