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Davis, California

Monday, July 22, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Chancellor May clarifies disability comments

To the Editor:

I’ve heard from students and parents who shared their perspectives related to comments I made that were part of an Editorial Board meeting last month. During the meeting, I was asked a question regarding the proposed Council on Student Affairs and Fees (COSAF) referendum to eliminate a portion of student fees that go toward funding Intercollegiate Athletics:

Aggie Editorial Board: “What do you think of the proposed referendum to eliminate a portion of student fees that go toward funding athletics? Should it be passed, how does the university plan to find additional funding for the ICA program?” 

In response, I shared a few observations about the referendum:

  “The referendum appears to be framed from the notion that Intercollegiate Athletics benefits only the 700 or so students who participate. I think that’s a logical fallacy, I don’t think that’s true at all. This type of model of funding is not unusual in our society. I pay property taxes to benefit public schools but my kids are not in school anymore, so it’s not like this is a strange way of doing things in American society. That aside, you have to think, many of those 700 student-athletes come from marginalized communities and would not be able to go to a university without that scholarship support. We have examples of other fees that only benefit specific student populations. For example, should we extract these because there are only a small number of disabled students on campus, should we not charge the fee that funds the Student Disability Center? That’s the kind of logic that the way the referendum is framed leads you to.”

  My opinion, as stated above, was that the athletics referendum appeared to be framed around a logical fallacy, and that framing a referendum in this way can lead to flawed conclusions — such as a belief that the value of a student program lies primarily in the number of students who benefit from it. If this happens, we run the risk that these flawed conclusions may negatively impact critical smaller programs and the student communities served by them. 

  That said, I now understand that my choice of the Student Disability Center as an example to make my point was ill considered. I regret that choice, as other examples were available. My intention was to illustrate a potential negative impact to a critical smaller program and advise against it, not to make a comparison between programs. I apologize for any pain or offense I may have caused, and I hope this helps to clarify what I intended to convey.

The truth is that our community of students with disabilities, as with our other student communities, cannot accurately be represented by a number. It includes those with visible and invisible disabilities; those who request accommodations, and those who don’t. It also can and does intersect with those who are part of our community of student-athletes, and those who are part of the many other UC Davis communities and programs supported by student fees. Each individual is welcome, worthy and valuable, and in community there is room for complexity and interconnectedness.

  As such, clearly the student educational experience at UC Davis is not à la carte. We have many programs that are supported by fees all students pay, regardless of the specific demographic for which they are targeted. We recognize them all as valuable and worthy of our ongoing investment and commitment to a diverse, inclusive and thriving campus community. And when we make changes to any of these programs, we try to make sure our decisions are informed by the space we hold for community members, by their voices and what they share with us, and by our gratitude for their contributions – not simply by their numbers.

I hope this provides some clarity regarding my comments transcribed in The California Aggie. As a parent of a child with a disability, I look forward to continuing to work together with students, faculty and staff to bring greater awareness and attention to issues impacting all students with disabilities.


Gary S. May

To submit a letter to the editor, please email opinion@theaggie.org. 


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