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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Guest column: To pay or not to pay?

By PAUL MEDVED — pcmedved@gmail.com

You may have heard about two proposed referenda to re-formulate the SASI and CEI student fee initiatives. Those are the initiatives jointly approved by UC Davis students and the Regents decades ago to support and protect in perpetuity a number of programs important to students. By far the largest of those was Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA). Since then, and in the name of the SASI and CEI (as well as that of the related FACE initiative), hundreds of millions of student fee dollars have flowed into ICA over the years. Last year alone student fee support of ICA totaled $25 million — nearly five times what the university itself kicked in. As a result of this secure source of funding and the educational (“teacher/coach”) model the program was founded upon, Aggie Athletics became a great and rightfully prideful example of how to do intercollegiate sports right — even and especially at the NCAA Division I level where the business model of college sports, along with its many bad actors, reigns supreme.

But beginning a little over a decade ago, after a change in campus leadership, something began to go terribly wrong. In direct violation of the CEI, four ICA sports that students were paying millions to protect were suddenly eliminated. ICA coach contracts, which had always required Aggie coaches to lecture (primarily PE classes) part time, were modified from a 50/50 split to 35/65 to emphasize their role in athletics over academics and, conveniently, reduce the university’s share of the cost of the SASI partnership. Incentive bonuses based on athletic performance began appearing in ICA coach contracts. In the dead of night, admissions procedures governing Admit By Exceptions (ABEs) were subverted by one of the six individuals to serve as the athletics director in the past dozen years, and the number of athletics ABEs spiked. 

Consistent with her role as Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR) the FAR brought a number of concerns to the chancellor’s attention, whereupon she was dismissed as FAR and promptly replaced with a new individual apparently more to her liking. This, along with the resignation of a long-serving Director of Athletics and a concurrent “Strategic Audit” of ICA commissioned by the chancellor led the UC Davis Academic Senate to appoint a Special Committee on Athletics whose full report was published in the spring of 2012. Sadly, the Special Committee’s report, along with the context it provides and the recommendations it makes, has been largely forgotten in the subsequent turmoil and turnover at the chancellor level.

Then there was the little matter of the university quietly diverting several million dollars of the students’ SASI fees to pay for coach lecture time (in addition to their coaching time), which prompted Campus Counsel’s office to later opine: “…use of these fees to pay for academic programs including lecturer salaries would be highly discouraged and that a student referendum designating funds for an academic program would not be approved by OGC or the Regents.” Apparently it was more convenient for campus administrators to ask for forgiveness than permission. A few years later ICA would awake one morning to discover it had drifted out of compliance with Title IX — both a matter of law and the CEI — and had to add two new women’s sports (neither of which was women’s rowing, which had been eliminated in 2010).

But the final blow came in 2020 when the May administration, whom many had hoped would restore ICA to its principled past, suddenly and unilaterally eliminated the PE program — the academic component of the teacher/coach model — in its entirety. That shocking decision, over the objections of nearly everyone who has ever cared about any of this, not only obliterated the last of ICA’s foundational teacher/coach model and the very thing that tied Aggie Athletics to the university’s academic mission, meant that for the first time in nearly a century UC Davis students no longer had the opportunity to enroll in credit-bearing PE classes taught by ICA coaches. Chancellor May laid a capstone on it all when he said the quiet part out loud — suggesting what’s really important is the role Aggie sports play in promoting the university’s brand. That’s a far cry from where this all began.

To be clear, Aggie student-athletes themselves are not in any way, shape or form responsible for any of the aforementioned misdeeds. And, as an enthusiastic fan and supporter of Aggie Athletics for many years and the parent of a former Aggie student-athlete, it gives me no pleasure to be writing any of this. But, to borrow a line from Bernie Sanders: enough is enough. Even former Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef was disturbed enough to break his silence and write about it shortly before his death in his 2015 memoir “Indelibly Davis”. 

That all these things and more have happened is beyond dispute, though campus admin and UCOP have their own ways of describing them. But no matter who you believe or what you think of Aggie Athletics the essential questions would seem to be these: In light of current circumstances, should students or the university itself be the primary funder(s) of ICA? And, either way, shouldn’t today’s students have the right to revisit decisions made by their predecessors decades ago that were based upon promises the university no longer has any intention of honoring?

Now would be a really good time to share your thoughts on all this with your elected leadership (president@asucd.ucdavis.edu and senate@ucdavis.edu).

Written by: Paul Medved ’78

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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