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2016 October 23

UCSC athletics “town hall”

A year and a half  ago, I wrote a post, I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, in which I praised UCSC undergrads for rejecting a fee to subsidize the approximately 250 Division III athletes on campus, and last Spring I wrote Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year, when they voted 63% in favor of being asked if they would support a new fee of $270 a year to support the NCAA athletes (about $4.3 million for 16,000 students, or $14,000/athlete for the 300 NCAA athletes).

Last Spring, the Faculty Senate put together an ad hoc committee to report on athletics, but only those who strongly supported athletics volunteered to serve on it, so it came out with a very strongly pro-athletics report that I don’t believe honestly reflects faculty opinion. I particularly object to the claim

Perhaps more importantly, as faculty, we have great concern that the termination of UCSC student athletics, a program that distinguishes itself in the classroom and in competition, would signal to the world that we cannot maintain a first-class university.

That is BS of the highest order—being a first-class university has nothing to do with athletics, certainly not in the world outside the USA.  And even in the USA, a few Division III teams has nothing to do with the perception of the university.

Quite frankly, I find it shameful that the administration is spending $1million a year of unrestricted funds on NCAA athletics—that amount of money would hire instructors for about 100 more classes, helping about 3500 students, rather than 300.  The big advantage of sports on a campus comes from student participation, not being spectators, so funding models that provide facilities for intramurals and club sports that any student can participate in make much more sense than dedicating funding for a tiny number of privileged athletes.

Last Wednesday the Faculty Senate athletics committee had a “town-hall meeting”, ostensibly to get comments from students, but the audience consisted almost entirely of the NCAA athletes and their coaches, so turned into a “how can we get this passed?” rather than having students discussing whether it was a good idea.  The few students there who were not NCAA athletes were probably too intimidated by being surrounded by athletes to raise any objections—though one student did bravely ask what fraction of the students benefited from the student fee (a bit less than 2%).

There were some very strange ideas being passed around—like that students who weren’t athletes were getting sweetheart funding that the athletes should be getting instead (or perhaps as well).  The question was brought up of where engineering students got their funding from (which was not answered).  That one struck me as particularly strange, as engineering students generally end up either self-funding, crowd-funding, or getting funding from grants that faculty have spent years trying to get—they aren’t getting any handouts from the rest of the students!

A case in point: the iGEM project team needed about $25,000 for the 20-member team for the equipment, reagents, and travel to the iGEM conference. They raised this money through a crowd-funding campaign (which means that most of it came from family and friends).  The instructor’s salary was paid out of summer-school tuition (again, paid for by the team members, as there is no general-fund subsidy for summer school).  Rather than getting a $14,000 subsidy per team member like the athletes are asking for, they were paying out thousands of their own money to attend summer school to be on the team, and doing crowd-funding for the rest.  I have no objection to the NCAA teams running crowd-funding campaigns.

There is some industrial sponsorship for a few senior engineering capstone projects (maybe a quarter of all the capstone projects in the Baskin School of Engineering).  That sponsorship comes as a result of many years of hard work by faculty and administrators making contacts in industry and begging for support for student projects (and those projects come with several strings attached, sometimes including ownership of the students’ work by the sponsoring company, I believe).

Funding for student projects in engineering is much more like club sports than like NCAA athletics—essentially everything is paid for by the students involved, either directly or through fund-raising.  The same is largely true of other student groups on campus (theater groups, dance groups, artists, … ).  All the groups can apply for tiny amounts of money from student fees through the student government—only the NCAA athletes seem to feel that they deserve much, much more than that.

Theater and dance groups often need instructors, the same way that athletes need coaches, but there is no built-in funding for these instructors.  For the most part, they are paid for teaching courses, as OPERS coaches are—why should one group of instructors have a dedicated student fee, when others do not?

The NCAA athletes at UCSC are not dumb jocks—they have a higher GPA and graduation rate than the campus as a whole, so they must be aware that they are asking for very special privileges that are not given to other students.  Why do they or their coaches deserve special treatment?

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