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2017 July 11

Disappointed in UCSC students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:40
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I was a bit disappointed with UCSC students this Spring. Not for academic reasons (my spring class had about the usual academic range, from not quite passing to quite bright, with most of the students working hard to get a reasonable performance). And not because of protests that students did or didn’t do (there were the usual number of student protests—some effective, some completely pointless)—Santa Cruz has a long tradition of protests, and a year without them would seem bland. What bothered me was the loss of a different tradition: that of participatory rather than spectator athletics:

Measure 68. [undergraduate and graduate combined] PASSED

Intercollegiate Athletics and Athletics Activities Access Fee

Shall the undergraduate and graduate students of UCSC enact a new fee of $38.50 per quarter to support the current and long-term operations of UCSC’s intercollegiate athletics program and provide access to students who meet Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) criteria for athletic-related activities? This fee will sunset in 25 years (Spring 2042).

Votes Percent
Yes 4852 79.84%
No 1967 20.16%
Total Turnout 6819
% of Student population who casted vote 39.23%

[http://deanofstudents.ucsc.edu/elections/]

I can’t understand the logic of allowing a student vote to tax students for the next 25 years for anything but a capital project. The yes votes of 4852 people will affect the fees for about 100,000 future students who have no say in the process. I wonder how many of the other fees students pay are similarly ill-advised programs locked in place by ridiculously long sunset clauses.

Note that this fee does not go towards improving sports and recreation facilities for most of the students, but almost entirely to support the coaches  and travel for under 300 NCAA athletes:

The fee will provide the NCAA Division III program with approximately $1.1 million beginning in fall 2017. Approximately $160,000 will be generated to support athletic activities of student who meet EOP criteria, approximately 40 percent of the student body. The fee is scheduled to sunset is 2042.

[https://news.ucsc.edu/2017/05/athletics-fee.html]

In addition, the Chancellor has promised another half a million in general funds for athletics—money that could have been spent to hire instructors for about 50 instructors for courses, affecting over 1000 students.

Of course, the athletics coaches who pushed their teams so hard to campaign for the subsidy from the 15000 or so students who get no benefit from the fee are now not happy with the result:

Two head coaches and six assistants filed grievances Friday against UC Santa Cruz in a public move they hope sheds light on their frustration with the university’s relationship with its athletics department.

Earlier this week, acting athletic director Andrea Willer, the executive director of Office Of Physical Education, Recreation And Sports (OPERS) informed two head coaches and all of the school’s assistant coaches that their contracts would not be renewed.

[http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/article/NE/20170630/NEWS/170639962]

The Chancellor had put a more positive spin on the new contracts:

A significant change is that our head coaches will now have three-year, full-time contracts. This is good news that I believe will contribute to the long-term health and stability of our athletics program. 
 
The campus has offered new contracts to nine of our 11 head coaches for NCAA teams. The old ones expired June 30. The new contracts include full benefits and a 3 percent salary increase. The contracts started July 1. 
 
For coaches who held other non-coaching duties, the contracts were for coaching only, with non-coaching responsibilities moved elsewhere in the unit.
 
Eight of the nine coaches signed the offers. The ninth chose to retire.
 
There are changes for assistant coaches, too. They will now have six-month contracts. Previously, contracts were for 12 months, with required three-month furloughs. Contracts for the assistants also expired June 30. All assistants have been encouraged to apply when the new positions are posted in an open recruitment. [email to faculty from Chancellor Blumenthal]

When I came to UCSC in 1986, they had no NCAA athletics (at least I wasn’t aware of any, though a campus press release says the program started n 1981)—the focus of the sports programs was on the intramural program, with participation encouraged for all students.  Those who wanted interscholastic competition could join club sports, and I believe that the fencing team was pretty good.  Club sports competed with all the other students clubs for resources and did not get special privileges (unlike the reserved time, space, and staff for NCAA athletics).  I’m all in favor of students participating in sports and other fitness activities (the average student has gotten a lot fatter and less fit over the past 30 years), but I don’t see any point to subsidizing 2% of the students to do sports for the rest.

Now, I don’t think that UCSC is becoming another athletic cesspool (like Baylor, University of South Carolina, Penn State, …).  For one thing, there is no big money in Division III athletics, so the possibilities of massive corruption are rather limited, and UCSC does not have a football team, which seems to be the biggest source of violence in university sports. Our athletes are still students first (they have a higher GPA than the student body as a whole), and there are no large spectator crowds at any of their games to get into the sort of drunken riots that some schools are subject to.

But there has been a marked loss of exceptionality for UCSC over the past 30 years, with UCSC becoming more typical of universities.  They now have fraternities and sororities, they now have subsidized athletics (to the detriment of intramurals and club sports), the library recently shredded a huge number of books [http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/12/24/montgomery-on-ucscs-outrageous-mass-destruction-of-books/], class sizes have soared, and the SAT scores of incoming students have dropped.

For a while UCSC used as a tagline “an uncommon commitment to undergraduate education”, which at the time was true. Although they still have a very high ratio of undergraduates to graduate students for a research university (about 9 to 1, where most research universities have more grad students than undergrads), a lot of the commitment to teaching has dissipated over the past 30 years.  Part of the problem has been packing in more students without proportionate growth in teaching facilities (I believe that UCSC has the highest student/classroom-seat ratio of any of the UCs), and part of the problem has been hiring faculty solely on their research credentials, paying no attention to whether they want to (or can) teach.

Some of you may have noticed that I have used third-person pronouns (“they”) rather than first-person (“we”) throughout this article.  That is I do not feel that I have had any say in the bad decisions that been reverting UCSC to the mean. This is not the UCSC I am part of, and I don’t want to be part of it.  I’ll probably be retired before UCSC gives up everything that made it unique and a pleasure to teach at.

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