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2017 July 11

Disappointed in UCSC students

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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%


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.


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.


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 [], 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.

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?

2016 September 24

US News covers UCSC referendum on athletics

US News and World Report wrote an article,So Long, Banana Slugs? Students Cry Foul About Paying More for Sports, about the UCSC student vote last year on funding athletics.  In it they pointed out that athletics does not really benefit universities:

And while administrators often say athletics benefit their universities—and 77 percent of Americans in a Monmouth University poll said they thought big-time programs make “a lot of money for their respective schools”—the NCAA itself reports that only 24 of its 1,200 member schools take in more than they spend on sports. Even after broadcast rights, ticket sales, sponsorships, sports camp and investment income is taken into account, colleges have to subsidize a median 27.5 percent of athletic spending, much of it from student fees, the AAUP says.

“The fact is, all the data shows that many of the purported academic benefits of sports—recruitment, prestige—have all proven to not be true. They don’t exist,” Tublitz said.

One of the things that I like about UCSC is that sports is a participatory activity, not a spectator activity. A lot more students are involved in intramural sports and in individual fitness activities than bother watching the 250 or so varsity athletes, who the university has been subsidizing at a rate of $1million a year. I’m pleased to see that the national press is noticing that the subsidy of athletics by universities makes no sense, and that UCSC has an opportunity to be a leader in turning their back on this nonsense.

I’ve posted on this topic before: I’m proud of UCSC undergrads, Sports at Any Cost, and Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year.  I am hopeful that students will realize that subsidizing a couple hundred of their fellow students to play for them is not nearly as valuable as playing themselves—that they are better off taxing themselves for equipment and facilities that all students can use than for special services (coaches, trainers, transportation) for just a few.

I also hope that the UCSC administration comes to its senses and realizes that students are having a hard time getting into the classes they need, because of all the growth in student enrollment without a corresponding growth in instructional resources, and that the $1million dollars a year they pour down the athletic drain  could be used to provide more classes.

That $1million would pay for about 100 more courses taught by lecturers, or 40–50 more taught by tenure-track faculty, about 40 more TA sections.  (Surprisingly, TAs cost departments much more than lecturers, because departments have to pay the tuition for TAs, which get recycled back into other things—like subsidizing athletics, probably.)  The money would benefit about 3000 students a year, rather than the under 300 who benefit from athletics subsidy.

I think that it is past time for UCSC to leave NCAA sports and return to having just club sports, as they did when I first started teaching at UCSC 30 years ago.


2016 May 26

Not so proud of UCSC undergrads this year

Last year 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:

  • Measure 62. Athletics Operations Enhancement Fee: Shall the undergraduates of UCSC provide funding for the operations for Intercollegiate Athletics by implementing a compulsory fee of $117 per student, per quarter, starting in the fall of 2015? FAILED: 60.33% No, 39.67% Yes.

This year, I’m not so proud of the students. After enduring an unrelenting propaganda barrage by the athletics staff, the students voted on an opinion poll that just allows them to vote on a fee measure next year:

Would you support a new student fee of approximately $90 per quarter ($270 per year) to retain the current NCAA Athletics program at UC Santa Cruz?
Votes Percent
Yes 3976 63.53%
No 2282 36.47%
Total Turnout 6258 40.89%


On other parts of the ballot, the students voted overwhelmingly to support fees for maintaining the Office of Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports (OPERS) facilities (about 80% in favor of each of two measures), which I approve of—these are facilities open to all students and which encourage students to participate in physical activity, both individual exercise and social team sports.

I’m not so happy with their theoretical support for subsidizing elite athletes—I have no patience for spectators—sports should be something students do, not pay to watch other people do. In the past UCSC students understood this distinction, with the result that intramurals were far more important to students than interscholastic sports.  When I came to UCSC, 30 years ago, there were no NCAA Division III teams—all sports were intramurals or club sports, and students recognized that participation in sports was something one did for pleasure (and paid for, if needed), not something that was a “service” or for the benefit of others.

It makes sense for students to pool their money to pay for services and facilities that many will use, but not to pay for coaches, trainers, and separate locker rooms for the varsity teams (who make up less than 2% of the student body).

I have been bothered by the Admistration’s $1 million a year subsidy for NCAA athletics for the past couple of years (and for next year). That money could have paid lecturers for about 100 more courses, benefiting several thousand students who can’t get into the courses they need.

I was very bothered by the Academic Senate’s response to this boondoggle, actually encouraging the Administration to continue pouring money into something that really has no reason for existing at UCSC, when basic needs like adequate classroom space and sufficient faculty and TAs to reduce classroom sizes are not being funded.

Oh, well, maybe the students will come to their senses when the athletes actually ask for money next year, as they have done in prior years.

(All that said, the UCSC student elections look much more reasonable than the dysfunctional student government at UCSB, which seems to consist almost entirely of political infighting, if the UCSB student newspapers are to be believed.)


2015 December 24

Sports At Any Cost

In November 2015, Huffington Post had an article, Sports At Any Cost, about the ridiculous amounts some colleges are spending on intercollegiate athletics:

A river of cash is flowing into college sports, financing a spending spree among elite universities that has sent coaches’ salaries soaring and spurred new discussions about whether athletes should be paid. But most of that revenue is going to a handful of elite sports programs, leaving colleges like Georgia State to rely heavily on students to finance their athletic ambitions.

They included a list of some of the most outrageous subsidies in collegiate sports, where the college is pouring millions of dollars into propping up their semi-pro athletic departments—money extorted from the students (student fees) or diverted from educational purposes (“institutional support”).  Note: these figures aren’t for intramurals or recreational facilities used by all students—just for the team athletics.

Some of the worst offenders are state schools.  For example, University of California, Riverside comes 7th on their list, with 87% of the athletics budget being subsidized ($67 million out of $76 million for a 4-year period), with 32% of that being student fees and 68% being institutional support. This comes to each student paying (through fees and diverted general funds) about $3656 over four years to support the UCR athletic teams.

The measure they sorted on (percentage of the athletics budget that is subsidized) is not the right one—what matters more is the subsidy per student.  If the athletics budget is tiny, it doesn’t matter if it is 100% subsidized, just as other entertainments on campus are subsidized at low levels.  What matters is the subsidy per student, by which measure UC Davis is doing even worse than UCR with a subsidy of $114million out of $144million (79%), or $4411 per student.  Other UCs on the list include UCSB ($3171/student), UCB ($1852), and UCI ($2694).

UCSC doesn’t make the list, because we have no Division I teams.  There has been some institutional subsidy of our Division III athletics (I estimate under $100/student), but that was a one-time administrative grant to give the athletics department a chance to convince the students to assess themselves a fee to support the teams.  So far the students have wisely resisted this, though they have been supportive of fee measures that support all students (not just elite athletes).  The fee that the athletics department tried to get passed was $117/quarter, which would be a subsidy of $1404 over 4 years—less that many of the other UCs but still far more than the entertainment value of the sports teams. I suspect that if the Office of Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports had floated a fee measure to increase the intramural program, buy more recreational sports equipment, or fund more surfing and scuba classes, the students would have passed it—it isn’t an aversion to the activities, but to the subsidy of a few “elite athletes” that is anathema to UCSC students.

I’m hopeful that UCSC will exit Division I this year, returning to having only club sports (as they did when I first came to UCSC) and intramurals, in which all students can participate.

I have spent significant time on  sports-mad campuses (I was an undergrad at Michigan State and a grad student at Stanford), and I’m convinced that UCSC has a much healthier attitude towards sports and exercise than those colleges. The value of sports in college is in the exercise and practice at cooperating in teams, which is best done by maximizing the participation (intramurals) rather than by subsidizing a small number of elite athletes as entertainers.


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