Editorial: Disagreeable Athletics Fee Still Worth Passing

    When the new athletics fee referendum comes to a vote on Jan. 29, there are no easy answers for students. On one hand, supporters warn, failing to pass the fee would result in a serious downsizing of the campus’ athletics department (to the tune of as many as 13 of UCSD’s 23 intercollegiate teams, Director of Athletics Earl W. Edwards has said) or the removal of UCSD teams from Division II.

    On the other hand is the university demand that students pay an additional $78 per quarter to buoy the financially strapped department, which is currently running a $300,000 deficit and needs more money for growth, in addition to another $300,000 to fund new NCAA-mandated athletics scholarships that, no matter how ideologically offensive they may find it to be, officials must provide.

    Where is the university in this financial debacle? UCSD provides no direct institutional support whatsoever for athletics and nearly nonexistent indirect support. Students already pay almost $2.6 million of the department’s annual budget, a budget percentage that significantly overshadows student contributions at universities with comparable athletics programs, especially considering the additional $3.6 million the university would accrue from the proposed fee increase. Administrators and faculty have said that if students really want athletics at UCSD, paying for it should be our burden.

    The administration seems to have conveniently forgotten about the much-hyped Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction report released in September 2005. Although this board has criticized the report’s methodological approach in the past, the university has wholeheartedly supported its conclusions, and has wasted nothing in telling students how much the university cares about our experience and lauding the projects the U.S.E.S. steering committee has undertaken. The problem for administrators arises in one of the report’s major conclusions – UCSD needs a stronger, better-funded intercollegiate athletics program. The report even states that “”Division II athletics should be fully supported by the university.”” If the university believes that the report is an accurate reflection of campus needs, why must students shoulder the entire financial burden? Apparently because “”this is just how we do it at UCSD,”” according to steering committee member and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson.

    It’s time for the university to do more than just pay lip service to students. Through our comparably unprecedented level of financial support, UCSD students have already expressed that athletics is important to us as a campus. Based on their own report, university officials have recognized that a vital athletics program helps build a sense of community and school spirit. If they truly agree with the report’s conclusions, they should demonstrate that to us.

    Unfortunately, students won’t have a box to check demanding university support on Jan. 29. Instead, they have been placed in a no-win situation. Voting yes saves the department, but gives the university room to sustain the status quo, setting an even more dubious precedent for student financial contributions. Voting no devastates the department, and completes the university’s self-fulfilling prophecy – because students find it unfair to pay over $108 per quarter to fund athletics when students from some universities with comparable programs pay far less, they must not really care.

    Despite the university’s reprehensible position, this board grudgingly endorses the referendum. We believe that UCSD’s athletics program is too important to overall campus well-being to simply dismiss, even if it means undergraduates must pay beyond our already overwhelming share of the department’s budget. If the administration truly cares about student satisfaction as it claims, it will find a way to provide direct institutional support for athletics, demonstrating its commitment not only to student interests, but the interests of the entire campus.

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