Guest Commentary: Students Forced to Pick Up Admin's Dropped Ball

    At this point there’s no need to regurgitate the pros and cons of the athletics fee referendum, as any athlete standing on Library Walk can rattle off talking points that surely could convince any normally oblivious UCSD undergrad. The issue of the athletics fee referendum is one that is so much more than just a testament to our commitment to staying in Division II through funding grants-in-aid, and should not simply be looked at as a method for student athletes to ensure that they will no longer have to sweep Main Gym every night to raise funds. Once you turn off the field lights, take away the stadium seating and close down the concession stand, the athletics fee referendum is a statement about the apathy and lack of oversight regarding the problems that face UCSD students every day.

    Priscilla Lazaro/Guardian

    In American universities, notoriety on the national level has been achieved by a select few Ivy League colleges and a handful of schools with consistently high-ranking Division I sports programs. Application rates skyrocket, alumni donations can fund entire sports programs and students seem to be incredibly proud to be a part of those universities. But when students choose to come to UCSD, they know not to expect crowds like the ones present at a University of Texas Longhorns game.

    Athletics, however, is not what is most lacking at UCSD. If this university’s only problems were related to the funding of the athletics department, it seems that those in charge would temporarily direct their attention to creating a pseudo-booster club to raise funds. But that did not happen. Instead, the UCSD administration remained steadfast and unwavering in its support of the faculty’s idea of “”a broad-based program that favors participation and minimizes professionalism.”” Time and time again, the UCSD faculty and administration repeat this ideology that has existed since UCSD had only two colleges.

    What does not make sense is why the administration and faculty favor a broad-based program yet do not want to spend a substantial amount of the university’s resources on athletics at the expense of academic programs. How the intercollegiate athletics department has existed so long under this dangerous contradiction of idealism and frugality is astonishing. Yet today students at UCSD face a decision to increase their fees by $78 per quarter to keep that broad-based program. And the question remains: Why should students be expected to foot the bill?

    I posed that exact question to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson when he visited the A.S. Council meeting in November. His response was in part that the administration was to blame for continuously supporting the existence of 23 teams while failing to provide adequate funding. The negative repercussions of cutting teams, which not only affect current and future UCSD students but would also draw negative attention on a national level, is a consequence no administration would want to suffer. Thus, the intercollegiate athletics department has struggled to maintain its program, cutting corners everywhere possible in order to achieve a positive reputation for our campus and provide an outlet for the high-achieving athletes that go to UCSD.

    Students are obviously in support of a strong athletics program, especially when many grow up expecting athletics to play some role in their undergraduate experience. So when the UCSD administration continued to ignore the underfunding of the athletics program, it became the students’ responsibility to pay attention. Skirting the issues of any department is completely irresponsible.

    When the vice chancellor of student affairs agreed to put forth $300,000 a year to comply with the NCAA grants-in-aid requirement last year, students immediately accused him of favoring athletics over academic programs like Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services. The Academic Senate then accepted the vice chancellor’s feeble and almost socialist grants-in-aid scheme, but required that students had to accept it and find a way to pay for it, too. Again, the UCSD faculty puts this decision on the students. If they want it, let them pay for it, right?

    Now the administration and faculty seem to be in a comfortable position. They messed up, and now students are paying for it because they legitimately care about athletics. Concern has been expressed that after this fee referendum, what is to stop every department from running referenda to increase their own funding? I share their concern, but I also have faith that after this referendum, students will begin to pay more attention to how the problems of the university are being addressed, starting with increased oversight of campus departments. For now, we must continue to support the referendum, not only because of the potential benefits it brings to student life on this campus, but because students, for once, are expressing how much they truly care about this aspect of campus life.

    While the institution of the public university has a level of bureaucracy that makes any change incredibly difficult, the most important thing that students can do is pay attention and exercise the powers that only they have. The fact that a fee referendum can be completely student-organized, and that only students are allowed to vote on it, gives us tremendous power over the faculty and administration. Through this process, we can truly change things. No longer will the administration let the underfunding of the athletics department occur, because students are committed enough to go through this rigorous process and still turn out to vote.

    In working on bringing this referendum to the A.S. Council for approval, one thing kept me motivated along the process – the fact that students have the power to tell the administration and faculty that ignoring the issues is not OK is a testament to our power to make change. And at a university that is constantly critiqued for its undergraduate apathy, I am incredibly proud to work on a campaign with individuals who actually care about making change on this campus and taking action upon it as well.

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