Bye Week Notes — Let’s Talk About Thursday’s ASUCD Meeting With Athletics

So UC Davis didn’t have an American football game this weekend. (There was plenty of action in the other football, where Men’s Soccer played in a pro soccer stadium and Women’s Soccer got a victory and some quality surfing time in Hawaii.)

What we did have was a fascinating, and hugely significant, ASUCD Senate meeting which featured Controller (money-handler) Rylan Schaeffer and several campus attorneys and other representatives. The issue in question was whether the fees voted on by students, which provide the principal source of funding for Athletics, are allowed to be changed by the university.

studentfeesSchaeffer and UCD attorney/ former Jerry Brown adviser Jacob Appelsmith controlled most of the time of the debate. Questioning from Schaeffer and the Senate revealed that the text of the fees voted on by students doesn’t have to be preserved by the administration; only the version edited and approved by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) is considered final.

This, in turn, led to the primary question of the night, which was whether the text of student fees is considered by the university and/or state a legally binding contract. The only relevant case was one in which a public California university raised fees on professional students after promising not to; the court ruled that it was a contractual violation, but Appelsmith argued that situation was too specific to extend to all student-university transactions.

(The university, according to Appelsmith and campus attorney Michael Sweeney, treats student votes as if they were binding, or at least holds no intent to modify them despite the chancellor’s apparent power to do so.)

Schaeffer argued that the fees do, in fact, represent a contract. This point has significance, because some terms of the fees (the Core Principles, referred to as “aspirational” ideals in a university letter read aloud at the meeting) were in fact violated with the cutting of four sports during the UC budget crisis.

Now, it’s not exactly clear what ASUCD would do if the cutting of sports was actually a contract violation. Negating all future fees would slash athletic budgets and possibly result in more cuts. There’s also the risk of blowback from the student body — barely any student still at UC Davis remembers our wrestling or women’s rowing teams, among others, and most of those athletes have long since graduated. It’s unclear if ASUCD could rally significant campus support, or any interest at all, for action over sports that are a distant memory at best.

What is clear is that the whole night reflected very poorly on the athletics department. The Senate was under the impression that Athletics Director Terry Tumey would be in attendance; two attorneys arrived and did the talking instead. The meeting got even more tense when Schaeffer revealed that his requests to see the final approved text of the student fees have been ignored for months. (An anonymous ASUCD source later told that the same documents have been requested and withheld for five years.)

Even all that might have been forgivable as a clerical oversight until Appelsmith revealed that the university does not in fact have any confirmation of whether the fees they are charging students are the ones actually ratified by UCOP. “We are 99 percent certain that [the fee structure we use] is the one we got from UCOP” he stated uncomfortably, at loss for further explanation when Schaeffer revealed how obfuscated the actual approved code proved to be.

The events that transpired, retold here in somewhat condensed form, were clearly a small, public part of a much larger story and conflict that is playing out between students and administration. The establishment of whether or not the fees are considered a contract appear to be the foundation of a more expansive argument. As reports from within ASUCD indicate that more information may become clear shortly, the Aggeek Blog will continue to cover these negotiations as more meetings occur and more details come to light.

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