As UCR approaches the new academic year, one of the main concerns facing Highlanders is the Budget Advisory Committee’s (BAC) proposal to eliminate UCR Athletics along with the School of Public Policy (SPP). This sudden proposition to fix the school’s so-called financial strain came as a shock to students and faculty alike. The hastiness of this situation shows the flaws in the decision making process of administrators and their inability to recognize that cutting whole programs will ultimately be an unwise strategy.
To cope with the onslaught of costs the coronavirus pandemic has caused with campus closure, the BAC has come up with a set of strategies in order to pull UCR out of financial disarray. Each strategy was fleshed out and proposed to administration. Out of all the recommendations, the proposal to eliminate UCR Athletics and the SPP stood out the most. The reasons for elimination came as an even bigger surprise, as they seemed to not make a lot of sense given the situation. The BAC instead proposed to build a more robust intramural program to replace athletics and the elimination of SPP is backed by the fact that they could save on the administrative costs of a free standing school.
The proposal of eliminating athletics was immediately met with intense backlash from students, staff and the UCR and Riverside community. Many students, current or prospective, view sports as an integral part of the classic college experience. If UCR eliminates athletics, it will be the only University of California without a full sports department. Compared to other campuses such as UCLA, UCR will not stand a chance in competing for a large portion of new freshman applicants. One immense lure for prospective students is school spirit. Without a sports program, UCR without a doubt will suffer a gigantic blow in school morale. Without the strong sense of camaraderie that sports bring to a campus, students will have no desire to feel a sense of pride for their campus. As a result, prospective students will see this and look elsewhere for a college experience that involves sports.
UCR Athletics has helped innumerable low income students make a future for themselves with sports-related scholarships. These are resources for students that help those who can not afford a UC education. In a town hall for UCR Athletics, Tamica Smith Jones stated that 74% of student-athletes identify as non-white. Given that UCR has been considered one of the most diverse campuses, taking away sports from students and prospective first year athletes is undermining the successes of these young students of color and leaving them to fend for themselves. This would go against everything UCR has spoken out against regarding the current political climate and systemic racism. UCR should not get away with capitalizing off of the tuition of students of color for the title of most diverse university and then taking away opportunities for them to afford an education.
As if eliminating the athletics program was not upsetting enough, the removal of the SPP will also have a detrimental effect. UCR is one of only four UC campuses with a SPP undergraduate program and it has made the university stand out. SPP has done an incredible job of connecting the surrounding community with UCR students and it encourages graduates to stay and improve Riverside county and the Inland Empire. Taking away the SPP will only push people to relocate to other cities instead of staying within the community. This will deprive the Inland Empire of these bright individuals and will also diminish UCR’s growing credibility.
Eliminating the SPP when it is a newly formed school does not give the SPP enough time to prove itself. The school was formed in 2018 and cutting it before it has the chance to make a big difference for the surrounding community is ridiculous and extreme. Riverside’s SPP has the potential to change many lives for the better and refusing to give so many of these students and faculty a chance is insulting. The SPP addresses relevant issues such as social mobility, poverty and systemic racism. It would be rather hypocritical for an institution who boasts to be the number one in social mobility to eliminate such a program.
It is too drastic of a decision to cut two integral departments, potentially causing so many layoffs for faculty. Many staff members rely on these jobs to put food on the table. What stands out the most is that no members on the BAC are a part of UCR Athletics or the SPP. The lack of representation on the BAC also explains why the SPP was the only academic unit mentioned for elimination. In the official language of their recommendations, the BAC wrote that UCR Athletics and the SPP are not deemed as critical as other components on campus. It is disappointing that athletics and the SPP were deemed as non-critical when they did not have proper representation to begin with. If a program is the subject of elimination at an institution, it is only fair that every program gets a say in the decision-making process.
Instead of displacing student athletes, SPP students and faculty, UCR should focus more of their efforts on halting the different, unnecessary construction projects on campus for buildings that students and faculty may not even inhabit for the foreseeable future. If UCR were to halt projects such as The Barn, new dorms and apartments that cost millions of dollars, UCR could have potentially addressed many of their budget cut concerns rather than eliminating entire departments on campus.
While the BAC has proposed that every individual organization prepare to cut their budgets by 10% to 15%, they should focus this on a larger scale instead of cutting whole departments. In addition to this, UCPD and TAPS continue to roam an empty campus and are getting paid for it. With demands to defund UCPD rising from students, it is insulting to see these demands ignored while UCR prepares to instead defund departments at UCR that students deem essential. There are so many avenues that the BAC could have explored in dealing with monetary issues, but it feels as if they are turning a blind eye and moving to easier solutions.
The decision to cut two whole departments when there is money to be found elsewhere feels too hasty and should be re-examined. The BAC needs to be more considerate of students and faculty alike who will be receiving the short end of the stick in this bargain. UCR students need to continue to fight these proposals and sign petitions so that countless students and faculty aren’t displaced due to poor financial planning.