Students Files Grievance Against University For Elimination of Sports Teams

universitycat.pngAround 100 UC Davis athletes have filed a “grievance” with the Student Judicial Affairs alleging that the university has engaged in “arbitrary treatment in elmination of teams.”  According to a five page release, the University, “announced their plans without sufficient advance notice for us to make alternate plans or to seek redress within the normal academic calendar, we seek not only a permanent reversal of their plans but also interim reinstatement of our teams before the effective date of their elimination.”

The grievance asks the university to reinstate the Men’s Swimming and Diving Team, Wrestling Team, Varsity Crew Team, Novice Crew Team, and the Men’s Indoor Track Team.  It asks the university to reinstate the teams for at least one year while the decision is reviewed.

The university announced the decision to eliminate the teams on April 16, 2010.  The students allege that prior to that, the university worked in “closed-session meetings on their plans.”

According to the complaint, “Because the selection process was undertaken without the promised transparency, not all of the evidence of bias is currently available, although the selection of our teams over other teams demonstrates favoritism and bias. But we do not wish to save our teams at the cost of eliminating other teams. Instead, we want to compel UC Davis to honor the terms of the contract that it made with its students to maintain all teams.”

Furthermore, they allege that UC Davis has violated their contract with students. 

Because UC Davis and its students enter contracts for the educational services that UC Davis provides, the students can enforce those contracts. Moreover, with an existing contract, it is easier to add terms to that contract via implied contract than it might be to create an implied contract from scratch. Here, as part of the Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI, 2002), UC Davis committed to “Seven principles will be observed in our Division I program,” one of which is “UC Davis cannot reduce its broad-based program but rather must seek to add sports.” At the time, then-Chancellor Vanderhoef characterized these as “seven inviolate principles” in an open letter to addressed to “Members of the UC Davis Campus Community” dated March 11, 2003. This commitment is part of the larger contract between UC Davis and each of its students who pays elevated fees to pay for Intercollegiate Athletics. In fact, these elevated fees that the students voted to undertake – conditioned on UC Davis’ maintaining all ICA teams – provide considerably more than half of the ICA budget. We maintain that the elimination of the four teams breaches UC Davis’ contractual agreement and that we have the right to enforce the contract by seeking reinstatement of the four teams.”

The students allege, “UC Davis has breached the terms of its contract with us as students by reneging on its commitment to maintain its ICA teams.”

The students seek two remedies, “(1) interim reinstatement of the teams, and (2) permanent reinstatement after a full review.”  They continue, “we seek reinstatement for at least the next academic year and preferably for the next three academic years because the returning students had every right to expect UC Davis to sponsor their sports throughout their time at UC Davis.”

The students make five points in support of their claim.

First they argue, “Solely because of the Respondents’ timing and lack of transparency, we students have an impossibly short window in which either to have UC Davis reinstate the teams for next year or to transfer to schools that will compete in our sports.”

Second, During that same short window, opportunities for scholarships at other schools are either already gone or disappearing, and we are first and foremost students who need to focus on our exams and papers for this semester.”

Third, “Without interim reinstatement, we students will lose an irreplaceable opportunity to compete in our sports for the limited window of intercollegiate athletic eligibility that our college years provide.”

Fourth, “By contrast, UC Davis will not suffer harm if forced to reinstate teams that it had no right to eliminate in the first place to save money that the UC Davis students agreed to pay only if UC Davis would maintain all of its intercollegiate teams.”

Finally, “As explained above, UC Davis also will not suffer harm if forced to reinstate teams because UC Davis has no right to violate the applicable laws discussed above.”

Brief Commentary

This is a difficult situation.  On the one hand, all student programs are being cut back, tuition raised, furloughs, fewer classes, clearly the entire university is going to suffer from pain.

However, I think the students have a strong case on the basis of the timing of the decision, in mid-April making it difficult for those affected students to find alternative arrangements.  The lack of transparency in the process probably adds to that sense.

On the other hand, some of the arguments the students make here are almost nonsensical.  They argue that their due process rights under the federal and California constitutions have been violated since they “prohibit government entities like UC Davis from depriving us of liberty or property interests without due process.”  In short, there is no due process issue involved here, it is simply a matter of the university continuing or discontinuing a program.

At best the university can be held on a breech of contract if they violated the specific wording of the contract that the students signed.  The students cite in support of their claim, the Campus Expansion Initiative from 2003, in which they claim UC Davis committed to “Seven principles will be observed in our Division I program,” one of which is “UC Davis cannot reduce its broad-based program but rather must seek to add sports.”

It is unclear if this is a violation of contract, however, if fees were raised by the students on the specific condition of participation in sports, they may have a point.  But again, we would have to look at the specific wording of such initiatives and whether it has binding language or simply suggestive language.

From my perspective, the timing of the cuts were insensitive to student concerns and the university probably should have stayed the execution a year to allow their students to make alternative arrangements.  One probably should question how much money they are really saving with the elimination of these handful of sports programs, none of which are either big spenders or big revenue producers.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 Comments

  1. Aaron

    This has been a really hot issue on the campus since it came out, and while I do my best to sympathize, I cant say for certain how much I can really give their case. Every student in the entire university is suffering from cuts. In fact, every student in the entire California education system is suffering from the effects of cuts. While I do not know how much money these sports make or take (which is probably something good to find out), based on what facts are out there it doesn’t seem justified to put so much attention on what is just another cut in a long list of cuts that we have been dealt. But I’m open to revising that judgement based on more information, if only it was more readily available.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    My thought as well, everyone’s having their programs cut. At the same time, most students knew this quite some time before the students in these athletic programs, and they found out too late to transfer in most cases to other programs. From that perspective I think they have a point even if the should have had a lawyer read their filing before they sent it out.

  3. biddlin

    Since my own student days, I’ve wondered why students don’t realize that they are the customers and demand better service from the providing institution.In the case of these athletes, they seem to have a legitimate “bait and switch” complaint. .

  4. Dr. Wu

    Ultimately this is a zero sum game. Should UC Davis cut academic programs or athletics? I think athletics are important, but UC Davis’ reputation and mission rests primarily on academics.

  5. civil discourse

    Dr. Wu wrote:
    “Should UC Davis cut academic programs or athletics?”

    Things don’t have to be either / or. That is a divide and conquer tactic and very easy to play into.

    I’d say a balance or third way can be sought with due time. Dismissing the valid concerns of athletes – granted they aren’t football quarterbacks! – based on budget generalities or either / or arguments does a disservice to the issue they raise.

  6. Daniel

    They’re trying to get Student Judicial Affairs to compel the University to reinstate sports teams? And they want it done before fall quarter? The students vastly overestimate the power of SJA.

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