By David M. Greenwald
The September 25 decision to eliminate the entire physical education program in Winter 2021 has triggered widespread protests and pushback from students, community members and alumni. Last Thursday, the ASUCD Senate passed a resolution opposing the campus administration’s decision to eliminate the physical education program.
The resolution passed 11 to 0 with a single abstention.
The resolution opposes “campus administration’s decision to eliminate the Physical Education (PHE) program, urge that the program, including all current PE lecturers, be reinstated by winter quarter 2021, and urge that administration solicits faculty and student input.”
Since the decision was made, more than 4000 students and alumni have signed onto the “Save the UC Davis Physical Education Program” petition. There are over 100 comments in support of PE.
“This petition is an expression of the student body’s will in overwhelming opposition to the cancellation of PE,” the resolution argues.
They further note that “the ASUCD Senate table’s emails have been flooded with messages from UC Davis students and faculty urging ASUCD to take action against the administration’s decision to remove the PHE program.”
Opposition has ranged from sports and recreation clubs at UC Davis such as the Taekwondo Club and Swim Club as well as State Senator Bill Dodd and Senator Connie Leyva who is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
As an alternative to PE, the UC Davis administration has directed students to the ARC Recreational classes.
However, ASUCD notes that “these classes are currently limited with only 15 classes offered each week, with limited seats, and lack of diversity in activity as the PE courses offer (tennis, boxing, etc.).”
The student organization argues, “[A]s we are in the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARC, Rec Swim, and Craft Center often close and are an unpredictable and unreliable source of exercise for UC Davis students.”
There are further consequences as well. ASUCD continues that “UC Davis ranks the 5th nationwide in sexual-assault crimes and the elimination of the PE program would result in the elimination of vital self defense classes.”
Consequences, they say, include that “the destruction of the PHE program will hurt students seeking exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, coaches who will lose their jobs, and students under the ICA program.”
The budget savings, they argue, is questionable. According to the UC Davis Budget Overview for the Council on Student Affairs and Fees, UC Davis’s budget for 2018-2019 was $5.2 billion, and they say “after cutting PE, the administration will only be saving $1.2 million dollars according to the PE Program Paper in the UC Davis’s Budget and Institutional Analysis.”
Furthermore, they note that the PE program falls under a “Special Academic Program,” and the the disestablishment of the PE program falls under the authority of the Academic Senate.
They argue that the Academic Senate page states, “The establishment, revision, and disestablishment of Special Academic Programs require Academic Senate approval.”
However, when the Davis Faculty Association published a letter on the administrative decision to remove the PE program, they argued, “We were quite surprised to read in the Davis Enterprise about the proposed elimination of the Physical Education Program…there is also the fact that the Academic Senate has formal authority in decisions of this nature.”
The students question the fiscal implication. A current UC Davis Vice Chancellor, they argue, sent an email to the ASUCD Senate and claimed, “This decision is not related to budget implications brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a concerted effort to modernize our programming based on steadily declining enrollment in PE over the years (i.e., enrollment declined from about 4,600 students taking PE courses in 2014-15, to about 2,800 in 2019-20).”
ASUCD responds, “[F]rom 2014 to 2020, PE 1 course sections were reduced by 13.2 percent and other PE course sections were reduced by 61.3 percent. Therefore, the drop in enrollment seems at least partially attributable to the reduced number of course options.”
The Senate concludes with a firm objection to the decision to end the PE program, and they urge administration “to immediately halt the cancellation of PE” and “form a working group of stakeholders containing both students and faculty to approach the future of PE carefully, thoughtfully, and democratically.”
They call for “any decision pertaining to the status of PE to be decided only after a workgroup has formed and has rendered a decision.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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