With the university facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, UCSB’s administration has announced its plans to close the Exercise and Sports Studies Department by the end of the school year.
The decision, in addition to affecting the thousands of students who enroll in ESS classes each quarter, may leave some faculty members without a job. Moreover, there are currently 5,000 students seeking a minor in the program, many of whom may have to abandon that aspiration.
Jon Spaventa, the director of ESS, says the department’s termination would affect past, current and future students. For Chancellor Henry T. Yang, however, the university’s coffers were just too strained to continue the program, especially given the number of other priorities in desperate need of funding.
“After reviewing the report, we determined, with extreme reluctance, that with the unprecedented budget difficulties our campus is experiencing and with many competing core university priorities, there were insufficient resources to address the basic issues raised during the review and that are necessary to offer an academic program in ESS at the level we expect of all of our academic programs,” Yang said via e-mail.
According to Yang, administration is working with students who are currently enrolled in the program to provide information and counseling, answer questions and assist with their timely completion or transition.
Two students set to graduate from the program this year have begun organizing a campaign to keep the department alive, however.
Jason Newland, a fifth-year economics major and athletic coaching minor, and Erica Stenz, a fourth-year communication major and double minor in fitness instruction and exercise and health science, with the backing of Associated Students, will be rallying for the ESS program throughout the year.
“If we rally together and show the faculty and administration what we want, change can happen,” Newland, who lamented the potential harm to job prospects that would result if UCSB was no longer formally recognized for offering the minor, said. “The faculty is going to have to listen.”
Several faculty members associated with the department stand to lose even more, however. Emily Read, an administrative assistant for the department, is one of many staff members who could lose her job.
“I could be out of a job next year,” Read said. ”Having access to the gym and working for people with a passion for exercise and athletics has inspired me. My job here is beneficial to my overall health and happiness.”
Another staff member, Gregg Wilson, is feeling the effects of the budget cuts, and could also face unemployment if ESS is cut.
“I have been at UCSB for 34 years and this is the worst budget situation we have faced,” Wilson said. “I would lose 15 percent of my salary on top of the seven percent cut I am already taking for this year. That is a significant reduction in my earnings.”
This is not the first time the ESS department has been in danger of shutting down, though none may have been more serious than the current threat. Now in his 30th year with the department, Spaventa recalled times in 1981 and again later that decade that the program was on the brink of closing down only to have students successfully rally to save the program.
“UCSB has a unique culture,” Spaventa said. “Students are active and there is a very strong support system for classes and programs.”
In the hopes of increasing that support, advocates of the program are encouraging students to attend a faculty teach-in next Wednesday, Oct. 14 in Campbell Hall from 2:30 p.m. to midnight.