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Experimental College closed temporarily due to budget shortfall

By From page A1 | January 10, 2014

Courses at the Experimental College of UC Davis have been suspended temporarily due to a budget shortfall. But a task force charged with assessing the EC’s value to students may be able to revive it and make it sustainable by fall quarter.

Although offering no promises, the Associated Students of UC Davis Senate, which oversees the budget for the EC as well as many other student services, closed EC courses in December after notifying college leaders of financial concerns in early fall.

The EC had losses of an estimated $27,000 in the 2012-13 school year and a projected loss of approximately $22,000 for 2013-14, according to the ASUCD budget. However, EC leaders have proposed adjustments to reduce the projected 2013-14 loss to about $10,000 through staff cuts. Also proposed is a change in course fee distribution, giving more to EC and less to the instructors.

Interest in the courses has been falling: Total enrollment declined to 100 last year from an average of 400 annually in the past decade.

“Never do we want to eliminate a service for students,” said ASUCD President Carly Sandstrom. “We have to make sure that we’re being good stewards of student money.”

The EC offers courses for students and non-students ranging from martial arts and yoga to music instruction — but differs from the Activities and Recreation Center with customized courses ranging from juggling, fire-walking and video DJ-ing to gardening through the UC Gardens, which are also part of the EC. The college also is the historical home of the offices of the Whole Earth Festival.

The UC Gardens portion of the EC is not affected by the course closure.

Some within the senate maintain that the Experimental College is a valuable student resource.

“Starting immediately after the suspension of the EC, I began to draft a resolution which focuses on the importance of EC to the UC Davis campus as well as the actions required to assist the EC,” said ASUCD Senator Amrit Sahota. “EC is a jewel to this campus. It provides jobs for students as well as personally tailored classes that normally would not be found in a conventional classroom.”

This resolution was set to be presented at an ASUCD Senate meeting Thursday night, where several instructors planned to speak about the value of the EC.

Sandstrom maintains that many courses were made redundant by the construction of the ARC in 2007, which has much larger and more modern facilities, and that the EC has not met expectations in recent years to improve its visibility, website and advertisement — despite offering courses not provided by the ARC.

“When the ARC opened in 2007, facilities were made available to institutionalize these courses in a more efficient way. The Experimental College has one classroom,” said Sandstrom, referring to the EC’s multipurpose workout room.

Proposed changes within the EC’s organization, marketing and fees structure would save approximately $10,000 from the budget from July through December, and potentially could lead to greater savings if calculated for the whole year, according to Rick Schubert, chairman of the EC Instructors Advisory Board and a hapkido instructor at EC for 20 years.

Schubert, who historically teaches between 55 and 65 students, saw just 31 sign up in the fall. He is a professor of philosophy at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, and a former UCD faculty member.

Schubert blames revenue declines on EC leaders not changing from print to electronic advertising soon enough, a poorly designed membership fee system, and high leadership turnover with poor communication between outgoing and incoming leaders, who historically have been undergraduates.

“One director would initiate a pilot project, and the next director would think that was established best practice, even though the practice had not been fully vetted,” Schubert said. “With lack of available mentorship, the EC director is a fairly stressful situation. The (Instructors Advisory Board) was formed in fall 2013 to provide organizational memory and support for the leadership.”

An example of poor leadership decisions, Schubert said, was a fee system punitive to nonmembers, which made prices for nonmembers exorbitant.

“The result … was that enrollment declined more severely,” he said. “Instructors were telling the leadership that this was a bad model.”

Course fees are proposed to change from a 70/30 instructor/EC ratio to 50/50, resulting in a 67 percent increase in income from fees. The EC receives most of its income from these fees.

Additionally, advertisement would move to the web from print ads.

— Reach Jason McAlister at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Freelancer Crystal Atamian contributed to this report.

Jason McAlister

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