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Investigator found no wrongdoing in Aggie sports cuts, UC says

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March 12, 2011 |

An outside investigator has cleared UC Davis administrators of wrongdoing in their decision last year to cut four sports teams.

Judy Sakaki, University of California vice president of student affairs, announced that development in a letter to 53 student-athletes who had filed a grievance last June accusing administrators of improper governmental activity.

“I concur with the investigator’s finding that university policy was not violated,” Sakaki wrote in the Feb. 25 letter. The UC Office of the President provided the letter to The Enterprise last week, but will not make the investigator’s report available for another month.

While the university now considers the matter closed, it remains to be seen whether the athletes — who have suffered a series of setbacks in their efforts to save their programs — will take their case to court.

Zach Hansen, a member of the men’s swimming and diving team, which was cut last April — along with women’s rowing, men’s wrestling and men’s indoor track and field — said in an e-mail message that he wasn’t satisfied with the result.

“We had all hoped that this could be solved within the existing system, but we had to keep in mind that this was an internal review. Because of this, however disappointing this result may be, it wasn’t unexpected,” wrote Hansen, a senior psychology major from Visalia.

“It will be very interesting to see the details of the final report, when the UCOP does release it. As far as a suit goes, we are now examining our options and that is certainly on our list.”

The investigation marked the first of its kind.

The grievance was filed under a campus policy approved April 20, 2009, with the intent of giving students a way to files grievances against professors, according to UCOP spokesman Steve Montiel. Ordinarily, campus judicial affairs would determine an outcome.

The athletes have said the process of choosing whether to cut and which programs would get the ax lacked transparency, was rushed and ignored a good-faith obligation to the student body, which provides the majority of the funding for athletics through fees, and the athletes themselves.

Because the grievance was filed against campus administrators, the case was referred to UCOP. Officials there tried and failed to bring the two sides together before later launching the investigation, Montiel said.

Though the case was handled by an outside attorney, oversight rested with UCOP.

Had the investigator found wrongdoing, a UCOP spokesman said last year, the choice to rescind the cuts still would have gone back to UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi. She had already stated publicly that the decision was both necessary and final.

The UCD athletics department was running a $1.4 million deficit before the cuts. By eliminating the teams, increasing revenue and trimming $400,000 more in spending, Athletic Director Greg Warzecka has said, his department should be above water by 2013-14.

Administrators have said their hand was forced by massive state budget cuts that have resulted in wide-ranging cutbacks across campus, student fee hikes, a year of faculty and staff furloughs and hundreds of eliminated jobs.

The campus faces another $107 million shortfall, which could double if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension plan does not receiver voter approval.

UCD’s leaders have maintained that they have honored past student referenda, which called for a program of 23 varsity sports (which UCD still has after eliminating the four teams) and laid out requirements if budget cuts were needed. The 150 student-athletes affected were offered continuing grants-in-aid to finish their schooling.

Through a spokesperson, UCD officials declined to comment on the investigation. Messages requesting comment from others backing the athletes’ cause were not returned or declined.

The 52-page final report written by the outside investigator, Sacramento attorney Sue Ann Van Dermyden, will not be made public until names and other student information are redacted to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Montiel said Friday.

UCOP plants to post the report online, Sakaki wrote, along with supporting documents. Van Dermyden conducted 37 interviews and reviewed 2,500 documents between early September and Feb. 25.

Sakaki herself is a former UCD administrator. She served as vice chancellor of student affairs on the Davis campus until November 2006.

“This has been a difficult situation for all involved,” she wrote to the athletes. “I sincerely regret that budgetary circumstances required this action in the first place. I understand that this action has directly impacted your lives. I admire your tenacity and perseverance. I hope that you will move forward with achieving your personal and educational goals and dreams.”

The cost of the investigation so far was not immediately available, Montiel said.

For a time last summer, it appeared that the athletes had a champion in Sacramento in Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who made a show of pointedly questioning university officials at a hearing. Florez promised another hearing and to consider some sort of legislative action. However, he did not act before being termed out of office.

Ultimately, a trailer in the budget signed into law included a short item requiring that state universities using student-approved fees to support athletics use them only for that purpose.

On campus last month, Hansen, in his role as an Associated Students of UC Davis senator, authored a ballot initiative that, if approved, would have established a student oversight committee for intercollegiate athletics.

ASUCD President Jack Zwald vetoed the measure. His stated reasons included a concern that such a move would run afoul of NCAA regulations, take power away from a UC Board of Regents-mandated fees committee and give undergraduates power over fees collected from graduate students.

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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