Illo by Darrin Connoly

The UC Santa Cruz recreation department prides itself on its ability to establish community through appreciating nature and the importance of life skills. Despite the department’s 35-year track record of providing services to community members, its staff and supporters fear the 2019-20 academic year will present severe financial threats to its operations.

The recreation department, under the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS), offers adventure trips, classes and workshops. On top of outdoor opportunities, the recreation department gives students the chance to take courses in life skills. The news of a financial threat to the recreation department circulated throughout campus on and offline, and many are confused and angry. In the upcoming academic year, the recreation department will have to offer classes and trips for free.

“Life is not just sitting in a classroom,” said Natalie Gates, a fourth-year student and recreation leader at the department. “Life is dynamic, colorful, community-building. It’s about skills that you cannot necessarily learn in a classroom. They need to be learned outside, with people who aren’t in your discipline.


Each year, departments campuswide submit miscellaneous fee packets, reporting detailed expenses and requesting fee approval for the upcoming academic year. This year, vice chancellor of business and administrative services Sarah Latham rejected the recreation department’s packets for funding for the 2019-20 academic school year. She cited complications with submission timing as the reason for rejection.

Associate Director of Recreation and Physical Education Dustin Smucker, submitted the recreation department’s packets before the March 4 deadline. However, Director of Athletics and OPERS Sue Harriman said the packets were disorganized and contained incorrect financial reports based on OPERS’ ledger.

This led to back-and-forths between Harriman and the recreation department, causing the packets to be submitted late. Out of the 22 packets from OPERS as a whole, Latham and Senior Budget Analyst Lucy Van Doorn rejected eight. Seven of these rejected packets came from the recreation department. 

It was a shock to members of the department when Harriman informed them Latham and Van Doorn received their packets late, which resulted in the rejection of the department’s request.

Gates commented on the confusion members of the department experienced.

“We’re one of the oldest departments on campus, and the largest recreation department in the UC system,” Gates said. “It’s odd that our funds were not approved after little to no changes from the past decade.”

These “little to no changes” are what concerned Harriman, because the reporting was disorganized and incorrect. As the new director, Harriman did not feel comfortable submitting packets she deemed mathematically incorrect to Latham.

“Some of these packets went back-and-forth eight times, and I still did not feel comfortable sending them to Sarah,” Harriman said. “It was a long process that unfortunately was not completed on time. It’s tough when departments like boating have so many meticulous fees. We couldn’t correct and reorganize them by the due date. […] We are still going through to correct each packet. I see this as good practice to how I would like these reports to be handled in the future.”

Gates and other recreation department members are still skeptical about Harriman’s involvement with the miscellaneous fee packets. They question why seven packets were rejected. Since Harriman examined each OPERS packet before submitting, Gates wonders why recreation was the only department  struggling.


Aside from the confusion associated with the rejection of the miscellaneous fee packets, the recreation department fears what the lack of funds for the following academic year will do to the programs and services offered.

“Without these fees, the recreation department would have to offer trips free of charge,” said Matt Marshall, a student staff member at the department. 

Free trips could harm the department in two ways, Marshall explained. They would force the department to cut down the number of trips and classes, and could confuse incoming frosh and transfers. New students in the 2019-20 academic year would participate in trips and classes for free, but the following year would have to begin paying for them. Marshall said this could turn students away from the department.

If the miscellaneous fee packet were rejected again next year, Marshall said, the department would have to lay off both student workers and professional staff. The Wilderness Orientation Program would also be cut.

Gates commented on how far-reaching the department’s programming is. 

“The recreation department actively implements all of the university’s values, it creates a community on campus,” Gates said. “Also, it serves 11,000 students and community members annually, whereas athletics serves only 350.”

Harriman said programs are not being cut. Rather, they will operate with no fees, causing classes and trips to run free of charge beginning July 1. Harriman also mentioned her proposition to have community members pay more than students to make up for the lack of funds. Harriman sees free classes and trips as a positive opportunity for both students and OPERS. 

Director Smucker and Experiential Leadership Program (ELP) Director Miranda Allen both had no comment.


Allies of the recreation department are organizing a protest outside of Kerr Hall on May 20 in hopes of pressuring Chancellor Blumenthal to approve recreation fees for the 2019-20 academic year. Blumenthal’s role as chancellor allows him to override Latham’s decision.

Harriman supports the right to protest, but is advising participants to know the facts before doing so, she said. She suspects public response is a result of social media-induced panic and misinformation.  

On top of the protest, the organizers have also circulated a Google form encouraging both recreation department affiliates and supporters to express the importance of this campus space. Gates plans to print out each response and present them to Blumenthal at the protest. So far, over 100 individuals responded. 

With help from the Student Union Assembly (SUA), the department also attempted to draft a resolution that would act as a SUA condemnation of the administration for not preserving the recreation department. SUA officers met with Harriman on May 13 and said she assured the officers the recreation department could sustain a year without funds, due to an extra $300,000 in unused student fees and $126,000 from Measure 26. 

The department was not informed about this sum of money until SUA shared the information. With this new development, the recreation department decided to not submit its resolution for SUA to vote on.

On May 15, in an interview with City on a Hill Press, Harriman said she did not know what carryover money SUA was referring to.

“Each department runs on a 10 percent deficit or carryover,” Harriman said. “If there was a $300,000 carryover from one department, the other recreation departments could not use it to make up for a deficit.”

The situation demonstrates the lack of communication and clarity between student organizers and administration, Gates said.

In addition to Blumenthal approving the fees, Gates also wants to see this situation result in structural change. She said the process should be shortened and OPERS departments allowed to submit their miscellaneous fee packets directly to Lucy Van Doorn, rather than through Sue Harriman and Sarah Latham. Other departments on campus already submit directly to Van Doorn.

Gates emphasized the importance of the student voice as this situation moves closer to the protest.

“Students are organizing this fight,” Gates said. “We are the stewards of the campus culture, not administration. Now is the time to rally together to save a vital campus space, one that has built a community over the past 35 years.”