Clay Club disbands following conflict with advisor

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The University of Puget Sound Clay Club has held a presence on campus since its founding in 2012, but now faces disbandment due to disagreement with the club’s advisor, ceramics Assistant Professor Chad Gunderson.

Students can join Clay Club by paying a $15-per-semester fee and signing a waiver outlining the rules they must abide by in order to hold membership in the club.

The contract includes respect of the ceramics studio, the club’s tools and the ceramics students. It concludes with the acknowledgement that: “If problems arise, Assistant Professor Gunderson reserves the right to revoke the keycard access of individuals or the entire club.”

That’s exactly what happened. Clay Club officers began to clash with Gunderson over issues of accessibility and finances, and as a result now find themselves denied keycard access to the ceramics studio.

Recently the officers have been working to reform the club and make it more accessible to students.

“Clay Club is here for students, for manifesting that interest and curiosity towards just a completely natural and yet foreign material or medium that people can play with; it is not just for people who are art department students,” club officer Kristen Lee said.

Since taking over leadership of the club in 2017, Lee has taken more notice of the mandated fee imposed by the club advisor.

“Throughout the years that I have been here, it has increased from $15 a year to $15 per semester and then to $20 per semester. We were able to bring it back down to $15 per semester, collecting the fee through the ASUPS office for more transparency,” Lee said.

Members have began to question what exactly these fees are funding and where their money is going. This membership fee does not include clay, and Clay Club has their own tools, with all tools and the studio space maintained by club officers.

Lee voiced concerns over halted efforts in making Clay Club more accessible to students due to Gunderson’s unwillingness to compromise. He has refused to lower the membership fee while also failing to provide club officers a detailed accounting of the disbursement of the fees.

“Last semester alone we brought in $540 in membership fees, so this is not a negligible amount of money,” Lee said. “I asked him how the money is distributed and what happens to all the surplus fees because I believe the surplus should be returned back to the club budget, but Chad has refused multiple times to provide me with detailed accounting. Last week we had a meeting and he told us it’s $15 per semester or no club at all.”

Lee described previous confrontations over finances where Gunderson had alluded to the idea that the fee is used for maintenance of the wheels and to cover the cost of the studio’s raw materials, but the fluctuation of club fees is of interest.

Officers and members of Clay Club are concerned that their advisor is blatantly breaking the Faculty and Staff Advisor Agreement by mandating fees and imposing contracts on students.

This advisor agreement states that the advisor may not “demand actions from club/organization leaders or members; have authoritative decision-making power; or hold any club/organization leadership positions at any point in time.”

As of this semester, Clay Club is officially disbanded. All members have been revoked of their keycard access to the studio, leaving some members unable to retrieve unfinished work or personal tools. The only way to regain access is by enrolling in a class taught by Gunderson.

An ongoing question is how to involve students who do not have the financial means to afford this club but possess a genuine interest in participating.

For ceramics studios, a $15 membership fee is not unreasonable, but as Lee highlights, “those are legitimate businesses who are trying to earn money. This is an education institution to which we already pay a tuition.”

Speaking on behalf of the club and its members, Lee expressed a desire for compromise and an understanding of the necessity of a small fee, but with a detailed explanation of its purpose and where it is going. The future of Clay Club remains unknown.

At the time of printing, Assistant Professor Gunderson has not responded to requests for comment.