Over 400 University of California faculty members sent a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week, denouncing his recent decision to cut all state funding for labor research programs on UC campuses.
The criticism came after Schwarzenegger line item-vetoed $5.4 million in funding for the Miguel Contreras Labor Program (MCLP), a multi-campus labor research program which also sponsors the Institutes for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at the UCLA and Berkeley campuses.
The letter states that the governor’s decision “threatens academic freedom” because it singled out the MCLP as the only UC program to have complete elimination of funding.
“This veto is quite a serious blow to the program,” said Chris Tilly, director of IRLE at UCLA. “The UC system as a whole received a 10 percent decrease in funding, but [the MCLP] was the only one that received a 100 percent cut. It seems as though he singled this program out.”
This is not the first time that the program has struggled to receive state funding, said Tilly, who co-drafted the letter.
“This has happened pretty much every year,” he said. “[Governor Schwarzenegger] has threatened to cut off funding before … it’s been a consistent pattern of opposition.”
Opponents to the veto are concerned that the governor’s decision was politically motivated because the Contreras Program “works with unions and community organizations that he disagrees with,” Tilly said.
“It is hard to imagine any other motivation besides political given the fact that this was the only program vetoed out,” said Chris Benner, UCD professor and steering committee member of the Labor and Employment Research Fund, which is affiliated with the Contreras Program. “It is a pretty big violation of academic freedom if the governor is going to be determining the priority of research funding in universities.”
Representatives from the State Department of Finance said Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision was due to a difficult state budget rather than any political or personal motivation.
“When the legislator sent the budget to the governor, it had a paper-thin reserve,” said H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs for the department. “Looking ahead, the governor knew that California is going to face continuing fiscal struggles and the reserve would need to be increased.”
The governor vetoed a total of $510 million from various other programs in an attempt to build up the reserve, Palmer said.
“These vetoes are not a commentary on the value or relevance of the programs,” he said. “They were compelled by the certainty that California is entering into another bad budget year.”
Tilly said it is hard to accept a budget argument as a valid reason for the veto.
“UC received $3.3 billion in state funding,” he said. “The $5.4 million that was saved in eliminating the Contreras Program’s funding is such a small amount … the savings were not significant.”
UC President Mark Yudof has committed to providing some funding for the program, although the amount has not been determined, said Tilly.
“We do not yet know how much funding we would be receiving,” he said. “But we are very happy that President Yudof has stepped up to the plate and recognized the importance of this program.”
Benner said he hopes that UC will restore full funding for the program.
“This program’s research is tremendously valuable for California and its workers,” he said. “It would be a remarkable statement of support if the full amount was reinstated from the president’s office.”
ERICA LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.