As a biology professor at Sacramento City College, I was taken aback by a recent television report suggesting that the University of California ought to consider selling a research facility on the Tahitian island of Moorea to offset state funding cuts.
The story on CBS 13-Sacramento seemed to me to be biased reporting. I wrote the station, urging the story’s producer, Mike Luery, to tell the complete story about the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station, rather than fanning the flames that might forever remove educational and research opportunities from our students.
While my suggestion went unheeded, I would like to share the facts with faculty and students at UC Davis, who were among those interviewed for the story, along with a state legislator who has proposed selling the Gump Station and other UC properties as a way to avoid student fee increases.
The Gump Station, which receives no state general fund support, was donated to the UC system by Richard B. Gump (with many of the structures built though donations by Gordon Moore of Intel fame). It’s far from the secret that the CBS 13 report made it out to be. The research station’s website (moorea.berkeley.edu) is available for all to see.
The Gump facility, available only for educational and research purposes, is used by researchers from UC and other institutions to answer important questions about some of the most diverse, fragile and vulnerable environments on earth: tropical coral reefs. These are environments from which we obtain numerous resources, including food and medicines, many of which are yet to be discovered.
Rates are posted with tiered fees for UC associated functions, non-profit organizations and for-profit organizations. The lodging cost of $41 per day (not including food) is for the use of a bed in a dorm-like setting with a shared kitchen where guests prepare meals. Having been there, I can tell you it’s simple and suits the needs of students.
The sale of the Gump Station (for $3.6 million) would provide UC’s 222,000 students with a one-time $16.22 reduction in one year’s fees – a miniscule one-time benefit that would forever remove the benefits derived from the field station, an irreplaceable educational and research resource.
I have led my students on field excursions to many natural environments in Northern California and Baja California. I can tell you unequivocally that the value of experiencing nature and culture first-hand can never be adequately replaced by a classroom or online course.
As an alumnus of UC Santa Barbara and father of a current UC San Diego student, I understand the burden of increased fees. But to throw away the gems of the UC system would be a grave and long-term mistake. My son will tell you that field experiences in Europe and French Polynesia have transformed his life.
Access to a cost-effective public university education is vital to California’s future in this globalized economy. If the real priorities are funding education and reducing the costs to attend institutions such as UC schools, then we need real solutions to an urgent problem, not glamorized misconceptions produced in the interest of ratings.