Why Over 400 Distinguished CAProfessors Want Schwarzenegger’s Veto of UC Labor Studies Reversed

Posted on 17 October 2008

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Andrea-Buffa.gifBy Andrea Buffa
UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education

With the economy in crisis, unemployment and foreclosure rates rising, and most people worried about their future, what is the only University of California program that Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed this year? The Miguel Contreras Labor Program, which conducts research and education on such issues as how to create and improve jobs, how to reform the health care system, and how critical issues like immigration and the green economy impact California workers.

On Wednesday, more than 400 California professors protested the veto, sending the governor a letter that questions both his motive and timing: “As you well know, working families are struggling and the workplace is being transformed by dramatic, sometimes worrisome trends from offshoring to technological change. The work of the Contreras Program is thus more needed than ever,” the letter reads.

“We understand the need to balance the budget in difficult times and that UC should expect to make sacrifices along with other state programs. However, out of the $3 billion UC budget, the only item you vetoed was the $5.4 million Contreras Program. Given the tiny amount of savings, it is hard to understand this action as other than politically motivated. We see this as unwarranted political interference in the academic activities of the University of California. It violates the basic principle of the freedom to speak out and conduct research even on controversial topics; this freedom is a cornerstone of the vital, world-class university California needs.”

The list of professors who signed the letter to the governor includes such names as William Gould of Stanford, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board; Kenneth Arrow of Stanford, a Nobel Prize-winning economist; George Lakoff of UC Berkeley, a linguistics professor and author of bestseller “Don’t Think of An Elephant;” Sanford Jacoby of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, a top scholar on the history of US corporations; and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo of USC, one of the top sociologists studying Latino life in the United States; among others. Take a look at the full list of professors who signed the letter.

Schwarzenegger and California Republican legislators have long targeted UC labor studies for elimination, even as they’ve benefited from analyses of California policy proposals carried out by various research centers that fall under the Miguel Contreras Program. The program is the only one at UC directed to labor, and thus Schwarzenegger’s veto is considered a political move. As the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in an editorial when the program was under attack several years ago, "Schwarzenegger should not be wielding the budget as a crude tool to go after people or institutions he may differ with politically or philosophically, especially those operating within the University of California."

The governor also vetoed funding for labor studies in 2005; the funds were restored by the legislature the following year. This year’s veto came as a surprise. The governor's proposed budget had an across the board cut for the University and did not single out any specific UC programs. UC President Mark Yudof, has promised to find funds to keep the programs open through the fiscal year, but has not yet specified the amount.

Groups that support UC labor studies have created a website that can be used to express support for the Miguel Contreras Labor Program.