Last week University of California students protested a proposed 32 percent hike in fees, which follows a 9.3 percent increase approved in May. The hikes should call attention to a recent UC giveaway of $4 million, under pressure from Sacramento politicians, to a propaganda mill that should not be on a UC campus at all.
In 2000, Gov. Gray Davis and the state legislature established the UC Institute for Labor and Employment as a gift to the California Labor Federation.“This is an institute created by the Legislature for the purposes of labor advocacy and training programs,” wrote Patrick Lenz, UC Vice President for Budget, in an e-mail, part of 140 pages of documents obtained through a Public Records Act request.
The documents tell the story of the $4 million giveaway, and Mr. Lenz is correct about the role of the institute. It uses taxpayer money to crank out biased studies, labeled as UCLA or UC Berkeley studies, for release shortly before votes on union issues at the state legislature and at local governments. It also conducts training in organizing and political activism.
From 2000-2008, the legislature gave the institute $37.4 million in taxpayer funds. California, in the throes of its worst budget crisis since the 1930s, is cutting services, putting state employees on furlough, and handing out IOUs. But in 2008 the legislature still saw fit to give the labor institute another $5.4 million. This time Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the funding, which state unions could easily have provided themselves. They wanted someone else to fund their activism, even though, by the institute’s own count, 81.7 percent of California workers, the vast majority, are not union members.
Politicians pressured the University of California Office of the President to pony up the money the governor had vetoed. Those applying the leverage included Attorney General and former governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem-elect Darrell Steinberg. Some UC bosses found the demand challenging.
“I think if we give them more than $1 million or so in cash, we’d be doing a disservice to the rest of the University,” said an e-mail from Debora Obley, Associate Vice President in the UC Budget Office.
“We have $150 million worth of cuts to deal with,” Obley said in another email, also part of the public records. “That is huge and we don’t have money just lying around. Can you imagine the firestorm inside the University if we cut everyone more in order to fund this one?”
The University of California has laid off hundreds of employees and eliminated 2,000 jobs in the past year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet UC President Mark Yudof caved to politicians and gave $4 million to a labor institute the university did not create, has no obligation to fund, and whose activism targets the university itself.
“The unions benefit by these programs and use them against the UC in their collective bargaining negotiations and advocacy efforts with the Legislature,” Patrick Lenz wrote. “I’d find it ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ if we get stuck funding these Institutes in the future out of the UC budget at a time when the state is cutting our funding but pressuring us to give more at the collective bargaining table.”
The prime candidates for the punishment are middle-class families and students, for whom the University of California exists. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted, the UC hit students with fee increases at a time when the supposedly cash-strapped university was doling out $871 million in bonuses and stipends to administrators and faculty, beyond their regular salaries.
With the latest increase, and $4,000,000 needlessly handed out to the labor institute, students have ample cause to revive the UC traditions of free speech and protest. Taxpayers and policy makers have ample cause to join them.
UC spending should be geared to academic purposes. The unions, which spend multiple millions every election cycle, should fund their own institute, which would be more appropriately based at the headquarters of the California Labor Federation than at a prestigious state-funded university.