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Santa Barbara Think Tank to Move to West L.A.

December 02, 1987|MILES CORWIN | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a progressive think tank that has been based in this area for 28 years, has lost its state university funding and will be moving to Los Angeles, center officials announced Tuesday.

The center has been supported since 1979 by the University of California, Santa Barbara, with free office space and about $300,000 a year. But the university's chancellor, Barbara Uehling, and a faculty committee decided recently to eliminate the funding.

Uehling said in an interview Tuesday that "continued funding cannot be justified" because the money is needed for teaching and research.

The center has acquired the Institute for National Strategy, another think tank co-founded by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., and will be moving into its West Los Angeles offices.

The center was founded as a humanistic retreat, where scholars pondered the basics of democracy--civil rights, economic justice, freedom of the press, foreign policy choices. Before moving to the university, the center was housed in a grand Montecito mansion in the hills near Santa Barbara.

At its height in the late 1960s, it had a worldwide membership of about 100,000. The number has since dwindled to about 8,000.

But George David Kieffer, chairman of the center, said he expects interest to increase again as a result of its move to a metropolitan area and its association with the Institute for National Strategy. Past board members of the institute include writer Joan Didion, economist Lester Thurow and arms-control expert Adam Yarmolinsky.

The center will continue to publish the institute's journal, New Perspectives Quarterly.

"I'm very optimistic about the future," Kieffer said. "We'll continue holding dialogues and conferences from time to time, and the quarterly will be an important part of what we do. Between the membership and the boards of the two institutions, we should have a solid financial base."

Walter Capps, a UC Santa Barbara religious studies professor who was acting head of the center, said "it's a day of great sadness." Universities today, he said, are increasingly emphasizing research and consider public policy issues a luxury. "The center was always like an early warning system for new ideas," Capps said. "It was always on the lookout for ground-breaking developments in scholarship and politics. It tried to identify authors and people who had important things to say, people whose ideas could be shared with others. Probably its main contribution was the important dialogue that was conducted there. The center gave a discipline to that dialogue."

The center was founded in 1959 by Robert Maynard Hutchins, an education reformer and former University of Chicago president. Hutchins and his hand-picked team of fellows wrote essays and conducted dialogues on political, economic and foreign policy issues of the day.

Pioneering Discussions

The fellows were among the first to discuss the civil rights problem in the United States and were among the first to oppose the Vietnam War. The term "ecology" was coined at the center by Aldous Huxley, and Paul Erlich began his work on "the population bomb" there.

For 20 years, the center operated as an independent think tank. But in 1979, as a result of waning membership and donations, and financial difficulties, it was forced to move to the university.

"We accomplished much of what Hutchins wanted to accomplish when he set it up in 1959," said Donald McDonald, an editor of the center's magazine for 17 years. "We helped clarify understanding of many issues. . . . We got people to think about what a society needs to do to fulfill its democratic promise.

"We'd see a lot of reprints of the center's dialogues and programs in the op-ed pages of newspapers, in congressional records, references in books. Professors used them in classrooms. So it seems the center did have some impact down through the years."

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