More than 400 university professors and academic staff have sent a letter of protest to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, objecting to his veto last month of $5.4 million for a University of California labor research program and asking that the money be restored.
At a time when unemployment in California is reaching a level not seen in decades, the letter said, the governor's action appears to be politically motivated and an excuse to ax a program his fellow Republicans have sought to kill. Its critics have said it is too close to unions.
"It violates the basic principle of the freedom to speak out and conduct research even on controversial topics," said the letter signed by the professors and staffers from UC and other California colleges and universities.
Schwarzenegger has said his veto of money for the Miguel Contreras Labor Program, named after the late Los Angeles labor leader, was "difficult but necessary" because the Legislature chose not to make other cuts to balance the budget.
The Contreras program has major centers at UCLA and UC Berkeley and also does research at some other UC campuses, serving as an umbrella organization for a number of research initiatives.
Schwarzenegger also vetoed funding for the program two years ago, causing UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the Berkeley center to step up private fundraising and tap other UC funds. On Wednesday, UC system spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said UC president Mark Yudof has promised to find money to keep the program open at least for the rest of the 2008-09 school year, although the exact amount of the funds and its source have yet to be determined.
Professor Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute, said the veto was an attack on academic freedom that could set a bad precedent for other areas of research. "I think it is a slippery slope," he said.