For more than 40 years, the Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon has provided a wide range of workshops, training programs, research and consultations for and about Oregon workers. Tens of thousands of worker students have taken LERC’s classes on labor law, collective bargaining, leadership and communication skills, workplace safety and health, race and gender equity, and much more.
Now, with one slash of his budget-cutting knife, outgoing UO Provost Jayanth Banavar has decided to ignore that history of service and cut LERC’s budget so deeply that it will severely cripple the program.
LERC is slated for a 68 percent reduction in funding — about $488,000 out of the $721,000 provided directly by the university. This cut is part of UO President Michael Schill’s plan to reduce university expenditures by $11.6 million in the face of five years of declining undergraduate enrollment and the continued growth of expenditures. It is also part of a broader attack by the university administration on long-term outreach and cultural programs, including the Oregon Bach Festival (OBF), the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History (MNCH).
President Schill and Provost Banavar claim they are simply focusing their resources on the university’s “core teaching and research mission.” Nevertheless, it is clear their sense of that mission is much narrower and far more academic than the UO’s official mission statement, which says, “We seek to enrich the human condition through collaboration, teaching, mentoring, scholarship, experiential learning, creative inquiry, scientific discovery, outreach and public service.”
Instead of seeking to strengthen its ties to the larger community, Schill and Banavar would have the university turn its back and focus inward.
The lack of proportionality in the proposed budget cuts perfectly illustrates this turn away from the community. The UO has nine schools and colleges, including Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Law, Journalism and Communications, Music and Dance, Design, the Honors College and the new Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Together they have a total expenditure budget of about $353 million.
Schill and Banavar are asking the schools and colleges to reduce their budgets by a combined $2.8 million, yet they want the JSMA, MNCH, OBF and LERC to jointly absorb a $1.3 million budget hit. These four programs combined have a total expenditure budget of only $10 million. Most distressingly, the Knight Campus, whose top three employees together make more than $1 million, is only being asked to kick in $4,000.
That’s right, $4,000.
The Labor Education and Research Center operates efficiently and effectively. It maintains offices in Eugene and Portland and employs six faculty, two of whom were hired just this past fall, and five support staff. It also supports one graduate employee and several student workers and interns.
LERC is the only labor outreach program in Oregon. It provides dozens of classes each year throughout the state. Its research is used by Oregon policymakers and focuses on cutting-edge workplace issues, such as the impacts of a $15 minimum wage, the effects of irregular work schedules on workers, the professionalization of the home care workforce and the implications of contracting out school support services.
LERC faculty also teach regular classes through UO departments, act as dissertation advisers and student mentors, collaborate on research with other faculty and sponsor a colloquium series highlighting labor-related research. In short, LERC offers a wide range of academic and community services at minimal cost to the university — just the kind of program that should be celebrated, not eliminated.
So, what can the university do to reduce expenses without drastically slashing LERC and other outreach and cultural programs? Schill and Banavar should ensure that top administrators personally chip in to help reach the budget reduction target. There are over 40 UO administrators, not counting the Athletic Department, who make at least $200,000; they could definitely help out here. Schill and Banavar could also make the cuts much more proportional between the schools and colleges and the outreach and cultural programs and still protect what they consider the university’s core mission.
Finally, they could be more innovative and explore ways for donors and the Athletic Department to contribute directly to the operating costs of the university’s academic enterprise.
I hope President Schill and Provost Banavar redirect their budget-cutting knives and choose to embrace LERC and the other outreach and cultural programs. If they don’t, they will be doing significant damage to students, working people and the UO’s relationship with the community.
Kurt Willcox is a University of Oregon graduate, recently retired UO classified employee, former member of the UO Board of Trustees and former adjunct instructor at LERC. For more: lerc.uoregon.edu and savelerc.com.