Dear President Schill,
In 2016, I came to Eugene as a guest of the Oregon Humanities Center to speak to the University of Oregon community about my book This Changes Everything. At that time, I called on you to recognize that great universities have obligations to humanity and the world beyond the boundaries of their campuses, and asked you to lead the UO in divesting from fossil fuels.
I’m writing today to again call on you to recognize the UO’s highest and broadest mission — and to turn back from your announced plans to defund worker education at the UO’s Labor Education and Research Center (LERC). In a world of growing economic inequality, most people cannot afford the time or money to be full-time students. Through LERC, the UO brings faculty expertise and the resources of the university to Oregon workers — in affordable and relevant night and weekend classes. Furthermore, both in its classes and in its research, LERC plays a critical role in combatting economic inequality in Oregon and enabling more workers to support their families in dignity.
The University of Oregon is a public university. It sits on land donated by the people of Oregon, its buildings were built largely by taxpayer dollars, and even with cutbacks in public funding, the university still receives over $70 million a year in public money from the state Legislature. In return, the UO has an obligation not only to the students who are on campus, but also to the public that makes the campus possible. I can’t think of a more important way of honoring that obligation than supporting LERC.
President Schill, you recently announced plans to target LERC for a budget cut that threatens to wipe out worker education in Oregon — where most departments are slated to have their budgets cut by 2 percent, UO funding for LERC is to be cut by 68 percent, an amount that will decimate the department.
This proposal follows a pattern of anti-union administrators in other parts of the country who want to get rid of labor centers — because they want to weaken unions on campus, because they want to weaken workers’ bargaining power at the companies owned by wealthy trustees, or because they see no value in educating working people who can’t afford big tuition fees.
President Schill, please do not follow in this pattern. I call on you to uphold the full values of public higher education, and restore full funding to the Labor Education and Research Center.
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of New York Times and international bestselling books.