Save Lick Observatory! Defend Public Education!

BAMN September 21, 2014 Public Education, Social Justice Comments Off on Save Lick Observatory! Defend Public Education!

Defend Academic Freedom and Scientific Inquiry!

Save Lick Observatory

The historic Lick Observatory is the UC system’s home for astronomy education and research.

There, in the laboratory of the sky, generations of astronomers have trained to contribute to our understanding of the universe, using the powerful space telescope to reach into other worlds and to bring down to Earth the immeasurable wealth of scientific insight and knowledge. Standing on its mountain top, the Observatory is also a proud monument, one that expresses a commitment to the core values of education, as well as a promise to future students that their dreams of discovery and understanding can come true. That commitment and that promise are now at stake.

For many years, UC students and faculty have endured a continuous series of negative policy decisions that have reduced the public and educational character of the UC institutions while giving clear priority to the private sector.

Under the false pretext of mere budget balancing, state and University officials have slashed educational programs and driven student fees upwards, while diverting the still massive revenue towards private investments and inflating the salaries of top administrators. The scientific research has suffered in the process, as the University has pushed into the background all independent research towards scientific understanding, instead favoring research for the pursuit of someone else’s corporate profit. Betraying the mission of the University as a beacon of knowledge and a resource for the public good, the policy trend is transforming the UC system into a sort of money laundering scheme for funneling taxpayer and student dollars into private business ventures. The politician and current UC President Janet Napolitano is well suited for this scheme.

To the detriment of all and the benefit of none, Janet Napolitano decided to eliminate all University funding for Lick Observatory, leaving its future to the whims of any private investors who may—or may not—choose to finance any continued operations.

But for UC students, Lick Observatory is the only resource of its kind: as the University’s only fully-owned observatory, Lick is the one facility in which astronomy students may actually practice their science. The annual operating cost, $1.3 million, is negligibly tiny for any major research university—let alone for one of the largest, wealthiest, and most prestigious public university systems in the world. As Lick’s operation comprises a mere 7% of the UC astronomy budget, no one should take seriously any penny-pinching arguments. Napolitano’s measure would create a situation in which 0% of the astronomy budget goes to provide observatory experience for its students. As for the rest of the budget, Napolitano asserted the priority of funding the new, thirty-meter telescope project and Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a joint public-private venture to which students will have no access. But even this new billion-dollar project is not a financial argument for the Lick sell-out: the cost of maintaining Lick has no real bearing on the UC’s ability to finance the new telescope.

The Lick funding scandal exemplifies the hypocrisy and the injustice of the attack on public education.

In line with their political interests, Napolitano and the UC Regents treat even the smallest expenditures for independent research and student edification as being forms of waste—while gargantuan sums of money are thrown to the private sector. No one doubts that the expensive new telescope venture in Hawaii will enable great scientific discoveries; but if UC astronomy students can no longer gain any observatory experience at Lick, then the terrible irony is that the UC system will no longer be educating astronomers who are qualified to work at the telescope that the system is funding. The University officials consistently undermine the core values of a public education system, robbing from their public constituents both the benefits of educational opportunity and the sacredness of scientific truth.

The struggle to save Lick Observatory occurs in this larger context and has larger implications than the fate of any single facility. The struggle to save the Observatory speaks to the desire of all those who wish preserve the best qualities and fulfill the highest purposes of the University of California.


THEREFORE, we the undersigned, demand:

  1. Keep the Lick Observatory open as a publicly funded student research facility dedicated to education. No sale or lease of any observatory to the private sector.
  2. The University of California commit to and increase the public funds for scientific research and education.
  3. All research conducted at the University of California remain in the public domain.
  4. The UCs lower fees & tuition, restore public scholarship, increase financial aid and reinstate affirmative action programs to stand by its mission to provide the highest quality public education to all the young people of California as the world’s premier public university system.


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About The Author

BAMN is a mass, democratic, integrated, national organization dedicated to building a new mass civil rights movement to defend affirmative action,integration, and the other gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and to advance the struggle for equality in American society by any means necessary.

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