Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger

Due to the budget crisis in California, and the subsequent sad state-of-affairs of the "solution" made by the California government, we have written and sent the following letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and eleven senators and assemblymen.

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

As recent alumni from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), we are especially distressed by the recently enacted 2009-10 California budget. First, University of California (UC) now has 20 percent less state support than it had at the beginning of last year. Second, the "solution" of the budget crisis by additionally cutting social programs helping the those in need, amid celebration that no taxes have been raised, is abhorrent. We are pleased that oil drilling off Santa Barbara's beautiful coasts will not yet resume; but that result provides no consolation for California's short-sighted treatment of higher education, and its egregious abuse of its most precious natural resource, its people.

After completing my degree (PhD Electrical and Computer Engineering 2009) at UCSB, where I worked and studied from Fall 2002 to Winter 2009, and my wife (BM Music 2006) from Fall 2002 to Spring 2006, we left the United States of America for my post-doctoral position at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6, France, where we are currently supported by a fellowship from the French government. During this time abroad I have been able to present my research at many academic and commercial research institutions throughout Europe. Everywhere I go I have asked, "How has the economic crisis affected you and this institution?" Many look at me with confusion and respond, "What economic crisis?" This is quite a contrast when compared with the messages we receive from our UCSB professors and friends about unprecedented measures being taken by the university (e.g., furloughs, staff salary cuts, hiring freezes, student fee increases, program cuts, etc.).

Is this the naiveté of European academics insulated from the world exterior to their interests? Not one bit. It is because the social and political systems in Europe believe in and support the fundamental right of education. It is because these systems are aware of the valuable impacts, both economic and social, of funding research at the cutting edge. It is because these systems have a sage perspective from centuries of war and violence, darkness and sickness, that the pursuit of knowledge — no matter its immediate application or patentability — is honorable and nobel because it alleviates suffering, it makes life longer and more enjoyable, and it empowers people and thereby empowers nations. To be sure there are also problems in France and the rest of Europe, and its educational systems are not perfect; but at least in my field, Europe is home to and fervently supports all the institutions that lead in my field of research. Perhaps the cuts made to the UC, as well as the State Budget are temporary; but the message you have sent is clear: "We care not for People — their education or their well-being." California believes it is virtuous to disinvest from its people.

This appalls us as Californians, it appalls us as Americans, and it appalls us as human beings. My wife and I refuse to be part of a system that believes it is virtuous to not pay more taxes, and for a government to not raise taxes, in a budget crisis such as this. From what my wife and I have experienced during our tenure in Europe, and our new perspectives on the true values of the government of California, we are interviewing for permanent academic positions in Europe. We are thus two examples of what UC President Mark Yudof has called a “brain drain” — the detrimental loss of talent from the extremely important and once impressive research infrastructure of UC to pastures tended to with more respect and higher dignity.


Bob and Carla Sturm

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