UC Berkeley News


Making Cal’s case in Sacramento
Government Affairs leads efforts to express public support for UC, as legislators face hard budget choices

| 14 April 2004

As Sacramento finalizes a new state budget, the Berkeley campus is spearheading a comprehensive effort to make its voice heard in the halls of government. Just a few weeks into a planned 20-week advocacy campaign, thousands of members of the California Alumni Association (CAA) have appealed to Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers to restore healthy levels of funding to UC following three consecutive years of cuts, and with more proposed for fiscal year 2004-05.

“To be most effective, we must communicate our message to the governor and the legislators now — before the governor submits his revised budget to the legislature early next month,” says Kathleen Moazed, executive director of Public Affairs’ government affairs unit, which crafted the campus’s ambitious advocacy plan. Its central messages: California can’t afford to disinvest in higher-education institutions critical to the economic growth and well-being of the state; UC Berkeley has fueled job creation, innovation, and quality of life for California; along with other UC campuses, it is key to the state’s economic recovery.

Hoping to convince Sacramento officials to roll back deep cuts to UC in the governor’s budget proposal, the strategy calls for efforts on many fronts timed to key stages in the budget process — including Assembly and Senate budget hearings, the May budget revise, UC’s annual lobby day (May 26), and the June 15 constitutional deadline for a detailed budget approved by the legislature. Government Affairs is working closely with the alumni association and UC Office of the President to mobilize alumni and other core constituencies across the state. Personal visits to legislators, the crafting of op-eds and letters to the editor, and testimony at hearings and town meetings are among the strategies and tools the campus plans to leverage.

“There’s been a realization on the part of many — Berkeley, other UC campuses, the Office of the President, the alumni association — that we need to be a lot more aggressive at this time,” says Adam Parker, assistant director of government affairs. “We can’t afford to have deep cuts year after year.” He notes that a changed political landscape — namely a new governor and a new crop of legislators — also make proactive advocacy more important.

Cal advocacy websites
To kick off its advocacy campaign, the campus collaborated with CAA in late March to e-mail more than 70,000 Cal alumni and friends, amplifying the impact of their response with powerful new Internet tools used effectively in recent months by Howard Dean and MoveOn.org. Advocacy software makes it convenient for supporters to send standard or customized messages to elected officials. The message from CAA Executive Director Randy Parent, for instance, included a link to the association’s Cal Advocacy site, caladvocacy.berkeley.edu, from which friends of the campus can easily e-mail (or download and snail-mail) a letter to the governor, plus send copies to their state senator and assemblyperson. Dynes’ letter contained a link to a similar site managed by UC Office of the President, www.ucforcalifornia.org/cal. These websites offer another important benefit: From them, UC supporters can also opt to receive future messages as part of an “activist” network and can pass the word to friends.

“We’re only starting to figure out how powerful this is and how it can be used,” adds Parent, who chaired a systemwide subcommittee to explore electronic advocacy tools for the UC system. With a mass e-mailing, for instance, far fewer than half the messages sent typically get opened. “What’s more powerful is to engage the 2,000 who’ve already signed up to send a personal message to five friends,” Parent notes.

Response to the Cal-CAA communiqué has been swift and strong. Close to 2,200 people have joined the campus’s advocacy network since the March message to supporters. And more than 1,600 Cal alumni and friends have written the governor and state legislators — a remarkably high response rate, notes Parent. A number of these letter writers took the time to personalize their appeal — among them a 75-year old “fiscally conservative” Republican Korean war veteran who received his master’s in chemical engineering at Berkeley in the ’50s. “I voted for you hoping you would be … an almost nonpartisan who would work for the people in California,” he told Gov. Schwarzenegger.

“I was very heartened to hear you speak of your commitment to the people of California when you became governor…,” wrote a Cal alum teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “Please remember that a strong public university is the lifeblood of the state…. I ask you to allow the University of California to continue in its historic mission of excellence without fear of financial cutbacks and obstacles.”

Parent says many Cal supporters are excited about the Cal Advocacy site. “Alumni of this university, by and large, are passionate about Cal. This gives them a way to express themselves in a meaningful way,” he says.

Other UC campuses have begun to contact their alumni and supporters about the budget crisis, and Berkeley’s Government Affairs office is at work on future messages to campus constituents. The first, to be co-signed by student leaders, will go out to Cal students and their parents.

“We’ll ask Cal students to tell legislators their own stories — what it means to have fees go up while services are being cut,” says Parker. “We also want more people writing letters to their local papers,” he adds. “Not just the San Francisco Chronicle, but papers in small towns throughout the state. We have a compelling message, that the greatness of the university must be preserved. Our job is to make sure that message gets heard.”