UC overturns decision to withdraw all funding to Lick Observatory

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The UC Office of the President revoked stipulations that withdrew all public funding to Lick Observatory by 2018, re-establishing UC support for the university-owned observatory located on Mount Hamilton.

In a letter, the university leaves it to the UC Observatories director, with assistance from the UCO advisory committee and others, to determine the distribution of public funds — currently $5 million per year — between Lick Observatory and other entities such as Keck Observatory and Thirty Meter Telescope.

Last September, the university mandated that Lick become self-supporting, requiring that its funding come from alternative sources. The intention was to reallocate UC funds to higher-priority, cutting-edge facilities such as the Thirty Meter Telescope, a telescope scheduled to open in 2021 that will become the most powerful in the world.

“Lick is historically important and educationally important, which added urgency to the need to reassess (funding),” said Claire Max, interim director of UC Observatories, a UC astronomical research unit.

According to the letter, the university decided to repeal the requirements after noting that UCO’s plan for the 2015 fiscal year budgeted resources for Lick without impeding other goals for UC astronomy.

“There is substantial interest among UC astronomers and other communities for continued operation of Lick by UC,” the letter states. “Further, we recognize that there is active engagement on several fronts to diversify Lick’s funding.”

Max said that there is enough money in the current budget of UCO to run Lick Observatory, which has an operating budget of roughly $1.5 million, and that the university decided it was best if UCO had more flexibility.

Garth Illingworth, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy, noted that with the budget cuts, the remaining challenge is finding funds to adequately support all three entities.

“A crucial part of (funding) is that the university has to be seen to care about this,” Illingworth said. “This change is a good one from that perspective. We should be able to go to donors now and say the university is committed to (Lick Observatory).”

According to Max, since the community’s “flurry” to mobilize against the withdrawal of university funds, there has been interest in Lick from outside groups. In particular, UCO hopes to bring in more money by increasing the educational and outreach activities Lick provides.

ASUC Senator Lavanya Jawaharlal, who sponsored a bill supporting the preservation of Lick Observatory, said that she is “gratified” the university is recognizing the observatory’s importance and that she hopes there will be more transparency and attention to student input in future processes regarding the allocation of funds to Lick.

The Lick budget for the next several years has not been determined, and negotiations with potential funding and educational outreach partners are ongoing.

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.