With community pressure mounting to defund the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD), new players have entered the arena with calls to “open the books on UCPD”: a group of University of Chicago library employees.
The Library Activist Network published and circulated an online petition demanding transparency in the UCPD budget. The petition, which they published four days ago, has amassed about a thousand signatures and counting, over 850 of which have come in the last two days.
Organizers for the Library Activist Network said that they “came together in response to a staff meeting where budget cuts were announced.”
“The University has proposed cuts to the Library as well as cuts in pay and benefits to staff but nobody in [the] administration can answer if there are similar cuts proposed to the University’s private police force.”
The petition states that they “view the question of UCPD’s budget as directly relevant to the austerity measures that have been imposed upon us without our consent amidst calls from University administrators to embrace antiracism.”
“If President Zimmer wants our community to do the work of ‘[a]ddressing racism and creating positive and sustainable change,’ then we need immediate concrete steps to dismantle racist policies and policing on campus,” the petition said.
In a June 10 announcement, U. of C. President Robert Zimmer announced voluntary and mandatory furloughs, hours reductions, and the suspension of University contributions to retirement plans. Library employees also stated in the petition that “union-represented staff have been asked to approve cuts to their retirement plans in order to avoid possible layoffs,” and that the university has instituted a freeze on “non-contractual raises across campus and cuts to our collections budget in the Library, which pays for resources like books and journals.”
In a statement, a U. of C. spokesperson said that “all units of the University will share in the burden of financial measures in some way, with the understanding that increased investments will be necessary in areas such as our commitment to providing extensive financial aid for students and supporting the work of faculty.”
“No union employees have had their wages frozen or retirement contributions reduced. Local 743 representing unionized employees at the Library was specifically notified earlier in July that their employer contribution would not be reduced.”
The Library Activist Network noted in its petition the increased stress library employees would be under this coming academic year—on-site library employees will be responsible for enforcing social distancing regulations while patrons are in heightened states of stress. “We are not experts in de-escalation or mental health crises. Currently, if we are in immediate danger our choice is either to call armed law enforcement, who have a record of using violence and racial profiling, or to attempt to defuse the situation on our own, which could put ourselves or patrons in danger.”
“We need a better option. We deserve a better option...The University must immediately transition to an unarmed, emergency management service that is aligned with anti-oppressive principles.”
The Library Activist Network aligns itself with the principles the U. of C. group #CareNotCops which advocates for defunding the UCPD, redistributing the money to community projects on the South Side, and disbanding the UCPD by 2022.
“We demand that President Zimmer and Provost Lee meet all the demands of #CareNotCops, beginning with disclosing the budget of the University of Chicago Police Department,” the group said.
They believe that funding the police directly impacts the library. “Funding a private police force that uses racial profiling and violence undermines the Library’s mission to support teaching and research both by taking funding away from the Library and by jeopardizing the safety of people using Library spaces.”
The Library Activist Network also charges that the disparate funding of UCPD and the library is not aligned with the university’s mission, which is “to produce a caliber of teaching and research that regularly leads to advances in fields such as medicine, biology, physics, economics, critical theory and public policy.”
“We believe that our jobs are a far more important contribution to the mission of the University, but university police make substantially more than most library workers,” the group said.
According to the U. of C.’s human resources department, the agreement between the U. of C. and the union representing library employees indicates that the median wage of a union library worker is $19 per hour. The corresponding agreement between the U. of C. and the police union indicates that police officers start at a minimum wage of about $32 per hour, almost 70% higher than the median library worker.
“If Provost Lee believes that ‘the Library reflects the University of Chicago’s aspiration to be the most dynamic research and learning environment in the world,’ then we need a transparent budget to demonstrate that such professed priorities align with actual spending,” the library group said.