UC Riverside is facing criticism from students and faculty over a research center that uses the UC name but is not operated by the university. The UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development is instead run by Beacon Economics, a private consulting company that pays the campus royalty fees to use UC Riverside’s name on its reports. These reports include research on topics meant to sway public opinion on political policies causing UC members to bring up issues of legitimacy and create a petition urging the UC to stop its business relationship with Beacon Economics.
More than 100 UC graduate students and faculty members have signed the petition titled “Open letter to the UC Regents seeking investigation of the UC Riverside” pushing the UC to investigate and end its agreement with Beacon. Dylan Rodriguez, a media studies professor at UC Riverside, and former chair of UC Riverside’s Faculty Senate, stated that UC Riverside collecting royalty revenue from the center is “completely reprehensible” and a “blatant invitation to various forms of ethics violations.”
Beacon previously published reports funded by Lyft that promoted Proposition 22, a 2020 voter initiative that wished to treat app-based and delivery drivers as independent contractors, but ultimately failed. Recently it published another controversial paper funded by the California Restaurant Association that claimed increasing the state minimum wage was harmful to the restaurant industry. In this paper the law, AB 257, that set a higher minimum wage, was criticized and called out for leading to an increase in fast-food prices. This evidence has been critiqued by UC faculty who feel the information is misleading and oversimplified causing the AB 257 law to seem unfavorable when it is beneficial for the public.
The research center has also raised concerns over legitimacy with them needing to use UC Riverside’s name to bolster their reports. Academic integrity has long been a problem when it comes to donors and allowing an industry to fund a study that directly affects them is a serious breach of integrity. The public is unable to rely on a privately run business to prioritize ethical practices and implement research that would align with the interests of the University.
While some research is backed by corporations or outside investors, Beacon needs to provide more transparency on how they are conducting business and who is evaluating and influencing their research. These allegations not only raise concerns about the conduct of the business and their economic influence on the research conducted in UC Riverside, but also the values of the University and the administration. It is unclear whether or not the administration’s interests are to uphold ethical, sustainable and socio-politically conscious research. UC Riverside needs to investigate Beacon and instate a review process to maintain legitimacy for its students and faculty.