ARTICLE

Regents undeterred by outcry over UI Labor Center closure

Center director: 'Don't expect people to stop asking'

Supporters of the University of Iowa Labor Center hold up signs during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Supporters of the University of Iowa Labor Center hold up signs during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Iowa’s Board of Regents won’t step in to stop the University of Iowa from pulling funding from its 67-year-old Labor Center — which could, effectively, close it — despite widespread opposition.

A string of advocates spoke during the Board of Regents meeting Thursday about reasons it and the UI administration should recommit the $557,000 in state appropriations it’s slated to lose next year in response to continuing Legislative cuts.

Those comments followed a recent UI Student Government resolution opposing the move, a UI Faculty Senate statement calling for sustained support and an editorial penned by the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“The University of Iowa Student Government calls on university administration to reevaluate its decision to close the Labor Center (and) recommit funds to guarantee that UI students and Iowa workers have access to critical education and research on workplace rights and labor issues for generations to come,” according to the UI Student Government resolution.

But Board of Regents President Mike Richards this week told The Gazette that administrators have no plans to change course.

“We are not going to do that,” he said, noting the Labor Center still could come up with alternate funding sources and a budget model securing its survival.

“If they can come up with a plan to fund it through outside sources, we are not opposed to the Labor Center being open,” Richards said.

Because the Labor Center is funded through the end of this budget year, it won’t be forced to close until June 30, Richards said.

“So there is some time for interested parties to work on the issue,” he said.

UI President Bruce Harreld in July announced his campus was ending funding for and closing seven centers in response to ongoing Legislative budget cuts — the state has decreased support for Iowa’s public universities by nearly $35 million since the start of the 2017 budget year.

The university has also responded to state cuts by temporarily halting new construction across campus, freezing faculty pay, nixing some scholarship programs and raising tuition.

The centers slated for closure include the UI Center on Aging; the Iowa Center for Higher Education, only recently opened on the former AIB College of Business campus in Des Moines; and the Labor Center, which provides education, conducts research and promotes workplace resources across the state.

Closing the seven centers is expected to redirect $1.85 million eventually — as most are scheduled to close over a period of months and not immediately. Combined with cuts to other centers, the university expects to save $3.5 million.

Critics of the Labor Center closure have noted its $557,000 in savings is less than UI President Harreld’s $590,000 base salary. And, noting recent changes curtailing union rights at the state level, many have said the closure is playing politics in Iowa.

In response to Richards’ comments this week, Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer told The Gazette she thinks supporters will only ramp up their advocacy.

“Don’t expect people to stop asking for UI to change its position,” she said. “In fact, I would not be surprised if the refusal to change course only intensifies the outcry. Because now people are starting to express additional frustration that so many of their concerns are being ignored.”

She said the Labor Center is continuing discussions with UI administrators, bringing forward ideas for “how we can do our part to increase the revenue we already generate from our programs and grants, and sustain the center’s work while contributing directly to broader UI strategic goals.”

“So I hope we can soon expect UI to also commit resources needed to make some of those ideas a reality,” Sherer said, adding, “I still fully expect the center will be operating beyond July 1, as we are committed to seeking a joint resolution before then.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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