IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is closing its 6-year-old Office of Outreach and Engagement, affecting eight staffers and canceling grant programs that will move to the university’s other colleges and departments.
The office — which former UI Provost Barry Butler established in 2013 to boost community engagement across Iowa — will close at the end of the calendar year, according to an email the office staff sent to colleagues Thursday.
“Unfortunately, no more grant awards will be made by our office,” according to the email signed by “The Office of Outreach and Engagement Staff.”
Since 2015, more than $360,000 has been awarded to outreach and engagement-backed projects in 10 of the university’s 12 colleges, including several involving more than one college.
In the 2018 budget year, according to the office’s most recent annual report, $108,444 Office of Outreach and Engagement grant funds were leveraged to generate $259,206 worth of programming in six colleges and one museum.
That total included 11 Community Impact Grants, maximum $10,000 awards for projects aimed at making a difference in Iowa communities; one Theme Semester Supplemental Grant, a maximum $1,000 award for UI Theme Semester events, activities, or related opportunities; and three microgrants.
In addition to funding, the office has provided staff support, training and other resources to boost the university’s wider engagement, earning the campus the Carnegie Foundation’s “community engagement classification.”
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In the 2018-19 academic year, the outreach and engagement office supported 31 service-learning projects involving more than 4,000 UI students. It supported 132 service-learning projects across Iowa in the past 2.5 years, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.
The office on Thursday emailed grant recipients with news of the closure.
“We do not have the funding or administrative capacity to continue this very effective program,” the staff email stated.
The staff shared feeling “proud of the work that the university faculty, staff, and students have done to take the University of Iowa’s resources to the people of Iowa,” along with their office’s role in enhancing faculty research and student learning.
“Please know that we were not certain of this future until very recently and, therefore, continued to accept your applications for the spring 2020 grant round,” according to the email.
In announcing the closure, UI Strategic Communications said Provost Montse Fuentes’ decision to next fall transition outreach and engagement programming to colleges and departments came after a recent review of the office to determine the best way to encourage broader UI engagement.
“The review highlighted dozens of successful community partnerships across Iowa but also a desire by the college deans to grow their own engagement efforts,” according to UI communications.
UI officials did not immediately answer questions from The Gazette about what will happen with the office’s staff.
But Fuentes in a statement said, “Faculty currently involved in this work will remain involved because they see how it supports student learning, provides research opportunities, and strengthens local communities.”
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“This transition is a step toward greater engagement,” she said. “And Iowans who want to partner with the university should continue to reach out for expertise and assistance.”
In airing more about her decision-making process, Fuentes said the Office of Outreach and Engagement’s programming after six years has “reached a level of maturity that allows it to be successfully transitioned back to the colleges.”
The university didn’t answer questions about whether it will provide additional resources to colleges for their outreach and engagement efforts, but Fuentes said the change will ensure efficiency and avoid duplicating efforts.
The move, additionally, aligns with the new UI budget model, which gives colleges and units more control over their resources. The provost — to ensure continuity — will coordinate faculty engagement and UI scholarship with deans, collegiate leadership and others.
Linda Snetselaar, associate provost for Outreach and Engagement, is a tenured faculty member in the UI College of Public Health and “will remain engaged through research, grant writing and community initiatives,” according to UI officials.
“I am so proud of the work my team has done to support community-engaged learning across campus,” Snetselaar said in a statement. “These partnerships have provided students with real-world experiences, benefited local communities and created new connections between the university and state we serve.”
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