Education

Former AIB campus among University of Iowa centers being closed

Labor Center director: 'Whose idea is this?'

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
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Update July 11: Board of Regents President Mike Richards on Wednesday released the following statement about the University of Iowa proposal to close several centers and cut funding for others:

In the Regents enterprise, we are constantly reviewing all expenditures in ways to be more efficient and effective with our resources. Teaching and research are at the forefront of what we do, and our resources need to be primarily tied to activities that advance our academic missions and student success. The decision to close centers at the University of Iowa is a result of a comprehensive review by UI administrators, and receiving recommendations from the vice presidents and deans.

IOWA CITY — Responding to state budget cuts, the University of Iowa said Tuesday it hopes to save $3.5 million by closing seven centers — including selling a Des Moines campus and shuttering an operation focusing on the labor force — and trimming funding for three others.

The university says it will eliminate 33 positions “not directly tied to student instruction.”

Closures include the Iowa Center for Higher Education, formerly known as the AIB College of Business, in Des Moines. That campus was acquired in 2015 when its trustees decided to donate it to the UI.

AIB initially envisioned its campus as a branch of the UI. The Board of Regents, instead, decided Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa would be allowed to offer courses there, too — though neither did.

The campus began offering four undergraduate majors in fall 2016. But with a meager enrollment — just 140 in the spring — the university will sell the property and use proceeds for scholarships to Central Iowa students wanting to attend the UI. And the UI will continue offering classes in Des Moines, but instead at its John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center there.

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“Our commitment to providing educational opportunities in Des Moines has not waned, and we will continue to look for ways to expand our course offerings,” center Director Tom Rice said in a statement. “But the cost of maintaining a campus without appropriate state support is unsustainable at this time.”

Other centers slated to close include the UI Labor Center, UI Center on Aging, Confucius Institute, the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research, the Iowa Center for Higher Education, the Office for Iowa Practice Opportunities and the UI Mobile Museum.

Those slated for cuts instead of closure are the DeLTA Center, Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health and Iowa Supports Education and Resources for Veterans and Enlisted — known as I-SERVE.

The UI-based State Hygienic Laboratory and UI Research Foundation also have been forced to reorganize and “do more with less” in light of budget challenges, according to the UI communication. In May, the university closed its Institute for Public Affairs.

Some of the affected employees could land other jobs on campus. And not all the closures will happen immediately “as the centers wind down work and complete contractual obligations,” the announcement said.

State cuts have reduced general education support for Iowa’s three public universities by more than $40 million over a year and a half.

UI President Bruce Harreld has in recent months warned of plans to shutter some UI centers in light of the cuts, but had not given specifics. The campus also has imposed a five-month moratorium on new construction, instituted a temporary pay freeze, dropped some non-need-based scholarship programs and advocated for tuition increases — which the Board of Regents approved.

“We’re disappointed to be in this position because these centers and employees provide valuable outreach and service to Iowans,” Harreld said in a statement. “But we can no longer ask our students to support activities previously supported by the state just a generation ago.”

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The Board of Regents which will consider the recommended closures this September, spokesman Josh Lehman said.

One of the centers on the chopping block — the 67-year-old Labor Center — is mounting a defense, urging community members and union advocates to call administrators.

“I and the rest of the staff at the Labor Center intend to ensure that everyone affected by Labor Center programs — starting with you and your members — has a full opportunity to be part of determining its future,” Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer wrote in an email Sunday to her colleagues.

Sherer, who has directed the center for a decade, said new UI College of Law Dean Kevin Washburn called her in from vacation Friday morning to advise her of the impending closure — a decision in which she said they had no input.

“No shared governance. No opportunity for input. No discussion of alternatives,” she said.

The center is known for education on worker rights related to sexual harassment in the workplace, health and safety violations and recovery of wages. It provides seminars on workplace topics including collective bargaining and family and medical leave.

Sherer said the abrupt announcement leaves many questions unanswered, including: “Whose idea is this?”

The UI Office of Strategic Communication on offered an answer.

“The president and provost made the decision after receiving recommendations from the vice presidents and deans,” a campuswide message said. “UI administrators evaluated the budget line by line to determine which activities could be trimmed without significantly harming the university’s academic mission or student success.”

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But closing the Labor Center, Sherer said, will save “less than one-thousandth of one percent” of the UI’s general education fund budget. It received $557,000 in the last budget year in general education support.

The Labor Center’s planned closure adds another blow to what public union advocates have absorbed. Last year, the GOP-controlled Legislature stripped most public sector unions of bargaining rights they held for decades, saying benefits public workers enjoyed put too much of a squeeze on taxpayers.

Democratic state lawmakers spoke out Tuesday about the cuts.

“This proposal is the latest gut punch to Iowa workers and their families,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen and House Democratic Leader Mark Smith, likewise, sent letters Tuesday to GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, their Republican counterparts, Harreld and regents President Mike Richards.

“This is not the first negative consequence of your fiscal mismanagement, and Iowans know it won’t be the last,” the Democrats wrote.

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

 

UI centers slated to close

The Center on Aging, in the Carver College of Medicine, is a resource for aging-related interests and activities across the university and state. The center, established in 1990, facilitates interdisciplinary education, research, and service efforts dedicated to understanding the aging process and improving the health and well-being of older people. Its closure will eliminate one half-time staff position. The center’s education grant will be managed by the College of Nursing. Clinical programs will continue through the colleges of medicine and nursing.

The Confucius Institute aims to bridge the gap between the United States and China by promoting cultural understanding through cross-cultural communication and dialogue. A contract for the institute, part of the Office of International Programs, won’t be renewed when it expires July 31, 2019. Two full-time staffers will be furloughed, and Chinese language classes no longer will be available to high school students. Outreach programs offering language and culture courses to Eastern Iowa residents will be eliminated.

The Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER) in the UI College of Education is an assistive technology and universal design resource for the education community across the state, region, and nation. Founded in 2002, ICATER helps students, teachers, counselors, families, and others who work with people with disabilities. General education dollars support a full-time staff member and two quarter-time research assistants. One quarter-time RA will be cut in the current budget year, and the center will close at the end of fiscal 2019.

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The UI Labor Center provides educational programs and research support to Iowa’s working people and their organizations, developing relationships between the university and labor community. Established in 1951, the Labor Center is housed in the UI College of Law. Closure will result in the elimination of five full-time positions.

The Office of Iowa Practice Opportunities in the UI College of Dentistry is a database to help anyone seeking a dental practice opportunity in Iowa. The office has played an integral role in recruiting and retaining dentists in the state of Iowa, helping facilitate 173 placements since it was founded in 2006. The office employs one full-time staff member to coordinate the database. This position will be eliminated, and matching services will end with 12 months’ notice.

The UI Mobile Museum launched in 2014 as a partnership between the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of the State Archaeologist, and the Pentacrest Museums. Its goal is to inspire visitors to understand the world by bringing exhibits with cutting-edge research, one-of-a-kind artifacts, and interactive digital media to Iowa communities. In the 2017 budget year, the Mobile Museum traveled more than 7,700 miles, attended 54 events, and hosted more than 35,000 visitors. Its closure cut one full-time position. The museum will complete the current season, which ends in October 2018.

 

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