University of Iowa refutes faculty claim it's suspending center closures

'The University of Iowa is continuing with its plans'

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

University of Iowa faculty leaders Friday morning notified colleagues of “good news” following this week’s announcement the campus would shutter seven centers and eliminate 33 positions in the wake of incessant state budget cuts.

“In the days to come, we expect a follow-up announcement that the closures have been suspended and the furloughs placed on hold,” UI professor and American Association of University Professors chapter President Katherine Tachau wrote in an AAUP newsletter to members and friends, noting one closure might even be rescinded.

But UI officials on Friday afternoon told The Gazette that’s not so.

The University of Iowa is continuing with its plans announced earlier this week,” according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.

Tachau didn’t return calls from The Gazette seeking clarification about her newsletter message and the UI rebuttal.

UI officials didn’t elaborate on whether they had any discussions with faculty and AAUP representatives on the topic.

In Tachau’s morning message, though, she reported, “It now appears that the mounting resistance to these closures and furloughs, especially to the lack of consultation with faculty regarding decisions with profound consequences for the university’s educational mission, has been heard.”

The local AAUP chapter, focused on academic freedom and shared governance values, didn’t provide in its newsletter specifics on which center it believed might fall off the closure list, which includes the 67-year-old UI Labor Center, UI Center on Aging, Confucius Institute, Office of Iowa Practice Opportunities, UI Mobile Museum, Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research, and Iowa Center for Higher Education — formerly home to AIB College of Business campus in Des Moines.

Per the university’s original announcement, not all the center closures will happen immediately — as some will wind down work and complete contractual obligations, which could take a year.

Involving faculty in universitywide decisions — per shared governance protocol, outlined by AAUP principles — is an especially relevant issue on the UI campus, which last month was removed from an list of AAUP institutions sanctioned for violating shared governance values.

The university landed on the list after the Board of Regents in 2015 hired UI President Bruce Harreld despite widespread faculty, staff and student criticism of his candidacy.

The hiring of Harreld, a former IBM businessman with no academic administrative experience, prompted votes of no confidence from faculty and students and incited an AAUP investigation — which led to the UI sanctioning.

Tachau in her message Friday noted the process involved in closing the centers has been lacking to date, indicating when Harreld made the announcement Tuesday it “came as a surprise to us and to many of the people directly involved with the units slated for closures.”

“We were immediately concerned as to whether the shared governance processes mandated by AAUP policy had been followed,” Tachau wrote. “Accordingly, we contacted Pres. Harreld to express our concern and to urge him to delay any closures or furloughs until the completion of a transparent, deliberative, faculty-led process in which the contributions of these centers and institutes to the university's educational mission can be fully explored.”

Harreld has said the center closures are necessary to deal with state budget cuts that have slashed $40 million from Iowa’s three public universities in a year and a half and $16 million from UI specifically since the 2016 budget year.

Cutting the employees and centers is expected to save about $3.5 million.

The university, in response to what Harreld calls a generational defunding of Iowa’s public higher education, also has imposed a moratorium on new campus construction, implemented a pay freeze, dropped some non-need-based scholarships, and increased tuition.

Tachau in her email acknowledged the “budget crisis is real and may require valuable programs to suffer.”

“But we owe it to our university, our students, our state, and our profession to make decisions on the basis of full information using fair procedures,” according to Tachau. “As that process is developed and implemented, we stand with our colleagues in the targeted centers and institutes, and join them in insisting on fair treatment.”

The university in May closed its Institute for Public Affairs.

In addition to center closures, the university earlier this week announced reduced funding for three more — including 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.

UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck stressed the university “will continue to offer a full range of services” through the Military and Veteran Student Services Office of the Center for Diversity and Enrichment.

As for the UI-based State Hygienic Laboratory and UI Research Foundation, budget challenges have forced reorganization and required they “do more with less,” according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

Some employees in the 33 cut positions might be reassigned to other campus posts, according to the university.

Upon hearing the AAUP message Friday, UI Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer said, “That’s a very promising sign” — although she said it was news to her.

After learning just one week ago about the planned end from new UI College of Law Dean Kevin Washburn, Sherer said she has a follow-up meeting scheduled for next week. And, she stressed, the center and its six staffers are continuing work as usual with no plans to taper efforts.

“From the very beginning, my attitude has been that no one is ready for that discussion,” she said. “We were communicating with all our constituents statewide, as the news was coming out, that we are open and fully operating.”

The Labor Center closure, particularly, attracted widespread outrage this week, including a rally of 60 decrying the plans and lawmakers demanding reconsideration.

“This proposal is the latest gut punch to Iowa workers and their families,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said in a statement. “This is a terrible time to even consider closing the UI Labor Center.”

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