NEWS

Regents Regional Center would be 'uncharted territory'

Lawmakers express concerns with the concept

AIB College of Business logo
AIB College of Business logo

IOWA CITY — A new Regents Regional Center that officials on Thursday said could replace AIB College of Business in Des Moines next year — instead of a second University of Iowa campus — sounds similar in name to other regent centers scattered across Iowa.

But, officials said Friday, the idea for the center is “substantially different” than other regent centers in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, and the Quad Cities that primarily offer support and resources to students taking distance courses — like those offered online or at arranged locations.

“I would think (the Des Moines center) would be used to a much more significant extent because of its proximity to all three of the universities and because of the size of the AIB campus, compared to the study centers,” said Bob Downer, a member of the Board of Regents, which oversees University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa.

Still, Downer said, there are a lot of unknowns. And that, in part, is why some lawmakers are concerned.

“I have to say, I’m confused by what has transpired,” said Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines. “Now it’s going to be a regents center rather than a UI campus, and a lot of students are being left out in the cold in terms of being able to automatically transition.”

AIB last month announced plans to gift its 20-acre campus to UI, allowing the Iowa City-based institution to open a satellite campus referred to as UI-Des Moines. At the time, AIB and UI presidents Nancy Williams and Sally Mason said AIB students would become UI students, possibly as soon as fall 2015, in hopes of continuing the AIB legacy of education in the Des Moines area.

“No money is being exchanged,” Williams said at the time. “AIB is not being sold to UI. We are doing this because it’s the right thing in AIB’s proud history.”

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Mason at the time said UI “is honored to have been chosen to continue the legacy of AIB,” and opening a Des Moines campus is “definitely” part of UI efforts to boost in-state enrollment.

But much of that information changed Thursday when both AIB and Mason announced plans for the campus to instead become a Regional Regents Center operated by UI that could offer courses from ISU and UNI as well.

Additionally, AIB announced its last class will graduate in June 2016, and it will not enroll a 2015-2016 freshmen class. Its 1,000-some students learned that advisers will help them complete their degrees before AIB ceases to exist or help them transfer.

Any AIB students wanting to transfer to UI or the other institutions must meet admission criteria for transfer students, which varies by college and program. Faculty contracts will end Aug. 31, 2015, and it’s unclear how many will be asked to stay on or if they’ll have to reapply.

Thursday’s news included the announcement that AIB athletic programs will end in May, and scholarships for students and athletes will be honored only through June 2016.

“We were all misled, in terms of the protection of the students and the transition,” Bisignano said.

Notes from an AIB board of trustees meeting made public last week indicate finances played a role in AIB’s decision to give away its campus. And, according to the document, the board began discussing a possible merger in 2010 “because of the economy and regulations.”

Bisignano on Friday said he’s disappointed lawmakers weren’t consulted from the beginning and thinks they need to get involved now — perhaps in the form of a government oversight committee.

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“I think this is an extremely large move on the part of the university without any involvement from the Iowa Legislature, which is going to have to — at some point in the future — fund the operations,” he said. “It’s time now that we sit down and make sure government oversight is in place to put this to where we all have input and understanding.”

Bisignano said he doesn’t know what becoming a regents center will mean for the property.

“I am disturbed at the way this was rolled out,” he said. “We have heard a couple of stories, and I don’t know what to believe.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said he has similar concerns around what was presented Thursday compared with the original proposal. “AIB wanted to gift the facility to UI so they would continue somewhat of a similar operation,” Dvorsky said. “I’m not sure that’s what’s going on and is going to happen with the new regional center.”

Although the decision about how to proceed lies mostly with AIB and the Board of Regents, Dvorsky suggested they address the concerns of the students, consider the original intent of the merger, and consult lawmakers.

“I think they ought to be open to input on what legislators and others think about it,” Dvorsky said.

AIB freshman Dakota Stults, 19, said he feels deceived and confused about what to do next. Stults plays baseball at AIB on scholarship and, based on previous information, had planned to stay on the AIB campus as it transitioned to UI.

“They said they would honor our scholarships, but it turns out Iowa is not honoring scholarships, and they were lying to us again,” he said. “It’s sad the way they handled this whole thing. I expected a lot more from a business school.”

Stults said he never would have come to AIB had he known this was being considered. But now his plan is to rush to get his degree before UI takes over in 2016 and quit playing baseball. If he can’t at least get an associate degree, Stults said, he’s concerned he wasted a year of his life.

“This is just really sad the way they treated people,” he said.

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But some people have expressed enthusiasm about the proposed center, including Regent Larry McKibben who on Thursday said he thinks this week’s proposal is an improvement. And Regent Downer on Friday said he’s not totally surprised the details are coming together differently than originally planned.

“From having gone through a number of merger and acquisition situations, this is pretty much an inevitable thing,” Downer said. “You don’t know everything about a particular business at the time you enter into an agreement to acquire it, and these things are learned as people go along and go through the due diligence process.”

The regents existing regional centers are not analogous to typical college campuses, Downer said, meaning the proposed regional center in Des Moines would be “uncharted territory.”

“While I am sure this has occurred in other states … I don’t see anything that has occurred in the history of the public universities in Iowa that is comparable to this,” Downer said.

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