Staff Columnist

Back to school: Iowa Citians prepare to shake their fists disapprovingly at the youth

Why do we love to hate the people who make our community great?

The early kickoff, the wind and the cold weren't enough to keep Hawkeye fans from coming out to tailgate on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009. The 4th ranked Iowa Hawkeye Footballs Team took on the Indiana Hoosiers. (Spencer Willems/The Gazette)
The early kickoff, the wind and the cold weren't enough to keep Hawkeye fans from coming out to tailgate on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009. The 4th ranked Iowa Hawkeye Footballs Team took on the Indiana Hoosiers. (Spencer Willems/The Gazette)

In Iowa City, there is one sure sign that autumn will soon arrive. Get ready for the annual dragging of college students.

The old fuddy-duddies complain that boisterous students break the peace with their loud parties.

Elder party people lament the youngins will monopolize their restaurants and drinking holes.

Whatever headaches townies suffer, we are handsomely compensated. Students make our community healthier, wealthier and wiser.

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Eastsiders and westsiders shudder at the sight of Illinois license plates taking over downtown streets and their treasured parking spaces.

The town-versus-gown rift re-emerges each year in the middle of August, just as students arrive en masse for a new school year at the University of Iowa. It is ageist, elitist and grossly self-entitled.

In a town inhabited most of the year by tens of thousands of short-term residents, there are inevitably tensions and frustrations, some more legitimate than others.

Whatever headaches townies suffer, we are handsomely compensated. Students make our community healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Student spending adds $152 million annually to the local economy, according to a 2015 study by Iowa State University economist David Swenson. The report used 2012 data, but is the most recent local analysis. It’s possible student spending is even larger now.

Take note, that figure only represents students’ personal spending, not their tuition in support of the university itself, the community’s major economic engine. This is money students spend while they do the things people love to complain about, such as existing in public.

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Combining university spending and student spending, Swenson estimated UI contributes nearly $2 billion to the local economy.

UI employs more than 24,000 people. Thousands more jobs throughout Iowa are indirectly supported by the university. A 2009 study commissioned by UI estimated the institution is responsible for the creation of one in every 30 Iowa jobs.

Without undergraduate students, there would be no major research university to support that work and employ all those people.

Economic stimulus aside, students have much to offer. They volunteer at community nonprofits, create art and engage in political activism. They do the part-time jobs others won’t do, like food service, hospitality and child care.

Hundreds of young athletes don black and gold, risking their health to entertain mostly adult spectators, for little compensation. In return for their hard labor, men more than twice their age scream at them from the bleachers and belittle them on internet message boards.

Local political commentator John Deeth calls it the “love the Hawks, hate the students constituency.”

Speaking of sports, don’t forget about the noisy masses of people who overwhelm the whole region several times a year for football, basketball and wrestling. Most of them are older than college-age.

Worse than the casual contempt older residents hold for students, young citizens are often ignored in the local democratic process. People who own homes write ordinances to restrict renters’ rights, and people who don’t go downtown after dark make up rules to govern night life.

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Too many Iowa Citians are sending a toxic message to the students who enrich our lives: We will take money and your underpaid labor, now stay home and don’t make any noise.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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