Education

University of Iowa faculty issue statement on center closures

'The administration largely ignored the opportunity to solicit meaningful input'

Supporters of the University of Iowa Labor Center hold up signs during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Supporters of the University of Iowa Labor Center hold up signs during a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Had University of Iowa leaders fully embraced the practice of shared governance before announcing plans to close seven campus centers to save money, “creative solutions” could have emerged to save some of them, according to a UI Faculty Senate statement.

“The administration largely ignored the opportunity to solicit meaningful input by faculty and other key stakeholders, forfeiting the opportunity to formulate creative solutions that may have prevented the closure of certain centers and institutes and may have allowed some programming to stay viable,” the Faculty Senate statement said.

Among the centers pegged to close in the coming months, the UI Labor Center has sparked the most outrage, with advocates rallying behind the 67-year-old enterprise by forming a “Save Our Labor Center” coalition and hosting public meetings.

The coalition earlier this month protested at a Board of Regents meeting, handing regents more than 5,000 petitions asking they recommit funding to the center, which provides education and research on workplace issues.

UI Provost Sue Curry at that meeting said campus officials are interested in discussing alternative funding for the Labor Center, which in the last budget year tapped $557,000 in general education dollars.

Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer said Thursday she remains hopeful it will survive.

“We continue to see how much people across the state value the center and their access to it and the resources and education that it provides,” Sherer said.

But she agreed with the Faculty Senate that the public outcry could have been avoided had UI administrators sought broader campus input.

The Faculty Senate resurrected recent grievances about shared governance, or the lack thereof, that once landed the university on a sanction list with the American Association of University Professors.

The university just months ago earned removal from that blacklist through an effort spearheaded by the Faculty Senate to produce positive shared governance interactions with the upper UI administration.

But the decision that led to “expedient closures of multiple centers and institutes, including furloughing more than 30 staff,” according to the statement, “runs counter to the recent AAUP sanction removal.”

UI President Bruce Harreld has said he charged collegiate deans with deciding where to trim, and the recommendations came from them.

Harreld, during the regents meeting this month, renewed his call to stop funding state-focused enterprises with general education dollars in the wake of state cuts.

The Faculty Senate statement says those cuts are precisely the reason for collaboration.

“When budget shortfalls are defining what is possible at the university, we must call upon our collective expertise and have a shared process to manage fiscal retrenchment,” it said.

It reported a new “Shared Governance Advisory Task Force on Academic and Research Centers, Institutes, and Activities” will convene this fall and “practice shared governance directly by reviewing recommendations from deans and vice presidents on possible closures, consolidations, and opportunities for expansion or other realignments throughout the academic and research enterprise.”

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

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