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UI To Cut 33 Jobs, Roll Back Funding For Campus Centers

The University of Iowa is cutting 33 jobs and closing several on-campus programs in order to shoulder budget cuts from state lawmakers.

The University of Iowa announced Tuesday it will cut a total of 33 positions, close down seven centers on campus and roll back funding for five more centers. UI officials said the decisions were forced by years of budget cuts from the Iowa Legislature, a process they described as a "generational disinvestment in public higher education."

With a total of 13 university centers slated to close in the coming months, 33 University of Iowa employees will soon be out of a job. Some began receieving furlough notices Tuesday. 

Programs that are shutting down conduct research on the health and well-being of the elderly; work to build connections between the U.S. and China; provide resources to students with disabilities; and educate workers on their rights, among other things.

Budget cuts will hit the state's public health and environmental laboratory, as well as efforts to conduct research on the occupational health of agricultural workers, and help veterans transition into higher education. 

In a written statement, UI President Bruce Harreld said the school doesn't have enough public funding to continue operating the programs.

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

"I think there's all kinds of opportunities to talk about initiatives and alternatives, but none of that dialogue has happened." - Jennifer Sherer, Director, UI Labor Center

UI Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer said administrators didn't give her an opportunity to come up with alternative funding sources for the program she oversees.

"I think there's all kinds of opportunitites to talk about initiatives and alternatives, but none of that dialogue has happened," Sherer said. 

The Labor Center offers continuing education courses for workers and labor organizers on health and safety, sexual harassment, strategic planning and worker's compensation. Sherer said stakeholders and former students have been calling in their messages of support for the center. 

“Somebody we’ve worked with for a longtime yesterday called and said ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’  He said, ‘You save lives! And you can’t put a price tag on that.’" Sherer said. "I don’t think in those dramatic terms sometimes, but that is literally what this kind of education means to people.”

But UI administrators called the decisions a necessary part of shouldering budget cuts passed by the Iowa Legislature. In a written statement, UI Interim Provost Sue Curry said the closures are meant to insulate students and faculty.

“The university cannot continue doing everything it’s done in the past if we want to have enough resources to recruit and retain top-notch faculty, which we know results in better instruction, research, and scholarship opportunities for our students,” Curry's statement read. “As part of our commitment to Iowa, we value outreach and the positive impact our university has on communities across the state, but these difficult decisions are necessary to protect our core mission of teaching and research.”

In 2000, about two-thirds of the University of Iowa's general education fund came from state appropriations, and a third from tuition. In the years since, public funding has dropped off, to the point that student tuition now makes up the bulk of school's GEF.

"We value outreach and the positive impact our university has on communities across the state, but these difficult decisions are necessary to protect our core mission." - UI Interim Provost Sue Curry

Democrats in the state Legislature were quick to criticize the closure of the UI Labor Center in particular, penning letters to Republican leaders in the statehouse, as well as University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Board of Regents President Michael Richards. In a joint statement, Senate Democratic Leader Janet Peterson and House Democratic Leader Mark Smith wrote the closures are "negative consequences of the fiscal mismanagement" of the Republican-controlled statehouse.

"Shuttering Iowa’s Labor Center sends a horrible message to university students that we are hoping to keep in our state after graduation to fill high-skill, high-wage jobs," the letter reads. "I encourage you to reverse course and preserve the University of Iowa’s Labor Center as well as other centers that provide important services to University of Iowa students and other Iowans."

Jennifer Sherer said she's optimistic university administrators will be open to talking about alternatives. And as a program that specializes in workplace negotiations, she said the Labor Center is uniquely prepared to make the case for its efforts.

"We are going to start now with creating as many opportunities as it takes for the university to really hear the voices of the people of Iowa on how they want to see the precious resources that have been invested over the years in building this program preserved," Sherer said.

The programs that are closing down include:

The programs that are losing funding include:

The Institute for Public Affairs, which provided resources for local officials and municipalities, closed in May 2018.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter