Guest Opinion: Can the state of Iowa and the UI drift away from each other?

Guest Opinion: Can the state of Iowa and the UI drift away from each other?

Where would Iowa be without the University of Iowa? And where would the university be without the state?

Both questions highlight the mutual interdependence of these two great institutions. As the dean of the College of Dentistry, I clearly see how we need each other. Nearly 80 percent of Iowa’s dentists are alums of the University of Iowa. They deliver approximately $800 million in dental care to Iowans each year. In addition, around 99 percent of Iowans are within a 30-minute drive of a practicing alum. Other than our graduates, there aren’t many dentists moving to practice in rural Iowa. So, what would happen to Iowa dental care without our college? Across the state, fewer people would have access to dental care, and people would have extremely long waits for both routine care and emergencies. This burden would fall primarily on those who are already struggling. It is painfully clear that the health sciences at the UI are crucial for the flourishing of our great state.

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But what about undergraduates? Having an excellent undergraduate educational experience provides a place for our best and our brightest to get a world-class public education. Parents and grandparents all over the state say that they want their children and their grandchildren to have those opportunities here in Iowa. If we do not provide that world class education, then our children will get that education in other states, and if those students leave for college, they may not return.

Additionally, employers in Iowa regularly say that they need employees who can think critically and adapt to new situations — precisely what our faculty are instilling in our undergraduate students at the UI. The economic impact of this training is huge for Iowa. Our students will be our future business and community leaders, and they will bring vitality into every aspect of Iowa life.

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But I do not mean to diminish how dependent the university is on the state. We rely on the state not only for financial support but also for the provision of high-quality students from all over the state. We wouldn’t be who we are without the wonderful students who come from all over Iowa. And without the state’s financial support, we wouldn’t be able to effectively educate and train those students. This mutually beneficial relationship starts with the deep cultural commitment to education at all levels in Iowa.

I realize that these comments do not address some of the tough choices we face. How can we best manage our financial resources as a state? How can we maintain a positive, mutually beneficial relationship between urban and rural Iowa, between business and education, between the state and the university? But we must face the reality of what we would lose without each other. My experience is that the more people know about other people and groups, the more receptive they are to hear about how we can all address the issues that we collectively face. Let’s face those issues together. I do know that the measure of our success will be found in our young people eager for a world-class education.

— David Johnsen

Dean, UI College of Dentistry



As the UI seeks funding from the state Legislature for its fiscal 2019 appropriations request and faces the possibility of more midyear budget cuts, the DI will publish pieces from UI community leaders and informational pieces highlighting the value of higher education and calling for advocacy. Continue checking as Iowa’s universities face this critical issue.

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