Jaimes: Discussion surrounding UI Labor Center closing offers only one opinion

Recent discussion over the closing of the Labor Center uses only one perspective, ignoring students and tuition costs as a reason to close the center.


Marina Jaimes, Opinion Columnist

There has been a growing amount of criticism toward the UI after it announced it would close the Labor Center.

A total of $16 million cut from state funding since 2016 meant that the UI had to weigh its options on how to tackle the financial crisis it faces. In the end, after a second round of midyear budget cuts, UI officials chose to close seven centers that would put 33 employees out of work, saving an estimated $3.6 million to go to the university’s general fund. Of the seven centers the UI chose to close, the Labor Center ranks as the most expensive; shuttering it would save $557,000.

In a public statement regarding the budget cuts, UI interim Provost Sue Curry said, “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.”

It is unfortunate to see the Labor Center close, but Iowans must put their arguments into a logical perspective. Many cases for keeping the center have pulled on the heartstrings of readers, but when it comes down to it, students should be the main priority where spending is concerned.

Also featured in the UI’s public statement was UI President J. Bruce Harreld, who said, “We’re disappointed to be in this position, because these centers and employees provide valuable outreach and service to Iowans. But we can no longer ask our students to support activities previously supported by the state just a generation ago.”

Relying on state funding and tuition dollars to serve the workers for the entire state begins to seem nearly impossible when contribution from taxpayers is limited and being cut. This burden then falls on the students — people unlikely to benefit from the resources of the Labor Center.

Critics describing this as a “money grab” must look through an unselfish lens from the students’ perspective. When funding comes from tuition and not tax dollars, Iowans demanding that the Labor Center stay alive are really demanding that students foot a bill that does not belong to them.

All in all, the UI acted with good intentions to ensure that the cost of tuition stays as low as possible with what little funding it was given. While tuition will likely continue to increase, the university chose to cut from areas that would affect students the least. Some critics find it unbelievable that the UI did not ask for students’ considerations before making its cuts, but it is clear that students’ needs were prioritized in the doomed situation.

Again, the loss is unfortunate. The recent controversy surrounding the Labor Center closing should be seen from numerous perspectives.