UI Labor Center’s closure official with Iowa Board of Regents’ approval

Following months of outcry from the UI community, the state Board of Regents approved the UI’s request to close the Labor Center and several other centers. Talks are in progress to find a way to keep the center open.


Thomas A. Stewart

Community members gather on the Pentacrest to protest the closing of the Labor Center on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

CEDAR FALLS — After several months of consideration and protests from students, faculty, and community organizations across Iowa, the state Board of Regents approved the University of Iowa’s request to close several centers — most prominently the Labor Center — on Friday.

The issue came to vote several months after initial decisions by UI administrators to close a total of seven centers and institutes across campus following budget cuts that came within a few months of the close of fiscal 2018, the budget year that ended June 30.

“When you have to take money out for the year in a few short weeks, you have to do something quick,” UI President Bruce Harreld previously told The Daily Iowan. “These centers and institutes were being at least two-thirds funded by student tuition. And we said, that’s inappropriate.”

Harreld told the DI that a series of studies were conducted with faculty over the course of several years nearly a decade ago in an effort to review these centers, institutes, and their activities.

“We needed to get ourselves into the position where anything that doesn’t directly relate to the education of our students shouldn’t be funded through tuition and state monies, unless the state specifically allocates it,” Harreld said. “This isn’t the case in any centers we’re closing.”

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Despite the Faculty Senate’s concerns that Harreld acted without consulting faculty, Harreld emphasized his passion for shared governance, or the concept that UI administration should work collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students to make decisions.

Other groups to oppose the center’s closure included UI Student Government, whose members passed a resolution against the decision to close the center. The movement to keep the Labor Center, largely led by the Save Our Labor Center Coalition, was backed by members of the UI College of Law and other Midwestern universities.

In her public comment at the regents’ Thursday meeting, Kelli Harrison, a coordinator with UAW Region 4 Community Action Program, a labor union representing workers from north-central states, said education for workers in manufacturing industries through the Labor Center has been critically important.

RELATED: UISG will not back UI Labor Center closure

Harrison offered alternative options to university officials in how to address resource centers, which she said prevent entry rates, death, workplace discrimination, and a host of different problems.

“An educated worker is a smart worker,” Harrison said. “The small amount of university funding that goes to the Labor Center returns to workers and employers across the state.”

Harrison said closing the Labor Center will not save money; instead, funding is just being taken away. She said the regents’ primary contribution to a skilled and educated Iowa workforce would be lost if they approved the Labor Center closure.

Shelly Staker, the Iowa State Education Association Northeast Iowa director, said at Thursday’s public comment session that hundreds of Iowans still await a response from the UI to the several hearings that were held across the state by community members who shared their positive experiences at the Labor Center.

“We continue to wonder, when it comes to funding the Labor Center, why our UI leaders aren’t listening to Iowans,” Staker said. “What are they waiting for?”

RELATED: Students, faculty members, and community members rally to save UI Labor Center

Staker concluded her public comment to the regents with a plea for re-evaluation in regards to funding for the Labor Center, which is not slated to close until the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2019.

“We have continued to bring forward evidence and testimony from exactly the constituents you are supposed to represent,” Staker said. “Please pause and think about the effects of this decision.”

The Save Our Labor Center coalition vowed to continue action to keep the center open in an email to those following the movement after the regents’ approval of the center’s closure.

“Today’s news also means action from Save Our Labor Center coalition members matters more than ever in the coming weeks, when we’ll be calling on the UI to make a solid commitment to the Labor Center before year’s end,” the email reads, including a request to save the date for Dec. 3 action on the UI campus.