UI asking Iowa regents to reconsider Labor Center closure

The plan, which the state Board of Regents will consider at its Feb. 28 meeting, would eliminate general-fund support.


Thomas A. Stewart

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

Marissa Payne, Managing Editor

The University of Iowa has heard the community’s calls to “Save the Labor Center.”

The state Board of Regents may vote to reconsider the Labor Center’s closure at the governing board’s Feb. 28 meeting in Ames, per the university’s request. The Labor Center was set to close June 30, the final day of fiscal 2019.

The request, backed by UI President Bruce Harreld, follows the regents’ approval in November 2018 of the UI’s request to close the UI Labor Center as well as several other centers and institutes amid dwindling state funding for higher education.

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

In spring 2018, the UI announced it would consider closing several centers and institutes following the state Legislature’s passage of midyear budget cuts to the UI and Iowa State University. Lawmakers passed nearly $11 million in midyear fiscal 2018 budget cuts to split between the two universities, and the University of Northern Iowa’s budget remained intact. Legislators later restored more than $8 million of those funding cuts through increased fiscal 2019 appropriations.

“Since that time, university administrators have worked closely with Labor Center staff to identify alternative funding and management mechanisms that would enable it to sustain operations,” according to regents’ documents. “The Labor Center’s administrative home is with the College of Law. The dean of the College of Law has reached an agreement with the director regarding responsibility for generating operating revenues.”

College of Law Dean Kevin Washburn and Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer have signed a memorandum of understanding to remove general-fund dollars as a funding source to the center “while providing limited financial support for four years to give the center time to generate new or additional revenue,” according to a statement from the UI.

The statement said the college will primarily fund the center with unspent revenue from the Institute of Public Affairs, which closed in May following Director Jeff Schott’s retirement.

RELATED: UI commitment to Labor Center sought after regents approve closure

Harreld has previously said general-fund money would not be used to continue funding the center and that it should instead support the university’s core academic mission. He told The Daily Iowan in December 2018 that he would be willing to go back to the regents and ask to reinstate the center if a sustainable funding source could be found.

“I would like to thank Dean Washburn and Director Sherer for working collaboratively to find a solution that preserves an important resource for the state while also protecting tuition dollars for teaching, research, and student success,” Harreld said in the statement.

Phasing out support from the College of Law would give the center time to “establish additional revenue-generating programming, acquire grants, or raise philanthropic support,” the statement said.

“I believe strongly in the mission of the Labor Center and the community it supports,” Washburn said in the statement. “Providing supplemental funding until new sources of revenue can be secured is a positive outcome for the college and the center. This agreement would not have been possible without the support of our local legislative delegation and Iowa’s labor community. We are thankful for their commitment to the center and the work.”

RELATED: Concerned community members take action over UI Labor Center closing

Sherer said in the statement she is excited for the Labor Center to move forward under the agreement with Washburn. The center will retain staff but undergo more frequent budget reviews to ensure its operating plan is sustainable.

“… Students, faculty, workers, and community leaders have all reminded us of how critical the center’s education and research are for our university and our state,” she said. “I am grateful that we worked together to find a way for this work to continue.”