Opinion | Iowa Republicans need to value higher education

Iowa Republicans need to show support for higher education instead of underfunding and micromanaging them.


Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor. Contributed.

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor

Iowa’s higher education systems are getting constantly slapped by Republican legislators, and it’s time for it to stop.

House File 868 — a bill that freezes funding and tuition and fees for universities under the state Board of Regents — recently passed through the state House Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee, meanwhile did propose a funding increase restoring an $8 million cut from last year and $6.5 million for Iowa’s community colleges — while the funding increase is applaudable, it still falls short of the regents’ requests.

While Iowa House Republicans argue the regent universities already received emergency funds from the American Rescue Plan, what they can’t seem to wrap their minds around is that legislation like this is harming higher education in Iowa.

I’m not here to argue over tuition rates because that’s a separate conversation. Legislation that underfunds Iowa universities is part of the negative attitude that many Republicans have blatantly displayed toward higher education.

This bill is just the most recent example of an ongoing trend. The constant underfunding and micromanaging needs to stop. Otherwise, the future of quality higher education in Iowa is at stake.

Frankly, Iowa’s history of underfunding higher education is frightening. Take for example the 2021 state budget proposal that was introduced by Gov. Kim Reynolds which underfunded public universities’ request by $11 million. What’s really alarming though is the fact that while the state budget has doubled over the past two decades, funding has declined by about a net $8 million.

But funding isn’t the only method Republicans are using to bludgeon Iowa’s public universities. On top of underfunding institutions, legislators are determined to micromanage them in a way that derails their academic missions.

Where is this evident? House File 802 which prohibits divisive concepts in diversity, equity, and inclusion training in schools, universities, and government institutions.

Yes, it’s hypocritical that Republicans are supporting a bill that prohibits certain topics to be discussed after passing a bill in support of the freedom of speech at regent universities. But it also drives away minority populations from attending Iowa universities. Why would anyone want to attend a school in a state that sends a bad message on how it views minority groups?

And, we can’t forget the infamous tenure bill that has been introduced — and died — for three consecutive years. Nothing says we don’t fully value Iowa’s higher education system than trying to get rid of a practice that’s meant to help retain and recruit faculty.

While the tenure bill is dead and the future of the DEI and funding bills is unsure, legislation like this shouldn’t be introduced in the first place. All it does is send a message to prospective and current students, faculty, and staff, that Iowa doesn’t value higher education.

What does the tenure bill do? It drives away faculty from coming to Iowa institutions, which is the last thing they need as numbers have declined across all three universities.

What does the DEI training bill do? It’s going to prevent diversity in universities by limiting conversations about systemic racism.

What does underfunding the Iowa public universities do? It says that the state doesn’t want to invest and value its life- and industry-saving research, nor its award-winning students, faculty, and staff. Not only does it send a bad message, but if quality of education is the goal, this undercuts the university’s mission in the long run.

With financial losses from COVID-19 and a decrease in student enrollment, Iowa universities are in desperate need of financial help.

Our institutions don’t need the state telling them what they can or can’t teach or attempts to get rid of practices that provide top-tier education. Support must come financially, but it also must be evident through legislation. And right now, certain bills and Iowa’s history of underfunding isn’t particularly doing that.

Iowa Republican lawmakers need to change their attitude toward higher education. It’s time to stop the underfunding and micromanaging and instead show support from state legislators.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.