Pale ‘I’ on white flag of surrender

oldcap-flowersChange the mascot from a hawk to a chicken. Bleach the black and gold out of that flag before cheerleaders run it past 70,000 people in the football stadium.

Iowa faces the greatest challenges perhaps in our lifetimes to higher education and lifelong learning opportunities. These challenges are fomented by a band of political opportunists who are driving down our public investments where they are most needed. In the face of these attacks, administrators at the University of Iowa quake in their otherwise comfortable chairs and do the bidding of those who would diminish or even destroy higher education.

Already weak pushing back against funding challenges that the Board of Regents blame for raising tuition, the UI this week announced plans to shut down seven educational centers and make reductions in 3 to 6 more. It was a unilateral decision and one done behind closed doors, with no input from those most affected — much as the Legislature and Governor have done in the last year and a half on a range of issues from workers’ rights to tax policy to local government authority.

Not surprisingly, a center serving working families — the Labor Center — is one that stands out on the list of planned closings. This comes a year after the gutting of collective bargaining, workers’ compensation and minimum-wage laws, and amid plans to destabilize public employee pensions.

As if that were not enough, the process itself has been appalling and not one that well serves the reputation of the University of Iowa.

The Labor Center director was called in from her earned vacation last Friday to have the newbie Law School Dean tell her the center is being closed, and that the announcement would come today (Thursday). After people dared to speak up about it in hopes of having an impact — something a university that champions critical thinking skills would welcome — the administration went ahead and announced the closings two days early.

A state university should model good governance, transparency and public involvement, especially when our Legislature and Governor do not. And when it fails for whatever reason, we must ask where Iowans can turn when they are looking for answers about laws that supposedly protect them in the workplace.

The Labor Center is one of those places, and the UI administration is taking it away. Three directors of the Labor Center have served on the board of directors of our organization, and our own exceptional staff has worked many times with the equally qualified and professional staff of this respected university center.

In short, we know first-hand of the value of the Labor Center. Why, we wonder, does the university administration not recognize that value and trumpet its work better?

It is reasonable to ask if the leadership of the University of Iowa will ever fight back against the powerful and greedy forces that have undermined it. Why would President Bruce Harreld, or the regents, put up with this never-ending assault on a once-proud institution? Are they even curious about how many people would stand with them if they stood up?

Absent a demonstration of pride and leadership into what a state university can be, a white flag of surrender is appropriate above Old Capitol, or the UI Hospitals, or the College of Law, or the Writers’ Workshop, or Kinnick Stadium.

If it makes you feel any better, put a big “I” on it. Make that “I” pale — maybe light gray — we wouldn’t want to be too bold or speak too loudly. Go Hawks.

2017-owen5464Mike Owen is executive director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. He is a 1980 University of Iowa graduate and a member of the Professional Advisory Board of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
See more about attacks on higher education in Iowa and impacts of funding choices:
David Osterberg: “Too far for a tax-cutter”
Brandon Borkovec: “Tuition rising — Is anyone surprised?”

Author: iowapolicypoints

Iowa Policy Points is a blog of Common Good Iowa, a new organization built on a collective 50 years of experience of two respected Iowa organizations — the Child and Family Policy Center and the Iowa Policy Project. Learn more at

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